Though a select few get most of the credit, a lot of countries were involved in the Allied efforts of World War II. There were so many moving parts that it’s easy to forget that certain groups, including our own U.S. Coast Guard, were actively involved. While we might make jokes about Canadians being overly polite today, we must certainly not forget that they kicked some serious ass in Europe. However, there’s another country that played a significant role in the global conflict that many seem to gloss over outside of discussing the Zimmerman Telegram: Mexico.
There was no real shortage of volunteers during WWII, but more help was always appreciated. That’s where Mexico comes in. Pissed about losing oil ships in the Gulf, Mexico declared war on Axis powers in 1942. Shortly thereafter, Mexico became one of the only Latin American countries to send troops overseas.
The most widely recognized group to deploy was the Mexican Army’s Escuadrón 201 — the Aztec Eagles. Here’s what you should know:
(U.S. Air Force)
The 201st Fighter Squadron was formed in response to German submarines sinking two oil tankers, the SS Potrero del Llano and the SS Faja de Oro. These dudes were obviously pissed and wanted to hop into the war to kick some ass, just like the rest of us. So, they got 30 experienced pilots together with 270 other volunteers to be ground crew. After their formation, they were sent to Texas in July of 1944.
The Aztec Eagles trained at Randolph Field in San Antonio as well as Majors Field in Greenville, Texas. The pilots received months of training in weapons, communication, tactics, as well as advanced combat air tactics, formation flying, and gunnery. They held a graduation ceremony in February, 1945, and received their battle flag, which went down in history as the first time Mexican troops were trained by to fight a war overseas.
A P-47D sporting insignias of both the Army Air Forces and Mexican Air Force.
(U.S. Army Air Force)
In March, 1945, following their transformation into hardened warriors, the 201st Fighter Squadron was sent to the Philippines attached to the Army Air Force’s own 58th Fighter Group to participate in expelling Japanese control. In June of that same year, they flew two missions per day using U.S. aircraft. By July, they received their own P-47D Thunderbolts, with which they fought plenty.
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 Formosa, and dive bombing missions. All the while, they also had no provision for replacements, which made each pilot loss especially painful.
Former 201st Fighter Squadron members salute during a ceremony at Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, March 6, 2009.
(Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump)
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. General Douglas MacArthur gave them recognition, and they were awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor, complete with rank of Legionnaire, in 2004.
The 201st Fighter Squadron is still around today.