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Chronology Highlights Tuskegee Airmen History at Selfridge

Aircraft mechanics from a “Tuskegee Airmen” unit perform engine maintenance on a P-40 Warhawk at what is now called Selfridge Air National Guard Base in this photo taken likely sometime between March and September 1943, during World War II. During the war, Selfridge served as one of several key training sites for the all-African American units. (Air Force file photo)

Aircraft mechanics from a “Tuskegee Airmen” unit perform engine maintenance on a P-40 Warhawk at what is now called Selfridge Air National Guard Base in this photo taken likely sometime between March and September 1943, during World War II. During the war, Selfridge served as one of several key training sites for the all-African American units. (Air Force file photo)

“Tuskegee Airmen” personnel review the operations of various aircraft instruments in this photo taken sometime in 1943 or 1944 at what is now called Selfridge Air National Guard Base. During World War II, Selfridge served as one of several key training sites for the all-African American units that later came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. (Air Force file photo)

“Tuskegee Airmen” personnel review the operations of various aircraft instruments in this photo taken sometime in 1943 or 1944 at what is now called Selfridge Air National Guard Base. During World War II, Selfridge served as one of several key training sites for the all-African American units that later came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. (Air Force file photo)

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- A new official chronology provides a detailed synopsis of the activities of the famed Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

The Tuskegee Airmen were an all-African American group of pilots, mechanics and related personnel created during World War II. By performing at a high level, even while enduring extensive - and sometimes violent - discrimination, the unit helped break racial barriers. The performance of the Tuskegee Airmen during the war had a direct impact on the decision to fully racially integrate the U.S. military after the war.

The new chronology, created by Daniel Haulman at the Air Force Historical Research Agency earlier this month, provides notes on the official movement of the various squadrons and groups that collectively came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

According to Haulman's paper, simply titled "Tuskegee Airmen Chronology," the first official activity of any all-African American flying unit at what was then known as Selfridge Field took place on March 15, 1943, with the activation of the 403rd Fighter Squadron. The local history ended on May 7, 1944, with the departure of the 553rd Fighter Squadron.

Haulman's full chronology is available here: Chronology

What follows are the entries in the Chronology that deal specifically with Selfridge.

15 March 1943: The 332nd Fighter Control Squadron (Colored) was disbanded at Tuskegee Army Air Field. (organization record card). On the same day, the 403rd Fighter Squadron was activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan, as an operational training unit under I Fighter Command, to prepare the way for the movement of the 332d Fighter Group from Tuskegee Army Air Field to Selfridge. The 403rd Fighter Squadron was a white unit designed to help train the squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group at Selfridge. (Maurer, Combat Squadrons, pp. 493-494; 332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

28 March 1943: The air echelon of the 332nd Fighter Group flew from Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, to Selfridge Field, Michigan. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

29 March 1943: The ground echelon of the 332d Fighter Group completed its move from Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to Selfridge Field in Michigan (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II).

4 April 1943: The 99th Fighter Squadron arrived at Camp Shanks, New York, in preparation for deployment overseas for combat. (99th Fighter Squadron history, Mar 1941-17 Oct 1943). On the same day, the 96th Service Group completed its move to Selfridge Field, Michigan, in order to serve with the 332d Fighter Group. (Lineage and honors history of the 96th Logistics Group).

12 April 1943: The 332d Fighter Group moved from Selfridge Field to Oscoda, Michigan (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II).

4 May 1943: The 403rd Fighter Squadron moved from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan.

10 June 1943: The 96th Service Group moved from Selfridge Field to Oscoda Field, Michigan, to which the 332d Fighter Group had moved in April. (96th Service Group organization record card)

20-21 June 1943: A major race riot broke out in Detroit, Michigan, leaving 34 people dead, including 25 whites and 9 blacks, and 670 people injured. (Arthur Herman, Freedom's Forge [New York: Random House, 2012), pp. 261-262). The riots concerned members of the 332nd Fighter Group, which had been stationed at Selfridge Field, near Detroit, and which would return there in July. In June, the group was stationed at Oscoda, Michigan, well north of Detroit, on Lake Huron. The group's white commander, Colonel Robert Selway, ordered black airman to stay on base. (Lawrence P. Schott and William M. Womack Sr., Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen [East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1994], p. 194-195).

9 July 1943: The 332d Fighter Group moved from Oscoda, Michigan, back to Selfridge Field, Michigan, but the 96th Service Group, which maintained the airplanes, remained at Oscoda (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II; 96th Service Group organization record card). At the same time, the 403rd Fighter Squadron moved from Oscoda to Selfridge. (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II)

September 1943: A board of re-evaluation of pilots was activated at the 332nd Fighter Group base in Michigan. The board was composed of four white pilots from the 403rd Fighter Squadron, stationed at the same base (Selfridge Field). (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947). During the same month, the 332nd Fighter Group began receiving P-39 aircraft to replace its P-40s.

28 September 1943: 2nd Lt. Johnson C. Wells of the 332nd Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, was killed during a training flight. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)
October 1943: The 332nd Fighter Group began its first full month flying P-39 aircraft instead of P-40s. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

3 October 1943: The 403rd Fighter Squadron moved back from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan. (Maurer, Combat Squadrons)

8 October 1943: Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who had served as commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron in combat in North Africa and Italy, became the first black commander of the 332d Fighter Group, replacing Col. Robert R. Selway, Jr. (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II). Both Selway and Davis were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. (332d Fighter Group History, Oct 1942-1947)

11 October 1943: A formal reception was held at Selfridge Field, Michigan, to honor the new first black commander of the 332nd Fighter Group, Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.. In attendance were his father, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who was the first black general in the U.S. Army; Col. Robert R. Selway, Jr, the outgoing commander of the group; Col. William L. Boyd, the Selfridge Field post commander, and Major Harriet M. West, one of two black majors in the Women's Army Corps (WAC). (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

14 October 1943: 2nd Lt. William H. Walker and 2nd Lt. Leroi S. Williams of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group were killed in an air collision at Selfridge Field, Michigan. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

1 November 1943: Back in the United States, the 553rd Fighter Squadron was activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan, to train replacement pilots for the 332nd Fighter Group, which was preparing to move from Selfridge to a combat theater overseas, and for the 99th Fighter Squadron, which was already serving in combat in Italy. (organization record cards)

12 November 1943: 1st Lt. Louis R. Purnell, a veteran of the 99th Fighter Squadron, still serving overseas in combat, was appointed commander of the 553rd Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

16 November 1943:
The 553rd Fighter Squadron moved from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan. (organization record card)

19 November 1943: 2nd Lt. Leon Purchase of the 302nd Fighter Squadron (332nd Fighter Group) was killed in an airplane crash 8 miles northeast of Selfridge Field, Michigan. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

15 December 1943: The 403rd Fighter Squadron was disbanded at Selfridge Field, Michigan. (Maurer, Combat Squadrons) Its mission was largely taken over by the 553rd 26
Fighter Squadron, which had been activated at Selfridge the previous month, but which was then stationed at Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan.

16 December 1943: Enlisted men of the 332nd Fighter Group enjoyed a farewell party at Selfridge Field, Michigan, knowing they would soon depart for overseas combat service. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

20 December 1943: Officers of the 332nd Fighter Group enjoyed a farewell party at Detroit's Labor Temple. They would soon leave nearby Selfridge Field, Michigan, for overseas combat duty. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

21 December 1943: All 332nd Fighter Group personnel were restricted to Selfridge Field pending movement. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

22 December 1943: The 332d Fighter Group departed Selfridge Field, Michigan, for movement overseas (332d Fighter Group lineage and honors history and Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II). Group members boarded a train bound from Michigan to Virginia. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

25 December 1944: A second train, bearing members of the 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, completing the move of the 332nd Fighter Group and its squadrons from Selfridge Field in the Detroit area of Michigan. (332nd Fighter Group history, Oct 1942-1947)

27 December 1943: The 553rd Fighter Squadron moved from Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan, back to Selfridge Field, Michigan, which had been vacated.

2 January 1944: Back in the United States, Colonel Charles Gayle, commander of the 553rd Fighter Squadron, told black officers that they would be court-martialed if they entered the officers' club at Selfridge Field, Michigan, where they were based. (Lawrence P. Schott and William M. Womack Sr., Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen [East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1994], p. 200).

15 January 1944: The 477th Bombardment Group, Medium, was activated again at Selfridge Field, Michigan, along with the 616th Bombardment Squadron. The group was 28
equipped with B-25 medium bombers. (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II)

21 January 1944: Colonel Robert R. Selway Jr, a white officer who had commanded the 332d Fighter Group from 16 May to 8 Oct 1943, became commander of the 477th Bombardment Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan.

1 February 1944: The 821st Bombardment Squadron was activated as a B-25 training unit at Selfridge Field, Michigan, where the 477th Bombardment Group had been activated as a B-25 group for black crews the previous month. (organization record card)

10 April 1944: The 115th Army Air Forces Base Unit was organized at Selfridge Field, Michigan, home of the 477th Bombardment Group. (115th AAF Base Unit organization record card). At the same time, the 821st Bombardment Squadron, a B-25 training unit, was disbanded at Selfridge.

6 May 1944: Back in the United States, the 477th Bombardment Group, Medium, moved from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Godman Field, Kentucky. (Maurer, Air Force Combat Units of World War II). Unlike the situation at Selfridge, black officers of the group were allowed to use the base officer's club. White officers used another officer's club at neighboring Fort Knox. (Lawrence P. Schott and William M. Womack Sr., Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen [East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1994], p. 210). The 115th Army Air Forces Base Unit moved from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Godman Field, Kentucky, along with the 477th Bombardment Group with which it served. (115 AAF Base Unit organization record card).

6 May 1944: The 126th Army Air Forces Base Unit was organized at Walterboro Army Air Field in South Carolina, to prepare for the movement of the 553rd Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Walterboro. (organization record card)

7 May 1944: The 553rd Fighter Squadron, which trained replacement pilots for the 332nd Fighter Group, which was serving in Italy, moved from Selfridge Field, Michigan, to Walterboro Army Air Field, South Carolina. On the same day, the unit was disbanded. The 126th Army Air Forces Base Unit continued active at Walterboro. Pilots who graduated from single-engine flight training at Tuskegee Army Air Field transferred to the unit to serve as replacement fighter pilots who would eventually deploy overseas to serve with the 332nd Fighter Group. (organization record cards) The unit could use the officer's club at Walterboro, because white officers rented another club off base for themselves. (Lawrence P. Schott and William M. Womack Sr., Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen [East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1994], p. 200).