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How US pilots joined the RAF


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#1 Falcon Jun

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 08:09 AM

(Based on the Eagle Squadrons article in the Air Force Magazine October 2007 issue)

Just thought to share this with you folks.


The 244 Americans who formed the three Eagle Squadrons found their way to the RAF by various routes, all of them chancy. One avenue for volunteers was to enlist first in the British or Canadian armed services and then try to transfer into the RAF.

Several were assisted by Col. Charles Sweeny, a World War I Army veteran and admirer of the successful, legendary Lafayette Escadrille. In his post-Great War life, he was a daring, flamboyant promoter, who in the late 1930s and early 1940s publicized to Americans the French and British need for fighter pilots. His aim was to form an American squadron of fighter pilots, reprising the Escadrille.

Sweeny carried out his recruitment efforts in the face of stringent US Neutrality Acts, which forbade Americans to travel on ships of combatant nations or travel in a combat zone. Violators were supposed to be subjected to stiff fines and other legal sanctions. Sweeny's recruitment activities in 1939 and 1940 thus earned him the ire of the US authorities.

Still, he was successful in finding volunteers. After the calamitous fall of France in June 1940, the US halted prosecution of violators of the Neutrality Acts. Sweeny pared down his operation but still channeled recruits to Britain, via Canada and then by sea to English ports.

In this he was aided by his nephew, Charles Sweeny, a successful businessman. Charles Sweeny got London's authorization to establish an American RAF fighter squadron. He organized the volunteers, sent by his uncle, who were to form the nucleus of the first Eagle Squadron. And he created the Eagle flash, inspired by the image on his US passport.

The Sweeny operation was not the only recruitment effort. Another, even larger supplier of American volunteers was what was called he Clayton Knight Committee, which operated from April 1940 to October 1942. Knight was a World War I aviator, admirer of the Escadrille, and an aviation artist. At the behest of World War I ace William A. Bishop, Knight obtained British support for an organization that could tap into the large pool of American pilots. The Knight Committee had considerable reach as a result of a network of offices throughout the United States.

Although Britain supported the Sweeny and Knight operations, the Knight Committee supplied more than 80 percent of the pilots for the RAF's Eagle Squadrons. Out of nearly 50,000 Americans who signed up, the committee took 6,700 to become RAF pilots.

***

Sept. 26, 1942 was a disaster for Eagle Squadron 133.
Squadron 133 was assigned to bomber escort duty for a mission to Morlaix, France. The mission planner anticipated a routine flight, with intermittent clouds and a southerly 35mph wind. Flying new Spitfires, the pilots were to meet up with a force of bombers in midchannel between Bolthead and Morlaix. Once airborne, however, the pilots flew in heavy overcast and were unknowingly blown far south of their rendezvous by 100 mph northern winds. They lost radio contact with their ground control in England.

With fuel running low, the Eagles met up with a group of bombers returning to England and began to escort them back. One of the Spitfire pilots requested permission to go down through the cloud cover to determine their location, and the entire flight went with him. When the squadron broke out of the cloud cover, they were over Brest, France, flying into the teeth of a huge German anti-aircraft artillery trap.
Four Eagle pilots were shot down and killed, six more were shot down and taken prisoners of war. One Eagle crash-landed in England and was critically injured. The final pilot bailed out and made his way back to England with the help of the French underground. Twelve Spitfires were destroyed.

Three days later On Sept. 29, 1942, members of the three Eagle Squadrons were transferred directly into the 4th Fighter Group, US Army Air Forces.
Members of No. 71 Squadron merged into the USAAF's 334th Fighter Squadron. Those of No. 121 Squadron moved over to the 335th Fighter Squadron. The Americans in No. 133 Squadron became part of the USAAF's 336th Fighter Squadron. These units live on today as three of the squadron's flying F-15E Strike Eagles for the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
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#2 Skipper

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 10:57 AM

Interesting thread. I was actually hoping to find information about the airmen who flew with British and Canadian crews in Bomber Command. The casualties are taken care of by CWGC and there graves are scattered all over France. Not many know they were Americans because you'd think they be buried in a U.S. cemetery. At least three of them are buried in a local cemeteries near my hometown, probably more, but it is hard to say because the headstones mention their adoptive units.

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#3 Falcon Jun

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 11:18 AM

Hmmm . . . that would be interesting to look into. The Eagle Squadrons only had 244 US pilots. But around 6,700 were accepted by the committee to become RAF pilots. You're quite right. It would be good to learn where they ended up. I've read somewhere that it the RAF approach to pilot training was this: If one could fly an airplane, one could fly all airplanes.
If so, those US pilots could've ended somewhere else in the RAF.

#4 ghost_of_war

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 02:55 PM

Interesting article/read - thanks!
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#5 Skipper

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 07:14 PM

I have a list actually and I can tell you that the majority went to Bomber Command , mostly via the RCAF. Bomber Command needed any good willing person so those who did not qualify for pilot could be a gunner there. If you are interested I can name a few of them.

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#6 bigfun

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 09:40 PM

nice article, Skipper, do you mean that some were pilots but did not qualify for the RAF for some reason? Or did some of these men go over to help in any way?
thanks!
Scott :flag_USA_ww2: :flag_netherlands:

#7 Skipper

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 05:39 AM

Actaully both. I was difficult to get pilot wings and not anybody gor these. Those who did not pass the selections would apply at other places that's how simple it was. There was really some sort of hierarchy and the pilot was on top of it and the gunners at the bottom. it does not mean they were disregarded but there was much more prestige to be a pilot.

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#8 Falcon Jun

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 11:28 AM

According to the Eagle Squadron article of Tamar A. Mehuron in Air Force Magazine, most of those who volunteered had "solid backgrounds in aviation." However, several of the volunteers in their eagerness to get into the RAF and fly fast military aircraft had "embellished their logbooks, registering more flight time than was actually the case. I would surmise that some of those caught with inflated air time were either turned away or put into other parts of the RAF.
RAF standards did not require a college degree and a prospective pilot's eyesight could be 20/40 if corrective lenses could produce 20/20 vision.


Those who were taken in as fighter pilots were sent to an operational training unit for two to four weeks of flight training in Miles Master trainers. "This was an important step in establishing a common baseline of flight training in fighters. When volunteers completed their training phase, they were usually assigned to an RAF squadron."
RAF Fighter Command divided Britain into geographic sectors called groups. Each group contained major cities and RAF bases and several were used by the three Eagle Squadrons.
No. 11 Group includes the cities of London, Uxbridge, Dover, Southampton, and Portsmouth as well as the Eagle Squadron bases of North Weald, north of London; Biggin Hill, south of London; the coastal bases of Martlesham Heath and Southend-on-Sea, and Debden and Great Sampford.
No. 12 Group to the north included the cities of York, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Coventry and housed the Eagle Squadron bases of Church Fenton, Kirton-in-Lindsey, Colley Weston and Duxford.
No. 13 Group covered the north as well as Scotland and Northern Island, which housed the sole Eagle Squadron base of Eglinton near Londonberry.

#9 Skipper

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 12:14 PM

Good work Falcon, some realy interesting details here.

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#10 bigfun

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 07:29 PM

Thanks Skipper and Flacon.
Here is something else I must read up on!!
At this rate I'll never "catch up" on my reading!!
Scott :flag_USA_ww2: :flag_netherlands:

#11 Skipper

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 07:32 PM

I suggests Chorley's Bomber Command Loss volume IX (Roll of Honnor) it has a huge name list with American volunteers.

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#12 macrusk

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 11:19 PM

I thought you might enjoy this excerpt about the training in Canada, and in particular part of the story told by an American about their training into the RCAF.

From Reader’s Digest, Canada at War Volume 1, Chapter “Airdrome of Democracy” pp 91 to 93

The U.S. magazine Fortune reported the plan [British Commonwealth Air Training Plan] was “the most conspicuous and universal expression of Canada at war.” It added:

“…From the Maritimes to Vancouver Island, from Windsor to Saskatoon one sees the brass-buttoned blue of air force uniforms, and hears day and night the drone of yellow-winged Harvard trainers and box-kite-like Tiger Moths taking off, circuiting, landing in endless repetition. Youngsters – kids of 18, 19, 20 – on the trains and in hotel lobbies and taverns, strutting a bit because of the white tabs in the caps that set them apart as aircrew students (as distinct from ground trades). Youngsters from England, homesick and tense, who sometimes weep uncontrollably the first day they sit down to mountainous stacks of food. Youngsters from Australia, rawboned and rambunctious, easily spotted by their distinctive dark blue uniform (“passionate purple,” they call it), who can down a bottle of ale at a gulp and chase it with another. Youngsters from New Zealand who howl for beefsteak at breakfast. Youngsters from the Unite States, breezy and self-assured, who would not take their own air corps “No” as a reason for staying out of the war. And most of all – seven out of ten – youngsters of Canada, proud and determined, full of consciousness that in World War I four Canadian airmen shot down more than any other four Allied aces; and that one of them, “Billy” Bishop, wears the uniform of air vice-marshal today.

They are everywhere in Canada. At Mossbank, a station so remote that it serves as a place of banishment for the unruly. At Jarvis, on Lake Erie, dubbed the “banana belt” because the winter blasts there are a few degrees less congealing than at most stations. At Uplands, handy to Ottawa’s fancy Chateau Laurier, where newly-fledged graduates, chest buttons popping, joyfully “wet their wings” – as often with beer or Coca-Cola as with whisky…At Penfield Ridge, N.B., where navigation students learn that “the Maritime Provinces treat you swell”; and whence they move, shortly, a step farther east to Halifax and embarkation for service overseas…”

Aircrew were the glamour boys of the war and competition to become one was keen. Len Morgan, born in Terre Haute, Ind., was one of hundreds who came up form the United States. In his book The AT-6 Harvard, a story about the famous aircraft used to train fighter pilots, he tells what it was like to be 19 years old and “on your way to realize a lifelong dream”;

“…A truck drove along a country road near St. Catharines, Ont., on a summer morning in 1941. In the back, a dozen boys faced each other over a pile of kit bags. They wore blue uniforms and made a great deal of noise laughing, shouting and waving at pretty girls. The truck turned into a narrow lane leading to a gate over which hung a sign, “No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School.” It stopped and the driver spoke to the guard.
“Another load of Americans come to save us from the Nazis.”
“Winston will be relieved. I’ll call him right away.”

A short, red-faced British sergeant waited for the noisy riders to climb down. Noticing him, they formed a rough line. The sergeant regarded this pitiful effort with an expression of utter disdain. Finally he spoke to himself quietly: “My bloody nerves.” He shook his head the way people do at funerals.

He walked around his new charges, peering into every face. He paused to sight along the uneven rows of heads, closed his eyes and shuddered. Suddenly he strode to the front and bawled, “Tennnnnnn-shun!” An uneasy minute paused before he spoke.

“If this is what His Majesty’s air force has come to, God help us. My name is Flight Sergeant Maxwell and you chaps are going to get to know me very well indeed.” He paused for emphasis.

“I know you’re here to learn to handle these bloomin’ airplanes but first you’re bloody well going to learn how to march.” He regarded the recruits with fresh distaste. “You look like a lot of sloppy navy people! This is the Royal Canadian Air Force, and we expect much more than the navy. Is that clear”

Receiving no reply, he pulled a paper from his pocket.

“All right then, answer to your names. Woods?”

“Here.”

“Morgan?”

“Here.”

“Vogel?”

“Here.”

“Wendt?...Vogel? Wendt? Are you sure you’re reporting to the right station?”

We laughed and this pleased him for he imagined himself to be – and indeed he was – a man with a genuine sense of humor. Old Bloody Nerves was all right and we knew it that moment. He was no one’s fool, mind you, but a fair man and all that a good disciplinarian should be.

The clumsy scene we played before him that day had its bizarre twist. We were Americans, citizens of a nation at peace, enlisted in the service of a nation at war. We were never asked to swear allegiance to the King. We signed agreements to serve “for the duration and a period of demobilization of up to one year,” contracts from which we were immediately released when the chance came later to join our own country’s forces. About 5500 Americans took this quicker way into the air. We were there because we were too young for the peacetime U.S. Air Corps, or too old, or did not have the required two college years – or something. We were there for one reason, to learn to fly. None of us, at that stage, had strong feelings about the war.

Our dozen men were joined at No. 9 by Canadians, Australians and Englishmen who did have strong feelings about the war. Each new load of arrivals was promptly dressed down by Sergeant Maxwell and sent off to wax the barracks floor.

Our class of 41 was nearly a third American and the sign over the main gate was altered one night to read “Royal California Air Force,” a stupid stunt that cost us, including the puzzled English, two hours of extra drill.

“California? Where’s this California, Rodney?” one Englishman asked.

“One of the islands we own n the Pacific, old boy, somewhere near Pitcairn, I’d say.”

“Of course, one of the colonies.”

The class was split into two groups. One attended ground school while the other flew. If you flew in the morning you took signals, navigation, aero engines, parachutes, instruments and other studies in the afternoon.

Elementary flight training in Canada then utilized the famous de Havilland Tiger Moth and the Fleet Finch…. The surviving members of our class were split into two groups, half going to multi-engine training in Ansons, the rest of us to Harvards. My crowd reported to No. 14 Service Flying Training School at Aylmer, Ont. We were divided into units, ours – 13 American and 14 Canadians – becoming C flight….
Regards, Michelle

Oliver Goldsmith, "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines." :flag_canada_ww2: :flag_canada: :flag_uk:
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#13 ghost_of_war

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 02:27 AM

Very cool, thank you.
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#14 bigfun

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 03:40 AM

Skipper,
Thanks!! I'll add that one to my list, I appreciate the recommendation!
Scott :flag_USA_ww2: :flag_netherlands:

#15 bf109 emil

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 10:38 PM

Interesting thread. I was actually hoping to find information about the airmen who flew with British and Canadian crews in Bomber Command. The casualties are taken care of by CWGC and there graves are scattered all over France. Not many know they were Americans because you'd think they be buried in a U.S. cemetery. At least three of them are buried in a local cemeteries near my hometown, probably more, but it is hard to say because the headstones mention their adoptive units.

Other young Americans had made their way to Canada on their own and by the time the United States declared war against the Nazis in December 1941, approximately 9000 American citizens had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, having made their own personal decision to enter the war. According to Spencer Dunmore, author of "Wings for Victory," "They were colourful, those volunteers -professionals and playboys, convicted felons and husbands on the run, idealists and mercenaries, kids seeking adventure, youngsters seeking nothing but an opportunity to fly, middle-aged men looking for work -and to all of them, the RCAF's need was their golden opportunity. Of these 9000, about 800 were killed in RCAF service and of these 379 have their names inscribed on Canada's Bomber Command Memorial Wall on the front lawn of the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum. After Pearl Harbour 1759 American members of the RCAF transferred to the armed forces of the United States. Another 2000 transferred later on and about 5000 completed their wartime service with the RCAF. Arguably the most illustrious of the Americans in the RCAF was Wing Commander Joe McCarthy DSO DFC and Bar of Long Island, New York. W/C McCarthy played a leading role in the well-known "Dambusters Raid" and completed a distinguished wartime and post-war career with the RCAF. Another renowned American in the RCAF was Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, author of the classic aviation poem, "High Flight". P/O Magee was killed in 1941 while serving as a Spitfire pilot with No. 412 Fighter Squadron RCAF. Another American in the RCAF was F/Lt. Charles Lesesne whose aircraft was hit by flak and then attacked by three enemy Me-262 jet fighters. F/Lt. Lesesne ordered his Canadian crew to abandon the No. 425 Halifax, struggling to hold the aircraft steady as they did. Sadly, he was badly injured in the attack and later died on the ground in the arms of his wireless operator. F/Lt. Lesesne's was one of 379 Americans whose names appear on Canada's Bomber Command Memorial.
Americans in the RCAF

One problem was that upon joining the RCAF, recruits had to pledge allegiance to the British monarch, something that could result in forfeiture of citizenship for the young Americans. This obstacle was removed when the Canadian government passed an Order in Council replacing the oath with a temporary agreement to obey RCAF rules and discipline for the duration of the war.

I know the topic lists US pilots in the RAF, but i believe the total fighting with the British Commonwealth, the majority flew with the RCAF...I attended a very good memorial last year, paying honour to the 370 fallen Americans that served with the RCAF and have had their names set in stone, so to speak of all whom fell serving with Bomber Command, while elisted in the RCAF...was a very nice tribute...I also added this you tube clip, for if one saw the eyes of the American veterans when they started this up the 3 or 4 times, was touching, as was the elder gentleman with his drawl saying upon the backfires and some spectators comments...."don't you worry, she'll purr soon enough"YouTube - lancaster bomber in nanton ab
bless all whom fell for us and their families...

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#16 canadiancitizen

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 05:56 PM

I have to take issue with the number quoted of Americans who flew in the RAF ? Over 5,000 ? Not likely. More like 500 or so. And the RAF was looking for pilots who had 200 hours in their log books, not untrained rookies with no flying expeience at all.


The vast majority of the American flight volunteers went to Canada, which was a lot closer and more acessible than the UK was. They joined the RCAF and went thru the flight training program. Not every one was either smart enough or had the needed physical standards to be a pilot. Remember that a Sterling, Halifax, or Lancaster had a six or seven man crew, with ONLY one pilot, not two as in the USAAF. So aircrew meant navigators, flight engineers, bomb aimers, radio operators, and air gunners, not just pilots. Fighter pilots had to be the VERY best candidates, both in intelligence and physical health, and untill 1943, the RCAF wanted all pilots to be University grads, too.


When the USA finally joined the war in December of 1941, all of the Americans in both the RCAF and the RAF, were given the chance to transfer to the USAAF. Some did some didn't. A further thing to remember is that many Americans joined under a " assumed name " to get around the US Neutrality Act " that forbid service in a "foreign army ". Some died under that identity too , and are buried with that name on their grave stone.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Program, which was operated by Canada, and which was paid for by Canada, saw over 135,00 men trained as pilots and aircrew, from 21 different nations of the allied cause. The BCATP required a massive emergency construction program to build over 300 airfields and 110 training camps, in less than 12 months time. And of course all those guys had to be fed, housed and provided with medical and dental services and transported from one base to another as they progressed thru the training courses.

Imagine over 100 De Havilland Tiger Moths and Gypsy Moths all flying in and out of a field, all trying not to run into each other, while the advanced classes were off doing "cross country " flights in their Harvards and Yales, and the twin engine giuys were on navigation and bombing flights over the countryside,

Busy ? You bet, and cold and snow were not a reason to stop flying all year round. Open cockpits in the Tigers and Gypsys in January at Flin Flon, Manitoba, at minus 20 C ? So why not ? There is a war on, you know ?

Why Canada ? Wide open spaces, far from Europe, and any possible Nazi intervention.

Jim B. Toronto.
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#17 bf109 emil

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 02:56 AM

379 US servicemen are engraved on the bomber command wall in nanton...see Nanton Lanc Museum

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#18 Falcon Jun

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 08:04 AM

I have to take issue with the number quoted of Americans who flew in the RAF ? Over 5,000 ? Not likely. More like 500 or so. And the RAF was looking for pilots who had 200 hours in their log books, not untrained rookies with no flying experience at all.

When the USA finally joined the war in December of 1941, all of the Americans in both the RCAF and the RAF, were given the chance to transfer to the USAAF. Some did some didn't. A further thing to remember is that many Americans joined under a " assumed name " to get around the US Neutrality Act " that forbid service in a "foreign army ". Some died under that identity too , and are buried with that name on their grave stone.


The article I posted from World War II magazine clearly stated that despite accepting over 6,700 American volunteers from the Sweeny operation for pilot training in the RAF only 244 Americans flew in the three Eagle Squadrons. Many were found to have exaggerated their flying time in their log books so it can be easily inferred that these were the volunteers who didn't make it to the Eagle Squadrons to fly in the RAF. The over 5,000 number was clearly stated as accepted for training only.

It's good you pointed out that many US volunteers fought under an assumed name. That's something to look at more closely.

#19 redcoat

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 08:00 PM

The story of the American Dambuster

Joe McCarthy

Joe McCarthy - The RCAF's American Dambuster
if in doubt....Panic!!!!

#20 Kai-Petri

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 05:42 PM

William R. Dunn (1916-1995) was the first American ace of World War II. He shot down his fifth enemy on August 27, 1941

William R. Dunn - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

WW II ACE STORIES
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#21 STURMTRUPPEN

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Posted 01 August 2008 - 12:40 AM

THE EAGLE SQUADRONS WERE FORMED IN 1942 AS MANY AMERICAN PILOTS WENT TO ENGLAND AND JOINED THE RAF WHILE THERE

#22 Slipdigit

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Posted 01 August 2008 - 02:47 AM

THE EAGLE SQUADRONS WERE FORMED IN 1942 AS MANY AMERICAN PILOTS WENT TO ENGLAND AND JOINED THE RAF WHILE THERE


Huh?

Why would US citizens travel to the UK in 1942, when the US was in the war by then? Eagle Squadrons were being disbanded by then with last shutting down in Sept, 1942.

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#23 ISPY

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 11:49 PM

This has been a great thread of information! I am a budding medal collector and am interested in finding medals for Americans who served with RAF, RCAF. If anyone can suggest some POCs for this I would greatly appreciate it. (and I just ordered Chorley's Bomber Command Loss volume IX (Roll of Honnor, thanks for the suggestion Skipper!

Linda

#24 redcoat

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 11:24 PM

THE EAGLE SQUADRONS WERE FORMED IN 1942 AS MANY AMERICAN PILOTS WENT TO ENGLAND AND JOINED THE RAF WHILE THERE

No. The first Squadron (No 71) was formed in September 1940, but didn't become operational until Feb 41. Two other Eagle Squadrons were also formed in 1941, (121, and 133).
In September 1942 these 3 Squadrons were transferred over to the USAAF, as the 334th , 335th, and 336th squadrons, of 4th Fighter Group USAAF.

It is believed that 7 Americans fought in the Battle Of Britain, but these served in normal RAF and RCAF squadrons.
if in doubt....Panic!!!!

#25 mikebatzel

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Posted 07 November 2008 - 02:48 PM

It is believed that 7 Americans fought in the Battle Of Britain, but these served in normal RAF and RCAF squadrons.

Actually I believe the number is eight, but one was listed as a canadian. An assumed name possibly? It is believed that William "Billy" Fiske was the first American to volounteer for the RAF and flew with 601 sqn "the Millionares". I believe he was also the first American KIA in the Battle of Britain. His plane was hit in the fuel tank, possibly when he was flying to low to bail out. He flew his aircraft back to base and landed. Burned badly he died of his injurys the next morning. he was also an Olympic gold medalist
Please give the Combined Fleet the chance to bloom as flowers of death. This is the navy’s earnest request. RADM Tasuku Nakazawa prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf
It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz




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