Tuskegee Airman Lee Archer
Print size is 12×18″
There are 600 limited edition prints in this series.
Limited Edition, Signed by the Ace. $75.00
All signatures by both the Aviator and the Artist is done in soft graphic pencil.
Poster Print $14.95 Poster prints are autographed by the artist only.
Lt. Lee A. Archer Jr.
By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Lee Archer entered the Army in November 1941. After basic training Lee was transferred to Camp Wheeler in Macon Georgia for infantry training. Next he received training as a Telegrapher and Field Network Communications Specialist and was promoted to Acting Sergeant as an instructor.
Lee was interested in aviation and when he became aware that African-Americans were to be admitted into the Army Air Corps. He researched the application requirements and decided to apply. In December 1942 Acting Sergeant Archer was accepted to Aviation Cadet Training and reported to Tuskegee Army Airfield. On July 28, 1943 Archer graduated number one in his class and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Lee Archer was assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group. He received advanced training at Selfridge Army Air Field in Michigan and was transferred with the group to Italy in January 1944.
Once in Italy, Lt. Archer flew the P-39 for three to four months flying patrol and ground support missions. The group also was flying the P-40 along with the P-39. The units then received the P-47 Thunderbolt which was the first aircraft the Tuskegee Airmen flew with the distinctive red tails. They flew the Thunderbolts for a brief time before receiving the P-51C Mustangs.
A story that Lee told me was the day he and Wendell Pruitt returning from a successful escort mission in their new (hand-me-down) P-47 Razorbacks. They both buzzed the airstrip and at the edge of the field they both pulled up doing slow rolls all the while. The Thunderbolt was an immense fighter aircraft as big as a barn. The horse-power was tremendous especially with the injector water booster. Compared to the P-39 that Lee had just flow many missions in, the Thunderbolt was a real fighter.
Lee Archer and Wendell Pruitt were two of a kind, a couple of Hot Rods. And so they should have been. Both were in the right place at the right time, in the middle of a World War. They were highly trained and educated, sharp, healthy fighter pilots and they were now flying the best fighter aircraft produced.
Archer and Pruitt was nick named “The Gruesome Twosome.” They had a reputation of buzzing the airfield however one day after they buzzed the field as they got to the edge of the field they both pulled up and slow-rolled almost into each others fighter. Not quite paying attention at times did kill pilots so Lee told me that they cooled it after that.
On July 18, 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron officially joined the 332nd Fighter Group. They flew their first combined mission using all four squadrons flying escort for B-24 bombers. The Luftwaffe pilots were told not to tangle with the American escort fighters and attack the bombers. As Archer was flying along with the bombers, Luftwaffe aircraft would dart into the formation hell bent on getting at least one good shot into a bomber to disable it from reaching its target or even bringing it down. The German fighter pilot would concentrate on hitting the bomber until he was forced to pull away by the escort fighters firing on him. The German pilot would pull away wildly only to spin back onto another target. The Luftwaffe pilots had to loose the fighter escort and get back to attacking another bomber. No matter how determined the German pilot was, the more determined were the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Red Tailed Mustangs shot down eleven German aircraft that day with a loss of three of their fellow pilots. If the Mustang pilot was quick enough he could increase speed and attack the enemy fighter before it could threaten the bomber it was trying to line up on. The Tuskegee Airmen would more or less on many occasions’ fire on or fire at Luftwaffe fighters pursuing an attack on a bomber they were protecting. This would foil the Germans attack usually causing the enemy fighter to break away and force them to start again. By just firing at the enemy is all that was needed to keep the Luftwaffe pilots from pursuing an attack that could have lost a bomber and its crew.
Archer claimed his first aerial victory during a mission on July 18th 1944. The top scoring pilot that day was Clarence “Lucky” Lester with three, Jack Holsclaw with two and Archer, Charles Bailey, Walter Palmer, Roger Romine, Edward Topping and Hugh Warner with one victory each. The losses for the day involved a tragic accident when Oscar Hutton was killed when his fighter was struck by a tear-drop fuel tank that had been dropped by another Mustang. Lt. Gene Browne had his fighter damaged and bailed out only to be taken prisoner. Lt. Wellington G. Irving was killed in combat.
The defensive plan to protect the bombers paid off. The Tuskegee Airmen could not shoot down every German fighter but one victory here and one there added up. When called on, the Tuskegee Airman would rush in and down the enemy fighter while still holding their spot in the over-all air defense. Their talents as highly trained and organized fighter pilots are solid in military aviation history. Well coordinated would be a better word to use for the talents of the Tuskegee Airmen. Benjamin Davis expected a lot from his men and his men did not let their leader down. I hate to add this but their defense and offence was much like a well trained sports team. Every body knew their places and attacked any enemy fighter that came into their area of coverage.
Mind you I must add here that the theory behind fighters protecting a bomber group was that the fighter aircraft were to stick with the bombers and protect them. The Tuskegee Airmen perfected this practice. In most all cases with the other fighter groups, if a German fighter came in for an attack, the escort fighter that was protecting the bombers would break away from the group and chase the enemy for as many miles as it took to catch the enemy and shoot it down. By that time the fighter escort was miles form his bomber group and in most all cases lost track of the bomber group completely.
The fighter would then fly around looking for more targets. During the time the fighter pilot was trying to rack up more enemy aerial victories other enemy fighters would enter the bomber group and shoot down a bomber or two with nine to ten men inside each aircraft. Even if the enemy fighters did not shoot down any bombers they would be firing into the bombers killing and wounding the aircrew inside. Yet the fighter pilot that abandoned his bomber group would fly back to base under the impression that he was a hero.
On October 11, 1944 the 302nd was contacted on the radio that a lone Heinkel He-111 had been spotted in their area. Pruitt was leading a flight with Archer in tow. They were taking part in strafing attacks on a sweep along the Danube River. Lt. Archer was flying wingman to Captain Wendell Pruitt when he noticed what turned out to be two Heinkel 111 bombers taking off from Kaposvas airfield. The bombers were pulling up and away from the airfield as Pruitt and Archer watched and planned their attack. As Pruitt called Archer to follow and attack the twin-engine bombers the two were jumped by nine unseen Messerschmitt 109’s. The German fighters had been circling the airfield waiting for the bombers to take off and escort them on a mission.
Archer saw two of the enemy fighters pulling in behind Pruitt for an attack. Archer pulled in behind the duo and fired into the closest Messerschmitt at close range tearing off a wing. At high speed the wing came off the Messerschmitt causing it to tumble forward out of control end over end loosing speed and altitude. As Archer’s Mustang flashed over the doomed enemy fighter he started to line up on the other 109. This was Archer’s second aerial victory.
Pruett was concentrating on shooting down one of the Heinkel bombers and was unaware of the danger behind him. The Messerschmitt behind Pruitt was now in range to hit Pruitt. Archer poured on full speed with his Mustang and closed on the 109 firing into the fuselage again from close range causing an instant explosion of the Messerschmitt. Archers third victory.
Archer flew through the debris and the fireball. Parts of the enemy fighter dinged up his Mustang. This was number three for Archer. Lee assessed his situation checking his gages and controls. Two Messerschmitts downed within a few minutes for Archer. Pruitt had also claimed two aerial victories during these few minutes, a Bf-109 and one He-111. Pruitt was unaware of the enemy fighter that Archer had just shot off his tail because he was busy lining up on another Messerschmitt fighter. As Pruitt fired on the fleeing 109 his guns jammed. Archer was to the rear and on the right of Pruitt and was wondering why Pruitt was not shooting at the German because he had him dead center.
Finally Archer pulled forward to see what was going to only to see Pruitt wave him on to go after the Messerschmitt. Archer quickly gave chase with full throttle. The German was loosing altitude and was trying to make it back to his airbase and the safety of the anti-aircraft guns that defended the field. Archer was persistent and wanted to take down the German before he reached the safety of the airfield. Pruitt was now following Archer and watched his wingman fire a long burst at the enemy. Many of the fifty-caliber missiles found their mark as the enemy fighter shuttered or acted as if it was staggered by the assault. At this moment the enemy had reached the edge of the airfield only to tumbled over into the field and explode. Victory number four for Archer.
The anti-aircraft crews at the airfield were waiting because they had witnessed the battle above them but they could not shoot because they could have hit one of their own pilots. As Pruitt and Archer crossed the airfield enemy anti-aircraft fire exploded around Pruitt and Archer’s Mustangs as they maneuvered to avoid being hit. Both pilots pulled away from the German airfield as fast as they could. Behind the “Gruesome Twosome” were several more Tuskegee Airmen from the group who had followed Pruitt and Archer down and was watching the two drop the German fighters and bomber. As the two airmen came roaring onto the enemy airfield they started shooting up everything as they barreled in at full throttle. While the AA guns were aiming and following Pruitt and Archer the field was unprotected by the assault of the follow up Mustangs. The Tuskegee Airmen that were following Pruitt and Archer ripped everything on the airfield apart. When Pruitt and Archer and the other two Mustangs following had left the airfield it was in flames with Archer’s fourth victory, a smoldering crumbled mess in the center of the airfield with a dead Luftwaffe pilot still in the cockpit.
Archer claimed three of the nine confirmed kills in the air that day. In addition, twenty six German aircraft were destroyed on the ground. On their way back to base they were able to destroy several locomotives, they also attacked a motor convoy destroying and setting ablaze several trucks, and attacked some river barges. Only one of the Tuskegee pilot’s was lost to flak. This is an excellent representation of the group’s abilities to work together effectively.
Altogether that day the group shot down three Heinkel He-111 twin-engine bombers along with six of the nine Messerschmitt 109’s. Milton Brooks, William Green, Roger Romine and Luther Smith claimed one victory each and the rest were shared by the “Gruesome Twosome,” Archer and Pruitt.
The Tuskegee Airmen developed a reputation as the most effective fighter escort group in the history of the Army Air Corp during the war. A triumph achieved by no other fighter escort group. For decades the official reports showed that no bombers were lost to Luftwaffe fighters when the group was escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.
However after further research by the President of the Tuskegee Airmen group after the war he did find that during the many escort missions the group flew they did loose a few bombers but it was less than ten. Half or more of the bombers that were lost were dropped by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Anti-aircraft gun fire was something the Airmen could not protect the bombers from.
Lee Archer flew 169 missions and is credited with four aerial victories, all Bf-109 fighters. He was credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground. Archer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 18 Clusters, the Distinguished Unit Citation and many other service medals. Lee Archer retired in 1970 as a Lt. Colonel.
Yet Archer is accredited with shooting down five enemy fighters and has been classified as an Ace by the Ace Association. After researching log books form the group and the German groups that lost aircraft to the Tuskegee Airmen one of the damaged aircraft that Archer shot up did go down based on the German Group reports.
Now we have a big controversy as to weather Lee is an Ace or not. Many do not believe he is an Ace but I believe as well as more important people than I believe he is an Ace as well. Originally it was me that pronounced Lee as an Ace and I caught some flak myself over making the claim, yet it put into peoples mind that more research needed to be done. And the research was done by the United States Air Force. So I believe the Air Force and I believe that Lee Archer was in deed the only Tuskegee Airmen Ace. And yes, the Tuskegee Airmen would had a ton of Aces if they had left the bombers and chased after enemy fighters.
And I do not care if you believe Archer is an Ace or not! So don’t send me an E-Mail saying that Archer is not an Ace unless YOU have put in the hundreds of HOURS of research that has been done by professionals!
Well it would seem that professionals did contact me!
Lee Archer is not an Ace! Based on the best research available by people who wanted Lee to be an Ace only to find that he could not be officially listed as an Ace. However with as much gun play that was in the skies over Italy at the time I would bet that Lee Archer could easily have been an Ace however he is an Ace in my heart only. I am so proud to have worked with the Tuskegee Airmen. They put up with more grief in one month than people like Dan Quale has ever experienced in his entire life. The Tuskegee Airmen were tougher and had to be the best. And they were. If they had been given “free-range” they would have produced many Aces.
All I can say is that I thank you for this valuable information. It is impossible to research everything and that is why each historical researcher helps the next making his research easier. We all work together to write history correctly. And not History in the eyes of the right-wing extremist in our country who wanted this part of our history hushed up forever.
Archer in flight suit with ground crewman standing next to his P-51C “Ina The Macon Belle”.
Lee Archer and Roscoe Brown at the Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, Georgia.
Lee Archer and the artist. This artwork is available for $4,500.00.
Sorry that this is a bad scan but this is a great photo of Lee.
Below is the P-51C Mustang painted up like Lee Archer’s fighter which is at the Fantasy of Flight Museum.
These are my photos of “Ina The Macon Belle” which is at the Fantasy of Flight Museum, Lakeland, Florida.