War Service

 

When the pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen earned their wings and deployed to the warfront, they carried an extra burden of proving their worth to military leaders, simply because of the color of their skin. It was a commonly held belief at the time that these men, although thoroughly trained using the same protocol and standards as white pilots, lacked equal capacity in skill and courage. It would take an extraordinary record to prove otherwise, and the Tuskegee Airmen made their place in history by doing just that. And they did it despite numerous obstacles set before them. They are an example of courage and perseverance for generations to come.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was sent to North Africa in April 1943 for combat duty. They were joined by the 100th, 301st, and 302nd African-American fighter squadrons. Together these squadrons formed the 332nd fighter group. The transition from training to actual combat wasn’t always smooth given the racial tensions of the time. However, the Airmen overcame the obstacles posed by segregation. Under the able command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the well-trained and highly motivated 332nd flew successful missions over Sicily, the Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Bomber crews named the Tuskegee Airmen “Red-Tail Angels” after the red tail markings on their aircraft. Also known as “Black” or “Lonely Eagles,” the German Luftwaffe called them “Black Bird Men.” The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the Mediterranean theater of operations. The Airmen completed 15,000 sorties in approximately 1,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations. Several aviators died in combat. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded numerous high honors, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, the Croix de Guerre, and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 332nd Fighter Group for “outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism” in 1945.

The Tuskegee Airmen of the 477th Bombardment Group never saw action in WWII. However, they staged a peaceful, non-violent protest for equal rights known as the Freedom Field Mutiny at Freeman Field, Indiana, in April 1945.

Their achievements proved conclusively that the Tuskegee Airmen were highly disciplined and capable fighters. They earned the respect of fellow bomber crews and of military leaders. Having fought America’s enemies abroad, the Tuskegee Airmen returned to America to join the struggle to win equality at home.

Pilots of a U.S. Army Air Forces fighter squadron, credited with shooting down 8 of the 28 German planes destroyed in dog-fights over the new Allied beachheads south of Rome, on Jan. 27, talk over the day's exploits at a U.S. base in the Mediterranean theater. Archive photo credits: Air Force Historical Research Agency

Pilots of a U.S. Army Air Forces fighter squadron, credited with shooting down 8 of the 28 German planes destroyed in dog-fights over the new Allied beachheads south of Rome, on Jan. 27, talk over the day’s exploits at a U.S. base in the Mediterranean theater. Archive photo credits: Air Force Historical Research Agency

 

Tuskegee Airmen Personnel Facts

  • 44 classes graduated during the “Tuskegee Experience”
  • 992 pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield
  • 355 Pilots Sent Overseas
  • 150 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The toll included 66 pilots killed in action or accidents, 84 killed in training and non-combat missions
  • 32 Prisoners of War
  • Over 14,000 Support Personnel

Records and highlights:

  • During WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 1267 missions and 6381 combat sorties with the 12th Air Force (June, 1943 to May, 1944); 311 missions and 9152 combat sorties with the 15th Air Force (June, 1944 to May, 1945)
  • 179 bomber escort missions, with a good record of protection, losing bombers on only seven missions and a total of only 27, compared to an average of 46 among other 15th Air Force P-51 groups.
  • Total Missions: 1578 
  • Total Combat Sorties: 15,533  
  • Total Aerial Kills: 112

Combat Record – Destroyed, Damaged or Sunk

  • 409 Aircraft (in air and on ground)
  • 112 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground and 148 damaged. This included three Me-262 jet fightersshot down
  • 40 Boats and barges destroyed
  • 950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed (619 rail cars)
  • 126 Locomotives
  • 23 Buildings and Factories
  • 2 Oil and Ammunition Depots
  • 87 Motor Transports
  • 1 Destroyer
  • 9 Radar Installations           

Awards and decorations included:

  • 744 air medals awarded
  • 3 Presidential Unit Citations awarded
  • 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses awarded
  • 1 Legion of Merit awarded
  • 1 Legion of Merit awarded
  • 1 Silver Star awarded
  • 2 Soldier Medals awarded
  • 8 Purple Hearts awarded
  • 14 Bronze Stars awarded
  • 1 Red Star of Yugoslavia awarded

Statistics provided by the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Learn more about the 32 captured Tuskegee Airmen POWs

Photo: Lt. William Griffin of the 99th Fighter Squadron crash-landed his plane in enemy territory after it was hit by enemy fire on Jan. 15, 1944.

Griffin was captured and held at Stalag Luft I until the end of the war with other prisoners of war; he is standing in the back row, fourth from the left.

(Courtesy of Stalg Luft I Online)

The Fight Song

Contact –
Joy stick back –
Sailing through the blue
Gallant sons of the 99th –
Brown men tried and trueChorus:
We are the Heroes of the night –
To hell with the Axis might
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
Fighting 99th.
Rat-tat, Rat-tat-tat –
Down in flames they go
The withering fire of the 99th –
Sends them down belowChorus:
We are the Heroes of the night –
To hell with the Axis might
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
Fighting 99th.
Drink up, Drain your cup –
To those daring men
Flying torch of flame, Oh GOD–
Red White and Blue – Amen.
For We Are –Chorus:
Heroes of the night
To Hell with the Axis might
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
Fighting 99th WINGS!!