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The Tuskegee Airmen Essay, Research Paper

The Tuskegee Airman

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

desegrated units.*1*

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

their training.*3*

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

military flying.

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


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