For my term paper I chose the Tuskegee Airman. They
will alway be the most influential air squadron during WWII. I
think this because there where a lot racist people that did not
want them to succeed, but they did more than just succeed. They
became the first black Airforce pilots.
It all started when President Roosevelt arranged a meeting
in September 1940 with three African-American leaders and members
of the Army and Navy. During the meeting, the leaders emphasized
three points:(1)equal opportunity for jobs in the defense
industry, (2)impartial administration of the new draftlaw, and
(3)an opportunity for qualified blacks to learn to fly in
A few days later after the meeting, the War Department
issued a policy directives stating that black men generally would
be admitted into the armed force in numbers equivalent to their
percentage in the civilian population.
But it was not until a couple months after the meeting in
December 1940, that the Army Air Corps submitted a plan for the
experiment to establish an all-black fighter squadron.
The plan was not official until July 19, 1941 when Major
General Walter Weaver, commander of the U.S. Army’s Southeastern
Air Corps spoke at the Tuskegee Institute Campus.*2* It was
then that 13 black men became the first black pilot trainees.
Most of the trainees were college graduates, including a
policeman, an army officer, a factory inspector, and several
young men who were fresh out of college.
Also, all of the men were trained at Chanute Air Field in
Ratoul, Illinois at the US Army Air Corps Technical Training
School. The men of this first squadron were so smart that they
established a grade point average never equaled before or after
A few miles from the Tuskegee Campus, two air fields were
built for the training of the new cadets. The two air fields were
Moton Field and the Tuskegee Army Air Field(TAAF). About six
miles from the fields was the town of Tuskegee. It was very
hostile toward blacks, especially its sheriff.
At the TAAF base, very diverse entertainment was
offered. Musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne, other
celebrities like Joe Louis and the Camel Caravan Orchestra.
The first trainer plane used by the squadron was the PT-
17.*4*It was a biplane with unretractable landing gear. The
instructor rode with the cadet during the first practice, whether
the trainee knew how to fly or not.
Before the cadets could earn their wings, they had to
complete three phases of the training. These were the
primary, basic and advanced courses. In the primary and basic,
the cadets would have ground school classroom courses and flying
lessons. In the advanced, the cadets would concentrate on
On September 2, 1941, Captain Benjamin O. Davis Jr. became
the first black man to officially solo an aircraft as an officer
of the Army Air Corps.*5* A few days after Davis’s solo flight on
December 7,1941, in the midst of class 42C’s training, the
Japanese bombed the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That
next day the United States declared war, joining allies with
Great Britain, France, and Russia in the fight against the Axis
powers Germany, Italy and Japan.
It was not until July 3, 1942 that the fourth class of the
Tuskegee Institute graduated. The men of this class became the
cadets that would fill the 99th squadron, which became the first
black squadron of the Army Air Corps.
Joining the pilots in the 99th were 14 other officers who
provided support services and commanded the 35 enlisted men who
serviced the planes. In nine months to a year, they had mastered
skills the Air Force said should require at least five years. The
99th then perfected their skills in the P-40, the plane they
would fly in combat.
After receiving word from their officers, in October 1942,
the Inspector General of the Third Air Force said the 99th was
in excellent condition and was ready for immediate departure.*6*
Finally on April 1, 1943, over a year after the graduation
of the first class, word came “moving out.” The next day the 99th
climbed aboard a train that would take them to New York where
they would board a troop ship. They did not board the ship until
April 15,1943, which was bound for North Africa. Then the 99th
finally reached Moroco on May 1,1943. When getting off the ship,
they said immediately Arab children swarmed them asking for
cigarettes and food.*7*
While at the first camp in Oved, Nija, Josephine Baker, a
well known black performer, entertained the troops.
Also, while being at their first camp received their P-40l
War Hawks and were joined by white pilots who did not care for
the color of their skin. The first missions using these planes
were destroying ground targets and escorting bombers. While
escorting bombers, they were ordered never to pursue an enemy.
But on June 9, 1943, members of the 99th were escorting a
group of 12 bombers. They were attacked by 4 German Me-109’s.*8*
Eight of the members stayed and escorted the bombers home. The
other 4 pursued the Germans and almost lost the 99th’s status as
a battle-ready fighter squadron.
Throughout the rest of June and July the 99th participated
in the bombing of Pantelleria. During this time history was
made. On July 2, 1943, Lieutenant Charles Hall scored the first
kill for the 99th, when he downed a FW-190 and damaged an Me-
109.*9* Later that day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was
commander of American forces in Northern Africa at the time,
visited the squadron and praised Hall for an excellent job.
A few days after the first kill, Pantelleria, a small island
they were attacking surrendered. Also the same day Lieutenant
Colonel Davis received a letter from the area commander, Colonel
J.R. Hawkins, which congratulated them, and thanked them for
their performance in the take down of Pantelleria.*10*
Within days of the surrender of Pantelleria, the 99th
participated in the capture of the islands. The two islands were
Lampedusa and Linosa. This was the first time in history that air
power alone had completely destroyed all enemy resistance.
Then after the takedowns of the three islands, Lieutenant
Colonel Davis was called back to the states to take command of
the all black 332nd fighter group which consisted of the 100th,
the 301st, and the 302nd with a technical group.*11*
The next year in the middle of January, the 99th and the
79th moved to Capodichino Airfield, near Naples on the western
coast of Italy. From there the squadrons supported the battle of
During the Battle of Anzio on January 27, 1944 the 99th
spotted a group of German fighter planes attacking ships near
the beach of Naples. The 99th attacked the Germans and made five
kills. Because of this battle, a few months later, in a study
made by the Army’s statistical unit, the 99th was said to be a
superb tactical fighter unit.
Then finally, the 332nd got its action in the war. It was
composed of the three groups 100th, 301st, and 302nd. They
arrived in Italy in about early February of 1944. Their first
assignment was to patrol Italy’s western coast. But when they
encountered Germans, they tried to pursue but their planes were
too slow to catch up. Then in late May, the 332nd joined other
fighter groups in General Eaker’s 15th Air force at Ramitelli.
It was not until June 9, 1944, three days after D-day that
the 332nd got their first important mission. The mission was to
escort B-17 and B-24 bombers to destroy factories in Munich,*12*
Germany and was led by Colonel Davis. As they neared Munich,
Colonel Davis alerted that enemy planes were approaching the
bombers from the rear. Then he ordered the 302nd to go get the
enemies. They made five kills and had only one loss. The
bombers accomplished their mission and told Colonel Davis when
they got back to base that their formation flying and escort is
the best they had ever seen. Because of this one mission Colonel
Davis received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his leadership.
In that same month Lieutenant Gwynne Pierson and
Captain Wendall Pruitt received the Distinguished Flying Cross
for their never before seen kills. They sank two enemy destroyers
with only bullets. Some people did not believe them but when the
photos from the wing cameras were developed, they had no reason
not to believe the two pilots.
About a week later, they made more history by becoming the
first fighter group with four squadrons with the 99th joining the
332nd. The 99th was soon struck with illness and could not
perform for a while. So during the July of 1944 the three Red
Tail squadrons of 332nd flew mostly bomber escorts. The most
important mission for that month was when they were flying a
bomber escort mission to railroad yards in France and crossed the
French coast. The pilots spotted 25 enemy fighter planes moving
in to attack, but as the enemy planes came closer they saw the
fighter plane escorting the bombers and turned away but left
themselves open for attack. Four of their planes were taken down
by Captain Joseph Elsberry and Lieutenant Harold Sawyer and by
the end of July the 332nd had 39 aerial kills.
In August, the 33rd continued its bomber escort missions to
enemy oil fields. The Allies were about to begin a new offensive
in southern France, and planned to invade the region on August
15. Now that the war had moved north, the Allies needed southern
French ports as entry points for troops and supplies. Assisting
in the effort to reduce resistance to Allied invaders, the 332nd
escorted bombers sent to attack submarine docks, bridges,
airfields, and radar stations. Once the invasion force had landed
the 332nd escorted bomber missions to attack enemy troops,
bridges, and supply and communication centers.
By September, the pilots of the 332nd had become known as
skilled bomber escorts. Praise for the Red Tails came in from
many bomber squadrons. On September 10, 1944, the top brass came
to pay its respects. In a full dress ceremony with the 15th Air
Force band and troops passing in the review, four pilots were
presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross. General Davis
pinned the medal on his son, honored for his leadership of one of
the first bomber escort missions to Munich, during which five
enemy planes were shot down.
Captain Elsberry and Lieutenant Clarence Lester were honored
for shooting down three planes each during single missions and
Lieutenant Jack Holsclaw was cited for achieving two aerial
victories during one mission.
During most of January 1945, the 332nd was kept in by the
rain and the snow. The Squadrons only flew 11 missions. The
weather improved in February which led them to 39 missions. As
the pilots flew around Germany, all they saw was smoke coming
from the piles of debris. Also during the February, the squadron
lost five pilots and planes to the aerial battles.
In early March, Colonel Davis received word that the 302nd
squadron was being inactivated and disbanded. He did not know why
but believed it was because the Air Force was having trouble
supplying black pilots to four black fighter groups.
But it was not until 1948 that President Harry S. Truman
issued an executive order. This order eventually ended
segregation in the US military.
In this paper I have represented my thesis statement with
good facts and hard evidence that the Tuskegee Airman were and
always will be the most influential fighter unit during WWII.
#1.Mckissack, Patricia and Fredrick Red Tail Angles
United States : Walker Publishing Company, 1995.
#2.Harris, Jacqueline The Tuskegee Airman
New Jersey: Dillon Press,1996.
#3.Hart Philip S. Fly Free Minneapolis,Minnesota:
Lerner Publications Company,1992.
#4.Rose Robert A. Lonely Eagles Los Angelos,CA:
Tuskegee Airman Inc.
#5. “Tuskegee Airman:A Brief History” Tuskegee Airman
November 26,1999 http://www.ebonywings.com/tuskegee