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"Eagle Squadron"

Updated on September 2, 2015

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

The Squadron crest of the Eagle Squadron
The Squadron crest of the Eagle Squadron | Source

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.


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"

"Shorty Keogh"

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

The Hawker Hurricane. The Eagles had those during the early days.
The Hawker Hurricane. The Eagles had those during the early days. | Source
Later it was the Legendary Spitfire
Later it was the Legendary Spitfire | Source
"Spitfires about to intercept" Men of "The Few"
"Spitfires about to intercept" Men of "The Few"
71 Squadron RAF in training
71 Squadron RAF in training

"Andy" Mamedoff

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

Eugene Tobin

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

Yes, a real Spitfire in US markings! 133 Squadron became 335 combat squadron of the US Air force
Yes, a real Spitfire in US markings! 133 Squadron became 335 combat squadron of the US Air force

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?

See results

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!.

Conclusion

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>

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    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      RQ

      I knew there were Americans served in the British forces during the war but never knew they did it at the risk of losing their own citizenship and risk of jail wgen they returned to the USA!

      By the way at least one member if the Eagle squadrons was executed by the Luftwaffe during the war for his part in the Great escape.

      Glad you found the hub informative

      Lawrence

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 2 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      I read part of this well compiled and researched Hub of yours the other week Lawrence but didn't catch the time to leave a comment.

      Hollywood seems to have adopted the maxim: " Never let the truth get in the way of a good story " which is a shame really seeing as the truth is often greater than the fiction.

      Never heard much about this squadron even though I come from a long line of R.A.F. airmen with my old dad serving in the R.A.F. paras in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and the other side of the family, army, with one relative managing to make it into the Grenadier Guards, so it's refreshing to glean the facts from a well researched article like this one of yours.

      All brave lads, one and all.

      Anyone who used to playfully slag off the Yanks with the ' Overpaid, Oversexed and Over 'ere ' jokes might do well to have a butcher's at this article lol!

      Great work.

      All the best;

      R.Q.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      That is an awesome story and your Dad was a true hero.

      I kind of knew about Americans and other nationalities flying for the RAF during the war but nowhere near like what the hub talks about.

      Glad you enjoyed the hub

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is a fabulous story. I was never aware of this squadron. My father was a pilot, and joined during WWII. He became a pilot, but during wartime, as long as you could pass the physical and dexterity tests, that's all that was require to go to Officer Candidate School. There were some guys that were the Ninety Day Wonders that became officers in that short time period. Dad joined when it was still the USAAF and was still in when it later became the USAF. He said that he had generals co-pilot for him in the B52s. He later flew Sikorsky choppers as a rescue pilot. He tried out for the Flying Tigers, but just didn't have the speed, but flew in supplies to them over Burma.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Nell

      With all that's going on at the moment it's time we remembered that even in those dark days Britain had men and women from every creed and colour standing alongside her, and many of them did it by choice!

      The Americans and Canucks were an 'interesting' bunch (apparently the first "Hell's Angels" were actually a fighter squadron) but as you said we lived having them around!

      Glad you enjoyed the hub

      Lawrence

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Yes the English had to learn to fly so quickly it was literally 15 hours air time at the time of the war, before and after we had the most stringent testing in the world to fly, but needs must...!

      But saying that, my mum, who was in the WAAFs and my uncle who was an RAF bomber command pilot said they loved having the yanks, canooks etc with them, great hub lawrence!

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Thanks. It was interesting that during WW1 71 squadron was Austrailian pilots in the RFC!

      Glad you liked the hub

      Lawrence

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very informative, interesting, and historical Lawrence....a winner all around. Well done.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Glenis

      Amazing! So much history in things like that! The last of the Dambuster pilots lived in Tauranga until he passed away this year.

      There's so much we owe to those people.

      Glad you enjoyed the hub.

      Lawrence

    • profile image

      Glenis Rix 2 years ago

      Interesting hub. Last year I took some Canadian relatives on a visit to RAF Scampton (many Canadians flew with the RAF during WW2). Quite by coincidence we were there when the Red Arrows took off to escort the memorial flight of the Lancaster over Lincoln (sadly the Lancaster was unable to fly, due to weather conditions). We were thrilled to be introduced to the leader of the flight and chat with him briefly - and I sat at Guy Gibson's desk in the office has has been preserved just as it was during hostilities.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill.

      I thought you'd appreciate this. Tell the truth I didn't know much about them either! but researching it was really awesome.

      Glad you enjoyed it

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I had heard of them but knew very little about them. I love articles like this one...very informative and interesting, Lawrence. Nice research and presentation, my friend.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Justthemessenger

      It didn't directly! The original Squadron was formed three days after September 15th (Battle of Britain day) with men already flying in the RAF. All the original pilots fought in the Battle (mostly with 608 squadron) and as such were entitled to wear the Battle of Britain medal and were part of "The Few"

      The list of nationalities that fought for Britain was long but what made the Eagle Squadrons special us they did so at the risk of prison when they returned to the USA yet they still fought

      Many of them were of European extraction and they saw it as fighting for their ancestral homelands, but their names are on all the memorials.

      Incidentally, the RAF commander of 11 group that bore the brunt of the fighting wasn't English either, he was a New Zealander!

      Glad you enjoyed the hub

      Lawrence

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 2 years ago from The Great Midwest

      I cant get enough history, especially inspiring historical people. I heard Prime Minister Churchill's quote before but didn't know the few referred to the Eagle Squadron. Good informative hub.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Glad you liked it

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very educational. Great read!