In his autobiography, Davis was well aware that the future of African-Americans in both the military service in the nation could hinge on his unit’s performance in combat. He knew that African-Americans would have no future in the military if their performance met the low expectations and prejudice he had fought so hard against up until this time. Upon arrival in North Africa, the unit spent a month in trading and indoctrination. Davis commented that the pervasive prejudice back in America was not as apparent in the war zone.
“Our relations with the other troop units in the area was excellent, and was easy to enjoy the free and open customs of this region and forget the hateful attitudes that dominated our lives in the United States.”
When the unit completed the training phase and deployed to combat, it escalated its involvement in the war from strafing missions to bomber escort missions that also involved one-on-one combat with German fighter pilots. On July 2, 1943, the unit scored its first air to air kill. Lt Hall shot down an FW-190 and damaged another. This was the first time a black pilot achieved a kill, and the event was marked by a visit from Gen. Eisenhower, Spaatz, and Doolittle, who congratulated them on their performance.
Under his leadership, the unit continued to perform well. Its last significant operation before leaving North Africa was to provide air cover for the invasion of Sicily. On July 21, the unit deployed to its new base in Licata. IN early September, the Army Air Corps gave Davis command of the 332nd Fighter Group – another all-black fighter group.
However, prejudice ignored the documented performance of the 99th overseas. In a completely unwarranted attack on the unit’s capability, Colonel Momyer submitted an inaccurate report that claimed the 99th had failed. The report went up through the chain of command, and the Army Air Corps seriously considered relegating black pilots to coastal patrols and other low-risk duties. Thankfully, Davis was allowed to defend the unit. As a result of his presentations, General Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, directed that the Army conduct a complete study to get the truth… and it did.
“An examination of the record of the 99th fighter squadron reveals no significant general difference between this squadron and the balance of the P – 40 squadrons in the Mediterranean theater of operations.”
One of the issues that brought the unit’s performance into question was the nature of the missions assigned to the squadron. Many were looking at how many enemy planes the 99th downed. However, the squadron spent most of his time dive-bombing and supporting ground troops – with few opportunities to engage in air to air combat. The unit provided the ultimate answer during its operations over Anzio in January 1944. The 99th downed eight enemy fighters on January 27 and destroyed four more the next day.
No more would there be questions about the capability and value of black pilots.
Story Source: Benjamin O. Davis Jr’s autobiography