Red Tails- The Real Story behind the Reel Story
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Blacks played a vital part in the work of our Air Forces in World War II. That their role was not a fuller one, was due entirely to a policy of limitation in their training and the uses to which that training was put.
To review the record of the African Americans with the Army Air Forces is to re¬state a fight, first for participation in the training programs and subsequently an actual struggle to be permitted to engage in combat.
In October 1940 a release was issued by the War Department stating that "Negro Organizations will be established in each major branch of the service."
With this statement of policy to follow Air Forces Headquarters included in its mobilization plan for 1941 the establishment of 10 Negro units of 250 men each, to be called "Aviation Squadrons (Separate) and ar¬ranged to organize 2500 Negro soldiers in these units. These Aviation Squad¬rons later developed into common labor battalions with no equivalent in white organizations.
According to Judge William H. Hastie, who at the time was Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, "These units have never had a defined function ... the characteristic assignment of the Aviation Squadron (Separate) has been the performance of odd jobs of common labor which arise from time to time at air fields."
In January 1941, a Howard University student, Yancy Williams filed suit under the sponsorship of the National Association for the Advance¬ment of Colored People to compel the Department to admit him to one of the Air Training centers. Almost immediately after the filing of the suit the War Department announced that it was planning to establish an air training center at Tuskegee to train a Negro squadron for pursuit flying.
Although it met with considerable opposition on the part of Negroes because of its limitations, the program went ahead and by the end of 1942 forty-three Negro pursuit pilots were trained and organized into the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
Air Forces Headquarters later announced that the program for training Negro airmen would be expanded and that in addition to training as pilots :,Negroes would be sent to technical schools to "fill vacancies within the Air Force as they exist."
As a result, African Americans were sent to various Officer Candidate Schools to be trained in personnel, Communications, Engineering and other phases of a complete air program.
Meanwhile, after considerable disappointment and failure in his efforts to have the program carried out in true democratic spirit, Judge Hastie re¬signed as Aide to the Secretary of War and issued a list of complaints as reasons for his resignation_
THE FIGHTING NINETY-NINTH (The Red Tails)
The 99th Fighter Squadron (formerly Pursuit Squadron) went into combat early in June 1943 and received its first baptism of fire in the bombing of Pantelleria. Prior to the invasion of Sicily it escorted bombers to targets in Western Sicily where Capt. Charles B. Hall became the first Negro pilot to shoot down an enemy airplane.
During the landings on Sicily the 99th covered the beaches at Gela Point and eight days after the initial landings moved its base to Sicily where it performed missions in support of ground units-dive-bombing, strafing, patrolling of key areas, armed reconnaissance, and other typical fighter missions. Later the 99th supported the British 8th Army on the eastern side of Italy until the landings at Anzio.
When the 99th shot down 8 Nazi planes in one day they erased forever any inkling of doubt as to their ability to fly in combat.
Following the spectacular success of the 99th a Negro Fighter Group (the 332nd) was formed and placed under the command of Colonel B. O. Davis J r.
The value of this stalwart group of airmen "red-tails" as they were called is well known to all who are familiar with the record of American Air Supremacy over the skies of Europe.
Not all of the glory of Negro participation in Air Forces belongs to the men who flew and serviced the planes. They also built many of the Superfortress bases throughout the Pacific and in so doing participated in the actual bombing of Tokyo, itself. They were members of the team and important members at that.
The list of Negro Air Force Units on duty in the Pacific is a record of backbreaking, nerve shattering work to get the bombers away on time and safely.
In May 1943 a Negro Bombardment Group was formed at Selfridge Field, Michigan under command of Colonel Robert R. Selway, Jr. (white).
For the first time in history Negroes were flying twin-engine bombers (Mitchell B-25's). The training performance record of the full crew, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Bombardier, Radio Operator and Engineer-Gunner, demonstrated conclusively the fact that they could do any job calling for technical training and skill if only given the opportunity.
On July 1st 1945, following a national scandal involving the racial policies of Colonel Selway, the command of the 477th was assumed by Colonel Davis who had returned to the states.
The unit changed to the 477th Composite Group (Bombers and Fight-ers) was based at Goodman Field, Kentucky, which became the first All Negro installation in the history of the U. S. Army.