During WW2 many African Americans were still subjected to Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated. The first black fighter pilots became known as the Tuskegee Airmen as they were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama. The the 99th would eventually join three other squadrons of Tuskegee Airmen in the 332nd Fighter Group whose fighter planes were painted with distinctive Red Tails. The Tuskegee Airmen became one of the most highly decorated units in American military history.
Facts about Tuskegee Airmen
The United States armed forces were not integrated until 1948, so throughout WW2 the military was still racially segregated.
Census reports compiled in January 1939 revealed that there were then only 25 licensed African American pilots in the United States. None were in the U.S. military.
Congress passed the Civilian Pilot Training Act on 27 June 1939 that included a provision that no one would be excluded from the program because of race.
The Civilian Aeronautics Administration (CAA) certified the Tuskegee Institute and the Alabama Air Service as a civilian pilot training school on 15 October 1939.
The pilots, who became known as the Tuskegee Airmen, received ground training at Tuskegee and their flight training at Montgomery Airport that was located about 40 miles away.
The first recruits entered the civilian pilot training at Tuskegee Institute in November 1939 and by January 1940 began their flight training at Montgomery. The cadet's trip to Montgomery airfield was short lived as improvements were made to the Tuskegee airfield which was approved for flight training
C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson, an American aviator who is known as the "The Father of Black Aviation", served as the Chief Civilian Flight Instructor for its new program to train the black aviation cadets of the 99th Pursuit Squadron
Congress introduced the Selective Service and Training Act on September 16, 1940 requiring men between the ages of 21 and 35 register with local draft boards and lifted racial restrictions on recruits
The US entered WW2 on December 8, 1941 when it declared war on Japan following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The nation needed to quickly mobilize its military forces to fight in WW2.
The War Department announced on 16 January 1941 that a “Negro pursuit squadron” would be established within the Army Air Corps and the 99th Pursuit Squadron was established on 19 March 1941. The U.S. Air Force did not yet exist as a separate entity.
The 99th squadron was finally considered ready for combat duty by April 1943 and shipped out of Tuskegee on 2 April, 1943 bound for North Africa where it flew its first combat mission on 2 June, 1943.
Their primary missions were to escort bombers striking targets in Europe.
The 99th would eventually join three other squadrons of Tuskegee Airmen in the 332nd Fighter Group, known as "The Red Tails" due to the distinctive crimson paint markings on the tail of their aircraft.
The Tuskegee Airmen were initially equipped with P40 Warhawks and later with P47 Thunderbolts (June-July 1944) and finally with the airplane that they would become most identified with, the P51 Mustang (July 1944).
A total of 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1940 to 1945 of whom 445 were deployed overseas. 150 Tuckegee Airmen lost their lives in training or combat and 32 were captured as prisoners of war.
The pilots were involved in 1578 missions and 15,533 combat sorties of individual aircrafts
A total of 112 German aircraft were destroyed in the air and an additional150 aircraft on the ground
Nearly 1000 railcars, trucks and other military vehicles were destroyed by the Red Tails
An enemy Torpedo boat was sunk by P-47 Thunderbolt machine gun fire
The Tuskegee Airmen supported the "Double V" Campaign, a wartime struggle aimed at fighting the war abroad and for civil rights at home. The "Double V" stood for 'Double Victory - victory over Hitler's racism abroad and victory over racism at home.
In April 1945 men of the 477th Bombardment Group enter the whites-only Officer's Club to protest against segregation practices at Freeman Field, near Seymour, Indiana. This protest led to the arrest of 101 officers and the eventual integration of military installations across the United States.
The Tuskegee Airmen received numerous honors, awards and decorations including 3 Distinguished Unit Citations, the 99th Pursuit Squadron for actions over Sicily, the 99th Fighter Squadron for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy and the 332d Fighter Group for a bomber escort mission to Berlin.
Individual awards to Tuskegee Airmen included the Silver Star, 8 Purple Hearts, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 744 Air Medals
Executive Order 9981 was issued on July 26, 1948 abolished racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces and eventually led to the end of segregation in the services
On March 29, 2007 the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal the highest civilian honor available in the United States by President George W. Bush.
There have been several movies made about the Red Tail pilots including the 'Wings for This Man' a 1945 movie narrated by Ronald Reagan. The 'Tuskegee Airmen' was a 1995 movie starring Laurence Fishburne. The latest movie is 'Red Tails' 2012 movie by George Lucas starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
To learn more about the first US African American aviators visit the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen Museum houses a full-sized replica of a red-tail P-51 Mustang that was flown by 1st Lt. Robert W. Williams, named the "Duchess Arlene".
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