Red Tails and Their Bomb Run to Pantelleria

Pantelleria - Map Locator Ethics American History Geography Aviation & Space Exploration Tragedies and Triumphs World War II

During WWII, and for years before, the United States government had a policy against allowing African-Americans to fly for their country. An experiment, to test the ability of black men as pilots, was started at Tuskegee, Alabama.

One of the squadrons of African-American pilots was the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

In late 1942, the 99th Pursuit Squad had company at the Tuskegee Army Air Field. Three more in-training squadrons—the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd—joined with the original squad to expand the number of all-black flight crews. (Eventually, the four squads would form a single unit known as the 332nd Fighter Group.)

Comprised entirely of African-Americans, with Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis—a black officer with West Point credentials—in charge, the already-qualified flying team (the 99th) expected to fight for their country at the first-possible opportunity. Months passed, however, without orders for the men to ship overseas.

No one, apparently, knew where to send them.

When the 99th was sent to Europe, the men finally had a chance to prove themselves to military leaders. One of their first missions took place in 1943, when the “Red Tails” (as the Tuskegee pilots were known because of the color of their plane tails) would escort bombers on a run to the island of Pantelleria (in the Mediterranean, off the western coast of Sicily).

It was June of 1943 when the men of the 99th saw action—for the first time ever—with enemy planes.

Commenting on this combat activity, Col Davis reported:

It was the first time any of them ever shot at the enemy.  They gave a good account of themselves considering the odds against them, and, most important, they all came back safely.

Later in the month, following the Pantelleria attack, Secretary of War Henry Stimson commented on Davis' pilots:

We are all very proud of the splendid activity of a fighter squadron commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. over Pantelleria.

A Pennsylvania newspaper—the Pittsburgh Courier—noted that activity in the skies at Pantelleria was:

...one of the heaviest air operations in the history of warfare. (See Black Knights, by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly, at page 92, for this and the other quotes in this story.)

This map depicts the location of Pantelleria.  Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 12, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Dec 13, 2016

Media Credits

Map of Pantelleria's location in the Mediterranean by NormanEinstein, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: You are free to share and make derivative works of it under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one.


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"Red Tails and Their Bomb Run to Pantelleria" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 12, 2016. Feb 17, 2020.
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