Hidden History: The Black Mutinies Of World War II

There is a curious problem with the 21st century progressive American historical approach. Part of the establishment is desperate to boost any contribution in the past by a non-white group or individual in the all in it together mode. The Hollywood part of the regime media is retconning the past to make films both portraying a segregated Army, while also portraying an integrated Army in other films. Individual minority groups also proudly celebrate feats of defiance as early signs of the struggle against the regime that holds them down while simultaneously depending on them for voting legitimacy. It makes for a mess of the official depiction of 20th century events with many primary sources available.

World War II holds a special place in American history not just as America’s ascendancy to global hegemon, but for the plethora of film and news artifacts. The image of Rosie the Riveter lives on for 21st century feminists to appropriate, despite the truth that she eventually quit the job because it was too hard. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone pitched in and pulled together to beat the Nazis and Japanese. Hushed up and mostly forgotten are black mutinies in the armed forces in World War II.

Pshaw, this is just hyperbole or exaggeration of blacks not taking any guff. Please read details in the links. White soldiers, black MPs, white officers all get attacked, shot at, and weapons are stolen. This report on the Camp van Dorn incident states there were 209 racial incidents, many of which were outright mutinies where soldiers used weapons against officers. Some of the odd behavior was political in nature. Black Seabees complained and even held a hunger strike until FDR’s federal bureaucrats made sure proper promotions were made and bad whites were disciplined. This is the same as modern political moves within the military that reward regime clients and punish white men.

This is not to say all of these incidents were without just cause. The Port Chicago mutiny was an act where sailors were right to be scared for their lives due to their orders. Noncoms and officers black and white played loose with men’s lives, if one reads the sources. The Agana race riot had a lot of back and forth between white and black soldiers prior to the full scale riot. The problem starts, though, as one looks through the many mutinies that surprisingly have not been collected in a book on World War II. A review of the Pacific theater only mentions friction between black and non-blacks, whether military or civilian, during the war.

These black mutinies did not have to be late in the war or in hot zones. In 1941, there was a mutiny at Fort Bragg and a shoot out at Fort Dix. Seventy-three troops were convicted for a mutiny in Hawaii. Fort Lawton had a riot, and please read some of these links to get the “hands up, don’t shoot” lies at the core of many of these events. Black soldiers magically get killed (they don’t), which then automatically inspires the other blacks to take up arms and attack the nearest whites, whether in the next barracks or the officers’ mess. There were shootouts at Mobile’s Brookley Field and Camp Claiborne. Similar to the Seabees, many of these men were in supply and logistics units. Many of these mutineers would also attack black MPs, who were often sent in first to reason with their fellow black soldiers.

Were some of these trial runs for the coming civil rights movement? Of course they were. There was the Freedom Field Mutiny in Indiana. This event was more political in nature and had to do simply with segregated social spaces. Considering all that had happened elsewhere with black units, segregation of black and non-black at the end of World War II might have looked more appealing, not less appealing. There was a mutiny in Florida, as black soldiers did not even deal well with locals. Note in this document, if you search, you will find accusations of communists brainwashing the black soldiers into asking for preferential treatment.

The trial runs were not just for spurring change, but for cover-ups, as well. The media and even the Secretary of Defense downplayed the mutiny at Claiborne. Note that Secretary Stimson denied that the punishment for the mutineers was being withheld until after the election to help FDR. If the mutiny was so mild, what would FDR and the Democrats have to fear? The Left controlled the bureaucracy and papers, though, so this was never questioned. If you read through all of these links, you will see men pardoned by President Truman and records cleaned decades later. Investigators go to great lengths to clear the men if they can, but many fail to do so. Some men even receive back pay.

No cover-up is as odd as the Townsville mutiny that happened in Australia in 1942. The mutiny, even given some slight justification by the modern reporter as the troops did “thankless” work, was so troublesome that future president LBJ went to investigate. A very lengthy report was sent to President Roosevelt, and this was all kept hidden for decades. As in many riots and mutinies listed above, black engineer corpsmen fired machine guns at white officers. These men did the construction work of airfields and bases. These were not the troops who stormed the shores of Okinawa. This only came to light in 2012. The only records of it were in LBJ’s personal files.

None of these events ever make it into movies, and many are scrubbed from records of war overviews, despite the hundreds of incidents. The perfect #BlackLivesMatter script is set, though, and could use the Hollywood favorite “based on a true story” tagline. Imagine Fred Johnson from Baltimore building airfields in Australia, far from the front, gets disrespected by some WASP officer, and that’s all he can stand. Machine guns a blastin’ he, and the righteous blacks that he inspires with a touching speech, strike for the oppressed! Some Uncle Tom black MP takes him in to be arrested. The Army, which fed him, sheltered him, and paid him, sends him to jail for 16 months for mutiny and attempted murder before President Truman pardons him. The final shot could be him crying, yet defiant, sitting in a jail cell, and the inconvenient pardon and pay could be a text screen after everyone is getting up to leave the theater.

This would be an excellent script, but might cause too much probing by movie reviewers and worse, casual movie goers. The patterns might be noticed and might trip over the same type of mutinies in World War I. He who controls the present controls the past, and those in control want this disturbing historical note stuffed away. These odd mutinies that peppered World War Two must be relegated to local history and the small printing run books that get published about Weird Florida or Forgotten New Jersey. These events must remain hidden history.

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  1. Your link to the Townsville mutiny is behind a paywall.

  2. Makes one wonder if integrating the armed forces in 1947 was less a move toward “racial equality” and more a move toward spreading the armed negroes around so they wouldn’t be as much of a problem.

    1. There was a shortage of officers for negro units, making them in units with too many men and too few leaders.

      Apparently segregated units didn’t offer as much for promotion.

  3. In any conflict, successful propaganda is vital. In South East Asia in the 1930’s and 1940’s both the Japanese and the nascent Communist Parties used propaganda effectively, contributing greatly to the collapse of European colonial rule in the region.

    What else could FDR and his administration have done? Had the Japanese High Command even a whiff of the scale of racial tensions in the Armed Forces during the War they would have had a major propaganda coup which surely would have an impact on the war effort. Adroit manipulation could have resulted in isolated mutinies erupting into a serious rebellion throughout the Pacific Theater. After the conflict, and with a nascent Cold War looming continued segregation in the Armed Forces would have been an easy target for left-wing activists, and was scrapped as not fitting the zeitgeist.

    I believe the war industries led the way in integration, with factories like the B-29 plant in Marietta, GA, which employed mainly women, of all colours. Female agricultural laborers in a short while were producing the most advanced aircraft in existence in huge numbers. Most there, for the first time in their lives, had a bank account, a regular income, sickness pay and healthcare. It would not be that easy to turn the clock back at War’s end.

  4. It’s an interesting history, but not terribly surprising–there seems pretty overwhelming evidence these days that the average black person is more likely to see “whites” as his enemy than “the Japanese,” Pearl Harbor or no Pearl Harbor.

  5. SecretForumLurker September 12, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I do wonder if this is why the US military used blacks in logistics and construction roles and kept them from combat roles. That rationale would destroy the concept of them being integrated Americans.

  6. The Tuskegee Airmen is another great example. As Roger McGrath notes:

    ” If you think political correctness is a recent phenomenon in America, then the longtime promulgation and perpetuation of distortions and falsehoods concerning the Tuskegee Airmen should disabuse you of such a notion.

    The very creation of the group was an attempt by President Franklin Roosevelt to showcase blacks in the war effort, which was dominated by white men, and exclusively so in the air. While Butch O’Hare, Colin Kelly, Jimmy Doolittle, and Joe Foss were making headlines in 1942, blacks were nowhere to be seen. People today forget that, until the multiple presidencies of FDR, blacks were not solidly wedded to the Democratic Party. If nothing else, FDR was a shrewd political strategist, and cultivating the growing urban black vote with a highly publicized black air wing was a p.r. coup. Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of misinformation and distortions about the Tuskegee flyers that have been repeated so often and for so long that the nonsense now passes for fact.

    The most glaring falsehood says the fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen, while escorting American bombers, never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft. This claim first appeared in a black-oriented publication, Liberty Magazine, in its March 10, 1945, issue. The claim was repeated in a black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, on March 24, 1945. In reality, the black unit alluded to, the 332nd Fighter Group, had already lost at least 24 bombers to enemy aircraft and, on March 24, 1945, would lose three more. Facts were not allowed to get in the way, though, and the no-losses fabrication, repeated like a mantra, soon gained canonical status, despite pilots and crewmen from the B-24s and B-17s that were shot down objecting.

    I was teaching a course on World War II in 1995 when The Tuskegee Airmen, an HBO made-for-TV movie, aired. “They Were Our Country’s Best Defense . . . And Its Greatest Glory,” said the film’s tagline. Several of my students watched the movie and, a day later in class, asked me about the black pilots never losing a bomber they were protecting to enemy aircraft. Since it was in the movie, my students thought it must be true. To this day not one of the many reviews of the movie at IMDB.com—the go-to site for films—mention that the claim is false, instead emphasizing that the Tuske­gee Airmen never lost a bomber! Moreover, the movie even had American bomber pilots requesting that the black flyers escort them and feeling relieved when learning that the “Red Tails”—the vertical stabilizer of the 332nd’s P-51s was painted red for easy identification—would be on the mission.

    Far from being our country’s “best defense” or “greatest glory,” the 332nd rated dead last of the four P-51 fighter escort groups of the Fifteenth Air Force. A postwar analysis of the effectiveness of the all-white 31st, 52nd, and 325th fighter groups, and the all-black 332nd, found the white pilots had a much higher kill ratio, shooting down two to three enemy planes for every one they lost themselves, while the black pilots lost more of their own aircraft to the enemy than they shot down. Although the record of the 332nd has been portrayed in glowing and heroic terms, the actual combat data say otherwise. Some 445 Tuske­gee Airmen flew in combat, and only 72 got a kill. Not one became an ace. Their total aerial victories were 112. According to the official Air Force publication “USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II,” total victories for the 332nd specifically were 94. The same source credits the 31st Fighter Group with 278 aerial victories, the 52nd with 224.5, and the 325th with 252.

    Moreover, the 332nd did not begin combat operations until June 1944 and flew in the Mediterranean theater of the war. The best German pilots were on other fronts or had already been killed. Then, too, the P-51D that the 332nd flew was a superior airplane to the Me-109 or FW-190, yet the German pilots shot down many more of the 332nd’s P-51s than Messerschmitts or Fock Wulfs they lost themselves. Three black pilots, Lee Archer, Joseph Elsberry, and Edward Toppins, had four aerial victories. Most had none or one.

    The top American pilot in Europe, Francis Gabreski, had 28 aerial victories, including shooting down three German planes on one flight. He was followed closely by Robert Johnson and George Preddy, both with 27. Like Gabreski, Johnson shot down three German planes on one flight, but it was Preddy who set the record for American pilots in Europe, shooting down six Me-109s in five minutes of furious dogfighting. A dozen other American pilots had 20 aerial victories or more, including Bud Mahurin, who was the first American to become a double ace in Europe.

    Any movies about any of these pilots who lit up the skies of Europe? Not hardly, but a second movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, which perpetuates many of the myths, was released in January.”

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