The Eagle Squadrons

Eagle Squadron symbol, from Churchill Memorial
Eagle Squadron fliers, from USAF Museum
William Dunn, 1st U.S. ace, from USAF Museum
Eagle Squadron exhibit, from USAF Museum

"Prior to the United States' entry into WWII many Americans volunteered for service in the RAF and RCAF. The Battle of Britain raged from May though October 1940. Most Americans followed the battle in the news and knew that in time the US would become involved in the war. The stories of the RAF pilots flying their Hurricanes and Spitfires inspired many to look into joining the RAF. As a result of the Battle of Britain the RAF was short on pilots so a call went out for pilots to replace the RAF's depleted ranks. Of the thousands that volunteered, 244 American pilots were to fly for the Eagle Squadrons; Number 71, 121, and 133 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command. It was the RAF's policy to pick Englishmen as squadron and flight commanders and 16 of these British pilots served with the Eagle Squadrons. From the time the first Eagle Squadron was formed in September 1940 until all three squadrons were disbanded and incorporated into the USAAF in September 1942, they destroyed 73 1/2 German planes while 77 American and 5 British members were killed.

An organization named the Knight Committee was responsible for recruiting nearly 90 percent of the Eagle Squadron members. The basic requirements for those interested in joining the Eagles were a high school diploma, between 20 and 31 years of age, eyesight that was 20/40 correctable to 20/20, and 300 hours of certified flying time. These requirements were somewhat less strict than those required for service in the USAAF which is the reason some of the pilots joined the RAF or the RCAF in the first place. Most Eagle Squadron pilots did not have a college education or prior military experience. The reason most of the pilots volunteered was quite simply for adventure.

When informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor most of the Eagle Squadron pilots wanted to immediately join the Air Corps. 71 and 121 Squadrons sent representatives to the American Embassy in London and offered their services to the US the following day. 71 squadron then decided they wanted to go to Singapore to fight the Japanese and a proposal was put to Fighter Command but turned down. It would take some time however for the USAAF to organize and ship to England the elements necessary to support air operations. HQ 8th Air Force opened on 18 June 1942 in London with Major General Carl Spaatz commanding. On 26 June 1942 air echelons of the 31st Fighter Group (307th, 308th, 309th FS) were established at Atcham and High Ercall, England. These were the first combat personnel of the VIII Fighter Command to reach the UK. These squadrons were equipped with Spit Vs and flew their first mission on 17 August 1942. The first USAAF air operation over W Europe took place on 4 July 1942 with the 15th Bombardment Squadron (Light) flying 6 Bostons belonging to No. 226 Squadron RAF.

Negotiations regarding transfer to the USAAF between the Eagle Squadrons, USAAF and the RAF had to resolve a number of issues. Determining what rank they would assume in the USAAF had to be negotiated with most pilots given a rank equivalent to their RAF rank. None of the Eagle Squadron pilots had served in the USAAF and didn't have US pilot's wings. It was decided to give them US pilots wings upon their transfer. General Spaatz wanted to spread the experience of the Eagles amongst various new US fighter squadrons but the three Eagle Squadrons wanted to stay together as units. The RAF wanted some compensation for losing 3 front line squadrons that they had invested heavily in. Compensation to the RAF had to be negotiated. An agreement had to be reached between the English and the Americans to supply the squadrons with aircraft after they transfered to the USAAF. The US did not have any suitable aircraft in 1942. Part of the agreement called for the new squadrons to be equipped with Spitfire VBs.

Although transfers between the Eagle Squadrons were common they were not under the same type of unified command structure that they would later find themselves under as members of the Fourth Fighter Group. In fact the only operation that all three squadrons participated at the same time was the Dieppe raid of 19 August. On 29 September 1942 the Eagle Squadrons were incorporated into the Fourth Fighter Group, USAAF as the 334th(71), 335th(121), and 336th(133)." (quoted from the Fourth Fighter Group)


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