The 477th Composite Group (USAAF) was an African-American combat unit that never reached combat, and that suffered from repeated morale problems due to segregation and suspicion of the USAAF's intentions for the group.
The 477th was originally activated as the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) on 13 May 1943, but after a period of training with the B-26 it was inactivated on 25 August 1943.
Its second incarnation was a result of pressure to allow African-Americans to serve as bomber crews as well as fighter pilots. The 477th was reactivated on 15 January 1944, this time as a B-25 group. The new group began to train at Selfridge Field, near Chicago. Although Army Regulations forbade it, the social club at Selfridge was racially segregated and was only open to white officers. Inevitably this lowered morale within the group, and the base commander was officially reprimanded for the segregation.
In May 1944 the group moved to Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Morale continued to fall. Godman Field wasn't really a suitable airfield for the B-25. Black officers within the group weren't being promoted. Finally, although the Godman Field base wasn't segregated, the white officers could also use the racially segregated club at nearby Fort Knox. Despite these problems the group reached its full combat strength early in 1945, and was expected to enter combat on 1 July.
In order to complete its training the group moved to Freeman Field. The group commander made a clumsy attempt to bypass the no segregation rule by creating one social club for 'trainees' and one for 'instructors'. Many of the trainee officers in the group decided to challenge this and in early April attempted to enter the 'instructors' club. 61 officers were arrested. All but three were soon released, but Colonel Selway then made the situation worse by attempting to force his men to sign a statement stating that they fully understood a new regulation set up to enforce the segregation. This time 101 men refused, and were arrested. The War Department came under heavy pressure, and the 101 were released on 23 April.
This only left the three men still in custody after the original attempts to use the 'instructors' club. All three were court martialed. Two were acquitted, but the third, Lieutenant Roger C. Terry, was convicted of jostling the officer of the day during the original protest. He was fined $150 and dishonourably discharged from the USAAF.
In the aftermath of the protests the group was moved back to Godman Field. Two of the four bomber squadrons were inactivated and replaced with the 99th Fighter Squadron. The group became the 477th Composite Group. The incompetent Selway was replaced as commanding officer, and black officers were promoted. The group was expected to be ready for combat by 31 August, but the Japanese surrender ended the war two weeks earlier.
The Freeman Field protests played a part in the full integration of the US military, which was put in place legally by President Truman in 1948 (although it took nearly a decade to complete the process).
In 1995 the Air Force removed the letters of reprimand from the record of 15 of the 104 officers originally involved in the protest, and promised to remove the rest on request. At the same time Lt Terry was pardoned, restored to his original rank and had his fine repaid.
1943: Martin B-26 Marauder
1944-45: North American B-25 Mitchell
1945-47: North American B-25 Mitchell and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
|13 May 1943||Constituted as 477th Bombardment Group (Medium)|
|1 June 1943||Activated with Third Air Force|
|25 August 1943||Inactivated|
|15 Jan 1944||Activated with First Air Force|
|June 1945||Redesignated 477th Composite Group|
|1 July 1947||Inactivated|
Lt Col Andrew 0
Col Robert R Selway Jr: 21 Jan 1944
Col Benjamin 0 Davis Jr: 21 Jun 1945-1 Jul 1947.
BacDill Field, Fla: 1 Jun-
25 Aug 1943
Selfridge Field, Mich: 15 Jan 1944
Godman Field, Ky: 6 May 1944
Lockbourne AAB, Ohio: 13 Mar 1946-1 July 1947
99th Fighter: 1945-47
616th Bombardment: 1943, 1944-45
617th Bombardment: 1943, 1944-47
618th Bombardment: 1943, 1944-45
619th Bombardment: 1943, 1944-45
1943: Third Air Force
1944-1947: First Air Force