MONTGOMERY, Ala. – At least 25 bombers being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen over Europe during World War II were shot down by enemy aircraft, according to a new Air Force report.
The report contradicts the legend that the famed black aviators never lost a plane to fire from enemy aircraft. But historian William Holton said the discovery of lost bombers doesn't tarnish the unit's record.
"It's impossible not to lose bombers," said Holton, national historian for Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
The report released Wednesday was based on after-mission reports filed by both the bomber units and Tuskegee fighter groups, as well as missing air crew records and witness testimony, said Daniel Haulman, a historian at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.
The tally includes only cases where planes were shot down by enemy aircraft, Haulman said. No one disputed the airmen lost some planes to anti-aircraft guns and other fire from the ground.
The 25 planes were shot down on five days: June 9, July 12, July 18 and July 20, 1944 and March 24, 1945, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
"All of these records have been here all along," Haulman said. "It was just a matter of putting them together."
The surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black fighter pilots allowed into the U.S. Army Air Corps, received the Congressional Gold Medal on Thursday from President Bush in Washington.
With nearly 1,000 pilots and as many as 19,000 support personnel ranging from mechanics to nurses, the group was credited with shooting down more than 100 enemy aircraft and — for years — with never losing an American bomber under escort.
Haulman told the Advertiser he had discovered the claim that the Tuskegee Airmen had never lost a bomber they escorted to enemy fire first appeared on March 24, 1945, in an article in the black newspaper Chicago Defender. The newspaper's headline read "332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without Loss."
The information was attributed only to "the 15th Air Force, Italy."
"In fact, on the very day the claim was published, more bombers under 332nd Fighter Group escort were shot down," Haulman wrote.