Little Friends Protect the Bombers

Tuskegee Pilots Defend Bombers

One of the primary missions of Allied fighter pilots was to defend the bombers attacking German targets in Europe. The Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command decided to use its Lancaster and Wellington bombers for night bombing after disastrous results with daylight raids of German targets. The U.S. Army Air Corps settled on the tactic of strategic daylight bombing sending massed formations of Boeing B-17's and the Consolidated B-24's against submarine pens, rail yards, steel mills, ball bearing factories, refineries, dock yards and cities.

Although the American bombers, which were well armed compared to their British counterparts, the B-17's and B-24's developed the tactic of flying in tight box formations to cover each other even with their eleven to fourteen fifty caliber (.50 cal.) machine guns on each airplane. However, unescorted bombers were no match against well trained German Luftwaffe pilots. Limited range by early Allied fighters, such as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk II, Lockheed P-38, and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, prevented them from being able to escort the bombers to and from their targets with enough fuel for sustained air to air combat. Only the North American P-51 could escort the bombers the entire mission targets deep within Germany.

The Tuskegee pilots, equipped first with the Curtiss P-40L followed by the Republic P-47 and finally with the initially faced hostile reactions from the bomber crews, which were mostly white, but as their reputation grew due to their tenacious defense of the bombers they were soon requested for escorts by bomber crews against the Luftwaffe. Bomber crews began to call the Tuskege pilots the RedTailP-51 based on the markings used by the 332nd pilots.

Photo of a Boeing B-17G bomber

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