Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII?


Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?

In January 1941, prior to America’s entry into World War II, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson authorized the formation of an African American pursuit squadron. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated just a few months later in March 1941. It would later become the 99th Fighter Squadron.

By November 1941, the unit began training in Tuskegee, Alabama, hence the reason why those who trained and served with the 99th are called “Tuskegee Airmen.” It is important to note that all personnel associated with the Tuskegee program are considered Tuskegee Airmen, including air and ground crews. The unit was originally equipped with and trained on Curtiss P-40s.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen that deployed in World War II?

The 99th Squadron was eventually sent to French Morocco in April 1943 and it conducted combat operations from bases in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy. In February 1944, the 99th Squadron was joined by three other fighter squadrons, the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd, and all four squadrons constituted the 332nd Fighter Group, commanded by Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., an African American, who would eventually become a four-star general.

The group converted to Republic P-47s in April 1944 and to P-51s in June. Until the end of the war in Europe, it escorted 15th Air Force bombers and attacked ground targets from its bases in Italy. The group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for an escort mission to Berlin in March 1945.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen who flew bombers?

In mid-1943, realizing the success of the Tuskegee Airmen program, the U.S. Army Air Forces organized an African American bomber unit, the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium). Activated in June 1943, its pilots were supposed to be trained at Tuskegee. However, that airfield was overburdened with fighter training requirements and was unable to handle the new bomber training program.

The Army Air Force was forced to make a decision and it allowed Tuskegee Airmen to train at all-white training bases for bomber instruction. For the first time, U.S. military flight training had been desegregated. However, the Tuskegee Airmen faced discrimination and were often disrespected and as a result, their operations and training suffered. With mounting delays and difficulties, the group did not become operational until after the war. Tuskegee was the primary school for instruction of black pilots until it closed in 1946.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen who were white?

There were white members of the Tuskegee Airmen since the U.S. Army Air Force wanted white officers to provide oversight of African American airmen. Not only that, but there weren’t any seasoned African American aviators to lead the unit. Lt. Col. Noel F. Parrish led the training of African American pilots and ground crews at Tuskegee Airfield starting in 1941. It is a position he held throughout World War II and at one point he commanded approximately 14,000 personnel. His trainees would deploy to the European theater and serve with distinction.

Parrish was a career Army Air Force pilot, and he was known for providing inspiring leadership and taking a genuine interest in promoting African American involvement in military aviation. He was an ardent supporter of Tuskegee Airmen. Parrish led the training program throughout World War II. He would eventually earn the rank of brigadier general. The success of the Tuskegee program is said by military historians to have helped President Harry S. Truman decide to desegregate the military.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen in combat?

Without a doubt, one of the most famous, if not the most famous of the Tuskegee Airmen is Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Davis led the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II in air combat over North Africa and Italy and later flew long-range bomber escort missions over Nazi Germany. Davis was the son of a U.S. Army general and a 1936 graduate of West Point. He was a member of the first class of five cadets to earn their wings at Tuskegee and later he was selected to lead the new 99th Pursuit Squadron.

Davis led the 99th and later the 332nd Fighter Group in Europe during World War II. According to U.S. Air Force historical reports, the 332nd had 94 aerial victories from 1944 to 1945. In addition, the 332nd, Tuskegee Airmen, lost significantly less aircraft than other fighter groups. For example, 27 bombers protected by the 332nd were shot down by enemy aircraft. The average number of bombers shot down under the escort of the other groups of the 15th Air Force was 46.

In all, the 332nd flew 311 missions and 179 of those were bomber escorts missions. After the war, Davis continued his military career in the newly independent and integrated U.S. Air Force. He achieved the rank of lieutenant general and played a key leadership role during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired from the Air Force in 1970. In 1998, he was promoted to general by President Bill Clinton years after his retirement.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen who were almost aces?

Lee Andrew Archer, Edward L. Toppins, and Joseph D. Elsberry were the top three Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down the most enemy aircraft during World War II. Each man had four aerial kills.

For decades there were rumors that the U.S. military had intentionally rotated the men back to the states to prevent any African American from becoming an ace (shooting down five enemy aircraft), but Air Force research conducted in 2011 concluded that racism was not likely the reason. The aviators had simply completed their tours of duty and were rotated back to the states, having flown their requisite missions. In fact, many of the men were lauded in the ranks and decorated for their performance.

Who were the Tuskegee Airmen to first down an enemy aircraft?

Hoosier Charles Hall was the first Tuskegee Airman to down an enemy aircraft while he was on an escort mission in July 1943. He shot down a Nazi FW-190.

About six months later, 10 Tuskegee Airmen would shoot down 10 enemy aircraft and usher in an era of African Americans fighting in the skies above Europe. The Tuskegee Airmen’s aircraft were marked with red tails and in recent years the U.S. Air Force announced that the T-7A, marked with a red tail, will become the Air Force’s latest trainer aircraft.

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