The Tuskegee Myths
Whether known as the Tuskegee Airmen or the “Red Tails,” the allblack, Italy-based 332nd Fighter Group has gained mythic status. In fact, by actual count, the Tuskegee Airmen have more Internet hits than any AAF unit of the Second World War, with two movies and dozens of books beside.
The situation has existed at least since the 1990s, when the first movie appeared on television. A succession of books and articles lauded the 332nd for a variety of feats, including a perfect bomber escort record, sinking a German destroyer, downing a record number of German jets, and producing at least one ace. None of these is true.
What is true is that the 332nd probably lost fewer bombers than other 15th Air Force fighter groups—which left the Red Tails to perform close escort while the other six groups properly kept the Luftwaffe from concentrating on the heavies. Consequently, the Tuskegee Airmen downed fewer German planes than the other 15th fighter groups.
What is also true is that every Tuskegee pilot and many support personnel were volunteers. In the Jim Crow era of American history, they deserved credit for showing up to defend the United States from foreign enemies while setting an example on the domestic front as well.
Starting in P-40s, the Tuskeegees moved up to B/C Mustangs in which they performed excellent bomber escort but didn’t have the perfect record often ascribed to them. (Photo by Moose Peterson)