The Mexican Air Force
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When Mexico declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan in
May 1942, Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho offered to
send Mexican troops to fight alongside the United States wherever
the North Americans wished. For two years this offer stood
unredeemed, but in the spring of 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt
directed that a Mexican Air Force squadron be formed for overseas
Col. P.A. Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez led 300 men to the United
States for training in July 1944. They were split into smaller
groups for training as pilots and ground crew, with the Republic
P47 selected as the squadron’s aircraft. In February
1945 they were declared combat-ready and officially designated
the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron. They remain the only Mexican
unit ever to see combat outside the borders of the Republic.
Pride of Mexico. 201st pilots at Clark Field,
Captain First Class Radames Gaxiola Andrade was named squadron
commander, with Rodriguez serving as Mexican Expeditionary
Force commander. But the North American advisory group attached
to the squadron was led by Lt. Col. Arthur W. Kellong and
Kellong appears to have been treated as the actual commanding
officer by the North Americans.
The squadron arrived in the Philippines in April 1945 and
began operations in small flights attached to other squadrons
of the 58th Fighter Group, flying planes loaned by those squadrons.
In July, however, the Mexicans received new P47D fighters
and began their own squadron operations. They flew 59 combat
missions as a squadron, beginning with four fighter sweeps
over the Japanese-held island of Formosa and an attack against
the port of Karenko there. Most of their missions were to
provide ground support for the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry
Division in the Cagayan Valley.
“I felt very proud to fly this modern fighter,”
Flight Lt. Amador Samano Pina wrote of the arrival of new
P-47D planes, “that our leaders had put us in this modern
flight equipment, that made up for the economic hardships
to support our unit, compensated by our combat missions in
the campaign, with these experiences passed down to the new
Mexican P47 over Manila.
Five Mexican pilots were killed in action: one to anti-aircraft
fire, one in a crash-landing and three lost at sea after running
out of fuel. Flight Lieutenant Jose Espinosa Fuentes saw his
engine fail on takeoff from an airstrip at Florida Blanca
on Luzon. Rather than punch out and allow his plane to crash
into a cluster of tents housing U.S. Army troops, he veered
off but his plane smashed into a sugar mill, burning him to
death in the process. When the group commander, Col. Ed Roddy,
asked Rodriguez why the Mexicans did not lower their flag
to half-staff as was the practice when an American squadron
lost a pilot, Rodrigeuz replied that no man was greater than
the Republic, and the flag would remain at full height to
honor Espinosa’s sacrifice.
In the Philippines, the Mexican officers were often socially
snubbed by their American counterparts, but were very popular
with the Spanish-speaking upper crust of Filipino society.
The Mexican squadron developed a reputation for “friendly
fire” incidents after a flight of eight P47s from the
squadron strafed an American infantry company on Purro Mountain
and dropped 16 bombs on them. Investigation found that the
Mexican formation (which included two American pilots attached
to the 201st) had hit the target designated by forward air
controllers. No Mexicans were disciplined, but both Americans
were replaced as liaison officers.
While overeager boosters have exaggerated the squadron’s
achievements, it shot down no enemy planes during its brief
combat deployment. It did fly nearly 800 combat sorties, dealing
out extensive damage to the Japanese and dropping nearly 1,500
bombs. A group of ground crewmen out looking for firewood
also captured two Japanese soldiers after a brief firefight.
When the squadron went overseas, no replacement pilots had
been sent through the American training system and after those
losses the 201st could not field its full strength. Several
Mexican pilots were rushed to the U.S. for familiarization
with the big P47 fighter, but it would take some weeks for
them to be certified and reach the Philippines. In the rush
to get new pilots ready and maintain Mexico’s place
in the front lines, two more pilots died in flight accidents
in Florida. When the 58th Fighter Group left the Philippines
for Okinawa that fall, the Mexicans stayed behind. They flew
their last combat mission as a full squadron on 26 August,
escorting a convoy north of the Philippines.
The squadron returned to Mexico City in November 1945. The
sqaudron’s number and traditions are carried on by the
201st Counter-Insurgency Squadron stationed at Cozumel, which
saw extensive service during the 1994 uprising in Chiapas.
A film version of the squadron’s World war II service,
to be called Aztec Eagles, is reportedly in development.
This piece originally appeared in July 2005.
Gulf now and take
to the skies with Mexico!