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The Tuskegee Airmen and the “Never Lost a Bomber” Myth FOR SIXTY YEARS AFTER WORLD WAR II, the Tuskegee Airmen’s 332nd Fighter Group was reputed to be the only American fighter escort group to have “never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft.” Where did the claim originate, and was it true? On March 10, 1945, the respected and widely read Liberty magazine published “Dark Angels of Doom,” an article by influential black journalist Roi Ottley about the 332nd Fighter Group in combat. Ottley wrote that “in more than 100 combat missions in which the Red Tails have given escort cover to their ‘Big Friends’—the long-range heavy bombers—they haven’t lost a single ship to enemy fighters!” By then the 332nd had flown more than 130 bomber escort missions, and had lost bombers on only six of those missions.1 But the group did not fly 100 missions before losing a bomber. In fact, the group lost bombers during its first few missions. Nevertheless, readers might have falsely concluded that the group had flown more than 100 bomber escort missions without losing a bomber, when in fact it had lost bombers on at least six of more than 130 escort missions flown by March 10, 1945. By March 1945, the 332nd had flown more than 200 missions for the Fifteenth Air Force, including strafing attacks on ground targets and fighter sweeps as well as bomber escort missions. On March 24, DANIEL L. HAULMAN Dr. Daniel L. Haulman is Chief, Organization History Division, at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, where he has worked since 1982. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, his master’s degree from the University of New Orleans, and his PhD in history from Auburn University. He has authored three books and sixteen articles. He is married to Ellen Evans Haulman, who works on the staff of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, and they have a son named Evan, now a graduate student at Samford University in Birmingham. 1 Roi Ottley, “Dark Angels of Doom,” Liberty, March 10, 1945, 13; daily narrative mission reports of the 332nd Fighter Group, mission reports of the bombardment groups the 332nd Fighter Group escorted, and missing aircrew reports (MACRs), all at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base (hereafter cited as AFHRA). J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 1 31 1945, the Chicago Defender, a prominent African American newspaper , published another article entitled “332d Flies Its 200th Mission Without Loss.” Apparently the reporter had misinterpreted the Ottley article, which had been published two weeks before, and expanded it into a larger myth that the Tuskegee Airmen did not lose a bomber after 200 bomber escort missions. In fact, the 332nd flew a total of only 179 bomber escort missions out of a total of 311 missions for the Fifteenth Air Force.2 The “never lost a bomber” claim already circulated before a War Department press release dated June 21, 1945, announced that Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who had commanded the 332nd, was taking command of the 477th Bombardment Group. Based on the preceding newspaper article, the press release claimed that “on February 28, 1945, Colonel Davis’ group had completed 200 missions with the 15th Air Force and had served as escort to heavy bombers without losing a single bomber to enemy fighters.”3 This was probably the first time an official Air Force document repeated the “never lost a bomber” claim. Charles Francis wrote the first book about the Tuskegee Airmen in 1955. While he discussed the excellent combat record of the 332nd Fighter Group and its squadrons, he did not repeat the “never lost a bomber” claim.4 The statement eventually appeared in countless other places, including books, magazines, newspaper articles, television documentaries, and museum displays about the Tuskegee Airmen. By the end of the twentieth century, many found it difficult to think of the black pilots without also thinking they had “never lost a bomber.” Davis, who later rose to become the first African American general in the United States Air Force, commanded the 332nd during most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 30-60
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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