Saturday, February 06, 2010

Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen

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Those air crew and ground crew personnel associated with black flying units of the Army Air Forces (AAF) during World War II are known as the Tuskegee Airmen. On 16 January 1941, Secretary of the Army Henry L. Stimson authorized the formation of a black pursuit squadron. The 99th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron was activated in March 1941 and began training in separate facilities at Tuskegee, Alabama, on 15 November.
The 99th Squadron, equipped with Curtiss P-40s and later Bell P-39s, was sent to French Morocco in April 1943, and it continued combat service from bases in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy.

In February 1944, the 99th Squadron was joined by three other fighter squadrons, the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd, and all four squadrons constituted the 332nd Fighter Group, commanded by Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. The group converted to Republic P-47s in April-May 1944 and to North American P-51s in June. Until the end of the war in Europe, it escorted Fifteenth Air Force bombers and made attacks on ground targets from its bases in Italy. The group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for an escort mission to Berlin on 24 March 1945.

In mid-1943, the AAF decided to organize a black bomber unit, the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium). Activated on 1 June 1943, its pilots were to be trained at Tuskegee, but that airfield, already overburdened with training requirements, was unable to handle the new requirement. Rather than sending black student pilots to white schools or creating another separate black base, the AAF delayed crews for the 477th Group until the Tuskegee backlog could be cleared out. Consequently, the group was not operational until after the war.

Since Tuskegee was not able to provide North American B-25 medium bomber pilot transition nor training for bombardiers and navigators, the AAF compromised somewhat its segregation policies and sent black officers to what had been all-white training establishments for the advanced instruction. Tuskegee was, however, the single school for instruction of black pilots until it closed in 1946. Its graduates along with the other air and ground personnel trained there for the 477th Bombardment and 332nd Fighter Groups are the Tuskegee Airmen.

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