World War 2 Fighter Aircraft

Brig. Gen Benjamin Davis Sr. pins a medal on his son Benjamin Davis Jr.

image of Gen. Benjamin Davis pins a medal on his son, Benjamin Davis, Jr
iage of the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Group image of Benjamin Davis Jr

(332nd and leader Col Benjamin O. Davis Jr.) Very few military service members in World War II were confronted with a internal and external enemy. One such group was the galliant men known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the U.S. Air Force. Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. In April 1942, the Tuskegee-trained 99th Pursuit Squadron deployed to North Africa, which the Allies had occupied. North Africa and then Sicily, they flew missions in second-hand P-40 planes, which were slower and more difficult to maneuver than their German counterparts. After the commander of the 99th’s assigned fighter group complained about the squadron’s performance, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. , the son of Benjamin O. Davis Sr ., had to defend his men before a War Department committee.

Rather than being shipped home, the 99th was moved to Italy, where they served alongside the white pilots of the 79th Fighter Group. In early 1944, pilots from the 99th shot down 12 German fighters in two days, going some distance toward proving themselves in combat. In February 1944, the 100th, 301st and 302nd fighter squadrons arrived in Italy; together with the 99th, these squadrons of black pilots and other personnel made up the new 332nd Fighter Group. After this transfer, the pilots of the 332nd began flying P-51 Mustang to escort the heavy bombers of the 15th Air Force during raids deep into enemy territory. The tails of their planes were painted red for identification purposes, earning them the enduring nickname “Red Tails.”


Noteworthy Fighter Squadrons

image of US 56th Fighter Squadron image of pilot Hubert Zemke

(56th and leader - Hubert (Hub) Zemke) The 56th Fighter Group is credited by the Air Force Historical Research Agency with the destruction of 665.5 aircraft in air-to-air combat, the 56th Fighter Group had more air-to-air kills than any other fighter group in the Eighth Air Force, was the top-scoring Republic P-47 Thunderbolt group during World War II, and recorded the second-highest number of air-to-air kills of any USAAF fighter group. The 56th also claimed 311 fighters destroyed on the ground. Four fighter groups sent to England in the summer of 1942 as part of the Bolero buildup had been transferred to the Twelfth Air Force to support the invasion of North Africa, leaving the U.S. VIII Fighter Command with a single fighter group to rebuild the fighter forces, the 56th FG was assigned for overseas duty in England. Major Hubert A. Zemke, a pre-war Air Corps pilot with experience as a combat observer with the RAF and a P-40 instructor to the Soviet Air Force , became group commander on 16 September 1942. The 56th FG was alerted for overseas deployment on Thanksgiving Day, ceased all air operations, and moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on 28 December.

The 56th provided penetration support on 17 August 1943, for B-17s of the 4th Bomb Wing headed for Regensburg in the morning, returned to base to re-arm and re-fuel, and flew withdrawal support for the 1st Bomb Wing returning from Schweinfurt in the late afternoon. It scored its first major victory, penetrating fifteen miles (24 km) into Germany to break up frontal attacks on the bombers. The 56th used tactics it called "dive, fire, and recover", attacking German fighters from a higher altitude, taking advantage of its tremendous diving speed, then zooming back to gain altitude advantage. In a running twenty-minute battle across Belgium, the 56th claimed 17 German fighters shot down (mainly of JG 3 and JG 26) for a loss of three P-47s and pilots. Three of those kills were made by Capt. Gerald W. Johnson of the 61st FS, who two days later (when the groups shot down 9 more) became the first ace in the group and the second in the ETO.

image of RAF-303 Fighter Squadron image of Zdislaw

(303 and leader - Zdislaw Krasnodebski) No. 303 Squadron RAF was formed in July 1940 in Blackpool, England before deployment to RAF Northolt on 2 August as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It had a distinguished combat record and was disbanded in December 1946. "Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry," wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command, "I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle (of Britain) would have been the same. During the Battle of Britain, No. 303 Squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft. Manned by experienced veterans, equipped with a fighter plane on a technical par with most of its opponents, and expertly backed by the well established RAF command, communication and logistics infrastructure, the squadron was able to become an effective fighting force during the Battle

image of Japanese Tainan Air Group imageof Tadashi

(Tainan Air Group and leader Tadashi Nakajima) The Tainan Air Group was a fighter aircraft and airbase garrison unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during the Pacific campaign of World War II. The flying portion of the unit was heavily involved in many of the major campaigns and battles of the first year of the war. The exploits of the unit were widely publicized in the Japanese media at the time, at least in part because the unit spawned more aces than any other fighter unit in the IJN. Several of the unit's aces were among the IJN's top scorers, and included Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Saburō Sakai, Junichi Sasai, Watari Handa, Masaaki Shimakawa, and Toshio Ōta.The unit was formed at Tainan, Taiwan (then part of the Empire of Japan) on October 1, 1941 as part of the 23rd Air Flotilla . The unit's first commander was Lieutenant Hideki Shingō . Most of the unit's original pilots were veterans of aerial combat in the Second Sino-Japanese War . Just before the outbreak of war with the Allied powers, the unit consisted of 45 A6M Zero and 12 Type 96 fighter aircraft.

image of 240th Russian Fighter Squadron image of Ivan Kozhedub

(240th and Ace - Ivan Kozhedub) Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub was a Soviet World War II fighter ace. Credited with over 60 solo victories by most historians, he is considered to be the highest scoring Soviet and Allied fighter pilot of World War II.During the war, the regiment flew 10,865 sorties, reported shooting down 393 enemy aircraft, and destroyed 40 on the ground for a total of 433 destroyed aircraft. This came at a cost of 120 downed aircraft and 71 pilots killed, divided as follows: 22 in aerial combat, 33 failed to return, 7 in air raids and other non-combat losses, and 9 died in crashes and of wounds.On 14 April, the 240th IAD was transferred to the 1st Belorussian Front's 16th Air Army in preparation for the upcoming Berlin Offensive, during which it provided air support for the Soviet advance. The regiment left the active army on 9 May after the surrender of the German forces

image of a Luftwaffe Squadron Hans-Joachim Marseille

(Luftwaffe Squadron and Ace - Hans-Joachim Marseille) In the spring of 1940, the Luftwaffe contributed to the unexpected success in the Battle of France. It destroyed three Allied Air Forces and helped secure the defeat of France in just over six weeks. However, it could not destroy the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk despite intense bombing. The BEF escaped to continue the war. During the Battle of Britain in summer 1940, the Luftwaffe inflicted severe damage to the Royal Air Force, but did not achieve the air superiority that Hitler demanded for the proposed invasion of Britain, which was postponed and then cancelled in December 1940. The Luftwaffe ravaged British cities during The Blitz, but failed to break British morale. Hitler had already ordered preparations to be made for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

image of USN 214th Fighter Squadron image of Gregory (Pappy) Boyington

(214th and Leader Gregory (Pappy) Boyington) Marine Fighter Squadron 214 was commissioned on July 1, 1942, at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, on the Island of Oahu. Initially called the "Swashbucklers" The squadron was moved to Turtle Bay Airfield on Espiritu Santo in August. There Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Medal of Honor, Navy Cross) took command of the 27 pilots that became the original "Blacksheep" of VMF-214. From Espirito Santo the squadron was moved forward to Guadalcanal and Henderson Airfield. From Guadalcanal they would be moved to Munda and Vella lavella. The squadron was not assigned any aircraft or ancillary personnel at first and flew to Guadalcanal and later the Russell Islands in borrowed planes that were in less than satisfactory condition.

On the evening of September 13, 1943, the men of VMF-214 gathered in their commanding officer's hootch during which time it was suggested that they needed a nickname. Originally the squadron called itself "Boyington's Bastards" after its new commander, the fact that all of the pilots had been orphans and not attached to a squadron when they got together, and the fact they possessed few reliable planes and no mechanics. The following day, this new label was presented to the Marine Corps public information officer on the island at the time, Captain Jack DeChant , and found to be unacceptable because civilian newspapers would never print it. DeChant then suggested the call sign "Black Sheep" because the expression meant essentially the same thing.

image of a AVG Fighter Squadron image of Claire Shenault

(Flying Tigers and leader Gen. Claire Shennault) The First American Volunteer Group (AVG)nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC), recruited under President Franklin Roosevelt's authority before Pearl Harbor and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. Their Curtis P-40B Warhawk aircraft, marked with Chinese colors, flew under American control. Their mission was to bomb Japan and defend the Republic of China, but many delays meant the AVG flew in combat after the US and Japan declared war.

The group consisted of three fighter squadrons of around 30 aircraft each that trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II to defend Republic of China against Japanese forces. The AVG were officially members of the Republic of China Air Force. The group had contracts with salaries ranging from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander, roughly three times what they had been making in the U.S. forces. While it accepted some civilian volunteers for its headquarters and ground crew, the AVG recruited most of its staff from the U.S. military.

image of Mexico 201 Fighter Squadron image of  Colonel Antonio Cárdenas Rodríguez

(201st squadron and leader Colonel Antonio Cárdenas Rodríguez) It is a little known fact the Mexico Air Force fought alongside the United States Army Air Force in the South Pac ific during World War II. Mexico accepted a U.S. invitation to provide Mexican Air Force units in the war against Japan shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The squadron was known by the nickname Águilas Aztecas or “Aztec Eagles”. Consisting of 33 pilots and more than 270 support personnel, the squadron left Mexico for initial training at Randolph Field in San Antonio and Majors Field in Greenville, Texas, where they received months of advanced training in combat air tactics, formation flying and gunnery.

The squadron was attached to the 58th Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces during the liberation of the main Philippine island of Luzon in the summer of 1945. The Aztec Eagle pilots flew Republic P-47D-30-RA Thunderbolt single-seat fighter aircraft carrying out tactical air support missions. During its operational history the squadron flew 795 combat sorties, accumulated nearly 2,000 hours of combat flying and sadly lost seven pilots. The Squadron 201 remains the only military unit in the history of Mexico to engage in combat outside of its national borders.

The Aztec Eagles outstanding service record and sacrifices was recognized by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area.

Legendary WWII Pilots

image of Russian pilot, Lydia Litvyak

USSR - Lydia Litvyak

image of US pilot, Richard Bong

US - Richard Bong

image of British pilot, Douglas Bader

UK - Douglas Bader

image of German pilot, Erich Hartman

GER - Erich Hartmann

image of Japanese pilot, Saburo Saki

Japan - Saburo Saki

image of German pilot, Adolph Galland

GER - Adolph Galland

image of US piot, George Preddy

US - George Preddy

image of US pilot, Lee Archer

US - Lee Archer

image of Itallian piot, Luigi Gorrini

Italy - Luigi Gorrini

image of US pilot, David McCampbell

US - David McCampbell

image of Japanese pilot, Tetsuzo Iwamoto

Japan - Tetsuzo Iwamoto

image of US pilot Bud Anderson

US - Bud Anderson

image of US pilot, Robin Olds

US - Robin Olds

image of US pilot, Chuck Yeager

US - Chuck Yeager

image of German pilot, Theodor Weissenberger

GER - Theodor Weissenberger

image of German pilot, Wilhelm Batz

GER - Wilhelm Batz

WWII Spotlight

Jesse Owens and Joe Louis

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Americans had many heroes during World War II. Some lay under white crosses on distant shores, others returned home wounded beyond recognition, many more were average young men who answered their country’s call. Some carried rifles, others loaded large naval guns, or flew aircraft. But one of America’s favorite heroes fought with his fists. When Joe Louis Barrow, known to America as Joe Louis, put on an army uniform in the early part of 1942, he wasn’t just another young African American—he was boxing’s world heavyweight champion, a title he had held since 1937.

In 1936, Louis prepared to face his most famous opponent yet—German boxer Max Schmeling. Although he’d not yet fought for the heavyweight championship, Louis had fought several former champions and won. His fans were confident Schmeling would be the next victim of their beloved “Brown Bomber.” The event sold out Yankee Stadium, and all of America listened. The celebrations which had erupted in Harlem and other African American neighborhoods in 1935 when Louis beat former champions Primo Carnera and Max Baer were not heard that night. Louis and Schmeling went twelve rounds before the German boxer put Louis on the mat with a knockout.

1937 was a better year for Louis. He learned from his loss to Schmeling, trained harder, and on June 22, Louis faced the current heavyweight champion Jim Braddock. The fight lasted eight rounds before Louis knocked Braddock out. Across America, black neighborhoods erupted in celebration. He was their hero, their champion, an example of what many of them felt they could be in a world of equality. For Louis, it was half a victory. Despite the magnitude of what being the heavyweight boxing champion meant, Louis wanted another shot at Max Schmeling.

That chance came in 1938, with a rematch scheduled for Yankee Stadium on June 22. For millions this was not just a boxing match, it was a literal fist fight of ideologies—a black American boxer against a friend of Hitler, and example of the so-called German “master race.” By 1938, tension was growing between the United States and Germany. The 1937 heavyweight championship between Schmeling and Braddock was cancelled due to threats of boycott, and there was a fear that if the German boxer took home the championship, Louis would never get the chance to fight for it.

The hype around the match grew as the date approached. Americans who had supported Schmeling in 1936 were swept up by the political wave washing over the match and turned against him. The match drew 70,000 to Yankee Stadium. An estimated 60,000,000 Americans (nearly half the population) tuned in via radio, along with over 100,000,000 worldwide. The bell rang, the match began. Two minutes and four seconds later it was over. Louis had knocked Schmeling down three times before the referee declared a technical knockout and ended the match, fearful that any further blows would be fatal. America went wild, Germany went silent. A testament to Louis’ performance was silence in German media. The win was too definitive to be disputed.

Louis went to boot camp, but was never destined for combat. His greatest value to the war effort was in his popularity. In a time where few, if any, photos of black soldiers in uniform were printed, a poster of Louis became one of the most popular for war bond advertisements. Dressed in full combat gear, wielding a rifle with a fixed bayonet, the poster quoted a line from a speech Louis had given at a fundraiser: “We’re going to do our part… and we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.”

Born on a tenant farm in Oakville, Alabama, to Henry and Emma Alexander Owens, Jesse migrated with his family to Cleveland in 1922. Owens's athletic talent was first noted at Fairmount Junior High School by his track coach, Charles Riley. Jesse set a new junior high school record when he ran the 100-yard dash in 11 seconds flat. While at Fairmount, he also set records in the high jump and the long jump. As a high school senior at EAST TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL, Owens equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash. Before enrolling in the Ohio State University in 1933, Owens set a new world record in the 220-yard dash and tied the world record in the 100-yard dash at the National Championship in Chicago.

While competing at the Big Ten Conference Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on May 25, 1935, Owens broke three world records and tied a fourth in an hour, the only athlete to establish multiple new track-and-field world records on the same day. His long-jump record of 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches stood for 25 years.

The Cleveland track star gained his greatest fame at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, where he won four gold medals. In the 100- and 200-meter sprints, he set records of 10.3 and 20.7 seconds respectively. In the long jump, he set an Olympic record of 26 feet, 5 1/4 inches. Owens then joined Ralph Metcalfe, Floyd Draper, and Frank Wykoff to set a new world record of 39.8 seconds in the 400-meter relay.

During WORLD WAR II, the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense appointed Owens as director of a national fitness program for African Americans in 1942. He traveled around the nation holding fitness clinics and promoting the war effort. In 1943, Owens joined the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan, as assistant personnel director for African American workers. He was put in charge of hiring and firing employees as well as settling disputes between workers and management. He rose to the position of personnel director, but lost his job at the end of the war.