Tuskegee Airmen (99th Division) – Pilots

From what started as an experiment, the Tuskegee Airmen became the 99th Squadron of the United States Fighter Squadron.  During the testing and training, certain pilots grew superior.  Benjamin Davis Jr. was equipped with an education that spoke for itself.  He had attended the University of Chicago and the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Benjamin Davis Jr. made an impact on many of the Tuskegee Airmen during training with his leadership and education.  He was promoted after his graduation from the academy and put in charge of the newly formed 99th.  Long after World War Two had started, the 99th Squadron was en route to the front lines in 1943.

As the Tuskegee Airmen of the 99th arrived in North Africa with their P-40 aircrafts, they met the harsh reality that they would have little impact on the outcome of the war.  The squadron nicknamed “The Lonely Eagles” was put on patrol missions to start their brief time in North Africa.  Davis Jr. and his men engaged in the first combat mission by black fighter pilots in July of 1943.  The airmen were primarily put on missions destroying ground targets.  Military officials still believed that blacks were unable to excel in air to air combat.  As Davis Jr. and his other airmen strafed trains and other German and Italian military instillations, he realized that the squadron was not reaching its full potential.

 As the 99th continued to fight in the Mediterranean, Davis returned stateside.  The United States began losing air superiority, sparking an increase in attendance of the Tuskegee Institute.  As U.S. officials began to see the need for pilots, they began backing the Tuskegee Experiment.  Black squadrons now grew with the addition of the famous 332nd fighter group.  As Davis led the 332nd into Italy, he knew that this squadron would see more action.  “We do not hate those that we fight, nor do we love those we fight for” said various pilots.  Still receiving segregation through the ranks, this squadron had the important job of escorting bombers safely to their targets.

As the 332nd began missions protecting heavy bombers like the B-17 and B-24, they gained the name the “red-tails” due to their tails being painted.  The squadron progressed as the equipment of the United States progressed.  They began fighting with P-40’s, then P-47’s, and lastly the most famous aircraft of World War Two, the P-51.  It was with this aircraft that the 332nd protected the heavy bombers to reach their targets.

 As the Second World War began to come to its most pivotal point, the United States began invading Nazi covered territory.  Air superiority was something that would eventually win the war.Bombers would be pivotal to destroy and cripple German warehouses, factories, and air bases.  The Tuskegee Airmen still hold one of the most astonishing records of any air combat of the United States.  The Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber in some 200 missions of escorting.  This stat is truly unbelievable due to the massive losses that the U.S. bombers endured in the war.

  Benjamin Davis Jr. led many of these missions, and later became a General in the U.S. Air Force.  As the war came to a close, the United States air superiority was arguably the most influential aspect in the Allied victory.

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”   – Holbert, Tim G.W. (Summer 2003). “A Tradition of Sacrifice: African-American Service in World War II”. World War II Chronicles (World War II Veterans CommitteeIikiii Iiiii) (XXI). Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. http://web.archive.org/web/20070927201543/http://www.wwiivets.com/IssueXXI-Summer_2003/IssueXXI_Tradition.htm.

I myself am deeply impacted today by these brave airmen who defied the odds of racism in their own country to fight for it.  My grandfather was drafted into the Second World War and fought in the Mediterranean.  He told me stories about different experiences he had while fighting for his country.  Some of which are very graphic.  However, one thing that he had told me was the overall importance of airpower.  He was part of the invasion squad into Italy and was pinned down by enemy forces near a pillbox.  His squad was in big trouble and was greatly outnumbered.  When he thought of the worst he heard the roar of a P-40 in the air.  This P-40 eliminated the enemy in swift passes.  I always have wondered if at the controls of this aircraft was indeed a Tuskegee Airmen.  If that aircraft had not come, I very well might not be here today.   Many of the men who fought in the Second World War for the Allied powers owe these men a great debt.

 The Tuskegee Airmen as a whole provided the United States of America air superiority at the end of the Second World War.  The heroes that became the first African American military pilots opened doors for thousands to come.  They overcame the odds of segregation and racism to complete one goal, to serve their country.  The Tuskegee Airmen not only provided doors to be open for African Americans in wartime, but they helped win the Second World War which shaped the world as we know it.





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(c) Dale Shields




Painter, Nell Irvin. Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. New York: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.