“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
In 1939, a new Appropriations bill was passed that designated funds for training African American air crew. Due to the restrictive nature and limitations of the selections procedure, admission did not seem promising to those African Americans who wished to enlist as military aviators.
As unlikely and remote the chances of an African American earning his wings, they would not be deterred. In spite of the restrictive policies placed on pilot selection, the number received 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. The First Lady subsequently climbed into a WACO biplane for a short flight with African American instructor Alfred “Chief” Anderson. Upon the flights conclusion, she 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 it joined the 33rd Fighter Group. This assignment to a predominantly ground attack role prevented them from engaging in air-to-air combat. 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 disbanding the squadron.
Finally in February 1944, the all-black 332nd Fighter Group were deployed with the 100th, 301st and 302nd to mainland Italy, where the 99th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the group on 1 May 1944, joined them on at Ramitelli Airfield. The 332nd Fighter Group now carried the assignment of escorting the Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids. It was here that the 332nd earned its nickname of “RED TAIL ANGELS” for thier impressive combat records, courage under fire and the unmistakable crimson paint that covered the tail section of all of the unit’s aircraft.
During its operations in the European theater, the Red Tails downed 111 aircraft including 3 Me262 jets, 150 enemy aircraft on the surface. 148 enemy aircraft damaged, 950 railcars, trucks other mobile targets, 40 small vessels sunk, and one destroyer disabled, all in over 15,533 sorties.
It is untrue that the 99th never lost a bomber. However, the reality is not much less impressive. In the total escort missions flown by 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