History: The Aztec Eagles of WWII: Mexican Air Force Squadron 201

History: The Aztec Eagles of WWII: Mexican Air Force Squadron 201

Though a select few get most of the credit, a lot of countries were involved in the Allied efforts of World War II. Mexico became one of the only Latin American countries to send troops overseas (the other being Brazil). The most widely recognized group to deploy was the Mexican Army's Escuadrón 201, the Aztec Eagles.

The 201st Air Fighter Squadron was composed of more than 300 volunteers; 30 were experienced pilots and the rest were ground crew. The ground crewmen were electricians, mechanics, and radiomen.

Its formation was in response to the attack by German submarines against Mexican oil tankers Potrero del Llano and Faja de Oro, that were transporting crude oil to the United States. The bombing of the tankers killed 21 Mexican men. Germany refused to apologize or compensate Mexico, which caused Mexican president Manuel Avila Camacho to declare war on the Axis powers on May 22, 1942.

It was an unpopular move down in Mexico, where the nation’s psyche retained a deep rooted distrust of Americans dating back a century to when Mexico lost one third of its land to the United States. The idea of participating in the “U.S.” war seemed ridiculous. Sadly the Aztec Eagles were participants in a wartime mission that few of their countrymen knew or cared about. Following the sinking of the tankers, there had been a public outcry for some response, but not enough to support sending young men off to join the Allies. For the average Mexican man on the street, the Second World War did not take place, it didn’t involve any Mexican national interest, nor was it a threat to Mexican security.

Language barriers aside, the 201st also had to deal with blatant racism. “The Americans looked down on us quite a bit,” Captain Reynaldo Gallardo recalled in 2003 in an interview for a San Diego, California, newspaper. “They didn’t say so, but I noticed it. We made up our minds that we wouldn’t say anything, but instead would show these people what we had."

The Aztec Eagles arrived in Manila Bay in the Philippines on April 30, 1945. During their time in the Philippines, the 201st flew at least 90 combat missions and, throughout those, lost eight pilots. They also flew 53 ground support missions for the Army's 25th Infantry Division, four fighter sweeps over Luzon and Formosa islands, and dive bombing missions, logging in almost 2,000 hours of flying time.

By the end of it, the 201st had put down 30,000 Japanese troops, destroyed enemy buildings, vehicles, anti-aircraft and machine gun emplacements, and ammunition depots. 

The surviving members returned to a heroes’ welcome in Mexico after Japan’s surrender. The squadron played an important symbolic role, inspiring national and cultural pride among Mexicans at home.

Mexico also allowed the U.S. military to register and conscript Mexican nationals living in the United States during the war. According to one estimate, around 15,000 Mexican nationals served in the U.S. military during World War II, many of whom may have been motivated by the offer to apply for U.S. citizenship in return for their service. Of these, some 1,492 are believed to have been killed, imprisoned, injured or disappeared.

According to historians, the most important lasting consequence of Mexico’s participation in World War II was the impact it had on the Mexican economy. During the war, Mexico provided more strategic resources to the United States than any other Latin American nation, including vital minerals such as copper, zinc, mercury, cadmium, graphite and lead. To do this, it underwent a period of industrial and economic development during and after the conflict that became known as the “Mexican Miracle.” It is said Mexico’s national income nearly tripled between 1940 and 1946, and its economy grew at an average rate of 6 percent per year between 1940 and 1970. The roots of this "miraculous" growth were grounded firmly in Mexico’s participation in World War II.

 

Sources:

Calvo, D. (2004, July 24). The Saga of The Aztec Eagles. Retrieved From: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-jul-25-tm-mexpilots30-story.html.

Grove, D. (2018, November 21). This is What You Should Know About the Aztec Eagles. Retrieved From: https://www.wearethemighty.com/history/201-escuadron-aztec-eagles-history.

Pruitt, Sarah. (2018, September 24). The Surprising Role Mexico Played in World War II. Retrieved From: https://www.history.com/news/mexico-world-war-ii-surprising-involvement,

 Mc. Conahay, M (2018, November 17). The Aztec Eagles of WWII. Mexican Air Force Squadron 201. Retrieved From: http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/aztec-eagles-of-wwii-mexican-air-force-squadron-201/.

 

 


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