Tuskegee Airmen

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The Tuskegee Airmen were the 1,000 African-American airmen who fought in segregated units of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, flying combat, reconnaissance, and other missions. They trained at Tuskegee Institute, a predominantly black private college in Alabama. It was an era of Jim Crow and most whites thought it unwise to have all-black combat units. Nevertheless, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a liberal Democrat) and Secretary of War Henry Stimson (a conservative Republican) demanded they be given a chance.

The 99th Pursuit Squadron, using Curtiss P-40 fighters, was based in Tunisia in 1943. On June 2, 1943, it entered combat for the first time in a bombing mission against the German-held island of Pantelleria. The squadron later supported the Allied invasion of Sicily. The 332nd Fighter Group escorted bombers on air combat missions over Europe, using P-39, Curtiss P-40, P-47 and P-51 Mustang fighters.

On June 9, 1944, thirty-nine P-47s escorted B-24 heavy bombers en route to bomb Munich, Germany. During the war the Tuskegee Airmen destroyed far more aircraft than they had lost. They had shot down 111 enemy aircraft, nearly all fighters, and destroyed another 150 on fighter sweeps of Luftwaffe airfields. More than 600 boxcars and rolling stock were destroyed or disabled. One destroyer had been sunk solely with machine gun fire—another unique accomplishment—and forty boats and barges had been sunk. Most significantly, not one friendly bomber had been lost to enemy airplanes during 200 escort missions.

Leader of the 99th and the 332nd was Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (1912-2002), later the first black Lt. General. In 1949 the Air Force integrated its units, and the 332nd was disbanded and its airmen absorbed into previously all-white units.

The National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit was built as a tribute to these men.

Further reading

  • Chris Bucholtz and Jim Laurier. 332nd Fighter Group - Tuskegee Airmen (2007), heavily illustrated excerpt and text search
  • Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly. Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen (2001), popular history excerpt and text search
  • Alan M. Osur. Blacks in the Army Air Forces During World War II, (Office of Air Force History, 1977), scholarly study