The Red Tail Squadron

“In the process of evolution the American negro has not progressed as far as the other sub-species of the human family. As a race he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war”

-1925 – United States War College Study

Tuskegee airmen - Red Tails - Red Tail Squadron - Fighting 99th - 99th Pursuit Squadron 

In 1939, a new Appropriations bill passed that designated funds for training African American aircrew. Due to the restrictive nature and limitations of the selection procedure, admission did not seem promising to those African Americans who wished to enlist as military aviators.

The chances of an African American earning his wings were incredibly slim, yet they would not be deterred. In spite of the highly restrictive policies placed on pilot selection, the number of qualified applicants were far greater than expected. 

On the 19th of March 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated at Chanute Field. Shortly after its creation, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the newly formed squadron and did what no one could have expected...as they watched the First Lady climb into a WACO biplane with an African American instructor Alfred “Chief” Anderson.

As the WACO returned to the field after a short flight, the First Lady proclaimed to her pilot, “Well, you can fly all right”

It would be an additional two years before the 99th was considered for combat duty. In April 1943, the 99th was deployed to North Africa where they joined the 33rd Fighter Group. This assignment to a predominantly ground attack role prevented them from engaging in air-to-air combat.

Logic would dictate that you can't engage enemy aircraft where there are none, let alone shoot one down. An obvious action by the higher-ups, and it worked...The statistical absence of enemy aircraft kills incited criticism from those opposed to the squadrons existence. Congressional hearings were held on this perceived failure, with the aim of permanently disbanding the squadron.

Finally, against the efforts of all those who viciously opposed the idea of coloured pilots...  in February 1944, the all-black 332nd Fighter Group was deployed with the 100th, 301st and 302nd to mainland Italy, along with the 99th Fighter Squadron at Ramitelli Airfield.

The 332nd Fighter Group now carried the assignment of escorting the Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids. In a short amount of time, "Them negro pilots" came to be known by something else...the 332nd earned the nickname “RED TAIL ANGELS” for their impressive combat records, courage under fire and the unmistakable crimson paint that covered the tail section of all of the unit’s aircraft.  

On the ground, coloured pilots would remain what they were always thought to be...lesser people.  Still facing segregation and prejudice, a black pilot would have less respect than a captured Nazi pilot.  Yet they persevered and chose to fight and protect those that did not care for them.  There was nowhere on the ground that would have allowed escape from this reality, but in the air, this reality was taking a different shape. When faced with the continuous vicious onslaught of enemy fighters, and the subsequent loss of airmen that did not make it home...the bomber crews quickly grew to love of the sight of "little friends" forming off their wings, and their unmistakable tails.   

During its operations in the European theatre, the Red Tails successfully downed 111 aircraft, including 3 Me262 jets, and destroyed over 150 enemy aircraft on the ground. In addition to this, the Tuskeegee pilots claimed 148 enemy aircraft damaged, 950 railcars, and trucks, including the sinking of 40 small vessels, and one destroyer disabled, all in over 15,533 sorties flown.

Although untrue that the 99th never lost a bomber, the reality is not much less impressive. In the total escort missions flown by the coloured pilots of the Red Tails…only 26 bombers were lost to enemy aircraft while under their watch. 

By wars end, the Tuskegee Airmen had been awarded a combined one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, fourteen Bronze Stars, Seven hundred and forty-four Air Medals, Eight Purple Hearts, three Distinguished Unit Citations and one Silver Star.

The 332nd combat records will forever stand as a monument to the professionalism, dedication and bravery of its crews…for the Tuskegee Airmen to achieve all they have in spite of their own country’s racial intolerance and the obstacles placed before them by their own military, is a testament to all who flew with the crimson tails

"My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation."

-General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Commanding Officer 332nd FG

During the entire four years spent at West Point Academy, Davis was ostracized by his fellow classmates who would not speak to him unless in the line of duty. Davis sat at a separate table every day and ate alone. Undeterred, Davis became West Point military academy's fourth black graduate.
.
Davis won his wings in March 1942 as part of the first group of officers to complete training and was also the first black officer to solo in an Army Air Corps aircraft. O Davis flew over sixty missions in P-39, P-40, P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft during which, he was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was named commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
.
Davis also became the first African American general in the USAF. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was advanced to the rank of General, U.S. Air Force (Retired), with President Clinton pinning on his four-star insignia.
.
General Benjamin O. Davis, commander of the 99th and 332nd Fighter Group was buried July 17th, 2002 at Arlington National Cemetery.
A lone Red Tail P-51 Mustang passed overhead during funeral services. Bill Clinton said, "General Davis is here today as proof that a person can overcome adversity and discrimination, achieve great things, turn skeptics into believers; and through example and perseverance, one person can bring truly extraordinary change"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  


Leave a comment