Category: American History
Autor: denver_d 22 February 2010
Words: 1865 | Pages: 8
AP English 11
7 May 2000
The Tuskegee Airmen
On July 19, 1941 the U.S. Air Force created a program in Alabama to train African Americans as fighter pilots(Tuskegee Airmen1). Basic flight training was done by the Tuskegee institute, a school founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881(Tuskegee Airmen 1). Cadets would finish basic training at Tuskegee's Moton Field and then move on to the Tuskegee Army Air Field to complete his transition from training to combat aircraft. The early Tuskegee squad were taught to fit in with the famous 99th fighter squadron, tagged for combat duty in North Africa. Other Tuskegee pilots were commissioned to the 332d Fighter Group which fought alongside with the 99th Squadron based out of italy. By the end of the war, 992 men had completed training at Tuskegee, 450 were sent overseas for combat . During the same time, almost 150 died while in training or on combat missions. Additional men were trained at Tuskegee for aircrew and ground crew .
The Mustang pilot spotted the string of Bf-109's heading toward the crippled B-24. The pilot, a Lt. Weathers, dropped his wing tanks, and turned into the German formation. He gave the leader a burst with his .50 calibers and it nosed up, smoking, and soon went hurtling down to the ground. The pilot radioed the others in his flight and heard "I'm right behind you." But when Weathers looked back for himself, all
he could see was the nose cannon of another Bf-109, pointing right at him. He dropped flaps and chopped throttle, instantly slowing his Mustang, and the Bf-109 overran him. A few bursts, and Lt. Weathers had his second kill of the day. Two more e/a were still in view and seemed like easy pickings, but the voice of the Group CO echoed in the pilot's mind, "Your job is to protect the bombers and not chase enemy aircraft for personal glory." Weathers returned to the bomber(Tuskegee Experiment 1,2).
Two things were unusual about this American fighter pilot. First, he had passed up a sure kill. Second, he was Black. He flew with the only U.S. Fighter squad involved in World War Two that could claim to have never lost a bomber they were escorting. The Group was the 332nd Fighter Group, "The Redtails," the famed all African American outfit that fought both American racism and Nazi militarism. Under the leadership and discipline of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, the Redtails had learned that their mission in life was to protect the bombers(Respect and Honor 1).
Prior to WWII, the U.S. Air Force did not employ African Americans in any role. However in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Air Corps to build an all Negro flying unit. The presidential order caused the Army to create the 99th Pursuit Squadron(Tuskegee Airmen 2). To develop the Negro pilots needed for the new squadron, the Air Corps opened a new training base in central Alabama, at the Tuskegee Institute(Tuskegee Experiment 1).
April 19, 1941 Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee and met Charles "Chief" Anderson, the head of the program, Mrs. Roosevelt asked, "Can Negroes really fly airplanes?" He r
Replied: "Certainly we can; as a matter of fact, would you like to take an airplane ride?" Over the objections of her Secret Service agents, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted. The agent called President Roosevelt, who replied, "Well, if she wants to do it, there's nothing we can do to stop her(Roosevelt Rides 1)." With Mrs. Roosevelt in the back seat of his Piper J-3 Cub, Chief Anderson took off and flew her around for half an hour. After landing, Mrs. Roosevelt turned to the Chief and said, "I guess Negroes can fly," and they posed together for a photo that has gone down in history. Not long after Mrs. Roosevelt's return to Washington, they announced that the first Negro Air Corps pilots would be trained at Tuskegee Institute(Rooosevelt 2).
In the spring of 1941, the first African American enlisted men began training to become maintainers and the first thirteen pilot candidates began training. The progress was slow; it was not until September 2, that Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., became the first Negro to solo an aircraft as a U.S. Army Air Corps officer(First 1). On March 7, 1942, young black pilots stood at attention on Tuskegee's airstrip, for induction into the U.S. Army Air Corps. Eight days later the 100th Fighter Squadron was established as a part of the 332nd Fighter Group(Tuskegee Airmen 2).
May 31, 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron arrived at Farjouna in Tunisia, attached to the 33rd Fighter Group, flying P-40s. Three days later, Lt. William A. Campbell, Charles B. Hall, Clarence C. Jamison and James R. Wiley, flew the squadron's first mission, a 'milk run' over Pantelleria(First 2). On June 9, six pilots of the 99th FS became the first U.S. Negro pilots to engage in aerial combat. Led by Lt. Charles Dryden, Lt. Willie Ashley, Sidney P. Brooks, Lee Rayford, Leon Roberts and Spann Watson, exchanged fire with German fighter planes, with no kills to either side(First 2). The Italian entrenchment on Pantelleria surrendered on June 11, 1943, in
large part due ot the powerful air attacks it had been subjected to. The 99th was a key part of the air assault(History 1).
The 99th joined the 324th Fighter Group in El Haouria on June 29, 1943(Tuskegee Airmen 4). At first they flew escort missions over the Sicilian coast. Within a few days, Lt Charles B. Hall got the 99th on the scoreboard when he downed an Fw-190(Tuskegee Experiment 3). Sadly, this triumphant occasion was marred by the death of Lieutenants White and McCullin, victims of an accident. Escort missions over Sicily continued through the summer of 1943. One Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Richard Bolling, was forced to bail out and floated in the Mediterranean for a full day before he was recovered. On July 19, the 99th moved over to Licata, on the coast(History 2).
Despite their achievements and accomplishments, the 99th found continued resistance and prejudice here in the Mediterranean. The CO of the 33rd Fighter Group, Col. William Momyer, complained about the performance of the 99th FS, compared their combat record to White squadrons, alluded to lack of air discipline, and hinted at a lack of aggressiveness. His comparisons overlooked the fact that the 99th did not operate at the front, but was stationed hundreds of miles to the rear. Nor did he mention his exclusion of 99th FS pilots from briefing sessions. But in those days, Blacks were easy targets, and in September of 1943, TIME magazine ran an article that repeated Momyer's accusations. About all the pilots could do was perform their jobs perfectly, and answer their critics with deeds, not words(The Critic 1).
The 99th was scheduled to provide air support for the September 9 invasion of Salerno on the Italy. After the German counter attack forced an Allied retreat, members of the 99th flew into Paestum, an airfield near Salerno, to provide air cover for the beachhead. In early October, the
99th started flying with the 79th Fighter Group based out of Foggia, commanded by Col. Earl Bates, who fully involved the men of the 99th in combat missions. As the Germans retreated northward, the fliers of the 79th and 99th flew fighter bomber missions on railroad, bridges, and communication
centers to hamper their mobility. These were grinding, demanding missions; pilots often flew more than 5 sorties(missions) a day. This activity continued through January, 1944, culminating in a large multi-Group strike on Naples' Capodichino Airdrome. But so far, the 99th only had the one aerial victory to their credit, while the 79th has destroyed or damaged almost 20 German aircraft(History 3).
But on January 24, 1944, the Negro pilots broke out in a big way, downing five German planes in a morning mission led by Capt. Clarence Jamison, and three more that afternoon when Lt. Wiley's flight mixed it up with the enemy. And the next day, the 99th continued its combat success, claiming four confirmed kills. On February 5, Lt. Driver got another. On the 7th, they got three more; they also received an official commendation from General Hap Arnold at this time.
In April, the 99th was transferred from its partnership with the 79th Fighter group to work with the 324th Figher group. As part of this Group, thay participated in Operation Strangle, the aerial campaign in May, 1944 to isolate the German garrison at Monte Cassino. Operation Strangle marked the end of the 99th Fighter Squadron's independent existence.
On July 4, 1944, the 99th was joined with three other Squadrons: the 100th, 301st and the 302nd to form the 332nd Fighter Group. These were all Negro squadrons, all trained at Tuskegee. The veterans of the 99th resented the newcomers somewhat, but those issues soon worked themselves out. The Group transitiond to Mustangs at this time, decorating them with bright red
spinners and tails, thus earning their nickname, â€œRedtailsâ€œ.
A week later the 332nd escorted bombers on a mission against rail yards, and Capt. Joseph Elsberry shot down three Fw-190s, the first black pilot to achieve this feat. The next day, July 13, the Group flew its first mission to Ploesti. On the 16th, they met some Italian Macchis (from Mussolini's short-lived, rump state in the North, the Italian Social Republic), and downed two of them. Two days later, July 18, Lt. Clarence 'Lucky' Lester destroyed three German airplanes. This was a big day for the Group, as they claimed 11 confirmed kills. Lee Archer scored his first that day; a credit which would later be officially changed to a shared kill. (Thus Archer left combat with an official 4.5 kills. It has been speculated that the AAF brass didn't want a Negro ace.)
Throughout July, and through October of 1944, the Redtails flew countless missions, usually bomber escorts. Sometimes they shot down German aircraft, and began to build a respectable Group tally. Less often, they lost one of their own; but they never lost a bomber. Lee Archer scored his second in late July and three on October 12; then the first kill was retroactively changed. October was a rough month for the 332nd, losing 15 pilots.
The bomber pilots began to appreciate the Redtails(History 4). Luke Weathers' escort mission described above provided the group's only aerial victories for the month of November. They flew 22 missions in December, running the group tally to 62 confirmed air-to-air victories by year's end. Bad weather in January limited them to 11 missions, picking up to 39 in February, but without many aerial victories. On March 24, 1945, Col. Davis led the Group on the longest escort mission ever flown by the Fifteenth Air Force, a 1600-mile round trip to the Daimler-Benz tank works in Berlin(Tuskegee Airmen 5). On this mission, Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., Charles Brantly and Earl Lane, each shot down a German Me-262 jet fighter aircraft. The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their achievements this day(History 4).
The Tuskegee Airmen continued flying and fighting, killing and dying, until the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945.