America's World War II Black Aviators Had to Fight Tooth and Nail to Serve Their Country... and Then Fought For It
America’s World War II Black Aviators Had to Fight Tooth and Nail to Serve Their Country… and Then Fought For It

America’s World War II Black Aviators Had to Fight Tooth and Nail to Serve Their Country… and Then Fought For It

Khalid Elhassan - October 6, 2018

America’s World War II Black Aviators Had to Fight Tooth and Nail to Serve Their Country… and Then Fought For It
WWII poster, featuring a Tuskegee Airman. Wikimedia

The Tuskegee Airmen’s Track Record

The Tuskegee Airmen’s most famous mission, in which they went up against German Me 262 fighter jets, came on March 24th, 1945. That day, colonel Benjamin O. Davis led 43 P-51s of 332nd Fighter Group as bomber escorts for Fifteenth Air Force B-17s, who flew a 1600 mile round trip to raid a tank factory in Berlin. The Luftwaffe put up stiff resistance, sending up FW 190s, Me 163 Komet rocket fighters, and 25 Me 262 jet fighters. Tuskegee Airmen Roscoe Brown, Charles Brantley, and Earl Lane, all managed to shoot down Luftwaffe jets over Berlin that day. The 332nd Fighter Group earned another Distinguished Unit Citations for its feats on that mission.

In total, the all black squadrons flew 1578 combat missions, including 179 bomber escort missions, and put up some pretty good statistics while they were at it. They lost bombers on only seven missions, for a total of 27 airplanes, compared to an average loss of 46 bombers for other Fifteenth Air Force P-51 fighter groups. They shot down 112 enemy airplanes, destroyed another 150 on the ground, and damaged 148 more. On the ground, they destroyed 600 rail cars, plus 350 trucks and motor vehicles. They also destroyed 40 boats and barges, plus a German torpedo boat.

Collectively, the Tuskegee Airmen earned three Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC). The first went to the 99th Pursuit Squadron for its performance during the aerial assault on Pantelleria in June of 1943. The 99th earned another DUC in May of 1944, for actions at Monte Cassino. The third Distinguished Unit Citation went to the 332nd Fighter Group (including the 99th Pursuit Squadron plus two other black squadrons, the 100th and 301st) for action over Berlin in March of 1945.

America’s World War II Black Aviators Had to Fight Tooth and Nail to Serve Their Country… and Then Fought For It
Lieutenant Charles Bailey in his flying gear, with his boot on the wheel of the P-51 Mustang named for his father. Don Moore War Tales

Despite the predictions of many that blacks were unsuited to fly combat, the Tuskegee Airmen turned out to be some of the best fighter pilots in the US Army Air Forces. During the conflict, Tuskegee Airmen earned 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Hearts. Their accomplishments came at a price. Nearly a thousand pilots were trained at Tuskegee, of whom 355 were deployed overseas. 68 of them were killed in combat or accidents related thereto, another 12 were killed in training and on non-combat missions, and 32 were taken as prisoners of war.

The numbers might have spoken for themselves, but predictably, they did little to silence racists who continued to attack the black airmen. Nonetheless, after the US military was finally desegregated in 1948, the veteran black pilots blossomed in the newly formed United States Air Force, and found themselves in high demand. The 332nd Fighter Group was deactivated in 1949, as part of the Air Force’s plan to achieve racial integration. As a last hurrah, shortly before deactivation, Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group won first place in the US Annual Gunnery Meet – a competition that included shooting aerial targets, strafing ground targets, and dropping bombs.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Detroit Free Press, May 18th, 2018 – Tuskegee Airman Honored 73 Years After Being Lynched in Austria

Encyclopedia Britannica – Tuskegee Airmen

History Net – Facts & Information About the Tuskegee Airmen

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators

Tuskegee Airmen Inc. – Tuskegee Airmen History

Wikipedia – Tuskegee Airmen

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