Two historians are disputing the claim that America’s first elite Black fighter pilots never lost a bomber to enemy fire during World War II.
Air Force records show that at least a few bombers escorted by the red-tailed fighters of the Tuskegee Airmen were shot down by enemy planes, according to William F. Holton, historian of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Dr. Daniel Haulman, a historian at the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
Haulman had presented his findings in a paper, “109 Victories: Aerial Victory Credits of the Tuskegee Airmen,” at the Society for Military History back in May at Kansas State University. “I talked about what they [the Tuskegee Airmen] did and not about what they did not do,” Haulman told Diverse.
Only recently did questions about the Tuskegee Airmen’s record become national news after The Montgomery Advertiser wrote about the historians’ findings. Haulman said the group’s combat mission reports show clearly that U.S. bombers were lost while being escorted by Tuskegee Airmen in Europe.
One mission report dated Aug. 31, 1944, praises group commander General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. by saying he “so skillfully disposed his squadrons that in spite of the large number of enemy fighters, the bomber formation suffered only a few losses.”
Another report on Sept. 12, 1944 says: “10 Me-109s attacked the rear of the bomber formation from below and left one B-17 burning, with 6 chutes seen to open.”
Holton told The Montgomery Advertiser that “well-meaning and highly placed speakers have beguiled audiences with the phrase ‘the Tuskegee Airmen flew 200 bomber escort missions without losing a single bomber to enemy aircraft gunfire.’”
A former Tuskegee airman, Carrol Woods of Montgomery, dismissed their findings immediately.
“I think this is outrageous,” Woods, 87, told the Advertiser. “They are trying to destroy our record. What’s the point now?”
Since the Montgomery newspaper ran a story about the historians’ claims, a bomber pilot from World War II told The Associated Press that his B-24 bomber had been shot down while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen. The pilot, Warren Ludlum, made it clear he had the greatest respect for the Airmen and liked being escorted by them because they aggressively defended the planes they escorted.
Meanwhile, the president of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., retired Air Force Lieutenant General Russell Davis, said he would no longer say in speeches that the group never lost a bomber under its escort.
“I’m going to drop [it] until we can get this thing clarified,” Davis said. “We’ve got some homework to do, obviously.”
According to Haulman’s aerial victory report, 72 Tuskegee Airmen shot down 109 enemy aircraft, including the best of the German fighters.
“Rarely did they lose a bomber, and then it was usually to enemy anti-aircraft artillery rather than enemy airplanes,” said Haulman. “The Tuskegee Airmen proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that African-Americans were capable of flying the best of the Allied fighters to victory against the best of the enemy fighters. They earned an indelible place in the history not only of their service, but also in the history of their country and of the world.”
— By Shilpa Banerji
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