A bomber pilot in World War II says he was shot down while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen, an account that supports a recent report by two historians who say the black fighter group, contrary to legend, did lose at least a few bombers to fire from enemy aircraft.
Warren Ludlum, who lives in Old Tappan, N.J., told The Associated Press that his B-24 bomber was shot down by enemy planes over Linz, Austria, in July 1944, while he was being escorted by P-51 fighters piloted by the Tuskegee Airmen.
The 83-year-old Ludlum, in a telephone interview Thursday, made clear that he has great respect for the Tuskegee Airmen and liked being escorted by them because of their aggressiveness. He said he knew he was being escorted by the airmen on the day he was shot down because one of the fighter pilots, Starling B. Penn, was shot down at the same time and ended up in the same German prison camp as Ludlum.
Ludlum's story matches the research of William F. Holton, historian for Tuskegee Airmen Inc., who said recently that the legend of the all-black fighter pilots never losing a bomber to enemy fighters is incorrect, according to Air Force records.
"His information jibes with my preliminary look at the data I have here," Holton said.
The historian verified that Penn was a Tuskegee Airman, that he was shot down at about the same time as Ludlum and that they were apparently in the same German prison camp. Penn died in 1999.
Another historian, Daniel Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, also has concluded that at least a few bombers escorted by the red-tailed fighters trained at Tuskegee, Ala., were shot down by enemy planes. Their findings were first reported by the Montgomery Advertiser.
Ludlum's daughter, Maerose Ludlum, assisted her father during the interview with AP, frequently relaying questions, because he has trouble hearing on the telephone.
"He liked being escorted by Tuskegee Airmen because they were a black fighter group and were more aggressive and would stay with you longer," she said. Her father concurred with her statement.
She said she called the AP after reading a newspaper story about the historians' report. Some surviving members of the fighter group have said they were offended by the research and questioned the findings coming out more than 60 years after the end of World War II.
"I had no idea who was escorting me most of the time, but that day we were shot down I knew it was the Tuskegee Airmen because the black fellow and I ended up at the same camp," said Warren Ludlum, who was with the 15th Air Force, 765th Squadron, 461st Bombardment Group, flying out of a base in Italy.
Recalling the day
Ludlum said on that day he was a 2nd lieutenant and co-pilot of a B-24 model J bomber on a mission to attack the Herman Goering Tank Works at Linz, Austria. He said his plane was flying at about 20,000 feet when it was hit so severely that it broke apart and began spiraling toward the ground.
He said at some point the plane leveled off for a second and he was able to jump out. But he said his parachute was on loosely because it was more comfortable that way.
"His parachute opened, but he had to hold on for dear life all the way down," Maerose Ludlum said.
Only four of the 10 crew members were able to parachute out when the plane was shot down, she said. Ludlum said he was captured shortly after landing on the ground.
Ludlum said other B-24s in his group were also shot down that day. He remembered the raid taking place on July 25, 1944, although a Web site for the 461st Bombardment Group lists the date of the attack on the Herman Goering Tank Works as July 26, 1944. Holton said Ludlum's account of being shot down helps confirm his research.
"I stand behind everything I said," Holton said.