Red Tails! Tuskegee Legends & Facts

Red Tails! Tuskegee Legends & Facts

The much anticipated movie about the  WW II Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, is opening today! Is it true that the famed squadron never lost a bomber? That they shot down the first German jet? Before you head to the theater, test your Tuskegee knowledge with these legends and facts.


Since the 1970s, several widely publicized claims have been made for the Tuskegee Airmen. Here are the legends and the facts.

Legend: The Red Tails never lost a bomber under their escort.
Fact: In early 2011, the Tuskegee Airmen revoked their perfect escort claim. Around 2005, Air Force historians produced 1944-1945 mission reports showing that 25 bombers under Red Tail escort were shot down by enemy aircraft. However, that figure likely is better than most other 15th Air Force fighter groups.

Legend: The 332nd shot down the first German jet and/or established a record number of kills against jets.
Fact: The group claimed three Me 262s on one mission in March 1945 whereas the first jet kill went to the 8th Air Force in November 1944. The 15th Air Force’s 31st Fighter Group was credited with eight Me 262s, and the Eighth’s 357th Fighter Group claimed 17.

Legend: The Red Tails produced the only black fighter ace.
Fact: The late Col. Lee Archer, the reputed ace, was credited with four enemy planes destroyed without a fifth claim for a probable or damaged. He was an honorary member of the American Fighter Aces Association.

Legend: Tuskegee Airmen sank a German destroyer by gunfire alone.
Fact: There were no German destroyers in the Mediterranean because there was no mission for them. The vessel driven ashore by 332nd P-47s in June 1944 was a large WW I Italian torpedo boat confiscated by the Germans. In fairness, however, Army pilots were not trained in ship identification.


Updated: June 1, 2015 — 11:02 AM


  1. I thought they claimed to have not lost any bombers due to enemy fighters. They couldn’t do anything about flack, mechanical failures, etc.

  2. The “Red Tails” advertising creates an image of the 332d’s pilots as being supermen. Yes, I do agree that these men had to overcome much bias to make their contribution, but the film will be typical Hollywood with its macho exclamations during aerial combat, disregard for radio overuse, victory claims which have never been accurate on either sides of the conflict, and the overly decorated planes which would have exceeded US Army Air Corps/Forces uniform identification limitations.
    We are not talking about the Red Baron’s Flying Circus here, with its wildly-decorated planes and individual recklessness while disregarding formation requirements for mission effectivness. I believe that for commercial purposes, the film loses authenticity in that regard, and it won’t possibly tell the real-life story of this particular fighter group.
    I’d like to see the 357th Fighter Group’s story accurately portrayed. I suppose that’ll only be repeated on “The History/Military Channel.”

    1. First of all, you have too much faith in how the History Channel presents things. Second, P-51s in the MTO actually ended up being rather garish in terms of markings. I also don’t thing the film delves into the minutiae of how kills are formally recognized or not.

    2. The movie the Tuskegee Airmen was a far better movie and followed their story with the respect and accuracy it desrves. Of course with some hollywood included. But a far better movie from a historical perspective.

  3. Hopefully this will let people know that we have not forgotten those that formed the RED TAILS. Someone cared enough to produce a movie that is not junk and that people of all ages can enjoy and my hat is off to them.
    By the way, the book RED TAILS and Black Wings by John B. Holway is a great read and should be on every aviation buffs book self.
    Charles S. Sylvia
    AWC CAC 5 A VP-92

  4. At the end of the day, let us not forget that this is a Hollywood movie. It is not a documentary an there will be some liberties taken. As an aviation buff, I look forward to a good ole action/war movie. I’m sure I’ll go see it several times and buy the DVD when it comes out.

    Beyond the obvious, I am thrilled about this movie because it tells a story of African Americans, who had to “fight” to be given the opportunity to “fight” for this country.

    As an kid growing up in the south (who was obsessed with aviation and WWII, I had no idea that the Tuskegee Airman existed or that blacks and many other minorities contributed to the war effort in this and so many historic ways.

    Thanks to George Lucas for telling this story! Thanks to the real american heroes that lived their lives in such a way to create this story.


  5. As always, when facts are skewed by those who dont understtand the basics of honor, then honor is skewed. It does no service to anyone to create fabrications, no matter how much some purpose may be served by embellishments. The truth is enough, and only it alone will preserve legacy.
    Hollywood is infamous for weaving fairey tales. I hope they stick to the truth and honor these men as men.

  6. America needs to appreciate every airman from WWII for the sacrifices they made. The Tuskegee airmen were a very special group of brave airmen, not just because of their race but also because their accomplishments. The Red Tail story needed to be told for many reasons, not the least of which is to let future generations know about American society in the 40’s.

  7. Some folks simply do not read..:

    “….showing that 25 bombers under Red Tail escort were shot down by enemy aircraft”

    More were probably also lost due to flack and mech failures….

    1. its true Hollywood takes liberty’s. but in this case the airmen were involved in the making of this film.and the story is great and important. total accuracy is for history channel . a film like this brings entertainment and therefor will impact a vast audience that would have otherwise never known there great contribution to the allied victory .

      1. For the most part, I agree, but you and others here have far too much faith in the History Channel as some great arbiter of truth. A lot of their programs are sensationalistic crap, too.

        1. You are SO true…. The History Channel (albeit bias in many ways) IS NOT a good source to consider!!

  8. I saw the movie yesterday on opening night. I thought the movie was outstanding and a story well told. While there are some Hollywood liberties taken, the story is very factual. No, the Tuskegee are not portrayed as supermen, but as ordinary men doing an extraordinary job under extraordinary conditions. This movie will make you proud to be an American and proud of the Tuskegee airmen’s accomplishments. We sometimes forget that we are all in this together.
    This movie is a must-see.

  9. I saw the movie last night. It’s a must-see. It will make you proud to be an American and proud of the Tuskegee airmen’s accomplishments.

  10. I am all for the telling of the story of these brave men, and every American owes them a debt of gratitude. Recognizing the Tuskegee Airmen is an important thing to do. At the same time it seems unnecessary to make statements that are historically inaccurate and are there only to embellish the story. I would prefer to know the true about their contribution and accomplishments.

  11. I dont recall the fact checkers comming out for saving private ryan. First and foremost its a movie, it even says it a fictionalized story based on true events. I dont understand the motivation to “debunk” this movie.

    This story is more about what they didnt do. The general view was blacks were that they were physically and mentaly inferior, natural cowards. And with lack of combat, and equipment years behind the times they excelled beyond ALL expectations. Their desire to serve their country and disprove racist doctrine made them great.

  12. Ive seen the original movie (on video) portraying the Tuskegee Airmen starring Laurence Fishburn (excuse me if I miss spelt his name) about 15yrs ago and thorougly enjoyed it,I will also look for the book.when I have completed the R/C MK XI Spitfire I intend building a P57 red tail included

  13. To all of the bloggers on here as well as the gentleman that wrote this article; don’t be so fast to criticize the claims made by the Pilots. Olvier North (War Stories) interviewed the remaining Tuskegee Piilots who all told the same story. Which is closer to the movie than what the Military is claiming. Remember, the same Military that now aknowledges bias against black soldiers in WWII is also the same Military that kept the records. Which makes their version as questionable as the pilots version. I lean towards the pilots whose stories are all identical. The pilots claimed that even the German POWS were allowed to eat better food and were given access to better facilities than the black soldiers. And they also claimed that no bombers were lost from enemy AIRCRAFT in their missions. Their commander tod them ” if you lose a bombr, don’t come back”.There were all heroes. Not liars. The military lies. And they’re still lying about what’s going on today in this so called “War on Terror”.
    I find it suspicious that the same gifted, intelligent and educated (some from West Point) soldiers were also liars and/or braggers. More than likely they were’nt. They were heroes.

  14. It is not true that the Tuskegee Airmen shot down the first Me 262 jet fighter. They shot down the second, third and forth Me 262’s.
    They did fly 15,000 combat sorties, recieved 150 DFC’s, 8 Purple Hearts, several silver stars, 14 bronze stars, over 700 air medals, over 110 enemy aircraft downed with a loss of seven aircraft. Destroying over 150 enemy aircraft in ground attacks.
    Offical Air Force Association video.
    But that is not the end of the story. After WW II was over the 332nd, like most squadrons, was disbanded. In 1947 the 332nd fighter squadron was reactivated and continued to fly until June 1949. In May of 1949 three black pilots, Capt Alva Temple, Lt’s James Harvey, Harry Stewart and alternate 1st Lt Halbert Alexander, from the 332nd took place first place in the USAF’s first postwar fighter weapons meet. It was called the United States Continental Gunnery Meet and go on to become the famous USAF William Tell competition. The 332nd team was crowned the Air Force’s champion for piston-engined gunnery, rocketry and fighter-bomber experts. (There was a seperate division for jets.)
    The 332nd pilots flew obsolate P-47n’s with two of their eight guns disabled, to make it fair. The P-51s, F-82’s and F-61s, used by all other competitors, only had six guns.
    The first place trophy disappeared and was not discovered until 1996 in a store room at the National Musuem of the USAF. It is now is on permanate display at the musuem.
    The complete story,written by Stephen Wilkinson, may be read in March 2012 issue of Aviation History magazine.

  15. Still more of “Not the end of the story”. One member of the Tuskegee airman was not black. He was a full blooded American Indian born in Cincinnati, Oh. Since he was not white the doctor put “colored” down on his birth certificate. When hie volunteered for the air service he was sent to the Tuskegee training center. Every body hated this poor guy. The whites thought he was black and the blacks knew he wasn’t. It is rummered that one black airman even tried to shoot him down. I understand that he is still alive and living in Florence, Indiana and that the local community has a parade in his honor.
    I have not varified any of this and some parts may not be true.

  16. I just saw the movie on bluray disc this evening. The movie is entertaining but the CGI flying scenes leave a lot to be desired. They make airplanes fly as no real airplane can. Too bad that computer animation people just can’t seem to get it right. Fake planes still look fake to me.

    The movie leads you to believe they were not only the first to shoot down an Me-262 jet but FIVE of them in the first sortie they met them in combat. Yeh… right!

  17. Lt. Col Leo Gray, who was a Red Tails, pilot, told me the movie was Hollywood, not a documentary. He recommended the documentary Double Victory. He also recommended the book TUSKEGEE AIRMEN by Charles Francis edited by Adolph Caso. Lt Col Gray played a part in revising the book for the 2008 edition. He mentioned 81 casualties not 66 casualties for the Tuskegee Airmen He was positive about the film. But he has made the point Red Tails is Hollywood. You can find his comments on you tube. There are web articles about him as well. As a kid I remember he talked about flying P-51’s and encountering jet fighters. When Aunt Fumi, died in 1980 the funeral bulletin said she was a member of the Tuskegee Airman’s women’s auxiliary. I called Uncle Leo last year and he confirmed he was indeed a Tuskegee Airman and there was no other group of African American fighter pilots during that era. All this time and it never occured to me I was staring into the face of history.

  18. The movies “Red Tails” and “Glory” are Hollywood glitter. John Wayne would be proud. The real point is that it spurs interests in reading the real story. God bless the United States of America.

  19. In the movie the red tails were flying the late model version of the “D” model mustang- this P-51 not only had the Bubble Canopy, but also the ventral fin. Early “D” model Mustangs had no ventral fin. Problem with this is that the Red Tails actually flew the razor-back “C” model in combat… not the “D” model… let-a-alone, the Late model “D” version.

    Red Tails were typically given “hand-me-downs” from other outfits. When a fighter outfit transitioned from an older model aircraft to a newer one… the Red Tails received the older versions… this is actually a common practice even today with Air National Guard units vs. active duty units. Where as the Guard units get the hand-me-downs.

    The movie also depicts (at least what i counted) at least 5… yes FIVE… ME-262 shoot downs, which came from aerial dog-fighting- problem is… only 3 were claimed from the Red Tails and ALL 262s shot down from all units were either ambushed from behind or shot down while they were taking off or landing. NOT from aerial dog fighting.

    Finally….. I really like how they had to get that “Black man with the white girl” relationship in there- a fact that just wouldn’t have happened in “White” Europe let-a-lone America in the 1940’s.

  20. I would like to know how many German aircraft the “Red Tails” shot down. I would also like to know how many “Red Tails” were destroyed be German aircraft.

  21. outstanding group of fighting men.. may their legend live on in america’s history and hearts

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