The Position of Black Troops in the US Army in WW2

Hello everyone,

when it comes to popular Hollywood movies (I am not referring to Fury now, but there are many others), it’s a trend of source to depict the war from our current point of view. This often involves unhistorical elements, such as the common display of mixed (black and white) troops fighting together. Let’s have a look at what the position of black men in US Army really was.

During WW2, the US Army was racially segregated. Black men were called “negroes” and the word was not used as a racial slur, it was simply a term for blacks and they were formed into troops separated from the white majority of soldiers. They were led by black officers as well, although some command positions were occupied by white men due to the lack of properly trained black officers. The most notable examples were the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Division and 2nd Cavalry Division, but there were also independent black infantry regiments and tank batallions (such as the 761st Tank Batallion). There was even one black parachute infantry company (555th Parachute Infantry Company), but that unit was never deployed in combat and was used to fight forest fires in the north-western region of the USA. Practically the only black unit, involved in larger combat operations was the 92nd Infantry Division (Italian theater), although some smaller independent units were involved in fighting as well. A part of the 93rd Infantry Division was fighting small-scale battles in the Pacific. 2nd Cavalry Division on the other hand never had a contact with the enemy.

There were also black units with the USAAF, such as the 332nd Fighter Group, attached to the 15th USAAF in the Mediterranean region. This unit was activated on 13.10.1942 by combining the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, later on (1.5.1944) joined by the first black fighter unit of the USAAF ever, 99th Pursuit Squadron (which was activated on 13.3.1941 and was until that point operating independently or in cooperation with various white fighter units). Its members were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama and as such were often referred to as “Tuskegee Airmen”. It’s worth noting that this unit actually operated over wartime Czechoslovakia at the end of the war, adding to the local myth that “all the American fighter-bomber pilots are black men”, which originally started with sightings of American pilots flying low above ground looking “black” in their cockpits due to the masks they wore. Another black air unit was the 447th Composite Group, but that unit was never deployed actively.

The members of the black units were – according to the doctrine of “separate but equal” – having the same rights and duties as other soldiers, but due to the amount of prejudice in (not only) American armed forces, this was sometimes just a theory, as black men were treated differently than the whites, were not considered to be equal to the white troops and despite the US Army command attempts to remedy the situation, it was not solved well after the war. One of the specific symptoms of this approach were the attempts to transfer black soldiers to second line duties, specifically the Army Service Forces, that included supply troops, gunsmiths, repairmen, builders or drivers, as opposite to the fighting Army Ground Fores. Of 885 thousand black troopers in WW2, only roughly 25 percent served in combat units and even some of those combat units never left the USA. This was the result of the US society prejudice, but it also had objective reasons: black education level was generally low and many black troopers were objectively not prepared enough to fulfill requiring combad duties, especially when it came to commanding troops. Another factor was the assumed resistance to racial integration from the white troopers from southern states of the USA, where the attitude to black men was at that time very poor.

During the Ardennes operation, black volunteers from the Army Service Forces formed up ad-hoc rifle platoons and companies (“replacement rifle platoons/companies”), that were sent as reinforcements to the tired white units without any issues in cooperation. The success of this went as far as some officers proposing the estabilishment of mixed units, but this plan never went anywhere. This was due to the fact that while the US Army was trying to mitigate the results of the entire issue, there was no real plan to change the situation completely, because it was felt that additional pointless issues like that would interfere with the war effort. What was done however was that the officers at least made sure that the recreation options of both sides were comparable. In the end, a solution came only after the war by Harry S. Truman’s executive order no.9981 from 26.7.1948, that started full integration of black troops into the army. This effort was officially finished under Dwight D. Eisenhower (30.10.1954). Segregation was also applied in the US Navy, with – analogically to the army – the transfers of black sailors to menial duties such as stewards and cooks.

As conclusion, it’s worth noting that some of the black soldiers were fighting extremely bravely. On the other hand, especially in Korea, several black units were dishonorably disbanded for cowardice in battle. Generally, it can be said that the performance of black troops was mixed, but adequate. There is a sort of movie trope these days to display the black soldiers as “warriors” of superior skill, which however is just as wrong as the myth of black soldier inferiority and is only a mirror of the current existing relations within the (not only) American society and not of the past.


28 thoughts on “The Position of Black Troops in the US Army in WW2

  1. Hey SS, this might seem interesting to you :)

    There is a very old 1956 Slovenian movie, called Valley of Peace

    It stars John Kitzmiller(black actor from Dr. No) and it’s about an american ww2 soldier who helps two kids run from german forces. Really great movie :)

    PS: as an extra bonus, he WAS in real life an American WW2 soldier who fought in the US attack on Italy.

  2. Your article brought my attention to something that I paid no attention untill now. The races of my crew. I had not paid gold to change their portraits, not names. Of the 42 american crew I “employ”:
    - 8 commanders, all white
    - 9 gunners all white
    - 11 loaders, 4 black, 7 white
    - 8 drivers, 1 black, 7 white
    - 6 radio operators, all white.
    I total 1 per ~8,5 is black. I suppose role assignment could be RNG based, but it is suspicious nothenless. Do some roles have a higher chance of getting a certain portrait?
    Of the 37 american faces avalible, 6 are black. ~1/6 chance for a black crewman, right? Apparently not. Is it just me, or do you also notice, that the majority of your black crew are loaders?

    • Nah, my first crew in T1 was all black, and then they popped up at random in later crews.
      Your test sample is just a bit too small, thats all.

    • Every single one of my US crews (except for the heavy one) have exactly one black guy (I actually theorized at some point that the game simply always generates a token black guy). They are about equally distributed in roles, too.
      For my US heavy crew, I decided I want to have all of them black, so I simply hired/fired 50% crew members until all of them were black, only… not all of them are. The second loader is now the token white guy, since the game has a limit on how many crew members you can hire in one day.

      So no, it’s completely random, you were just unlucky.

    • My Super-Pershing crew is all black (no gold used) and they have some (plz don’t be offended) very African-American sounding names… Like ‘Delmar’ and ‘Eli Oomis’ although I would assume a British crew with someone named ‘Basil’ or a German crewman with the name ‘Helmut’ would be similarly stereotypical. WoT – u so silly.

  3. “objective reasons: black education level was generally low and many black troopers were objectively not prepared enough to fulfill requiring combad duties, ”

    Make that “combat”… ironically that’s in the sentence regarding education levels :D

    • When you diligently push out 3-4 articles a day, every day and have thousands of people reading your blog, maybe then you can criticize typos.

      Sheesh. Folks are so ungrateful.

      Keep up the good work, SS!

  4. Regarding the black units in Korea, all it show is the prevailing prejudice of the US Army. At the beginning of the conflict ALL units ran, both white and black. The NK even captured an entire American 155 battery when their crews, all white, ran when they saw a couple of NK T-34s. The reason? Because they didn’t had any anti-tank weapon.

    The problem wasn’t skin color but training. These people were just garrison troops with almost no training beyond basic that were being led by incompetent officers. The best officers were in Europe facing the Soviets.

    That only the black units were disbanded in disgrace is a travesty of justice since many white units did the same and thus merited the same punishment.

    Courage under fire does not depend on skin color but on training and leadership.

    • A big deal was made about ‘Black’ units having poor records in Korea while ‘White’ units who acted the same way were glossed over – this was in part a last ditch attempt to justify segregation.

      As a note I did an exchange tour with a US Engineer Bridging Company in 1985 – although the unit was mixed it was still split into different ethnicities on site, in the cookhouse and in the bar – Whites, Blacks and Hispanics – they did not socialise outside their groups and tasks were done in their respective groups.

      It seemed to us to be just how they work – not a doctrine

      We got some odd to nasty comments as we were fully integrated in work and socially

  5. *Off topic*
    Anyone got an invite code btw?
    Been searching for one for some time now but couldn’t find any working ones :/

  6. Watched a documentary on how black US army units build that highway through Canada during WWII. Was quite interesting, despite of them never seeing combat. That road is in perfect condition even today!

  7. Here’s two to note exceptional heroism for Black Troops in WW2:

    Major Warren G. H. Crecy – “Baddest Man in the 761st”

    On November 10, 1944, Sergeant Warren G.H. Crecy fought through enemy positions to aid his men until his tank was destroyed. He immediately took command of another vehicle, armed with only a .30-caliber machine gun, and liquidated the enemy position that had destroyed his tank. Still under heavy fire, he helped eliminate the enemy forward observers who were directing the artillery fire that had been pinning down the American infantry.

    Published Source:
    The 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion in World War II: An Illustrated History of the First African American Armored Unit to See Combat By Joe Wilson, Jr. (1999)


    Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers – 761st Tank Battalion, Medal of Honor recipient

    For extraordinary heroism in action during the 15–19 November 1944, toward Guebling, France.

    Though severely wounded in the leg, Sergeant Rivers refused medical treatment and evacuation, took command of another tank, and advanced with his company in Guebling the next day. Repeatedly refusing evacuation, Sergeant Rivers continued to direct his tank’s fire at enemy positions through the morning of 19 November 1944.

    At dawn, Company A’s tanks began to advance towards Bougaktroff, but were stopped by enemy fire. Sergeant Rivers, joined by another tank, opened fire on the enemy tanks, covering company A as they withdrew.

    While doing so, Sergeant River’s tank was hit, killing him and wounding the crew. Staff Sergeant Rivers’ fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his unit and exemplify the highest traditions of military service.

    commanding officer, Captain David J. Williams later remembered what happened when he and the rest of the company came to aid Rivers:

    With the morphine needle in my right hand about a half inch from Sergeant Rivers’ leg, I could have told my sergeant to hold him down. I said, “Ruben, you’re going back. You’ve got a million-dollar wound. You’re going back to Tecumseh. You’re getting out of this. You got a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.” He says, “Captain, you’re going to need me.” I said, “I’m giving you a direct order! You’re going back!” I said, Medics, get the stretcher.” He pushed the needle away and got up. He said, “This is one order, the only order I’ll ever disobey.”

    Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers died November 19, 1944 as a result of his wounds near Guebling, France.

    Publish Source:
    Newspaper Article “the Capital” Annapolis,MD

    Sasser, Charles W.. Patton’s Panthers: the African-American 761st Tank Battalion in World War II. New York: Pocket Books, 2004. Print.

    Wilson, Joe W. The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1999. p53.

    In regards to Black troops in Korean, I met a Black US Army, Pusan corridor veteran survivor who told me stories on how inadequate the White troops where much less the Black troops in fighting the war in Korea, either by weather or combat. He pointed out the US command infrastructure had no clue how to fight in Korea. He was not sitting on his ass in the rear as a support trooper. I guess it does not matter on color if some enemy soldier is trying to kill the both of you.

  8. The two artillery battalions in Bastogne when in got surrounded are also one of those “segregated” units. While ammo was scarce, their performance was more than enough when they needed some fire support.

  9. My father was one of those white officers (yeah – I’m old). He was a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers in charge of a company of black soldiers, mostly from rural Alabama. They spent much of the war creating airfields in New Guinea.

    Since they were making airfields, the brass wanted to transfer them to the Army Air Corps for simplicity of command structure. The AAC General refused to have black troops under his command, so the transfer did not take place.

    As to the men, all my father would say was that they were good guys and did their jobs well.

  10. “Brothers In Arms” by Kareem Abdul Jabbar is a good read to get their point of view, but it doesn’t flow very well. There are quite a few historical errors, too…such as describing Von Goering as a skinny propaganda minister.

  11. racism is bad … in late WWI , when the US entered the war , their soldiers didn’t want to fight with their black ones, so they were sent to reinforce french units… Where they were welcomed and well liked by the “white french” without any discrimination, they even received a lot of distinctions… thats why a number of them went back to france after the war bringing with them the Jazz and blues culture who were really popular in france in the 1920s
    same in WW2..

  12. What does it have to do with internet tanks anyway? Apart from SS’s hatred of minorities.

  13. Thanks SS! I was reading a novel currently about this subject, Hart’s War, and this is really helpful for an assignment.