The newest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a sequence from The Times that paperwork lesser-known tales from the conflict, remembers the Aztec Eagles, a Mexican fighter squadron that skilled within the United States and fought the Japanese alongside Allied troops within the Pacific Theater.
In the waning days of May 1945, a squadron of P-47 Thunderbolt pilots roared down on a Japanese navy convoy. Above them, American pilots harbored doubts about these greenhorns, new to the liberation of the Philippines and, as well, Mexicans.
In his burly and quick P-47 Thunderbolt, Lt. Reynaldo Perez Gallardo swooped down on the convoy, pouring .50-caliber rounds into the Japanese vans in a low-level strafing go. Then, the automobiles bursting into flames, Gallardo pulled his fighter up into the Pacific sky, snapping right into a victory roll, exposing himself to enemy fireplace. Over the radio an American voice crackled: “Look at that crazy Mexican!”
Crazy or not, this new bunch of fighter jocks — roughly 30 pilots of the 300-strong 201st Fighter Squadron of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force, nicknamed the Aztec Eagles — was now within the battle to free the Filipino folks.
The 201st didn’t have a serious impact on the general final result of the enormous Pacific conflict 75 years in the past. But by the top of the battle, these males had been hailed as valiant and lethal of their machines, beloved for his or her ferocity by the Filipinos and Americans alike. And their participation alongside the Americans helped enhance relations between Mexico and the United States after the conflict, Gustavo Vázquez-Lozano argues in his 2017 e-book, “201st Squadron: The History of the Mexican Pilots Who Fought in World War II.”
Other than Brazil, which despatched troops to battle in Italy, Mexico was the one Latin American nation to actively battle the Axis, specifically the Japanese Empire, a choice rigorously made by President Manuel Ávila Camacho of Mexico, an outdated soldier himself.
Early on, there was a swirling sympathy for Nazi Germany amongst Mexican intellectuals. And Camacho was reluctant to aspect with the United States, his nation’s perpetual enemy, with its repeated invasions and incursions. After all, Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself participated within the temporary U.S. seizure of the port of Veracruz in 1914.
But on May 14, 1942, a Mexican oil tanker off the coast of Florida was intercepted by a German submarine, which torpedoed the vessel, spilling 6,000 tons of oil and killing a minimum of 13 of the 35 crew members. Every week later, the Germans struck one other tanker, killing a minimum of seven Mexican sailors.
Enough was sufficient. On May 28, 1942, Mexicans listened to the radio as “the grave, emotionless voice of Camacho declared war on the Axis powers,” Vázquez-Lozano writes. “The conflagration was coming to them.”
Secretly, although, Mexico City was satisfied that its deadliest enemy lay not within the coronary heart of Europe however throughout the Pacific Ocean: Japan. The Mexican Army intercepted a Japanese plan to invade the United States through the Sea of Cortez on the Pacific Coast. Troops would land within the state of Sonora, in northwestern Mexico, and drive north into the susceptible American Southwest.
The Mexican authorities compelled a lot of the nation’s massive Japanese inhabitants to relocate to designated areas, and a few had been even detained in camps. Mexicans turned up at military bases throughout the nation to volunteer, however Camacho was effectively forward of them: He had already organized the 201st and despatched it to the United States for coaching, even earlier than he publicly introduced the drive.
The males, all volunteers, got here from a cross part of Mexico. The commander, Col. Antonio Cárdenas Rodríguez, was a fight veteran who had flown with the U.S. Army Air Forces in North Africa; even so, some Americans didn’t really feel that Rodriguez was pro-American sufficient, they usually tried unsuccessfully to have him changed. Gallardo, a lieutenant when he signed up, was the scion of a robust Mexican household who had transferred from the cavalry.
On their solution to conflict, the lads of the 201st stopped first in San Antonio, the place they had been skilled by the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. They had been then shipped to North Texas after which to Idaho to coach on the aircraft that might take them to conflict: the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Designed as a fighter, the plane was additionally a flying tank, able to shut air help, dropping 500-pound bombs and unloading its .50-caliber weapons with ferocious generosity. Reinforced armor beneath additionally made the aircraft in a position to take injury as a lot because it might dish it out.
Gallardo beloved pushing his nice huge fighter aircraft. When the squadron went to Greenville in North Texas, he dropped out of formation in his Thunderbolt and buzzed the city — flying proper down the primary avenue. On touchdown, he bought busted to a desk job. “I was very sad,” he mentioned later in a University of Texas at Austin oral history. “But I knew that I would fly again one day, and I did.” He was shortly reinstated, in time to conclude his coaching in Texas and go on to superior coaching with the remainder of the unit.
Now removed from residence, the Mexicans skilled one thing that they had by no means identified at residence: discrimination throughout coaching in a restaurant whose proprietor refused to serve them, regardless of their uniforms, as a result of they had been Mexicans. Many within the squadron suspected that the Americans doubted their skills as preventing males.
The American counteroffensive, in the meantime, started to pay dividends, although at staggering human value. The Battle of the Coral Sea hampered the Japanese navy; the Battle of Midway destroyed its prized plane carriers. U.S. Army and Marine amphibious invasions prevented an invasion of Australia after which slowly peeled again Japanese management of islands extending southeast from the Philippines at the same time as 1000’s of lives had been misplaced in grinding battles like Guadalcanal.
Finally, the prize was in sight: the Philippines and outlying islands like Guam and Tinian. From right here, the Allies would as soon as extra be inside vary to bomb the Japanese major islands — and even invade. So MacArthur made his return, and the primary American invasion drive landed on the Philippine island Luzon on Jan. 9, 1945, participating in pitched preventing with the Japanese.
Arriving within the Philippines aboard the usS. Fairisle on April 30, 1945, the 201st was assigned to the U.S. Fifth Air Force. The 201st went into motion by itself close to Vigan, the place the Japanese had been dug in, and the one solution to get them out was to fly shut in opposition to the mountain vary, executing harmful dive-bombing runs. The Mexicans bought the job completed, to the amazement of the Americans, who nicknamed the Mexicans the “white noses” for the paint on their cowlings. The pilots needed to fly so near the Japanese that one of many first plane took “two blows to the wings,” in response to Vázquez-Lozano.
On June 1, 1945, the 201st deliberate an assault on a Japanese ammunition depot. Because of three excessive cliffs and antiaircraft batteries, they must dive-bomb from excessive altitudes after which attempt to pull their heavy planes up and out. The Americans thought of it suicide; the Mexicans had by no means dived-bombed in fight.
Four pilots took off. Carlos Garduño Nuñez defined later: “Fausto was coming up behind me, right on my tail. First I dropped my bombs and I got out straight away, grazing the sea.” Rising quick, he recalled, “my blackout happened, and when I got my vision back, my plane was ascending. I turned around to see if Fausto was behind me … but it was another plane.”
“They got Cachito!” the radio crackled. “Cachito” was the nickname of the squadron’s youngest pilot, Second Lt. Fausto Vega Santander of Veracruz, who was simply 22. Various accounts described him having been hit by Japanese fireplace or shedding management. His highly effective P-47 lurched twice to the fitting after which spun into the Pacific at 350 miles per hour.
The 201st continued to assault Japanese positions day after day into June. As the soggy wet season set in, the 201st flew into fight to hit remaining Japanese infantry and antiaircraft weapons in Northern Luzon and the Marikina Valley, east of Manila. The losses of the squadron’s pilots mounted into July.
MacArthur ordered his air forces to show their consideration northward to the Japanese territory generally known as Formosa, now Taiwan. The battle for the Philippines was largely over at a price of 13,000 Allied lives — and over 300,000 Japanese. Now the battle can be taken on to the enemy.
The remaining Mexicans flew harmful, six-hour wave-top missions over nothing however open ocean to hit the Japanese in Formosa with half-ton bombs. “We saw more frequent airplanes from Japan on that 650-mile trip than ever before,” Miguel Moreno Arreola mentioned in a 2003 interview. “But they didn’t want to have combat with us, because they knew our P-47s were better than their Mitsubishis. We could fly higher and faster.” So grueling had been these missions that after they returned, pilots needed to be pried out of their cockpits and helped off the tarmac.
From close by Guam, the large American bombers roared off to fire-bomb Japan. Despite losses, no replacements got here, and with 14 plane wrecked, the 201st was changing into ineffective for fight. So a lot of its pilots had been killed and plane destroyed that the 201st was left within the Philippines when the U.S. fighters relocated to Okinawa.
Then one night time in August, the lads gathered in a tent at Clark Field. They discovered the United States had dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, and the enemy was lastly providing to give up.
The conflict was over, and the lads returned residence to parades and flowers. “I can vividly remember our welcome home to Mexico,” Capt. Luis Pratt informed a U.S. Air Force interviewer in 2003. “As we traveled through the towns toward Mexico City, we were greeted by cheering crowds and confetti and marching bands.”
Because of its contributions to the conflict effort, Mexico acquired one of many first rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council, alongside the everlasting members, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and China.
Relations between the United States and Mexico thawed. The Mexican navy acquired monetary help from the United States; the Central Intelligence Agency covertly established the most important workplace for U.S. intelligence within the Western Hemisphere in Mexico City throughout the Cold War. Ultimately, Mexico acquired navy help and coaching from the United States, which continues to today. Mexican marines, for example, practice at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Free commerce wouldn’t have been attainable with out a extra relaxed environment between the 2 North American neighbors, for higher and for worse.
Gen. Henry Harley Arnold mentioned in 1945 that the 201st squadron put 30,000 Japanese troops out of fight. Logging 2,000 hours of fight sorties, the unit dropped 1,457 bombs on the Japanese.
The unit was commemorated at a monument in Mexico City on Feb. 9, simply as it’s yearly. “Sadly there are not that many people who remember,” mentioned Martín del Campo Alfredo, a member of the affiliation’s board, whose grandfather was a Mexican Air Force pioneer. The navy and households nonetheless care, nonetheless, he mentioned. “Even though there are fewer and fewer men, we will remain dedicated to their memory.” Just 10 Mexican veterans of the conflict stay alive, and one is a pilot: Carlos Garduño, who not too long ago turned 100.
Richard Parker is a journalist who writes concerning the American Southwest, the U.S.-Mexico border and is the creator of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America.”