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NINE MYTHS ABOUT THE TUSKEGEE AIRMENDr. Daniel L. Haulman21 October 2011The members of the 332d Fighter Group and the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302dFighter Squadrons during World War II are remembered in part because they were theonly African-American pilots who served in combat with the Army Air Forces duringWorld War II. Because they trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field before and during thewar, they are sometimes called the Tuskegee Airmen. In the more than sixty years sinceWorld War II, several stories have grown up about the Tuskegee Airmen, some of themtrue and some of them false. This paper focuses on nine myths about the TuskegeeAirmen that, in light of the historical documentation available at the Air Force HistoricalResearch Agency, and sources at the Air University Library, are not accurate. Thatdocumentation includes monthly histories of the 99th Fighter Squadron, the 332d FighterGroup and the 477th Bombardment Group, the 332d Fighter Group’s daily narrativemission reports, orders issued by the Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces, Fifteenth AirForce mission folders, and missing air crew reports.I will address each of the following nine myths separately:1. The Myth of Inferiority2. The Myth of “Never Lost a Bomber”3. The Myth of the Deprived Ace4. The Myth of Being First to Shoot Down German Jets5. The Myth that the Tuskegee Airmen sank a German destroyer6. The Myth of the “Great Train Robbery”1

7. The Myth of Superiority8. The Myth that the Tuskegee Airmen units were all black9. The Myth that all Tuskegee Airmen were fighter pilots who flew red-tailed P-51s toescort bombers1. THE MYTH OF INFERIORITYThe first misconception regarding the Tuskegee Airmen was that they wereinferior. The myth was that black pilots could not perform as well in combat as theirwhite counterparts. This misconception developed even before the 99th Fighter Squadrondeployed as the first African-American Army Air Forces organization in combat. On 30October 1925, the War College of the U.S. Army issued a memorandum entitled, “TheUse of Negro Manpower in War.” The memorandum noted that Negroes were inferior towhites and encouraged continued segregation within the Army.1 Even during thesquadron’s operations in North Africa, authorities challenged its right to remain incombat.In September 1943, Major General Edwin J. House, commander of the XII AirSupport Command, sent a memorandum to Maj Gen John K. Cannon, DeputyCommander of the Northwest African Tactical Air Force, suggesting that the 99th FighterSquadron had failed to demonstrate effectiveness in combat, and should be taken out ofthe combat zone. The memorandum was based on information from Col. WilliamMomyer, commander of the 33rd Fighter Group, to which the 99th Fighter Squadron hadbeen attached.2Following the House memorandum, which went up the chain of command all theway to the headquarters of the Army Air Forces, the Statistical Control Division, Office2

of Management Control, War Department, conducted an official study to compare theperformance of the 99th Fighter Squadron with that of other P-40 units in the Twelfth AirForce. The subsequent report, released on March 30, 1944, concluded that the 99thFighter Squadron had performed as well as the other squadrons.3As you can see from the table below, there were seven fighter groups of theFifteenth Air Force flying primarily bomber escort missions between June 1944 and theend of April 1945. In terms of aerial victory credits, which is one good measure ofcombat performance, the 332d Fighter Group did not score the lowest number. In fact, itstotal number of aerial victory credits was higher than that of two of the white groups.TABLE I: FIGHTER GROUPS OF THE FIFTEENTH AIR FORCE IN WORLDWAR IIOrganizationTotal aerial victories June1944-April 1945st1 Fighter Group7214th Fighter Group85st31 Fighter Group27852d Fighter Group224.582d Fighter Group106th325 Fighter Group252332d Fighter Group94Sources: USAF Historical Study No. 85, “USAF Credits for the Destruction of EnemyAircraft, World War II” (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1978); MaurerMaurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II (Washington, DC: Office of Air ForceHistory, 1983).I should mention, however, that both of the groups scoring lower numbers ofaerial victories than the Tuskegee Airmen in the same period were flying P-38 aircraft,and the 332d Fighter Group was flying, for all but one month of the period, P-51 aircraft,which had a higher speed and range than the P-38s. Of the four P-51 fighter groups inthe Fifteenth Air Force, the 31st, 52nd, 325th, and 332nd, the 332nd Fighter Group shotdown fewer enemy aircraft in the same period. It is possible that the Tuskegee Airmen3

shot down fewer enemy aircraft than the other P-51 fighter groups, and did not have anyaces, because they were staying closer to the bombers they were escorting, as ordered,and not abandoning the bombers to chase after enemy aircraft in the distance. Twentyseven of the bombers in groups the 332d Fighter Group was assigned to escort were shotdown by enemy aircraft. The average number of bombers shot down by enemy aircraftwhile under the escort of the other groups of the Fifteenth Air Force was 46. TheTuskegee Airmen lost significantly fewer bombers than the average number lost by theother fighter groups in the Fifteenth Air Force.2. THE MYTH OF “NEVER LOST A BOMBER”Another misconception that developed during the last months of the war is thestory that no bomber under escort by the Tuskegee Airmen was ever shot down by enemyaircraft. A version of this misconception appears in Alan Gropman’s book, The AirForce Integrates (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1985), p. 14: “Theirrecord on escort duty remained unparalleled. They never lost an American bomber toenemy aircraft.” This misconception originated even before the end of World War II, inthe press. A version of the statement first appeared in a March 10, 1945 issue of LibertyMagazine, in an article by Roi Ottley, who claimed that the black pilots had not lost abomber they escorted to enemy aircraft in more than 100 missions. The 332d FighterGroup had by then flown more than 200 missions. Two weeks after the Ottley article, onMarch 24, 1945, another article appeared in the Chicago Defender, claiming that in morethan 200 missions, the group had not lost a bomber they escorted to enemy aircraft. Inreality, bombers under Tuskegee Airmen escort were shot down on seven different days:June 9, 1944; June 13, 1944; July 12, 1944; July 18, 1944; July 20, 1944; August 24,4

1944; and March 24, 1945.4 Moreover, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 311 missions for theFifteenth Air Force between early June 1944 and late April 1945, and only 179 of thosemissions escorted bombers.Alan Gropman interviewed General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., years after WorldWar II, and specifically asked him if the “never lost a bomber” statement were true.General Davis replied that he questioned the statement, but that it had been repeated somany times people were coming to believe it (AFHRA call number K239.0512-1922). 5Davis himself must have known the statement was not true, because his own citation forthe Distinguished Flying Cross, contained in Fifteenth Air Force General Order 2972dated 31 August 1944, noted that on June 9, 1944,“Colonel Davis so skillfully disposedhis squadrons that in spite of the large number of enemy fighters, the bomber formationsuffered only a few losses.”6In order to determine whether or not bombers under the escort of the TuskegeeAirmen were ever shot down by enemy aircraft during World War II, I practiced thefollowing method.First, I determined which bombardment wing the Tuskegee Airmen wereescorting on a given day, and when and where that escort took place. I found thisinformation in the daily narrative mission reports of the 332d Fighter Group, which arefiled with the group’s monthly histories from World War II. The call number for thesedocuments at the Air Force Historical Research Agency is GP-332-HI followed by themonth and year.Next, I determined which bombardment groups were in the bombardment wingthat the Tuskegee Airmen were escorting on the day in question. I found this information5

in the daily mission folders of the Fifteenth Air Force. The Fifteenth Air Force dailymission folders also contain narrative mission reports for all the groups that took part inmissions on any given day, including reports of both the fighter and bombardmentgroups, as well as the wings to which they belonged. The call number for thesedocuments at the Air Force Historical Research Agency is 670.332 followed by the date.The bombardment group daily mission reports show which days bombers of the groupwere shot down by enemy aircraft.Next, I checked the index of the Missing Air Crew Reports, to see if the groupsthat the Tuskegee Airmen were escorting that day lost any aircraft. If any aircraft ofthose groups were lost that day, I recorded the missing air crew report numbers. Thisindex of Missing Air Crew Reports is located in the archives branch of the Air ForceHistorical Research Agency. The Missing Air Crew Reports usually confirmed thebomber loss information contained in the bombardment group daily narrative missionreports.Finally, I looked at the individual Missing Air Crew Reports of the TuskegeeAirmen-escorted groups that lost airplanes on that day to see when the airplanes werelost, where the airplanes were lost, and whether the airplanes were lost because of enemyaircraft fire, enemy antiaircraft fire, or some other cause. The Missing Air Crew Reportsnote that information for each aircraft lost, with the aircraft type and serial number, andusually also contain witness statements that describe the loss. For lost bombers, thewitnesses were usually the crew members of other bombers in the same formation, ormembers of the crews of the lost bombers themselves, after they returned. The Missing6

Air Crew Reports are filed on microfiche in the archives branch of the Air ForceHistorical Research Agency.Using this procedure, I determined conclusively that on at least seven days,bombers under the escort of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 332d Fighter Group were shot downby enemy aircraft. Those days include June 9, 1944; June 13, 1944; July 12, 1944; July18, 1944; July 20, 1944; August 24, 1944; and March 24, 1945.7TABLE II: BOMBERS SHOT DOWN BY ENEMY AIRCRAFT WHILE FLYINGIN GROUPS THE 332D FIGHTER GROUP WAS ASSIGNED TO ESCORTDATETIME9 June 19449 June 194413 June194412 July194409050907090012 July1944105112 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 GGROUP46 40 N, 12 40 E46 00 N, 12 40 EPorogruardo,Italy20 miles SE ofMirabeau,France10 miles E ofMirabeau,France43 43 N, 05 23 9484MISSING 107170548369787

194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194418 July194420 Jul 194420 Jul 194424 Aug194424 Mar194524 Mar194524 arMemmingen47 54 N, 10 40 E100009541245-124745 38 N, 12 28 E45 38 N, 12 28 E49 28 N, 15 25 691469197971120052 05 N, 13 10 EB-1744-6283546313278120851 00 N, 13 10 EB-1744-67615463132741227Berlin 3017310Primary Sources: Daily mission reports of the 332d Fighter Group (Air Force HistoricalResearch Agency call number GP-332-HI); Daily mission reports of the bombardmentgroups the 332d Fighter Group was assigned to escort per day, from the daily missionfolders of the Fifteenth Air Force (Air Force Historical Research Agency call number670.332); Microfiche of Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) at the Air Force HistoricalResearch Agency, indexed by date and group.3. THE MYTH OF THE DEPRIVED ACEAnother popular misconception that circulated after World War II which is nottrue is that white officers were determined to prevent any black man in the Army AirForces from becoming an ace, and therefore reduced the aerial victory credit total of LeeArcher from five to less than five to accomplish their aim. A version of this8

misconception appears in the Oliver North compilation, War Stories III ((Washington,DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005), p. 152.8 In reality, according to the World War IIrecords of the 332d Fighter Group and its squadrons, which were very carefully kept bymembers of the group, Lee Archer claimed a total of four aerial victories during WorldWar II, and received credit for every claim.9The myth that Lee Archer was an ace was perpetuated in part because of anexcerpt in the book The Tuskegee Airmen (Boston: Bruce Humphries, Inc., 1955), byCharles E. Francis. In that book, Francis notes an aerial victory for July 20, 1944, butthe history of the 332d Fighter Group for July 1944, the mission report of the 332dFighter Group for July 20, 1944, and the aerial victory credit orders issued by theFifteenth Air Force in 1944 do not support the claim.10World War II documents, including monthly histories of the 332d Fighter Groupand Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Force general orders awarding aerial victory credits showthat Lee Archer claimed and was awarded a total of four aerial victory credits duringWorld War II, one on July 18, 1944, and three on October 12, 1944. There i