East Coast Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Docs/TUSKEGEE-AIRMEN... Created Date £¯¢¢½£¯¢¢½D:20140905145024-05'00

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    MAXWELL AFB, AL 36112-6424

    5 September 2014

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    For decades after World War II, the first black pilots in American military history were

    relatively unknown. Americans became increasingly aware of the contributions of African

    Americans to their cultural heritage during and after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and

    1960s. By the end of the twentieth century, the “Tuskegee Airmen” had become famous in

    newspaper and magazine articles, books, films, television programs, and museum exhibits.

    Unfortunately, their story was told not only by historians using primary source documents, but

    also by others less familiar with history than with legend. A number of false claims circulated,

    many of them based on an ignorance of the chronological sequence of events that formed the

    skeleton of the true story. This book is an effort to provide a framework for Tuskegee Airmen

    history while at the same time revealing their historically significant accomplishments.

    Having worked at the Air Force Historical Research Agency for more than thirty-one

    years, I have developed an appreciation for the invaluable collection of documents on Army Air

    Forces organizations in World War II that is maintained there. Many of the documents describe

    the most famous Tuskegee Airmen organizations such as the 99 th

    , 100 th

    , 301 st,

    and 302 nd


    Squadrons that were assigned to the 332 nd

    Fighter Group during World War II, which escorted

    American B-17 and B-24 bombers over Nazi targets in central Europe, its pilots flying red-tailed

    P-51 Mustangs. But the story is much more complex than that. For example, before flying P-

    51s to escort heavy bombers, the squadrons flew P-40, P-39, and P-47 fighters to support the

    advance of ground forces in Italy. Before that, the Tuskegee Airmen in the United States flew

    other kinds of aircraft in training, including aircraft specifically designed for primary, basic, and

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    advanced flying training. The Tuskegee Airmen story also involves bomber crews who trained

    with the 477 th

    Bombardment Group and the 616 th

    , 617 th

    , 618 th

    , and 619 th


    Squadrons to fly B-25s for the war against Japan, although they never got the chance to go into

    combat overseas.

    What many Americans do not realize, without an acquaintance with the chronology, is

    that many of these phases of the Tuskegee Airmen story were occurring simultaneously. What

    they imagine is that there was a time when the Tuskegee Airmen trained for flying at bases

    within the United States, and then a later time they all deployed overseas to fight in aerial

    combat, and then even later they all returned to prepare for combat with the Japanese, after the

    war in Europe had been won. In truth, even while fighter pilots were flying combat missions

    overseas in 1944 and 1945, new Tuskegee airmen cadets were training to fly at the flying

    training bases around Tuskegee, and bomber squadrons were training for combat operations,

    moving from base to base in Michigan, Kentucky, and Indiana. At the same time that black

    officers were incarcerated for resisting segregation at Freeman Field, for example, other black

    officers were earning Distinguished Flying Crosses and aerial victory credits by shooting down

    enemy airplanes in combat over Europe, while still other black cadets were learning to fly

    military airplanes. Even after the World War II was over, new black military pilots were training

    at Tuskegee Institute’s Moton Field and the Army Air Forces’ Tuskegee Army Air Field back in

    Alabama. Readers may be surprised that the chronology seems to jump between the war in

    Europe and training within the United States, but those events proceeded simultaneously.

    Still, it might be useful, as an introduction to the chronology, to tell the story more

    thematically, all the time realizing that these parts of the history were not always sequential.

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    Primary and Basic Flying Training

    After primary training in PT-17 and PT-19 airplanes at Tuskegee Institute’s Moton Field,

    the first African-American pilots in the Army Air Forces transferred to Tuskegee Army Air

    Field, a military airfield belonging to the Army Air Forces, for the basic, advanced, and

    transition phases of flying training. Tuskegee Army Air Field, as new as Moton Field, covered a

    much larger area, and included four paved runways and three large double hangars. It lay a few

    miles to the northwest of Moton Field. Basic flying training consisted of both ground school and

    flying training in military aircraft. Ground school courses included meteorology, radio

    communication, radio code, airplanes, engines, and navigation. The flying training took place in

    BT-13 airplanes, which, unlike the biplanes of Moton Field, had only one set of wings. The first

    advanced class began at Tuskegee Army Air Field on November 8, 1941.

    Advanced and Transition Training

    After pilots completed basic training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, using BT-13

    monoplanes, they were ready for the next stage of their flying training, which was advanced

    training. The first advanced training class at Tuskegee began in January 1942. For the flying

    training, the pilots flew AT-6 aircraft, which did not appear very different from the BT-13s, but

    which were more advanced and maneuverable, like the fighters most of the graduates would

    eventually fly. Ground courses consisted of armament, gunnery, tactics and techniques of air

    fighting, advanced navigation, maintenance, and engineering. For the gunnery and combat

    tactics, the pilots in the advanced training stage used ranges at Eglin Field, Florida. The

    advanced training was followed at Tuskegee Army Air Field, unlike most other basic and

    advanced flying training bases, by transition training. Single engine pilots learned how to fly P-

    40 aircraft, which were of the same type as fighters flown in combat theaters. The 99 th


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    Squadron flew P-40s when it first entered combat in North Africa and later in Italy. Twin-engine

    pilots learned instead how to fly AT-10s, which prepared them to fly medium bombers such as

    the B-25, which also had two engines. Some of the A-10 pilot graduates from Tuskegee Army

    Air Field moved on to Mather Field, California, where they learned how to fly the B-25 aircraft

    types used by the 477 th

    Bombardment Group. By March 1945, Tuskegee Army Air Field had a

    training version of the B-25 of its own, to replace the AT-10.

    Training Beyond Tuskegee

    Primary, basic, advanced, and transition training for pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field

    was just the beginning for the black pilots who trained there. Although the 99 th

    Fighter Squadron

    deployed directly from Tuskegee for overseas duty in North Africa in April 1943, the three other

    fighter squadrons at Tuskegee, along with the 332d Fighter Group to which they belonged,

    moved to Selfridge Field in Michigan for further training. The group and its 100 th

    , 301 st , and

    302 nd

    Fighter Squadrons remained at Selfridge from the end of March 1943 to early April 1943,

    when they moved to Oscoda, also in Michigan. In early July, the group and its squadrons moved

    back to Selfridge where they remained until the end of the year. During its time at Selfridge and

    Oscoda in Michigan, the 332d Fighter Group honed its skills with fighters designed in part to

    strike ground targets on tactical missions, including P-39s that it would use after deployment


    After the 332d Fighter Group and its three squadrons deployed from Selfridge at the end

    of 1943, the first and only African-American bombardment group was activated at Selfridge, in

    January 1944. The training of a bombardment group took longer than a fighter group, partly

    because the bombers required training not only for pilots but also for crewmen such as

    navigators, bombardiers, radio operators, and gunners. While the bomber pilots trained in B-25s

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    at Selfridge, the bombardiers and navigators trained at other bases. The 477 th


    Group moved in May 1944 to Godman Field, Kentucky, not merely because it was in the South,

    which was more familiar with racial segregation, but also because the climate was better there

    for flying, particularly in the winter.

    The 477 th

    Bombardment Group moved again in early March 1945, as the weather

    warmed up, from Godman Field to Freeman Field, Indiana, a larger base that seemed to be an

    improvement over Godman. However, it was a blessing and a curse. The larger field allowed

    the commander to designate two different buildings as officers’ clubs, claiming one would be f