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332d Fighter Group

The 332nd 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, far more applicants surpassed the requirements than were required to fill available roles. The unit served in action with distinction.

Group heritage

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 in May 1944.

Upon arrival in Italy in December 1943, the group was based first at Montecorvino, then successively Capodichino, Ramitelli Airfield, and Cattolica. The 332d flew four fighter aircraft types in combat: the Bell P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and North American P-51 Mustang.

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

In a year and a half of combat operations, the "Red Tails" (so named for the group identification tail markings on their aircraft) gained a reputation as bomber escorts. A commonly held belief that the 332rd Fighter Group never lost to German fighters any B-17s or B-24s it was escorting is now under investigation, as Air Force records indicate that at least twenty-five bombers were lost to enemy fire, but the group's record is nonetheless distinguished in that regard. Its four fighter squadrons are credited with 112 aerial victories, including three German jets. Three of the Tuskegee Airmen earned four aerial victory credits each: 1st Lt. Lee A. Archer of the 302d Fighter Squadron, Capt. Edward L. Toppins of the 99th Fighter Squadron, and Captain Joseph D. Elsberry of the 301st Fighter Squadron.

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

The 332nd Fighter Group was re-designated the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group and reactivated in 1998. In 2005 it became the 332nd Air Expeditionary Operations Group and was made the flying component of the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing in Iraq.

Group history and organization

Constituted as the 332nd Fighter Group on 4 July 1942 and activated on 13 October 1942. It trained with P-39 and P-40 aircraft, then moved to Italy, arriving early in February 1944, where it had the veteran 99th Fighter Squadron assigned in May. The 332nd began operations with the tactical Twelfth Air Force on 5 February, and used P-39's to escort convoys, protect harbors, and fly armed reconnaissance missions. It converted to P-47 Thunderbolts during April and May 1944, then changed to P-51 Mustangs in June.

From May 1944 to April 1945 the 332nd FG operated with the strategic Fifteenth Air Force, primarily engaged in protecting bombers that struck such objectives as oil refineries, factories, airfields, and marshalling yards in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Its planes also made strafing attacks on airdromes, railroads, highways, bridges, river traffic, troop concentrations, radar facilities, power stations, and other targets.

The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a mission on 24 March 1945 when it escorted B-17's during a raid on a tank factory at Berlin, fought off the interceptors that attacked the formation, then strafed transportation targets while flying back to its base in Italy. The group was reduced to the standard three fighter squadrons on March 6, 1945, with the inactivation of the 302nd FS.

The 332nd FG returned to the United States in October 1945 and was inactivated on October 19.

Squadrons

Stations

  • Tuskegee, Ala, 13 Oct 1942
  • Selfridge Field, Mich, 29 Mar 1943
  • Oscoda, Mich, 12 Apr 1943
  • Selfridge Field, Mich, 9 Jul-22 Dec 1943
  • Montecorvino, Italy, 3 Feb 1944
  • Capodichino, Italy, 15 Apr 1944
  • Ramitelli Airfield, Italy, 28 May 1944
  • Cattolica, Italy, c. 4 May 1945
  • Lucera, Italy, c. 18 Jul-Sep 1945
  • Camp Kilmer, NJ, 17-19 Oct 1945

Group Commanders

  • Lt Col Sam W Westbrook Jr, 19 Oct 1942
  • Col Robert R Selway Jr, 16 May 1943
  • Col Benjamin O Davis Jr, 8 Oct 1943
  • Maj George S Roberts, 3 Nov 1944
  • Col Benjamin O Davis Jr, 24 Dec 1944
  • Maj George S Roberts, 9 Jun 1945-unkn.

Campaigns

  • American Theater
  • Air Combat, EAME Theater
  • Rome-Arno; Normandy
  • Northern France
  • Southern France
  • North Apennines
  • Rhineland
  • Central Europe
  • Po Valley

Decorations

Insignia

  • Shield: Azure on a fess nebule or, a panther passant sable armed and incensed gules.
  • Motto: Spit Fire. (Approved 15 Jan 1943.)

Notes

References

  • Chris Bucholtz and Jim Laurier, 332nd Fighter Group - Tuskegee Airmen (Aviation Elite Units), ISBN 1846030447

Sources

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