Mexican Air Force Aztec Eagles
by Tara A. Spears
Special thanks to US Army Captain (Ret) Terry Callison for the tip concerning this unit and the lead to aviation history.com that supplied data and photos for this article.
“I’d rather die on my feet than live a life of shame on my knees…”
Emiliano Zapata, General in Mexican Liberation Army
A little known fact is that Mexico did fight in World War II although Mexico’s participation in the Second World War against the Axis powers is seldom mentioned in history books. In the few works that do acknowledge Mexico’s participation- the country’s sending of raw materials and labor to the Allied war effort- receives more attention than Mexico’s combat record. The Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (MEAF) is Mexico’s only military organization that saw combat overseas in World War II. This organization and its operational unit–the 201st Squadron–were part of the Allied forces that battled against the Axis in the South West Pacific Area.
According to History.net, on May 13, 1942, a Mexican oil tanker was torpedoed by a U-boat, killing 13 crewmen. A protest filed by the Mexican government was answered with the sinking of a second tanker. When Germany refused to indemnify Mexico, President Manuel Avila Camacho declared war on the Axis powers. But the participation of the MEAF in World War II was not an ordinary accomplishment, especially if you consider that this was the first occasion that Mexico s government sent forces to fight outside of the country’s territory.
The single person that most contributed to both the US forces leaving Mexico and the acceptance of the Constitution was Don Venustiano Carranza in the early 20th century. The Mexican principles of international politics, also known as Estrada Doctrine, are basically a continuation of the posture adopted by Carranza, who believed that international conflict should be solved through law, not by force. The essence of this doctrine is that under International Law, Mexico’s freedom, sovereignty, independence, and equality with all countries of the world is stipulated. Therefore, the country’s history and international policy made the participation of Mexican forces overseas almost impossible.
But as the Axis aggression escalated, the involvement of the Mexican military was activated beginning with territorial defense. The Navy and the Air Force patrolled the coast of Mexico on antisubmarine missions. Mexico’s declaration of war against the Axis powers demanded hostile action against the adversary. Mexico wanted to participate, together with Allied forces, with a small but significant military organization.
In March of 1944, the President of Mexico made known that if Mexican forces were to participate in combat, it would be the MAF personnel who would be representing the country’s military.
There are several reasons that contributed to the decision to send Aviation personnel to war: bilingual language, previous military experience, and the nature of training. It was determined that most of the Mexican pilots and maintenance personnel had some knowledge of the English language, which reduced the problem of communication with the Allied forces. Also, some pilots had already received flight training in the US Army Air Corps and Navy. Finally, a relatively high amount of training would be of technical nature which would benefit the modernization effort of the Mexican military after the war. The implementation of this decision required thorough coordination of both militaries.
The organization of its operational unit, the 201st Fighter Squadron, was mostly the result of coordination in the Joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission (JMUSDC). The 201st Squadron, through Lend-Lease Agreement, trained in the United States from August 1944 to March 1945 and was equipped to conduct combat operations. The preparation of the MEAF culminated with its successful employment in the SWPA from June to August 1945. The following report of Missions completed by the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron was supplied by MEAF pilot E. Alfonso Velasco Jr.: 53 ground support missions flown in support of American troops in Luzon from 4 June to 4 July 1945; 37 training missions from 14-21 July 1945 (including missions of transporting new aircraft from Biak Island, New Guinea); 4 fighter sweeps to the island of Formosa, 6-9 July 1945; 1 dive bombing mission against the Port of Karenko, Formosa, 8 August1945; 1 convoy escort mission in the Sea North of the Philippines, 26 August 1945.
According to Captain Amadeo Castro Almanza a–201st Fighter Squadron flight and the leader in combat missions, and Lieutenant Charles H. Volz Jr., an instructor of Mexican pilots in 1945 at Napier Field, Alabama, the MEAF unit’s organization was to be the same as a P-47 squadron in the United States Army Air Forces. The required Standards of Proficiency were identical to those of the same type of unit in the US. These considerations guided the planning of the training and the requirements of the trainees for the ground and flight echelons. Coordination in the JMUSDC outlined a training plan for the Fighter Squadron, presented on July 10, 1944. The plan considered approximately 42 officers and 249 enlisted men, most of them fluent in English if possible, to arrive to Randolph Field, TX, not later than July 25, 1944. Training included three broad areas: Individual training (five weeks), unit training (two months), and combat fighting (two months). It was Captain Miguel Moreno Arreola, from Durango, Mexico, who chose the Disney character “Pancho Pistolas” as the official unit logo; he also designed a monument to his fallen comrades that still stands in Manila.
As MAF Lt. Col. José G. Vega Rivera wrote in 1997: “The MEAF program brought great political value. The people of Mexico united to receive and honor the returning MEAF personnel. Enormous groups of Mexicans gathered in US and Mexican cities to celebrate with the MEAF. They were part of the forces of liberation that fought against the oppressor and attained victory. Mexico’s participation in combat overseas brought international prestige and strengthened US- Mexico relations. In spite of the losses in lives and material, the overall cost of the MEAF was not excessive.”
In addition, the returning MEAF pilots had graduated from flight training centers in the US which helped to improve the Mexican training programs. Since 1943 the MAF has pursued a reorganization of its training centers based on the USAF experience. The curricula, organization, and equipment of the Military Aviation School has benefited from the coordination through the JMUSDC.
When the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force returned to Mexico City on November 18, 1945,it was Captain Moreno who carried the 201st Battle Flag into the national plaza to be presented to the Mexican President. The proud men of Escuadron 201 “Aztec Eagles” were honored in a parade in Mexico City November 20, 1945 as throngs of their countrymen greet them with a hero’s welcome. We proudly honor them and all military this Veteran’s day.