Due to the rigid pattern of racial segregation that prevailed in the United States during World War II, over 966 Black military aviators were trained at an isolated training complex near the town of Tuskegee, Alabama and at Tuskegee Institute now known as Tuskegee University. Four Hundred and fifty black fighter pilots under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., (who was to later become the U. S. Air Force's first Black General) fought in the aerial war over North Africa, Sicily and Europe flying in secession, P-40, P-39, P-47, and P-51 type aircraft. These gallant men flew 15,553 sorties and completed 1578 missions with the 12th Tactical U. S. Army Air Force and the 15th Strategic U. S. Army Air Force.
They were called the "Schwartze Volgelmenschen" (Black Birdmen) by the Germans who both feared and respected them. White American bomber crews reverently referred to them as "The Redtail Angels" because of the identifying red paint on their tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing bombers to enemy fighters as they provided fighter escort to bombing missions over
strategic targets in Europe.
The 99th Fighter Squadron which had already distinguished itself over North Africa, Sicily, an Anzio was joined with three more black squadrons; the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd to be designated as the 332nd Fighter Group. Flying from Italian bases they also destroyed enemy rail traffic, coast watching surveillance stations and hundreds of vehicles on air to ground strafing missions. Sixty-six of these pilots were killed in aircraft accidents or in aerial combat while another thirty-two were shot down and captured as prisoners of war. These Black Airmen came home with 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Legions of Merit, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, 2 Soldiers Medals, 14 Bronze Stars and the Red Star Yugoslavia. They destroyed or damaged over 409 German aircraft, (111 in the air) over 950 units of ground transportation, and Gwynn Pierson leading a flight of four, sank a destroyer with machine gun fire, which was a distinctive achievement. Not one friendly bomber was lost to enemy aircraft attack during the 200 escort missions. This success was unique because no other fighter unit with nearly as many missions could make the same claim.