Eagle Squadrons

Eagle Squadrons

The Eagle Squadrons were fighter squadrons of the Royal Air Force formed during World War II with volunteer pilots from the United States. While many US recruits simply crossed the border and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force to learn to fly and fight, many of the early recruits had originally come to Europe to fight for Finland against the Soviets in the Winter War.

Charles Sweeny, a well-heeled socialite and businessman living in London, began recruiting American citizens to fight as a US volunteer detachment in the French Air force, echoing the Lafayette Escadrille of the Great War. With the fall of France a dozen of these recruits joined the RAF. Sweeny's efforts were also co-ordinated in Canada by World War I air ace Billy Bishop and with artist Clayton Knight who formed the Clayton Knight Committee, who, by the time the USA entered the war in December 1941, had processed and approved 6,700 applications from Americans to join the RCAF or RAF. Sweeny and his rich society contacts bore the cost (over $100,000) of processing and bringing the US trainees to the UK for training.

As was the case with the Layfayette Escadrille, many more U.S. citizens served with regular Royal Air Force squadrons (most often as sergeant-pilots in the RCAF) than in the officially designated units.


The basic requirements for those interested in joining the Eagles were a high school diploma, being 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, with the exception of the flight time, were not as strict as those required for service in the USAAF which is the reason some of the pilots joined the squadron. Most Eagle Squadron pilots did not have a college education or prior military experience.

Once in Britain, the new volunteers were sent to an operational training unit (OTU) for two to four weeks to learn to fly Miles Master trainers, Hawker Hurricanes, and Spitfires before being posted to a squadron. After OTU some of the men went straight to one of the Eagle Squadrons while the vast majority served with other RAF or RCAF squadrons.

Formation and evolution

The first Eagle Squadron (No. 71) was formed in September 1940, and became operational for defensive duties on 5 February 1941.

The last Eagle Squadron was disbanded in September 1942, with most of the members transferring into the United States Army Air Forces. The three Eagle Squadrons were numbered 71, 121, and 133. Of the thousands that volunteered, 244 Americans served with the three Eagle Squadrons; 16 Britons acted as Squadron and Flight commanders. The Dieppe Raid was the only occasion that all three Eagle Squadrons saw action operating together.

From the time the first Eagle Squadron was formed in September 1940 until all three squadrons were disbanded and their personnel and equipment absorbed into the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in September 1942, they claimed to have destroyed 73½ German planes while 77 American and 5 British members were killed. 71 Squadron claimed 41 kills, 121 Squadron 18 kills, and 133 squadron 14½ kills.

When informed of the Pearl Harbor attack most of the Eagle Squadron pilots wanted to immediately join the on the fight against Japan. Representatives from 71 and 121 Squadrons went to the American Embassy in London and offered their services to the United States. The pilots from 71 Squadron decided they wanted to go to Singapore to fight the Japanese and a proposal was put to Fighter Command but it was turned down. It would take some time however for the USAAF to organize and ship to England the elements necessary to support air operations: the initial command staff for the Eighth Air Force did not arrive in Britain until late February 1942, and the movement of groups, code-named Bolero, did not begin until May.

In September 1942 the three squadrons were officially turned over by the RAF to the fledgling Eighth Air Force and became the famous 4th Fighter Group. The squadrons were respectively designated by the USAAF as the 334th, 335th and 336th and transferred as complete units, retaining their Spitfires until P-47 Thunderbolts became available in January 1943.

Negotiations regarding transfer to the USAAF between the Eagle Squadrons, USAAF and the RAF were not as easy as expected and had to resolve a number of issues. Determining what rank each pilot would assume in the USAAF had to be negotiated, with most being given a rank equivalent to their RAF rank. None of the Eagle Squadron pilots had served in the USAAF and did not have US pilot's wings. It was decided to give them US pilots wings upon their transfer. Major General Carl Spaatz, commander of the 8AF, wanted to spread the experience of the Eagles amongst various new US fighter squadrons. However the three Eagle Squadrons wanted to stay together as units. Additionally, the RAF wanted some compensation for losing three front-line squadrons in which they had heavily invested. An agreement also had to be reached in regard to supplying the squadrons with aircraft after their transfer to the USAAF. Being short of suitable airplanes at the time, the agreement reached called for the new squadrons to be equipped with Spitfires, which the 4th FG flew until its conversion to P-47s was completed in April 1943.

Individual pilots

The first three members of the Eagle Squadron obtained their transfers in September 1940. They were:
Vernon Charles "Shorty" Keough.
Andrew B. Mamedoff.
Eugene Quimby "Red" Tobin.
All three men were Battle of Britain veterans, having served together in No. 609 Squadron, at RAF Middle Wallop.
They were a famous trio, having all joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) together [note their consecutive service numbers!] , having been posted to 609 Squadron together, having fought the Battle of Britain together and having transferred to the 71 Squadron (Eagle Squadron) together. Sadly, the trio had also all been killed by the time of the transfer of the Eagle Squadrons to the USAAF in 1942.
81620 Pilot Officer Vernon C. Keough was killed in February, 1941. Age 29. [http://www.cwgc.org/search/SearchResults.aspx?surname=keough&initials=&war=2&yearfrom=1940&yearto=1942&force=Air&nationality=6&send cwgc]
81622 Flying Officer Eugene Q. Tobin was killed in September, 1941. Age 24. [http://www.cwgc.org/search/SearchResults.aspx?surname=tobin&initials=&war=2&yearfrom=1940&yearto=1942&force=Air&nationality=6&send cwgc]
81621 Flight Lieutenant Andrew B. Mamedoff was killed in October, 1941: by then transferred, with a promotion to be a Flight Commander in another Eagle Sqn., No. 133 Squadron. [http://www.cwgc.org/search/SearchResults.aspx?surname=mamedoff&initials=&war=2&yearfrom=1940&yearto=1942&force=Air&nationality=6&send cwgc]

Another Battle of Britain veteran was:
Phillip Howard Leckrone.
He had served in another squadron with an Auxiliary Air Force heritage: 616 Squadron. He was another who was killed early.
84653 P/O. Phillip H. Leckrone was killed in January, 1941. Age 28. [http://www.cwgc.org/search/SearchResults.aspx?surname=leckrone&initials=&war=2&yearfrom=1940&yearto=1942&force=Air&nationality=6&send cwgc]

It is reported that Pilot Officer Art Donahue DFC stayed with the Eagle Squadron only a short time before requesting a transfer back to his original RAF unit. He did not appreciate the unruly behavior of many of the American pilots. He was KIA in 1942. [ [http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=232337 CWGC :: Casualty Details ] ]

Captain Don Gentile was a pilot with 133 squadron, claiming 2 air victories, and by March 1944 became the 4th FG's top ace in WWII with 22 air kills.

Chesley 'Pete' Peterson had 130 sorties with the Eagle Squadrons, he then became the youngest Squadron Commander in the RAF. When the Eagle Squadrons were transferred to the USAAF 4th Fighter Group, Peterson became the group's executive officer, succeeding to command of the group in April 1943, and at 23 years of age the youngest (at the time) colonel in the US Army Air Forces.

Col. Donald Blakeslee was a pilot in 121 and 133 Squadrons during 1942, making 120 sorties and claiming 3 air kills, became deputy commander of the 4th Fighter Group under Chesley Peterson, then commanded the group from January to October 1944. Blakeslee flew briefly with the 354th and 357th Fighter Groups in January 1944 when the P-51 Mustang was introduced to combat in Europe and immediately became the driving force behind conversion of all but one of the Eighth Air Force fighter groups to the Mustang. His insistence on converting to the Mustang resulted in a rapid turnover of airplanes, with the former Eagle squadrons flying their first Mustang mission on February 24, 1944.


British composer Kenneth J. Alford wrote a march, "Eagle Squadron", in honour of the pilots of the squadron. It is also a "thank you" to the American pilots: small sections of the "Star Spangled Banner" can be heard in the low brass during the trio.

Interesting Facts

In "Independence Day" the Eagle Squadron featured as an American Squadron and lead by Tom Whitemore but in real life it is a Royal Air Force Squadron.

ee also

*Flying Tigers—American volunteers who fought for the ROC in the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
*Kościuszko Squadron—American volunteers fighting for Poland in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921).
*Lafayette Escadrille—American volunteers in the French Air Service during World War I.


External links

* [http://www.fourthfightergroup.com/eagles/es.html History from Fourth Fighter Group]
* [http://www.fourthfightergroup.com/eagles/es.html Partial list of pilots of Eagle squadrons]
* [http://www.acesofww2.com/Eagle_Sq/eagleSq.htm List of Eagle Squadron Aces]

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