For many years, many people believed the Tuskegee Airmen “never lost a bomber” during their escorts into Berlin. These claims were never publicly challenged, in part because the military records were classified. From 2006-2013, Dr. Daniel Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency conducted looked into the “never lost a bomber myth” that has persisted in popular memory since its’ first written record in 1945. The veracity of the claim was never publicly called into question until 1997, when William Holton (an African American US Navy vet of WWII) was elected to be the national historian of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Holton was approached by a vet who did not believe the “never lost a bomber” myth was true; and thus began an earnest effort to uncover the truth. Though Holton and Haulman’s intentions were misinterpreted by some “as an attack on the combat performance of the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII,” in fact, they sought to correctly represent their wartime records. Haulman was asked to further substantiate his claims, and so in 2007 he met with three members of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc to conduct additional research.
After several days of research, especially into the records of the July 12, 1944 mission, the team concluded that at least three and possibly four bombers under Tuskegee Airmen escort that day were shot down by enemy aircraft.
Haulman’s paper goes on to focus on seven missions between June 9, 1944 – March 24, 1945 where enemy aircraft shot down bombers under Tuskegee Airmen escort. As Haulman explains:
The Fifteenth Air Force had seven fighter grups available to escort twenty-one bombardment groups. In other words, for each fighter group there were three bombardment groups. In fact, on many of the missions in the summer and fall of 1944, each fighter group was typically assigned one bombardment wing to escort on a given day, and each of those wings consisted of several bombardment groups…There were simply many more bombers on a day’s mission than there were fighters to escort them, and the fighters sometimes were hard pressed to cover them all, especially when large numbers of enemy fighters rose to attack the bombers. It is understandable that sometimes a fighter group, despite its best efforts, would be unable to prevent enemy aircraft from reaching and shooting down some of the bombers.
J.R. Sell’s Escort to Berlin captures the fraught tension of these escort missions while honoring the incredible record of the Tuskegee Airmen.