Black History Month, Facts #18

Tuskgee Airmen, Part II:

Combat Prowess

The summer of 1943 saw the Tuskegee Airmen /the 99th Airborne providing cover for shipping in the Mediterranean. It also saw their first victory: after being ambushed by German fighters, Charles B. Hall shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, although his group lost 2 members.

The 99th proceeded to fly in the invasion Sicily (July 1943), although they still faced discrimination from their commanders: the 99th was limited from interfacing with the other 3 (white) squadrons, also limiting their flight and battle experience.

This provided the ammo needed to effectively shoot down the 99th. William W. “Spike” Momyer, their Group Leader, made his move: filing a field assessment of the 99th’s performance that panned the squadron’s air combat results across the board, endorsed by nearly all of the major Chain of Command in North Africa, and, via Army Air Forces Chief Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, resulting in Arnold calling for the 99th and the three new squadrons of the 332nd to be moved to a “rear defense area.” Time picked up on the criticism by Army Brass and ran a piece, insinuating that the Tuskegee Airmen “weren’t up to the job”. However, Davis’s defense of his troops (including detailed battle recaps) resonated with the black newspapers, who picked up on the story.

This issue did not distract the Airmen from racking up victories in the Mediterranean. The 99th scored over a dozen victories near Anzio, Italy, in a 2-day span. Time backed off of their previous criticism. The 99th were transferred Capodichino near Naples on the Mediterranean coast, attached to the 79th Fighter Group. “Commanded by Colonel Earl E. Bates, the 79th offered a welcoming environment for the black pilots. In the words of historian J. Todd Moye, Bates “saw to it that the officers of the 99th were integrated into the work of the group and treated them as equals”” (History on the Net).

During the War, shot down 409 German aircraft, destroyed 950 ground transportation, and sank a destroyer with machine guns alone. They lost 66 pilots and 32 pilots were shot down, becoming prisoners of war. Perhaps their crowning achievement in battle: during 2,000 escort missions for bombers. not one bomber was lost to enemy aircraft; no other fighter group, with as many missions, can make that claim.

There is so much more information on the Tuskegee Airman, both online and in media. Some links are listed below; if you get a change, there are still Airmen alive – talk to them for a few minutes. I’m very sure you’ll learn a bunch!

From Tuskegee Airmen

From History on the Net: Tuskegee Airmen: The African-American Military Pilots of WW2

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