Harry Stewart earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in his first dogfight as a Tuskegee Airman.
Given the immense obstacles confronted by black Individuals who aspired to fly in World Conflict II, acquiring the Military’s coveted silver wings at Tuskegee Military Airfield on June 27, 1944, was a outstanding accomplishment for Harry T. Stewart Jr. However the biggest check for the newly minted pilot lay forward. The style by which Stewart and his comrades acquitted themselves within the unforgiving crucible of the air battle would burnish their repute as excellent fliers and patriots.
After incomes his wings, Stewart amassed an extra 80 hours in P-47 Thunderbolts at Walterboro, S.C., in preparation for his deployment abroad. An uneventful voyage to France was adopted by one more cruise—the supply of fond reminiscences to at the present time. Onboard the luxurious liner Citie Doran, en route from Marseille to the Italian port of Taranto, immaculately attired stewards waited on Stewart and his squadron mates. He recalled it was greater than slightly awkward to have caricatures of the stereotypical English butler all however bowing to their each whim as they sailed to a battle zone, shortly to be thrust into fight.
As soon as the airmen arrived, in early January 1945, their lodging modified dramatically. They had been herded into soiled, malodorous boxcars destined for Naples. Then vehicles carried them to the air base at Ramitelli.
Ramitelli had turn out to be the operational nerve middle for the all-black 332nd Fighter Group and its 4 squadrons the previous summer time. Thankfully for Stewart, the veteran pilots within the 301st Fighter Squadron took him underneath their wing. They mentored the newcomer as solely grizzled fight fliers may, filling within the gaps in his coaching in order that when his time got here to face the Luftwaffe in eyeball-to-eyeball encounters, he can be prepared.
Certainly, when requested about his heroes throughout a panel dialogue of Tuskegee Airmen in 2012, Stewart turned to these seated round him and mentioned quietly: “These gents up right here with me now. They had been there for me; they’re my heroes.”
By the point Stewart arrived in-theater, the 332nd had been assigned to the Bari, Italy-based Fifteenth Air Drive, which—in sync with the Eighth Air Drive working out of England—was urgent the strategic bombing marketing campaign into the enemy’s residence territory. For the reason that 332nd was flying P-51 Mustangs with distinctive purple tail markings, the black fliers grew to become referred to as the “Pink Tails.”
The missions by which they recurrently participated concerned a whole bunch of B-17s and B-24s, layered in huge formations. From Stewart’s aerie, driving shotgun effectively above these flying armadas, the sheer magnitude of the assemblage was awe-inspiring, particularly on missions the place, as a junior member of his squadron, he flew as Tail-end Charlie. Years later, his eyes beaming as he reminisced, Stewart mentioned it was “a sight to behold.”
Of his 43 fight missions, none resonates in his reminiscence as vividly because the one he flew on April Idiot’s Day 1945. The briefing known as for his factor of eight Mustangs to steer a Liberator formation of the forty seventh Bomb Wing over the railway marshaling yards at St. Polten, Austria. As soon as the bombers reached the goal space, Stewart and his squadron mates veered west to a Luftwaffe air base close to Wels, to search for targets of alternative.
One of many pilots in Stewart’s factor known as out 4 German fighters under, not removed from the air base. “Our eight Mustangs cranked over in a mass dive on the enemy plane,” Stewart recalled. All of the sudden, although, the hunters grew to become the hunted. “The sky stuffed with at the very least one other dozen fighters bearing Luftwaffe insignia,” he remembered. The low-flying fighters had been decoys, used to lure the Individuals into an ambush.
Barely out of his teenagers and going through his first dogfight, Stewart was initially nearly overwhelmed by his feelings. There was anger at having been suckered right into a entice, accompanied by terror on the high-stakes duel about to unfold. However then his survival intuition kicked in, with worry and doubt giving option to dedication, bolstered by the younger airman’s coaching and expertise.
Stewart fixed his eyes on an enemy two-ship factor beneath him. He dived towards his potential quarry as skirmishes broke out round him. As he bore down on the enemy planes, he noticed that they had been long-nosed Focke-Wulf Fw-190Ds, the best piston-powered fighters within the Luftwaffe’s arsenal. Closing to firing vary, Stewart first focused on the closest plane, squeezing off just a few quick bursts of .50-caliber rounds from his six wing-mounted machine weapons. Smoke and flames rapidly erupted from the enemy fighter.
When the second Luftwaffe pilot realized what had occurred to his wingman, he yanked his aircraft into a tough proper flip, making an attempt to shake off the American. However Stewart turned simply as tightly, pulling excessive Gs that stretched his P-51 to its limits. Within the house of a fleeting second, the Tuskegee Airman skilled his sight on the tail of the fleeing German. It was adequate to squeeze off another burst. An instantaneous later, the German aircraft began to disintegrate “in a cloud of black smoke and orange flame similar to the primary one.”
Stewart had scored his second victory of the day, however simply then he heard a squadron mate’s name: “Bandit in your tail!” Tracers whizzed previous his cockpit, frightfully shut. The sinking feeling within the pit of his abdomen returned, however as earlier than the survival intuition got here to his rescue.
This time he used the Mustang’s pace in his personal protection, dashing to the deck. The Focke-Wulf pilot on his tail was tenacious, a lot as Stewart had been moments earlier. With an enemy glued to his six, Stewart reefed his mount over into an excessive proper flip—a determined maneuver. The German adopted, turning and handing over a check of power and can.
With the boys and machines ratcheted as much as their limits, one thing needed to give. All of the sudden Stewart realized he was freed from his pursuer. Wanting again, he noticed the Fw-190 cartwheeling throughout the bottom, then exploding in a ball of fireplace.
Stewart and his squadron mates who had witnessed the episode later speculated that the German had both stalled or snap-rolled too low to the bottom. Maybe he had turn out to be so fixated on Stewart’s Mustang that he merely failed to tug up in time over the undulating terrain. Regardless of the trigger, Stewart had racked up three victories throughout his first dogfight, incomes the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Stewart remained within the Military Air Forces after the battle in Europe ended 5 weeks later. In Could 1949, he participated within the first U.S. Air Drive gunnery meet, by which his Tuskegee Airman staff gained the “prime gun” trophy for propeller planes (see “Tuskegee High Weapons”). Quickly afterward he left lively responsibility, however he retained his fee within the reserves, finally retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
After incomes a mechanical engineering diploma from New York College, Stewart went on to a profitable profession with Bechtel Company in San Francisco and ANR Pipeline Firm in Detroit. In 2007, when the Tuskegee Airmen had been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, he was among the many half-dozen fliers readily available to just accept on behalf of all who had performed an element within the pioneering program. At the moment, on good flying days, Stewart might be discovered at Detroit’s airport, mentoring inner-city youth and sharing his love of flying with a brand new era.
Initially printed within the September 2013 challenge of Aviation Historical past. To subscribe, click on right here.