Amazing Photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen at an Air Base in Italy During WWII

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of primarily African American military pilots (fighter and bomber) and airmen who fought in World War II. They formed the 332d Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The name also applies to the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks, and other support personnel. The Tuskegee airmen received praise for their excellent combat record earned while protecting American bombers from enemy fighters. The group was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations.

All black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Griel Field, Kennedy Field, Moton Field, Shorter Field, and the Tuskegee Army Air Fields. They were educated at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), located near Tuskegee, Alabama. Of the 922 pilots, five were Haitians from the Haitian Air Force and one pilot was from Trinidad. It also included a Hispanic or Latino airman born in the Dominican Republic.

The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) was the first black flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and other parts of Italy). The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was the first black flying group. It deployed to Italy in early 1944. Although the 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. In June 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying heavy bomber escort missions and, in July 1944, with the addition of the 99th Fighter Squadron, it had four fighter squadrons.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was initially equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter-bomber aircraft. The 332nd Fighter Group and its 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons were equipped for initial combat missions with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June–July 1944) and finally with the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s red, the nickname “Red Tails” was coined. The red markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of P-51s as well as a red rudder; the P-51B, C and D Mustangs flew with similar color schemes, with red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and all-red tail surfaces.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside of the army. (Wikipedia)

These intimate portraits were taken by Toni Frissell, a high-fashion photographer who volunteered her photographic services to the American Red Cross, Women’s Army Corps, and Eighth Army Air Force during WWII. On volunteering for the American Red Cross in 1941, Frissell said: “I became so frustrated with fashions that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a real reporting job.” Take a look:

Several Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group
Crew chief Marcellus G. Smith, Louisville, KY, 100th F.S.
A Tuskegee airman standing on an airfield, looking at airplanes
Sgt. William P. Bostic, 301st F.S. in control tower
Tuskegee airman Edward C. Gleed, Lawrence, KS, Class 42-K, with an unidentified crewman adjusting an external seventy-five gallon drop tank on the wing of a P-5/D, “Creamer’s Dream.”
Pilot Newman C. scanning the skies, with parachute room in background
A Tuskegee airman sitting on top of an airplane, a P-5D, Creamer’s Dream airplane in the background
Goats on runway
Edward C. Gleed, Tuskegee pilot, standing, three-quarter length portrait
Several Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing
Toni Frissell with Major George S. “Spanky” Roberts
Edward C. Gleed and two Tuskegee airmen
Members of the 332nd Fighter Group attending a briefing
Col. Benjamin O. Davis presenting war bond for best kept A/C
Three Tuskegee airmen looking skyward
Four P-51 Mustangs flying in formation
Tuskegee airmen exiting the parachute room
Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas of Chicago, IL, Class 43-J.
Members of the 332nd Fighter Group in a briefing room
Tuskegee airmen Woodrow W. Crockett and Edward C. Gleed
Tuskegee airmen Marcellus G. Smith and Roscoe C. Brown
“Escape kits” (cyanide) being distributed to fighter pilots
Tuskegee airmen Roscoe C. Brown, Marcellus G. Smith, and Benjamin O. Davis
Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing

Tuskegee airmen playing cards in the officers’ club in the evening

(via Library of Congress)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: