In the summer of 1926, at the age of 13, Benjamin Davis went for a flight with a barnstorming pilot at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. This proved to be a life-changing experience. Now he was determined to become a pilot himself.
In 1929, amid the Great Depression, Davis graduated from Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio. That same year, Davis attended Western Reserve University, starting his college education.
After attending the University of France and the University of Chicago, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in July 1932. He was sponsored by Representative Oscar De Priest (R-IL) of Chicago, at the time, the only black member of Congress. During the four years of his Academy term, Davis was racially isolated by his white classmates, few of whom spoke to him outside the line of duty. He never had a roommate. He ate by himself. His classmates thought that “shunning” him, would drive him out of the Academy. The “silent treatment” had the opposite effect. It made Davis more determined to graduate. Eventually, he earned the respect of his classmates.
The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered every obstacle he encountered and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career as a military officer and combat pilot, eventually gained him a great deal of sincere admiration from everyone who witnessed it.
He graduated in June 1936, 35th in a class of 276.
The Messerschmitt 262 Jet Kill
On March 24, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen flew their longest mission of the war, escorting heavy bombers to Berlin (which was farther from their base in Italy than from American airfields in England). Over the German capital, they encountered Messerschmitt Me 262 jets.
To confront the bombers and fighters, the Luftwaffe had launched 30 Me 262s from Brandenburg Briest near Berlin. The Me 262s were 100 mph faster than the American P-51s. This gave the P-51s a great disadvantage in the air battles with the jets.
Capt. Brown stated in his mission report, “as we got over the outskirts of Berlin, I first saw these streaks, which I knew were jets…And they were coming up to attack the bombers.” I ordered the other P-51 pilots, “drop your tanks and follow me”.
Capt. Brown spotted one jet climbing toward the bombers. He had to do something fast.
“He didn’t see me,” Capt. Brown said. “And then I turned into his blind spot, put on my electronic gun sight, and there he was.
“I pulled up at him in a fifteen-degree climb and fired three long bursts at him from 2,000 feet at eight o’clock to him. Almost immediately, the pilot bailed out from about 24,500 feet. I saw flames burst from the jet engines of the enemy’s aircraft. The attack on the bombers was ineffective because of the prompt action of my flight in breaking up the attack.”
The pilot of the 262 was ten-kill air ace Oberleutnant Franz Kulp. During his bail-out, Kulp sustained severe wounds but survived.
Part 2 will be about his big day tangling with a Messerschmitt 262 jet.