Hollywood sometimes gets the facts mostly right.
Remember the Movie Pearl Harbor? Yep! the multi million dollar romance cum war movie starring Ben Affleck where he's in the US Air force (at the time known as the United States Army Air Corps or USAAC) and volunteers to go join the Brits fight the Germans before the USA entered the war.
A great piece of movie entertainment but not really all that real right? What if I told you it was partly true, would you believe me?
Well, I was reading up on some stuff today and I fond that it actually was partly true, but only partly because Hollywood left out a rather important piece of information and that was what he does was highly illegal and would have resulted in him going to jail for being a Mercenary, but literally thousands of Americans did it!
Meet the Unit
War Breaks out
The Eagle Squadron was an unusual squadron that the RAF at first didn't know what to do with! At the start of the war there were men from all different nations volunteering to fight against the Nazi's pretty soon Americans were among those volunteering.
By September of 1940 there were enough Americans flyi71ng planes for the RAF that they formed their own Squadron 71 "Eagle" squadron of the Royal Air Force.
Churchill said that it was a time when Britain found herself "Holding the fort alone, until those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready" but not everyone across the Atlantic was waiting for the US to join in and from early on a trickle of men literally went to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force and transfer to the RAF.
By September 1940 there were enough to form a whole Squadron and 71 Squadron was born, but some of the pilots had already seen combat with the RAF and were heroes of the Battle of Britain.
One thing that appealed to the Americans was that the criteria for joining the RAF was somewhat lower than for the United States Air Force!
Maybe it was the fact that Britain was in desperate straits, but entry for flying was simply you had to have finished high school and have five hundred hours flying time (The USAAC insisted on a college education as well as the five hundred hours) also many of the Eagle Pilots were actually turned down by the USAF as not having the aptitude for flying combat missions, yet when the USA entered the war they were to become the experienced backbone of the USAAC. (it officially became the United States Army Air Force or USAAF in 1941 and didn't become the USAF until 1947) in Europe!
This is the story of some of those pilots.
Watch the Movie
Churchill's own words
"Never in the field of Human Conflict was so much owed by so many to so few"
Not all of the few were British, but they were all Heroes
The March composed for "Eagle Squadron"
Pillot Officer Vernon Keogh was originally from Brooklyn, New York. He already had his pilot's license and had over 500 'Jump's as a skydiver. He'd originally gone to join the French Air Force but with the fall of France he found himself in England with the British grateful to employ his talents as a pilot and as literally the smallest pilot in the Air Force (four feet ten inches) he actually had to use cushions to reach the pedals of his 'Spitfire'
Shorty didn't live out the war, he was killed chasing a German Bomber away from a convoy off the east coast of Britain, he was 29
"Shorty" was one of the founders of the Eagle Squadron along with three other mates.
See their Aircraft
Andy had a bit of an interest in the outcome of what was going on in Europe, his family were from what is now the Ukraine. Having emigrated to the USA in 1910 maybe they never really forgot their roots.Andy was thought to be Russian Jewish origin.
When Russia attacked Finland Andy already had his pilot's licence and was trying to set up a charter business in Miami, all that was ditched and he, along with another buddy set off for Europe, they got there too late for the fight in Finland (remember, if they were caught they would have been jailed in the USA or at least lost their citizenship!) .
Andy also ended up in France but as France fell he managed to get to Britain where he was posted to 609 Squadron at Middle Wallop just before the Battle of Britain reached it's height in September 1940.
By September 1940 when 71 Squadron was formed he was transferred to that unit and later when 133 Squadron was formed (also an Eagle squadron) he was made a flight commander.
Andy was killed in October 1941 when flying his Hurriane to Northern Ireland crashing into a hillside on the Isle of Man, it's thought that poor weather caused the crash, he was 29
From California. joined the RAF the same way his two mates "Shorty" and "Andy" had, he never told the RAF that he had actually been diagnosed with Lupis which was regarded as fatal at the time. He was determined to keep flying and keep fighting.
These men all took part in the biggest fight of the Battle of Britain on September 15th when the Germans launched a massive attack on London with over five hundred Bombers in the one day. Germany lost nearly two hundred Bombers that day to the loss of a mere twenty five fighters that the RAF lost.
Eugene became the first of the Eagle Squadron to be lost in combat in September 1941 when carrying out the squardon's first fighter sweep over Franceand a tussle with a couple of Messeschmidt BF 109's and a JG 29. His was one of three lost that day. He was 24
Same planes, different decals
What happened after
Of the original thirty five pilots of the first Eagle Squadron in September 1940 by the time the USA entered the war only four were left!
The total amount of pilots and men who joined the fight against the Nazi's using this way was somewhere around three hundred (eventually) but the first ones were the eleven who literally became members of "The few"
My Uncle was one of the "Few" stationed at Biggin Hill which bore the brunt of Hitler's fury, I can remember family telling me that those pilots were only young 'Kids' of 18 or 19 who were so scared climbing into their planes that they needed alcohol just to calm the nerves (they never knew if they were coming home again, and many didn't!) but they were men fighting for their own country where the Americans were fighting for that they believed right!
When the US entered the war the men of the Eagle Squadrons all volunteered to go back and fight the Japanese but both the USAAF (Newly formed) and the RAF decided to keep them in Europe as they were experienced pilots sorely needed.
The three squadrons were transferred over to the US Army Air Force but not without hiccups as they had never joined the US military negotiations took place as to what ranks the pilots would have (they were given US equivalent ranks to their RAF ranks) but the men insisted that they be allowed to keep their RAF 'wings' as they'd earned them so they were the only units to have the USAAF wings AND RAF wings worn on their uniforms!
An interview with one of the last of the Squadron's men
Had you heard of them?
The Eagle Squadron was special. Have you heard of them before?
Did you know?
1). Eventually the RAF would have three 'Eagle Squadrons' that would transfer to the USAAF 71 Squadron would become 334 Fighter squadron. 121 Squadron would become 335 Fighter Squadron and 133 Squadron would become 336 Fighter Squadron.
2) One of America's Aces with the most 'Kills' would have 25 'Kills' but never flew with the USAAF! Lance Wade was born and bred in Texas, he got his pilot's license in the USA but was turned down by the USAAF because of lack of education yet went on to become one of the best pilots in the RAF.
3) One of the pilots had a novel way of bombing the Germans, throwing empty beer bottles out of his cockpit at targets on the ground!.
The Eagle squadrons aren't just important as fighting units (though their contribution was immense) but they served to break down a barrier that had been there since the 1770's
Britain was still wary of America due to past history but the arrival of Americans to defend Britain
when she needed their help so badly was gratefully received in many ways helped pave the way for the co-operation and friendship that exists between the two nations today.
The original "few" who joined the Eagle Squadrons (unlike the movie) ran the risk of trouble with their own government and potential loss of citizenship yet they were true heroes.
Heroes that the RAF struggled at times to understand, but heroes none the less>
Leave a comment