Return of the Redtails

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The Story

From their base at Ramitelli Airfield, located on the Adriatic coast of Italy, the Tuskegee airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group—the only African-American air unit to see combat—flew escort missions for the Fifteenth Air Force’s heavy bomber raids into Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Germany.

The 99th Fighter Squadron led the way to Europe for the Tuskegee airmen and flew its first combat mission on June 2, 1943 as part of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, for which it was awarded one of the squadron’s three Distinguished Unit Citations. Eventually forming the 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee airmen consisted of the 99th Fighter Squadron, 100th Fighter Squadron, 301st Fighter Squadron and the 302nd Fighter Squadron. The pilots transitioned to P-51 Mustangs in July of 1944 after having flown the Curtis P-40 Warhawk and the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. A total of 335 Tuskegee pilots were deployed overseas with eighty-four losing their lives: sixty-eight pilots killed in action or accidents, twelve killed in training and non-combat missions and thirty-two captured as prisoners of war. Ninety-five of the pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The 332nd Fighter Group flew a total of 1,578 combat missions, 179 of which were bomber escort missions.

Depicted here are two Tuskegee pilots, Lieutenant Roscoe Brown, flying his P-51D, “Bunnie,” named after his daughter, and Captain Charles McGee flying “Kitten,” which was his wife’s nickname. Also featured is a damaged B-24 Liberator of the 455th Bomb Group based out of San Giovanni, an airfield about twenty miles southwest of Foggia