Before World War II, black soldiers were not accepted as military pilots. Early in the war, the Army had announced the formation of the first black Air Corps, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Based in Tuskegee, Alabama, the unit was listed as "experimental." By 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron was sent to North Africa to attack the Italian island of Pantelleria in preparation for the Allied Invasion of Sicily. The Tuskegee Airmen were successful in bringing the island to surrender, and the Airmen went on to distinguish themselves flying escort for U.S. bombers.
The Tuskegee Airmen quickly earned the admiration of friend and foe alike. The German Luftwaffe called them "Schwartze Vogelmenschen," Black Birdmen. To American bomber crews, they were known as Red Tail Angels because of the red stabilizers on their P-51 Mustangs and their reputation, at that time, for having never lost a single bomber they escorted into combat.
"We got the reddest paint we could find and painted our aircraft. We wanted the bomber crews to know when we were escorting them and we wanted to make sure the Luftwaffe knew when we were airborne and in their territory." (Lt. Col. Herbert Carter of the Tuskegee Airmen)
"Ordinary guys did a certain precision rollover to show you they were friendly, but the Red Tails would roll that wing over and over and float through the formation like dancers. When you saw them you were happy. They were that hot, that good." (Tech. Sergeant John "Red" Connell)
By the time the war ended the Red Tails had downed 111 enemy aircraft, destroyed 150 other planes on the ground and flown over 15,000 combat sorties. 66 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives.
The Red Tails, Tuskegee Airmen, are featured in the documentary of Black Military History, "For Love of Liberty."