The Tuskegee Myths

Flight Journal - - 10 AVIATION MYTHS OF WORLD WAR II -

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)

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