By Bob Johnson
Sunday, December 17, 2006
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A bomber pilot from World War II says he was shot down while being escorted by Tuskegee Airmen, an account that supports a recent report by two historians that the famed 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., said 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 Tuskegee Airmen on the day he was shot down because one of them, Starling B. Penn, was shot down at the same time and ended up in the same German prison camp as Ludlum.
Ludlum's story supports the research of William F. Holton, historian for Tuskegee Airmen Inc., who said recently that the legend of the all-black fighter squadron never losing a bomber to enemy fighters was incorrect, according to Air Force records.
Ludlum's "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 L. 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 fighter planes were shot down. Their findings were reported by the Montgomery Advertiser.
Ludlum's daughter, Maerose Ludlum, assisted her father during the interview, 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, 461st Bombardment Group, 765th Squadron, flying out of a base in Italy.
Ludlum said on that day he was a second lieutenant and co-pilot of a B-24 Model J bomber on a mission to attack the Herman Goering Tank Works at Linz. 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 the plane leveled off for a second and he was able to jump out. But he said he wore his parachute 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.
Ludlum said other B-24s in his group were also shot down that day. He remembered the raid taking place on July 25, 1944; a Web site for the 461st Bombardment Group lists the date of the attack 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.