The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – Part Two

Editor’s Note –

This unsigned article was obtained by Clarence Simonsen in 1983. It is a reprint of the original from the archives of the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, at Alabama. It was prepared by the Historical Section, Administration and Service Division, Headquarters, Second Air Force, 20 September 1945. It is reproduced [black text] for the historical and detailed progress of the forming and training of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron, including the training in the United States. Small sections from author [Simonsen] information appear in blue type. Hyperlinks, if any, will be in red.

Whenever possible I will add some pictures found on different Websites as I go along editing Clarence’s story. 

The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – [August 1944 to March 1945]

American Aid for 201st Mexican Squadron

The full cost of housing and messing for the 201st enlisted men, costs incurred by reason of survey of individual equipment, and cost of necessary official transportation of Mexican personnel within continental limits of the United States were all covered by Lend-Lease. Normal costs of training were for the account of the U.S. Army Air Forces. The use of organizational equipment belonging to the Army Air Forces as might be necessary was also authorized.

The Mexican Government was to furnish pay and allowances, insurance, and Mexican uniforms for the enlisted personnel. All individual equipment needed in training, including training clothing, was to be issued on Memorandum Receipt. Mexican officers were to be housed, uniformed, and messed at their own expense.

Organization

The 201st Mexican Squadron was to be organized in the same manner as a P-47 Squadron in the United States Army Air Forces, with pertinent Tables of Organization for a guide. Standards of proficiency required the 201st squadron were to be identical with those demanded of the same type of unit in the United States.

Actual training command of the Squadron was exercised by a Mexican officer, qualified to command it in accordance with the same United States Army Air Forces standards that would be applied in the selection of the commander for a Fighter Squadron in the United States Army. Provision was also made for a senior officer [other that squadron commander] to accompany the Squadron, to assist the Squadron Commander and United States authorities in furthering the administration efficiency of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Forces and in fostering good relations with other United Nations troops. It was the responsibility of the Commanding Officer of all Mexican detachments to require that trainees comply with post regulations and pertinent instructions from higher headquarters. For purposes of internal administration in the Squadron, however, the personnel were not subject to the civil or military law of the United States, but only to the rules and regulations, and codes of Mexican military law. Cases involving offenses of a military nature committed by the Mexican Trainees could be handled only by their own commanders and courts-martial.

In July 1944, the members of 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron, [294] entered the United States at Laredo, Texas. After being processed at Randolph Field, Texas, the Squadron was divided into smaller groups for refresher and technical courses. All Pilots commenced a ten-week refresher course at Foster Field, Texas, while members of the ground crews were enrolled in mechanic, armorer, radio, and radar schools throughout the nation. 

In preparation for the arrival of the Mexican Fighter Squadron, a Section “I” commanded by Capt. Paul B. Miller, was organized in August 1944 at Pocatello Army Air field, Pocatello, Idaho. This new section consisted of American interpreters and instructors who were to assist in the training and administration of the Mexican Unit.

From sections throughout the Second Army Air Force the personnel of “I” section had been carefully selected, not only for their technical skill and knowledge, but also for their ability to speak Spanish.

Captain Paul B. Miller was 24 years of age, an American officer who had been raised in Peru and spoke fluent Spanish. He had served as the assistant air attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The Capt. at once rigorously enforced a strong code of discipline, which he realized was necessary for the Squadron success and to save Mexican lives.

Ground Training Begins

On 6 August 1944, the ground echelon of the 201st Mexican fighter Squadron, consisting of nine officers and 160 enlisted men, arrived at Pocatello Army Air Field. The first few weeks are devoted chiefly to instruction in English and basic military subjects and on-the-job training in various military specialties, to prepare the trainees for the independent operation of such sections as Maintenance, Armament, Squadron Supply, Motor Pool, Photo Laboratory, Statistical, Parachute Maintenance, Medical Classification, Personnel, Communications, Technical Supply, Weather, Ordnance, Intelligence and Engineering.

In the Medical Section, Major Ricardo Blanco received training as Flight Surgeon, and Second Lieutenant Pablo Herrasti as Medical Administration Officer. Four enlisted men of the Squadron received on-the-job training at the Base Hospital. On 18 January 1944, Major Blanco went to the School of Aviation Medicine, at Randolph field for further training.

In spite of the inevitable difficulties of language, the over-all training program for the ground echelon seemed as early as 2 September to be proceeding in a highly satisfactory manner. Particular progress was noted in maintenance, in ground training, and in administration. Sixty-three men, comprising the key men in line-maintenance, arrived at Pocatello on 11 September from Farmingdale, New York. Their technical training at Farmingdale had been so intense as to leave no time for basic military training; hence, this training had to be given to them at Pocatello. Since the course at Farmingdale had been general in nature, it was necessary to give them on-the-line training in particular jobs they were to perform in their Squadron.

Their training program was not so exacting, however, as to prevent celebration of the Mexican Independence Day. On 15 and 16 September, both Mexican and United States Army personnel joined in the celebrations. A flag-raising ceremony, attended by the Mexican Consul in Salt Lake City, Senor Carlos Grimm, was held in the 201st Squadron area. On Friday, 15 September, a banquet was tendered the officers of the 201st and staff officers of the Base, and that night the enlisted men of the Mexican Squadron were hosts to the enlisted personnel of the United States Army at a dance in the reception hall. At 23:00 hours, the traditional “Grito de Guerra” [Mexican War Cry] was sounded. On Saturday night, the Mexican officers gave a dance at the officer’s Club for the United States officer personnel.

On 21 September, Major General Gustavo C. Salinas, the Commanding General of the Mexican Air Force, visited Pocatello Army Air Field. He was met by Brigadier General George P. Tourtellot, Commanding General of the 72nd Fighter Wing, and Colonel George Champion, United States Military Air Attaché at Mexico City.

On 23 September the party returned to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the two generals conferred with Major General Uzal G. Ent, Commanding General, Second Air Force. Both General Salinas and General Tourtellot expressed themselves as well pleased with the progress that was being made by the Squadron.

Early in October 1944, several Sections, to wit, armament and Ordnance, the Motor Pool, Operations, Motor Maintenance, the Medical department, the Medical Detachment, Communications, and the Photo Laboratory were operating independently, and almost all other sections were progressing satisfactory towards independent status.

 

Flying Training Begins

On 20 October 1944, thirty-four pilot trainees and Colonel R. Cardenas Rodriquez, Commanding Officer of the 201st Squadron, arrived from Foster Field, Texas.

In mid-February 1944, seven Mexican pilots arrived at the Naval Air Station on North Island, San Diego, assigned to fly the Douglas A-24B Dauntless in a dive bombing squadron. Eight U.S. Navy A-24Bs were all painted in Mexican Air Force markings, and they formed a separate squadron. The group was commanded by Capt. Carlos Cervantes Perez, with pilots – Lte Carlos Garduno Nunez, Lte Fernando Hernandez Vega, Lte Graco Ramirez Garrido, Sub Lte Julio Cal y Mayor Sauz, Sub Lte Crisoforo Salido, and Sub Lte Jacobo Estrada Luna. In mid-March 1944, the entire training program was taken over by Col. Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez, who also jointed in the training until June, when he returned to Mexico City.

 Col. Rodriquez and Capt. Radames Graxiola Andrade departed Mexico City on 24 July 1944, by train for Laredo, Texas, and then on to initial processing at Randolph Field, Texas. The two were next posted to Foster Field, Texas, for training in the AT-6 for fighter tactics and then transition to the Curtiss P-40 fighter.

That same day, [20 Oct. 44] the last of the communications unit arrived from Scott Field, Illinois. The Squadron then numbered fifty officers and 237 enlisted men, and was complete except for the Combat Intelligence Officer, Captain Jesus L. Blanco, who was in route to the Intelligence School, at Orlando, Florida, and six radar men, who were still undergoing training at Boca Raton, Florida.

Two days after the arrival of the pilots, flying training was under way. The training program for Mexican pilots, instituted at Pocatello and later carried on at Majors Field, was the standard one for all fighter pilots in the Second Air Force. Combat veterans from the United States Army, chosen for their ability to speak Spanish, instructed students in the rough-and-tumble style of air tactics required in war theatres. The Mexican pilots learned to dogfight, to attack and escort bombers, to dive-bomb and strafe, to navigate by instrument through the thickest weather, to fly night formations, to execute level and skip bombing, to lay smoke screens, and to navigate across long stretches of unfamiliar terrain or trackless water. The principle features of the course were those outlined in the 120 hour fighter training program, which included low altitude gunnery, and combat tactics at thirty-five thousand feet.

The new arrivals soon demonstrated their flying ability. In judgment and technique, in take-offs and landings, and in general performance they were proclaimed considerably above average by Capt. Paul B. Miller, C.O. of section “I”. At the end of the first week, all except one had been ‘checked out’ and were ready to begin Training Missions #6 and#7.

By 10 November, the majority of them were ready for missions #11 and #12, and Capt. Miller reported that their formation flying was excellent, despite the fact that the P-47 type formation used by the 72nd Fighter Wing was completely new to them upon arrival at Pocatello.

The difference in language was the greatest obstacle to the successful accomplishment of the training program. To bridge this gap, classes in English were instituted for the Mexican trainees and classes in Spanish for those American instructors who could not already speak Spanish. Within two weeks, English was being used in all air-to-ground radio transmissions by the Mexican pilots, except in emergencies involving pilots not yet sufficiently fluent in the English language. To provide for such emergencies, an English-speaking Mexican pilot was kept on duty at all times when Mexicans were flying, to act, if need be, as a translator for the regular tower duty Operations Officer. The keeping of maintenance and engineering records was facilitated by the use of mimeographed forms, reproduced in Spanish. One Mexican officer was always present in the maintenance hangar whenever Mexican mechanics were on duty.

Unfamiliar customs, also, required some adjustments. Mess hours and the diet of Americans were different from those to which the Mexicans were accustomed, and a number of them were upset at their first meals. The cooks, however, soon learned to adapt the menus to suit the tastes of the Mexican personnel. In general, all Mexicans adjusted themselves rapidly and intelligently to their new surroundings. Assisting to no small degree in this adjustment was the hospitality of the people of Pocatello; to cite but a single example, the Mexican trainees received, throughout their stay, numerous invitations to parties and dinners in the homes of the local townspeople.

 

The Transfer to Majors Field

Bad flying weather interfered so greatly with training at Pocatello, that it was decided to transfer the 201st, along with the bulk of the personnel and equipment of Pocatello’s 265th Army Air Forces Base Unit, to Majors Field, at Greensville, Texas. The Mexican unit, including pilots, ground officers, and enlisted personnel, departed from Pocatello by troop train on 27 November and arrived at Majors Field on 29 November, to receive a warm welcome from Post officials. Bad weather at Pocatello, in addition to the transfer to Majors Field, had resulted in the loss of much flying time. Furthermore, adverse flying weather had delayed the transfer of approx. one-third of the aircraft belonging to the 201st. During the first few days of December, inclement weather again plagued the Squadron. When the weather did break, however, the Thunderbolts of the 201st were the first off the ramps; and on 16 December Capt. Miller was able to report that the general proficiency of the Mexicans was excellent and that their formation flying ranged from excellent to superior. On 18 December, General Salinas paid another visit to the 201st, bringing with him Christmas gifts to the members of the Squadron from families in Mexico. In the course of his two day visit, he conferred at length with ground officers, pilots, and enlisted men of the Squadron, and was pleased with the progress of the training program. It is recorded that he was particularly appreciative of the hospitality shown the Mexican trainees by local civilians. 

 

On 29 December 1944, the Mexican Senate authorized the President Avila Camacho to send Mexican troops into combat theatre whenever he deemed it advisable. Immediately, the morale of the officers and enlisted personnel of the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron took a sharp turn upward, for prior to this time the members of the Squadron had been uncertain as to their future and had even had occasion to believe they would not be sent overseas. At the end of the year, the individual training of all Mexican personnel was complete. Captain Miller reported that each man knew his job and could perform it efficiently.

On 14 January 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur W. Kellond replaced Capt. Paul B. Miller as Commanding Officer, Section “I”. The new commander made it clear at once, however, that there would be no change in the policies established by his predecessor, unless they were directed by other authority.

As had been the case at Pocatello, Mexican military personnel adapted themselves readily to the local customs. Some of them maintained quarters in Greenville for their families. Parties and other social functions were given as frequently as the training program would permit. The language barrier between the Mexicans and the citizens of Greenville was largely overcome through the ability of many Mexicans to speak English and the employment of interpreters in a substantial number of Greenville stores for the convenience of Spanish-speaking customers.

In the magazine “Aviation History” May 2003, Sig Unander Jr. disputes this official version of the arrival in Greenville by the Mexican 201st Squadron.

“A sign over the town’s main street read ‘Greenville Welcome—The Blackest Land—The Whitest People.’ The Mexican pilots were amazed to be refused service in a restaurant, but a more serious concern was off-base housing. An international incident was narrowly avoided when base officers and civil leaders found accommodation and the word was circulated the Mexicans were allies and should be treated with courtesy.

The war years were a sad part of American discrimination history, and the Mexicans got a small taste of it. In 1944, over 378,000 German prisoners of war were housed in camps across 46 states. Many of these POW’s were treated better than the black man serving and giving his life for the United States of America. [Read] – “Coming to a Town near You” Ronald H. Bailey, World War II magazine, Sept. /Oct. 2012.

The relationship between base military personnel and the Mexican trainees was at all times cordial. Mexican non-commissioned officers were invited to become members of the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Club, and officer trainees were accorded the privileges of the Officers’ club. A Squadron and Section Christmas party, attended by both Mexican and American personnel, was held at the Adolphus Hotel, in Dallas, Texas, on 24 December 1945.

On 14 January 1945, Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez returned to Mexico City for a conference concerning the Mexican Squadron. In his absence, the command was divided between Captain Radames Gaxiola, who was left in charge of the pilots, and Capt. Jesus Carranza, in charge of the engineering personnel, and Capt. Jesus Blanco, in command of the remainder of the Squadron. As a matter of fact, Colonel Cardenas Rodriquez did not return to his assignment as commanding Officer of the Squadron, and the sole command ultimately devolved upon Capt. Gaxiola. On 2 February, however, he [Rodriguez] returned as Commanding Officer of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces, with which the Squadron moved overseas.

In late January, preparations were made for several weeks of gunnery training. This phase, which would complete the training program, began on 2 February and for it the Squadron moved to Brownsville, Army Air Field, at Brownsville, Texas. On-the-line maintenance at Brownsville was performed entirely by Mexican personnel; in fact, only five enlisted men of the Section “I” accompanied the armorers, mechanics, and other line specialist on the trip, and these acted merely in an advisory capacity.

While in Brownsville, every enlisted man was given a pass into Mexico for his day-off hours. Matamoros, a typical Mexican city, lay just across the border. By happy coincidence, a three-day celebration of “Charros [Cowboy] Day” was held while the 201st were in Brownsville.

It had been planned originally that gunnery training should be complete in time for the Squadron to take part in flag presentation ceremonies scheduled at Majors Field for 20 February 1945. Inclement weather again was a delaying factor, and the trainees had to return for the ceremonies before their gunnery training was completed.

Flag [Colours] Presentation Ceremonies

After twice being postponed because of inclement weather, flag presentation ceremonies honoring the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron were actually held on 22 February 1945, at Majors Field. They were attended by wide publicity. Stories about the Squadron and pictures of each individual officer and enlisted man belonging to it were sent to the men’s hometown newspaper in Mexico. Full coverage of the training program was achieved through pictures and news releases sent to leading Mexico City newspapers, as well as several Texas newspapers. For the War Department and all major American newsreel companies, Jimmie Lederer, Universal news cameraman, was on hand to shoot sequences, plus Mexican newsreel men were also present. Lt. Col. Alberta E. Holland, Liaison Officer for Coordination of Inter-American Affairs, Motion Picture Branch, Washington, D.C., attended for the purpose of making a feature, for release in Mexico and other Latin American countries.  Broadcasts were carried to Mexican and other Latin American listeners by the National Broadcasting company and Radio Station XEW, Mexico City. The program of the day included a formal review, at which Lt. General Francisco L. Urquizo, Under Secretary of National Defense, Secretariat of Mexico, presented the Mexican battle flag colors to Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez, the Commander of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces. Lieutenant General Barton K. Yount, representing General Arnold, also presented the Squadron with a battle flag.

Following the presentation of the battle flags [colors], the Mexican airmen demonstrated the effectiveness of their training by putting their P-47 Thunderbolts through virtually every tactical maneuver they had been taught by their American instructors. Later, a formal luncheon at the Base Officers’ club honored the visiting dignitaries. 

In presenting the battle flag [colors] to the 201st squadron, General Urquizo made these remarks:

“Ceremonies at Majors Field today honoring you, the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron, give me an opportunity to declare the sincere gratitude of my nation and its people to the United States Army Air Forces for the training it has given you. I come on a mission that fills me with great satisfaction to present my country’s colors to the 201st Fighter Squadron, of the Mexican Expeditionary Force. Bonds of friendship between our two nations are being more closely knitted than ever before since Mexican forces began training here.”

“Mexico recognizes and appreciates the excellent training that the 201st is receiving in the United States. Our nations and its peoples understand that training of Mexican soldiers with the United States Army Air Forces has promoted a firmer bond of friendship between our counties, which will inspection and a final POM inspection. All become even more steadfast when we defeat the Nazis and return peace to mankind.”

 

Completion of Training

Following the flag presentation ceremonies, gunnery training at Brownsville was resumed; but not until 14 March were the Mexicans able to return to Majors field with all their training completed. On the day of the Squadron’s return to Greensville, the Mexican Mess was closed and enlisted personnel of the 201st began eating at the General Mess on the Base. The Squadron became involved in much activity. Records in the Squadron orderly room were brought up to date. The Squadron itself was given both a pre-POM inspection and a final POM inspection. All necessary items of equipment, such as American olive drab clothing, khaki shirts and trousers, shoes, carbines, pistols, etc., were issued to Mexican personnel. At the Headquarters of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces, personnel of which had arrived on 2 February, with Colonel Cardenas Rodriquez in command, final preparations were made for sending the 201st overseas.

During the month of March 1945, the Squadron “I”, the former Section “I”, which had been designated, along with the other “Sections” in the Base Unit, on 19 February, was disbanded. As various sections of the 201st Squadron became proficient enough to work alone, it had been the practice to release American enlisted men from their instructional duties. The Mexican Transportation section had been the first to function independently; commendations had been received by its personnel shortly after the transfer from Pocatello for the splendid maintenance performed on mobile equipment. Other sections soon became independent, also, and by middle of March 1945, it was possible to release the bulk of the personnel of squadron “I” for other assignments. Ten members of “I” Section [five officers and five enlisted men, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur W. Kellond] were placed on temporary duty with the 201st for a period of ninety days, and accompanied it to its overseas destination.

Fatal accidents during Training

The 201st Fighter squadron suffered two fatal accidents during its training period. On 23 January 1945, second Lieutenant Crisoforo Salida Grijalva was killed when his plane crashed on take-off at Majors Field. Their new P-47D aircraft were state-of-the-art in design and very dangerous for new fighter pilots in training. The first fatality occurred at Majors Field, on 23 January 1945, when 2nd Lieutenant Cristoforo Salido Grijalva attempted his take-off from a wet muddy taxiway, he had mistaken for the main runway. Before becoming airborne, he hit his brakes and the P-47D inverted, skidding down the taxiway, filling the cockpit with mud and water. The young officer drowned before he could be freed from his aircraft. 

On 10 March 1945, First Lt. Javier Martinez Valle, was killed while in training at Brownsville, Texas.

This officer was pursuing a target pulled behind another aircraft, while both were flying into the setting sun. The P-47 went out of control and crashed. It was believed pilot Valle lost sight in the glaring sun and his propeller struck the tow cable or counterweight causing him to lose control and crash.

The remains of both officers were sent back to Mexico with a military escort.

Departure

The Squadron ground personnel left Majors Field by train on 18 March 1945. A few days before that, the pilots had gone to Topeka, for final processing by the 21st Bombardment Wing. According to a United Press news story, released in Mexico City on 8 April, the 201st left United States Port of Embarkation for the Philippines. Col. Cardenas Rodriguez, Commanding Officer of the Mexican Expeditionary Force, carries credentials from President Avila Camacho to General Douglas MacArthur and President Sergio Osmena of the Philippine Islands.

The Mexican Expeditionary Force [FAEM] ”Fuerza Area Expedicionaria Mexicana” arrived at Camp Stoneman near San Francisco on 27 March 1945. They boarded the American Liberty ship “Fairisle” on 8 April 1945, at San Francisco Bay, joining 1,500 American troops headed for the Philippines. The convoy dropped anchor in Manila Bay on 30 April 1945, and was welcomed by air commander, General George Kenney, representing General MacArthur, on 1 May 45.

The Mexican Squadron was picked up by the Fifth Air Force in General Orders No. 67, 5 April 1945, attached to V Fighter Command, and assigned to 58th Fighter Group [P-47] for operations. They were assigned a camp area with the 58th Group at Porac near Clark Field. Shortly after their arrival beginning on 7 April, they were given a two-day series of lectures in the War Room of Fighter Command on the following subjects:

Over-all Picture of the War fronts, SWPA Forces, Weather in SWPA, Fighter Sector Orientation, Air-Sea Rescue, Escape and Evasion, Zones of Action, and Support air Parties. This was followed by a four-day rotating training period in which each pilot watched practical demonstrations at the 51st Fighter sector and received pre-combat ground training. From 12 May to 7 June the pre-combat air training was completed. Two pilots, 2nd Lt. Vega Fausto Santander and Jose Espinosa Fuentes, were killed in this phase on 1 and 5 June, respectively. On 7 June the squadron was ready to run its first combat mission.

On 17 May 45, the Mexican 201st began combat orientation with other American pilots in three other squadrons, 310th, 311th, and 69th. The combat training comprised four flights of eight pilots, under command of Capt. Radames Gaziola Andrade, a senior officer with over 4,000 flight hours. The Mexican squadron received old borrowed late model P-47Ds including a variety of “razor-back” veterans. On 1 June 1945, during a target run on the west coast of Luzon, the P-47D, of 2nd Lt. Fausto Vega Santander, suddenly rolled over and crashed into the sea. Four days later, pilot Lt. Jose Espinosa Fuentes was killed on take-off at Floridablanca, when his rubber trim-tab linkage reversed.

These old hand-me-down fighter aircraft may have cost the squadron two combat training fatalities.

 

Editor’s notes

Hyperlinks: 

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Mexico/MEAF-201/

http://www.military.com/HomePage/UnitPageFullText/1,13476,701286,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/201st_Fighter_Squadron_%28Mexico%29

http://forum.worldofwarplanes.com/index.php?/topic/7146-las-aguilas-aztecas-the-forgotten-mexicans-escuadron-201/

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