Tuskegee Airmen

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Tuskegee Airmen (unofficial)


Emblems of wing




United States


US Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Forces
United States Air Force


Fighter unit

Part of

332d Fighter Group/Air Expeditionary Wing


The “Red Tails”


Spit Fire


World War II

The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps.


Major James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio,
as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee
cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying
school, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1941 with Vultee BT-13 trainers in the background.

Color poster of a Tuskegee Airman

On March 19, 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron (Pursuit being the pre-World War II descriptive for "Fighter") was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. Over 250 enlisted men were trained at Chanute in aircraft ground support trades. This small number of enlisted men became the core of other black squadrons forming at Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields in Alabama.

In June 1941, the Tuskegee program officially began with formation of the 99th Fighter Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute, a highly regarded university founded by Booker T. Washington, through the work of Lewis Adams and George W. Campbell in Tuskegee, Alabama. The unit consisted of an entire service arm, including ground crew. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field about 16 km (10 mi) to the west for conversion training onto operational types. The Airmen were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., then one of the few black West Point graduates. His father Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. was the first black general in the U.S. Army.

During its training, the 99th Fighter Squadron was commanded by
white and Puerto Rican officers, beginning with Major James Ellison. By
1942, however, it was Colonel Frederick Kimble who oversaw operations
at the Tuskegee airfield. Kimble maintained segregation on the field in
deference to local customs – a policy the airmen resented.
Later that year, the Air Corps replaced Kimble with the director of
Instruction at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Major Noel F. Parrish. Parrish,
counter to the prevalent racism of the day, was fair and open-minded,
and petitioned Washington to allow the Tuskegee Airmen to serve in


Considered ready for combat duty, the 99th was transported to Casablanca, Morocco, on the USS Mariposa and participated in the North African campaign. From Morocco they travelled by train to Oujda then to Tunis from where they operated against the enemy. Flyers and ground crew alike were largely isolated by the racial segregation practices of their initial command, the white 33rd Fighter Group and its commander Colonel William W. Momyer. The flight crews were handicapped by being left with little guidance from battle-experienced pilots beyond a week spent with Colonel Phillip Cochran. The 99th’s first combat mission was to attack the small but strategic volcanic island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea, in preparation for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The 99th moved to Sicily where it received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance in combat.

Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40.

However, Colonel Momyer told media sources in the U.S. that the 99th was a failure and its pilots cowardly, incompetent or worse, resulting in a critical article in Time magazine. In response, a hearing was convened before the House Armed Services Committee to determine whether the Tuskegee Airmen "experiment" should be allowed to continue. Momyer accused the Airmen of being incompetent—-based on the fact that they had seen little air-to-air combat during their time in theater. To bolster the recommendation to scrap the project, a member of the committee commissioned and then submitted into evidence a "scientific" report by the University of Texas which purported to prove that African Americans were of low intelligence and incapable of handling complex situations (such as air combat). Colonel Davis forcefully refuted the committee members’ claims, but only the intervention of Colonel Emmett "Rosie" O’Donnell prevented a recommendation for disbandment of the squadron from being sent to president Franklin D. Roosevelt. General Hap Arnold ordered an evaluation of all Mediterranean Theater P-40 units be undertaken to determine the true merits of the 99th; the results showed the 99th Fighter Squadron to be at least equal to other U.S. units operating the fighter.

Shortly after the hearing, three new squadrons fresh out of training at Tuskegee embarked for Africa. After several months operating separately, all four squadrons were combined to form the all-black 332nd Fighter Group.

The Tuskegee Airmen were initially equipped with P-40 Warhawks, briefly with P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with P-47 Thunderbolts (June-July 1944), and finally with the aircraft that they became most commonly identified with, the P-51 Mustang (July 1944).

On January 27 and 28, 1944, Luftwaffe Fw 190 fighter-bombers raided Anzio, where the Allies had conducted amphibious landings on January 22. Attached to the 79th Fighter Group, eleven of the 99th Fighter Squadron’s pilots shot down enemy fighters, including Capt. Charles B. Hall, who claimed two shot down, bringing his aerial victory total to three. The eight fighter squadrons defending Anzio together claimed 32 German aircraft shot down whilst the 99th claimed the highest score among them with 13.

Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., commander of the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group, in front of his P-47 Thunderbolt in Sicily.

The squadron won its second Distinguished Unit Citation on May 12-14, 1944, while attached to the 324th Fighter Group, attacking German positions on Monastery Hill (Monte Cassino), attacking infantry massing on the hill for a counterattack, and bombing a nearby strong point to force the surrender of the German garrison to Moroccan Goumiers.

By the spring of 1944, more graduates were ready for combat, and the all-black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: the 100th, 301st and 302nd. Under the command of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, the squadrons were moved to mainland Italy, where the 99th FS, assigned to the group on May 1, joining them on June 6. The Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group escorted bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.

Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive
combat record. Reportedly, the Luftwaffe awarded the Airmen the
nickname, “Schwarze Vogelmenschen,” or “Black Birdmen.” The Allies
called the Airmen “Redtails” or “Redtail Angels,” because of the
distinctive crimson paint on the vertical stabilizers of the unit’s

Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, “Tuskegee Airmen” at Ramitelli,
Italy. From left to right, Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, Lt. Carroll S. Woods,
Lt. Robert H. Nelron, Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner and Lt. Clarence P.

A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium), was forming in the
U.S. but completed its training too late to see action. The 99th
Fighter Squadron after its return to the United States became part of
the 477th, redesignated the 477th Composite Group.

By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 109 Luftwaffe aircraft shot down, the German-operated Italian destroyer TA-23 sunk by machine-gun fire, and destruction of numerous fuel dumps, trucks and trains. The squadrons of the 332nd FG flew more than 15,000 sorties on 1,500 missions. The unit received recognition through official channels and was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for a mission flown March 24, 1945, escorting B-17s to bomb the Daimler-Benz tank factory at Berlin, Germany, an action in which its pilots were credited with destroying three Me-262 jets, all belonging to the Luftwaffe’s all-jet Jagdgeschwader 7, in aerial combat that day, despite the American unit initially claiming 11 Me 262s on that particular mission. However on examining German records, JG 7 records just four Me 262s were lost and all of the pilots survived. In return the 463rd Bomb Group, one of the many B-17 groups the 322nd were escorting, lost two bombers. The 332nd themselves lost three P-51s during the mission. The bombers also made substantial claims, making it impossible to tell which units were responsible for those individual four kills. The 99th Fighter Squadron in addition received two DUCs, the second after its assignment to the 332nd FG. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded several Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946; about
445 deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or

Controversy over the escort record

While it had long been said that the Redtails were the only fighter group who never lost a bomber to enemy fighters,
suggestions to the contrary, combined with Air Force records and
eyewitness accounts indicating that at least 25 bombers were lost to
enemy fire, resulted in the Air Force conducting a reassessment of the history of this famed unit in late 2006.

The claim that no bomber escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen had ever
been lost to enemy fire first appeared on March 24, 1945, in the Chicago Defender,
under the headline “332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without Loss.”
According to the March 28, 2007, Air Force report, however, some
bombers under 332nd Fighter Group escort protection were shot down on
the very day the Chicago Defender article was published. The subsequent report, based on after-mission reports filed by both the
bomber units and Tuskegee fighter groups as well as missing air crew
records and witness testimony, was released in March 2007 and
documented 25 bombers shot down by enemy fighter aircraft while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

Tuskegee Airmen gathered at a U.S. base after a mission in the Mediterranean theater.

The controversy continued to attract news media attention in 2008. A St. Petersburg Times
article quoted a historian at the Air Force Historical Research Agency
as confirming the loss of up to 25 bombers. Disputing this, a professor
at the National Defense University in Washington said he researched
more than 200 Tuskegee Airmen mission reports and found no bombers were
lost to enemy fighters. Bill Holloman, a Tuskegee airman who taught
black studies at the University of Washington and now chairs the Airmen’s history committee, was reported by the Times
as saying his review of records did confirm lost bombers, but “the
Tuskegee story is about pilots who rose above adversity and
discrimination and opened a door once closed to black America — not
about whether their record is perfect.”

One mission report states that on July 26, 1944: “1 B-24 seen
spiraling out of formation in T/A (target area) after attack by E/A
(enemy aircraft). No chutes seen to open.” A second report, dated
August 31, 1944, praises group commander Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. by
saying he “so skillfully disposed his squadrons that in spite of the
large number of enemy fighters, the bomber formation suffered only a
few losses.”

Legacy and honors

President George W. Bush presents the Congressional Gold Medal to about 300 Tuskegee Airmen at the US Capitol rotunda on March 29, 2007, in Washington, D.C.

President George W. Bush presents the Congressional Gold Medal to about 300 Tuskegee Airmen at the US Capitol rotunda on March 29, 2007, in Washington, D.C.

On March 29, 2007, about 350 Tuskegee Airmen and their widows were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the US Capitol rotunda. The medal will go on display at the Smithsonian Institution; individual honorees will receive bronze replicas.

The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

In 2006, California Congressman Adam Schiff, and Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay, Jr., have led the initiative to create a commemorative postage stamp to honor the Tuskegee Airmen. The 99th Flying Training Squadron flies T-1A Jayhawks and, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, they are in the process of painting the tops of the tails of their aircraft red.

On August 1, 2008, the City of Atlanta, Georgia officially renamed a portion of State Route 6, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. The road is a highway that serves as the main artery into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

On December 9, 2008, the remaining Tuskegee Airmen were invited to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, the first African-American elected President. Retired Lt. William Broadwater, 82, of Upper Marlboro, a Tuskegee Airman, summed up the feeling. "The culmination of our efforts and others’ was this great prize we were given on Nov. 4. Now we feel like we’ve completed our mission."

On January 20, 2009 the remaining Tuskegee Airmen attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Popular culture

  • Wings for This Man (1945), a propaganda short about the Tuskegee Airmen, was produced by the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces. The film was narrated by Ronald Reagan.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen (1996) starring Laurence Fishburne was produced and aired by HBO.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen (1997) are represented in the G.I. Joe action figure series.
  • The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany (2001) book by Stephen Ambrose describes the Tuskegee Airmen in a tribute to their achievements.
  • Hart’s War, a 2002 film about a Tuskegee Airman accused of murdering another American serviceman in a German POW Camp.
  • Silver Wings and Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly (2004) documentary was the first film to feature information regarding the “Freeman Field Mutiny,” the struggle of 101 African-American officers arrested for entering a white officer’s club.
  • Red Tails is a film being developed by George Lucas. The story follows the events surrounding the Tuskegee Airmen, who were African American pilots during World War II renowned for their bravery. George Lucas discussed with Samuel L. Jackson being an actor in and possibly directing the film, and also sent him
    the script to review. Jackson praised the script, and suggested Lucas
    could mentor him through parts of directing such as special effects,
    though Jackson is not yet committed to either role. The film has been under development by George Lucas since 1990. John Ridley penned the most recent screenplay draft. Lucas says the film is close to production as of August 2008. Location scouting was taking place as of June 2008 in Prague and Italy, and filming may begin as soon as late 2008 or early 2009.


Patch of the 100th Fighter Squadron

Patch of the 99th Fighter Squadron

Portrait of Tuskegee Airman Edward M. Thomas, March 1945.



  1. See Pronunciation of Tuskegee.
  2. Francis 1988, p. 15. Note: It was a lawsuit or the threat of a law suit
    from a rejected candidate that caused the USAAC to accept black
  3. Thole 2002, p. 48. Note: The Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago was also considered.
  4. Francis, The Tuskegee Airmen, 233
  5. Francis, The Tuskegee Airmen, 258
  6. Haulman, Dr. Daniel L. Aerial Victory Credits of the Tuskegee Airmen. AFHRA Maxwell AFB. Air Force Retrieved: February 16, 2007.
  7. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 276.
  8. Air Force Historical Study 82, AFHRA Maxwell AFB, 1969. Retrieved: February 16, 2007.
  9. Tuskegee Airmen, National Museum of the Air Force.
  10. [http://www.pingry.k12.nj.us/about/articles/2002-nov-11-tuskegee.html Lt. Col. Thomas E. Highsmith, Jr.; speech at The Pingry School, November 8, 2002
  11. An uneasy question for the Tuskegee Airmen
  12. “Report: Tuskegee Airmen lost 25 bombers.” USA Today, April 1, 2007. Retrieved: April 1, 2007.
  13. Article ID:539246 Comcast.net news. Retrieved: December 11, 2006.
  14. Ex-Pilot Confirms Bomber Loss, Flier Shot down in 1944 was Escorted by Tuskegee Airmen. Washington Post, December 17, 2006, p. A18.
  15. AP Story March 29, 2007
  16. “Report: Tuskegee Airmen lost 25 bombers.” The Associated Press, April 2, 2007. Retrieved: April 10, 2007
  17. Levesque, William R. “An uneasy question for the Tuskegee Airmen.” St. Petersburg Times, January 26, 2008.
  18. Banerji, Shilpa. “Historians Question Record of Tuskegee Airmen”. www.diverseeducation.com. http://www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_6872.shtml. Retrieved on 2008-06-19. 
  19. Library of Congress. Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the Rotunda of the Capitol is authorized to be used on 29 March 2007, for a ceremony to award a Congressional… (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by Senate), March 7, 2007
  20. Price, Deb. “Nation to honor Tuskegee Airmen.”The Detroit News, March 29, 2007. Retrieved: March 29, 2007.
  21. Tuskegee Airmen Gold Medal Bill Signed Into Law. Office of Congressman Charles B. Rangel. Retrieved: October 26, 2006
  22. Evans, Ben. “Tuskegee Airmen awarded Congressional Gold Medal.” Associated Press, March 30, 2007. Retrieved: 30 April 2007.
  23. AP Story, March 29, 2007
  24. Official NPS website: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
  25. Votes to Honor Tuskegee Airmen
  26. last = Seelye | first = Katharine | coauthors = | title = Tuskegee
    Airmen Invited to Obama Inauguration | work = | pages = | language =
    English | publisher = The New York Times | date = 2008-12-09 | url = http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/us/politics/10inaug.html?hp | accessdate = 2008-12-09}}
  27. We’ve Completed Our Mission. Washington Post, December 13, 2008, p. B01.
  28. Wings for This Man at the Internet Movie Database
  29. The Tuskegee Airmen at the Internet Movie Database
  30. 1997 G.I. Joe Classic Collection
  31. Ambrose 2001, p. 27.
  32. Silver Wings & Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly at the Internet Movie Database
  33. Siver Wings and Civil Rights: The Flight to Fly
  34. Vejvoda, Jim. “Jackson Eyeing Red Tails.” IGN, 18 August 2008. Retrieved: 25 August 2008.
  35. “Master of his own universe.” The Herald (Glasgow), 15 August 2008. Retrieved: 25 August 2008.
  36. “Lucas on Indy, Star Wars and Red Tails.” Independent Television News, 14 August 2008. Retrieved: 25 August 2008.
  37. Vejvoda, Jim. “Red Tails Director Scoop.” IGN, 17 June 2008. Retrieved: 25 August 2008.


  • Ambrose, Stephen Edward. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-74320-339-9.
  • Broadnax, Samuel L. Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2007. ISBN 0-27599-195-4.
  • Bucholtz, Chris and Jim Laurier. 332nd Fighter Group – Tuskegee Airmen. London: Osprey Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1-84603-044-7.
  • Caldwell, Donald and Richard Muller. The Luftwaffe over Germany: Defense of the Reich. London: Greenhill Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85367-712-0.
  • Cotter, Jarrod. “Red Tail Project.” Flypast No. 248, March 2002.
  • Francis, Charles F. (1997). Adolph Caso. ed. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation (4 ed.). Boston: Branden Books. ISBN 0828320292. http://books.google.com/books?id=VyuedRwZre8C.
  • Hill, Ezra M. Sr. The Black Red Tail Angels: A Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Columbus, Ohio: SMF Haven of Hope. 2006.
  • Holway, John B. Red Tail, Black Wings: The Men of America’s Black Air Force. Las Cruces, New Mexico: Yuca Tree Press, 1997. ISBN 1-88132-521-0.
  • Leuthner, Stuart and Olivier Jensen. High Honor: Recollections by Men and Women of World War II Aviation. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989. ISBN 0-87474-650-7.
  • McKissack, Patricia C. and Fredrick L. Red Tail Angels: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers, 1996. ISBN 0-80278-292-2.
  • Ross, Robert A. Lonely Eagles: The Story of America’s Black Air Force in World War II. Los Angeles: Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Los Angeles Chapter, 1980. ISBN 0-917612-00-0.
  • Sandler, Stanley. Segregated Skies: All-Black Combat Squadrons of WWII. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. ISBN 1-56098-154-7.
  • Thole, Lou. “Segregated Skies.” Flypast No, 248, March 2002.

External links