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Lee A Archer


Archer is considered by some as the first and—as of 2010—only black U.S. pilot to earn an "ace" designation, for shooting down at least five enemy aircraft.[9][10] Archer was acknowledged to have shot down four planes, and he and another pilot both claimed victory for shooting down a fifth aircraft. An investigation revealed Archer had inflicted the damage that destroyed the aircraft, and the Air Force eventually proclaimed him an ace pilot.[10] He also destroyed six aircraft on the ground during a strafing mission in August 1944, as well as several locomotives, motor transports and barges.[6][10]

While flying with the 302nd Fighter Squadron, as a combat pilot, nicknamed "Buddy", Archer flew 169 combat missions in the European Theatre of World War II, flying the Bell P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft.[N 2][11] Flying a P-51C fighter with the distinctive red tail of the 332nd Fighter Group, known collectively as the "Tuskegee Airmen", he scored his first victory, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on July 18, 1944 over Memmingen, Germany.[N 3][7]

Archer is best remembered for his exploits of October 12, 1944.[13] In the midst of a furious series of dogfights over German-occupied Hungary, he shot down three Hungarian Bf 109s over Lake Balaton, Hungary, in engagements that spanned only 10 minutes.[7]

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The claim that Lee Archer scored, in addition to his awarded victory on July 18, 1944, an additional victory or half a victory that day has been disputed by US Air Force historian Daniel L. Haulman. According to the group history and Fifteenth Air Force mission reports, Archer claimed and was awarded a credit on July 18, 1944, and did not share an additional victory with anyone else. The pilot with whom Archer is sometimes said to have shared the credit, Freddie Hutchins, did not earn an aerial victory credit or a half aerial victory on that particular day. No other pilot in Archer's squadron or group earned a half credit that day. Archer's next three victories occurred on a single mission in October 1944.[12]

Frank Olynyk, an historian for the American Fighter Aces Association,[14] also acknowledged that while the organization named Archer as an honorary ace, he was not named an official ace due to the fact he was unable to produce any record confirming he shot down five planes.[15] According to Olynyk, Archer never alleged that he shot down five planes and that the claim originated after his last name was mistaken with that of another Tuskegee pilot with the last name "Arthur."[15] However, Olynyk also acknowledged that Archer did believe he shared an additional victory with another pilot and the official combat record which could have confirmed this was stolen from his car shortly after he returned home when the war ended.[15]

When Archer returned home in 1945, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, he found that nothing seemed to have changed in American society. "I flew 169 combat missions when most pilots were flying 50," Archer told the Chicago Tribune in 2004. "When I came back to the U.S. and down that gangplank, there was a sign at the bottom: ′Colored Troops to the Right, White Troops to the Left′."[5]

Archer remained in the armed forces for a career as the U.S. Army Air Forces transitioned into the present day U.S. Air Force in 1947. He later flew missions during the Korean War,[7] became a diplomatic officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and then became the headquarters chief of the U.S. Air Force Southern Command in Panama,[16] eventually retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1970.[10]


Units served with

  • 332nd Fighter Group

    332nd Fighter Group

    The United States entered World War II with a military that was segregated by race and remained segregated until 1948. War Department planners generally placed White and African-American Army personnel in separate units during World War II. ...

  • 302nd Fighter Squadron

    302nd Fighter Squadron

    The 302d was one of four African-American fighter squadrons to enter combat during World War II. It saw combat in the European Theater of Operations and Mediterranean Theater of Operations from 17 February 1944 – 20 February 1945.

  • 15th Air Force

Associated Place


Event Location Date
Born Yonkers, NY, USA 6 September 1919
Graduated Pilot Training/Commissioned Tuskegee, AL, USA 28 July 1943

Class 43-G-SE

Died Manhattan, New York, NY, USA 27 January 2010
Buried 12 February 2010

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County
Virginia, USA
Plot: Sect. 6 Site 9215 RH


Date Contributor Update
04 December 2016 02:52:37 466thHistorian Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nickname, nationality, service number, highest rank, role, biography, events, unit associations, place associations and media associations