By Tom Rodriguez
It is a little known fact in the United States that the Mexican Air Force fought alongside Americans in the South Pacific during World War II. Their service was made possible when Mexico accepted a U. S. invitation to provide Mexican Air Force units in the war against Japan shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The 201st Fighter Squadron was a Mexican fighter squadron, part of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force that aided the Allied war effort during World War II. The squadron was known by the nickname, Aquilas Aztecas or “Aztec Eagles.” The nickname was apparently coined by members of the squadron during their training in the United States.
The squadron left Mexico for training in the United States on July 24. 1944, arrived at Laredo, Texas, on July 25,, and moved on to Randolph Field in San Antonio where the personnel received medical examinations and admission tests in weapons and flight proficiency. They received three months of training. The pilots received extensive training in armament, communications and tactics.
The men were honored with graduation ceremonies on February 20, 1945, and the squadron was presented with its battle flag. This marked the first time Mexican troops were trained for overseas combat. The men left for the Philippines on the troop ship S. S. Fairisle on March 27, 1945. The squadron arrived in Manila on April 30, 1945, and was assigned as part of the Fifth Air Force, attached to the U. S. 58th Fighter Group in the Clark Field complex on the island of Luzon.
The squadron was attached to the 58th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force during the liberation of the main Philippine island of Luzon during the summer of 1945. The pilots flew Republic P-47D-30-RA Thunderbolt single-seat fighter aircraft carrying out tactical air support missions.
The squadron was depicted by the stylized Eagle and the upper rocker bar and two thunderbolts. The thunderbolts are representative of the Thunderbolt single-seat fighter aircraft they flew. The triangle of Red/White/Green is the symbol for the Mexican Air Force that was emblazoned on the wings of the Thunderbolts, whose colors are carried throughout the Unit Patch.
The squadron consisted of 33 pilots and more than 270 support personnel. During its operational history the squadron flew 795 combat sorties, accumulated nearly 2,000 hours of combat flying and they sadly lost seven pilots. The Aztec Eagles outstanding service record and sacrifices were recognized by General Douglas McArthur, supreme commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area.
The 201st Mexican Squadron was given credit for putting out of action about 30,000 Japanese troops and the destruction of enemy held buildings, vehicles, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, machine guns emplacements and ammunition depots. They flew their last combat mission as a full squadron on August 26, 1945, escorting a convoy north of the Philippines.
The 201st returned to Mexico City on November 18, 1945. In a military parade in Constitution Square the Fighter Squadron delivered the Mexican flag to the President Manuel Avila Camacho.
On November 22, 2004, the squadron was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The unit is still active at present, flying the Pilatus PC-7.
Today, there is a monument in Chapultepec Park in honor of the 201st Squadron.