By Jueseppi B.
Throughout the month Of February, TheObamaCrat™ will post a daily series called The Black History Moment Series. Each day for 28 days of this historic month you will be given the food of Black History to satisfy your hunger for knowledge.
Celebrating Black History Month: The Black History Moment Series #16: The Tuskegee Airmen. The “Red-Tail Angels.”
The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. Formally, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. All black military pilots who trained in the United States (including five Haitians) trained at Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field, located near Tuskegee, Alabama.
Although the 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later, 99th Fighter Squadron) was the first black flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and Italy). The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was the first black flying group. The group deployed to Italy in early 1944. In June 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying heavy bomber escort missions, and in July 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, which then had four fighter squadrons.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was initially equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter-bomber aircraft. The 332nd Fighter Group and its 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons were equipped for initial combat missions with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June–July 1944), and finally with the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s and later, P-51s, red, the nickname “Red Tails” was coined. Bomber crews applied a more effusive “Red-Tail Angels” sobriquet
Red Tails 2012 Official Trailer & Cast Interviews with Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard.
Red Tails 2012 Official Trailer & Cast Interviews with Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard & More
Kellvin Chavez from SideReel’s partner site, Latino Review, sat down with Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, Nate Parker, and David Oyelowo to talk about their latest film, ‘Red Tails’ from LucasFilm. Kellvin was also able to talk to former Tuskegee Airman Dr. Roscoe Brown about Red Tails.
Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African American had been a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African-American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected. African American Eugene Bullard served in the French air service during World War I, because he was not allowed to serve in an American unit. Instead, Bullard returned to infantry duty with the French.
The racially motivated rejections of World War I African-American recruits sparked over two decades of advocacy by African Americans who wished to enlist and train as military aviators. The effort was led by such prominent civil rights leaders as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, labor union leader A. Philip Randolph, and Judge William H. Hastie. Finally, on 3 April 1939, Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 was passed by Congress containing an amendment designating funds for training African-American pilots. The War Department managed to put the money into funds of civilian flight schools willing to train black Americans.
War Department tradition and policy mandated the segregation of African Americans into separate military units staffed by white officers, as had been done previously with the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry Regimentand 25th Infantry Regiment. When the appropriation of funds for aviation training created opportunities for pilot cadets, their numbers diminished the rosters of these older units. In 1941, the War Department and the Army Air Corps, under pressure, constituted the first all-black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
Due to the restrictive nature of selection policies, the situation did not seem promising for African Americans since, in 1940, the U.S. Census Bureau reported there were only 124 African-American pilots in the nation. The exclusionary policies failed dramatically when the Air Corps received an abundance of applications from men who qualified, even under the restrictive requirements. Many of the applicants already had participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), in which the historically black Tuskegee Institute had participated since 1939.
The P-51C Mustang flown by Commemorative Air Force in the colors and markings of Lieutenant Colonel Lee Archer
The U.S. Army Air Corps had established the Psychological Research Unit 1 at Maxwell Army Air Field, Montgomery, Alabama, and other units around the country for aviation cadet training, which included the identification, selection, education, and training of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers. Psychologists employed in these research studies and training programs used some of the first standardized tests to quantify IQ, dexterity and leadership qualities to select and train the best-suited personnel for the roles of bombardier, navigator, and pilot. The Air Corps determined that the existing programs would be used for all units, including all-black units. At Tuskegee, this effort continued with the selection and training of the Tuskegee Airmen. The War Department set up a system to accept only those with a level of flight experience or higher education which ensured that only the most able and intelligent African-American applicants were able to join.
Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by photographer Toni Frissell, March 1945
The First Lady’s flight
The budding flight program at Tuskegee received a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected it in March 1941, and flew with African-American chief civilian instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson. Anderson, who had been flying since 1929, and was responsible for training thousands of rookie pilots, took his prestigious passenger on a half-hour flight in a Waco biplane. After landing, she cheerfully announced, “Well, you can fly all right.”
The subsequent brouhaha over the First Lady’s flight had such an impact it is often mistakenly cited as the start of the CPTP at Tuskegee, even though the program was already five months old. Eleanor Roosevelt used her position as a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund to arrange a loan of $175,000 to help finance the building of Moton Field.
On 19 March 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. A cadre of 271 enlisted men was trained in aircraft ground support trades at Chanute, beginning in July 1941; the skills being taught were so technical that setting up segregated classes was deemed impossible. This small number of enlisted men became the core of other black squadrons forming at Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields in Alabama.
The Tuskegee program began officially in June 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute. The unit consisted of 47 officers and 429 enlisted men, and was backed by an entire service arm. After primary training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field, about 10 miles (16 km) to the west for conversion training onto operational types. Consequently, Tuskegee Army Air Field became the only Army installation performing three phases of pilot training (basic, advanced, and transition) at a single location. Initial planning called for 500 personnel in residence at a time. By mid-1942, over six times that many were stationed at Tuskegee, even though only two squadrons were training there.
Tuskegee Army Airfield was similar to already-existing airfields reserved for training white pilots, such as Maxwell Field, only 40 miles (64 km) distant. African-American contractor McKissack and McKissack, Inc. was in charge of the contract. The company’s 2,000 workmen, the Alabama Works Progress Administration, and the U.S. Army built the airfield in only six months. Booker Conley, a student at Tuskegee, drafted the architectural plans for the hangars where aircraft would be housed. The construction was budgeted at $1,663,057. The airmen were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of only two black line officers then serving.
During training, Tuskegee Army Air Field was commanded first by Major James Ellison. Ellison made great progress in organizing the construction of the facilities needed for the military program at Tuskegee. However, he was transferred on 12 January 1942, reputedly because of his insistence that his African-American sentries and Military Police had police authority over local Caucasian civilians.
His successor, Colonel Frederick von Kimble, then oversaw operations at the Tuskegee airfield. Contrary to new Army regulations, Kimble maintained segregation on the field in deference to local customs in the state of Alabama, a policy that was resented by the airmen. Later that year, the Air Corps replaced Kimble. His replacement had been the director of instruction at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Major Noel F. Parrish. Counter to the prevalent racism of the day, Parrish was fair and open-minded and petitioned Washington to allow the Tuskegee Airmen to serve in combat.
The strict racial segregation the U.S. Army required gave way in the face of the requirements for complex training in technical vocations. Typical of the process was the development of separate African-American flight surgeons to support the operations and training of the Tuskegee Airmen. Before the development of this unit, no U.S. Army flight surgeons had been black. Training of African-American men as aviation medical examiners was conducted through correspondence courses until 1943, when two black physicians were admitted to the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas.
This was one of the earliest racially integrated courses in the U.S. Army. Seventeen flight surgeons served with the Tuskegee Airmen from 1941 through 1949. At that time, the typical tour of duty for a U.S. Army flight surgeon was four years. Six of these physicians lived under field conditions during operations in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. The chief flight surgeon to the Tuskegee Airmen was Vance H. Marchbanks, Jr., M.D., who was a childhood friend of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
The accumulation of washed-out cadets at Tuskegee and the propensity of other commands to “dump” African-American personnel on the post exacerbated the difficulties of administering Tuskegee. A shortage of jobs for them made these enlisted men a drag on Tuskegee’s housing and culinary departments. Trained officers were also left idle, as the plan to shift African-American officers into command slots stalled, and white officers not only continued to hold command, but were joined by additional white officers assigned to the post. One rationale behind the non-assignment of trained African-American officers was stated by the commanding officer of the Army Air Forces, General Henry “Hap” Arnold: “Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units since this would result in Negro officers serving over white enlisted men creating an impossible social situation.”
Eight Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40 fighter aircraft
The 99th was finally considered ready for combat duty by April 1943. It shipped out of Tuskegee on 2 April, bound for North Africa, where it would join the 33rd Fighter Group and its commander, Colonel William W. Momyer. Given little guidance from battle-experienced pilots, the 99th’s first combat mission was to attack the small strategic volcanic island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea to clear the sea lanes for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The air assault on the island began on 30 May 1943. The 99th flew its first combat mission on 2 June. The surrender of the garrison of 11,121 Italians and 78 Germans due to air attack was the first of its kind.
The assignment to a predominantly ground attack role prevented the 99th from engaging in air-to-air combat. The unit was later criticized for not shooting down enemy aircraft; Congressional hearings were held on this perceived failure, with the aim of disbanding the squadron. However, the 99th moved on to Sicily and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance in combat.
By the end of February 1944, more graduates were ready for combat, and the all-black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: The 100th, 301st and 302nd. Under the command of Colonel Davis, the squadrons were moved to mainland Italy, where the 99th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the group on 1 May 1944, joined them on 6 June at Ramitelli Airfield, near Termoli, on the Adriatic coast. From Ramitelli, the 332nd Fighter Group escorted Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.
Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record. The Allies called these airmen “Red Tails” or “Red-Tail Angels,” because of the distinctive crimson unit identification marking predominantly applied on the tail section of the unit’s aircraft.
A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group, was forming in the U.S., but was not able to complete its training in time to see action. The 99th Fighter Squadron after its return to the United States became part of the 477th, re-designated the 477th Composite Group.
Active air units
The only black air units that saw combat during the war were the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. The dive-bombing and strafing missions under Lieutenant Colonel Davis, Jr. were considered to be highly successful.
In May 1942, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron. It earned three Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC) during World War II. The DUCs were for operations over Sicily from 30 May – 11 June 1943, Monastery Hill near Cassino from 12–14 May 1944, and for successfully fighting off German jet aircraft on 24 March 1945. The mission was the longest bomber escort mission of the Fifteenth Air Force throughout the war. The 332nd also flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley and Rome-Arno and others. Pilots of the 99th once set a record for destroying five enemy aircraft in under four minutes.
The Tuskegee Airmen shot down three German jets in a single day. On 24 March 1945, 43 P-51 Mustangs led by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis escorted B-17 bombers over 1,600 miles (2,600 km) into Germany and back. The bombers’ target, a massive Daimler-Benz tank factory in Berlin, was heavily defended by 25 Luftwaffe aircraft, included Fw 190 radial propeller fighters, Me 163 “Komet” rocket-powered fighters and 25 of the much more formidable Me 262s, history’s first jet fighter. Pilots Charles Brantley, Earl Lane and Roscoe Brown all shot down German jets over Berlin that day. For the mission, the 332nd Fighter Group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation.
Individual pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group earned 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Their missions took them over Italy and enemy occupied parts of central and southern Europe. Their operational aircraft were, in succession: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft.
Tuskegee Airmen bomber units
With African-American fighter pilots being trained successfully, the Army Air Force now came under political pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to organize a bomber unit. There could be no defensible argument that the quota of 100 African-American pilots in training at one time, or 200 per year out of a total of 60,000 American aviation cadets in annual training, represented the service potential of 13 million African Americans.
On 13 May 1943, the 616th Bombardment Squadron was established as the initial subordinate squadron of the 477th Bombardment Group. The squadron was activated on 1 July 1943, only to be inactivated on 15 August 1943. By September 1943, the number of washed-out cadets on base had surged to 286, with few of them working. In January 1944, the 477th Bombardment Group was reactivated. At the time, the usual training cycle for a bombardment group took three to four months. The 477th would eventually contain four medium bomber squadrons. Slated to comprise 1,200 officers and enlisted men, the unit would operate 60 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers. The 477th would go on to encompass three more bomber squadrons–the 617th Bombardment Squadron, the 618th Bombardment Squadron, and the 619th Bombardment Squadron. The 477th was anticipated to be ready for action in November 1944.
The home field for the 477th was Selfridge Field, located outside Detroit, however, other bases would be used for various types of training courses. Twin-engine pilot training began at Tuskegee while transition to multi-engine pilot training was at Mather Field, California. Some ground crews trained at Mather before rotating to Inglewood, California. Gunners learned to shoot at Eglin Field, Florida. Bombers-navigators learned their trades at Hondo Army Air Field and Midland Field, Texas, or at Roswell, New Mexico. Training of the new African-American crewmen also took place at Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Lincoln, Nebraska and Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois. Once trained, the air and ground crews would be spliced into a working unit at Selfridge.
Men of the 332nd Fighter Group attend a briefing in Italy in 1945
In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The toll included 68 pilots killed in action or accidents, 12 killed in training and non-combat missions and 32 captured as prisoners of war. The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:
- 1578 combat missions, 1267 for the Twelfth Air Force; 311 for the Fifteenth Air Force
- 179 bomber escort missions, with a good record of protection, losing bombers on only seven missions and a total of only 27, compared to an average of 46 among other 15AF P-51 groups
- 112 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground and 148 damaged
- 950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed (over 600 rail cars)
- One destroyer put out of action. The ship concerned had been classified as a destroyer (Giuseppe Missori) by the Italian Navy, before being reclassified by the Germans as a torpedo boat, TA 22. It was attacked on 25 June 1944. The German Navy decommissioned it on 8 November 1944, and finally scuttled it on 5 February 1945.
- 40 boats and barges destroyed
Awards and decorations included:
- Three Distinguished Unit Citations
- 99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for actions over Sicily
- 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
- 332d Fighter Group (and its 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons): 24 March 1945: for a bomber escort mission to Berlin, during which it shot down 3 enemy jets
The restored P-51 Mustang associated with the Tuskegee Airmen, now flown by Red Tail Project as described in Red Tail Reborn
Legacy and honors
On 29 March 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The medal is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice, got his start defending Tuskegee bomber trainees. The 477th Bombardment Group was formed in 1944 to extend the so-called “Tuskegee experiment” by allowing black aviators to serve on bomber crews. The aim was to send pilots—many of them veterans of the original Tuskegee fighter group—back to the States for training on B-25 bombers. While in Indiana, some of the African-American officers were arrested and charged with mutiny after entering an all-white officers’ club. Marshall, then a young lawyer, represented the 100 black officers who had landed in jail as a result of the confrontation. The men were soon released (although one was later convicted of violent conduct and fined).
Other members of the Tuskegee Airmen have made contributions in the world of business. Eugene Winslow founded Afro-Am Publishing in Chicago, Illinois, which published Great Negroes Past and Present in 1963.
Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. started his career in the early 1940s at Tuskegee, joining the Army Air Corps in July 1943. After the war ended, James stayed in what became the Air Force and flew missions in both Korea and Vietnam. In 1969, James was put in command of Wheelus Air Force Base outside of Tripoli.”
Three Tuskegee airmen went on to become generals. For keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon. However, he was not the only graduate of the “Tuskegee experiment” to make flag rank. James followed in the footsteps of Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force. Another Tuskegee aviator, Lucius Theus, retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force to improving the military’s bureaucracy, helping to implement a direct deposit system for service members.
In 2006, California Congressman Adam Schiff and Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay, Jr., led the initiative to create a commemorative postage stamp to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.
The 99th Flying Training Squadron flies T-1A Jayhawks and, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, painted the tops of the tails of their aircraft red.
On 1 August 2008, Camp Creek Parkway, a portion of State Route 6 in south Fulton County and in the City of East Point near Atlanta, Georgia, was officially renamed in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. The road is a highway that serves as the main artery into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh presented an award to several Western Pennsylvania Tuskegee veterans, as well as suburban Sewickley, Pennsylvania dedicated a memorial to the seven from that municipality.
On 9 December 2008, the Tuskegee Airmen were invited to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American elected as President. Retired Lt. William Broadwater, 82, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, a Tuskegee Airman, summed up the feeling. “The culmination of our efforts and others was this great prize we were given on Nov. 4. Now we feel like we’ve completed our mission.” More than 180 airmen attended the 20 January 2009 inauguration.
The Tuskegee Airmen Memorial was erected at Walterboro Army Airfield, South Carolina, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, their instructors, and ground support personnel who trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield during World War II.
In the 2010 Rose Parade, the city of West Covina, California paid tribute to the “service and commitment of the Tuskegee Airmen” with a float, entitled “Tuskegee Airmen—A Cut Above”, which featured a large bald eagle, two replica World War II “Redtail” fighter aircraft and historical images of some of the airmen who served. The float won the mayor’s trophy as the most outstanding city entry—national or international.
In June 1998, the Ohio Army and Air National guard opened a jointly operated dining hall. They dedicated the new dining facility called the “Red Tail Dining Facility” to the Tuskegee Airmen. The facility is operated at the Rickenbacker ANG base outside of Columbus Ohio.
In January 2012, MTA Regional Bus Operations officially changed the name of its 100th Street depot in New York City to the Tuskegee Airmen Depot.
In 2012, George Lucas produced Red Tails, a film based on the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen. In 2012, Aldine ISD in, Houston, TX, built Davis High School in Honor of him.
Tuskegee Airman Tribute
Uploaded on Jun 6, 2009
Department of the Air Force
Tuskegee Airman Tribute
The video informs members of the Air Force of the achievements and contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen on a recurring basis. A historical summary of the ‘Tuskegee Experiment’ during World War II.
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