332nd Fighter Group

332d Fighter Group

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The 332d Fighter Group was a unit of the U.S. Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces based in Italy during World War II. It was composed of black pilots and ground support personnel trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, and the members of the group became collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Reportedly, in order to become a pilot, blacks had to achieve high test scores and be college educated. Those standards were higher than those set for white pilots, and to the surprise of the Army, many Tuskegee applicants surpassed the requirements.

The group was formed in October 1942, originally composed of the 100th, 301st, and 302d Fighter Squadrons. Subsequently the independent 99th Fighter Squadron was added.

Upon arrival in Italy in December 1943, the group was based first at Montecovrino, then successively Capodichino, Ramitelli Airfield, and Cattolica. The 332d flew three fighter aircraft in combat: the Curtiss P-40, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and North American P-51 Mustang.

Except for a period in late 1944, the 332d was led by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, a 1936 West Point graduate.

In a year and a half of combat operations, the “Red Tails” (so named for the paint on their aircraft) gained a reputation as bomber escorts. No U.S. B-17s or B-24s were known lost to German fighters (as opposed to enemy action generally) while the 332d was at hand. This belief is now under investigation, as Air Force records indicate that at least a few bombers were lost to enemy fire [1] In that time the four squadrons were credited with 113 aerial victories, including three German jets. The group’s top scorer, officially credited with at least 5 destroyed, no probables, and no damaged, was 1st Lt. Lee A. Archer. He was the war’s only documented African-American Ace. Joseph Elsberry is believed to have possibly qualified as an ace, but two of his kills were never confirmed.

At the end of the war, more than 70 Red Tail pilots had been killed or were missing in action.


332nd Fighter Group – Tuskegee Airmen (Aviation Elite Units), Chris Bucholtz and Jim Laurier