Eagle Squadrons: The American Volunteers in the Battle of Britain.
Made up of volunteer pilots from the United States, the three Eagle squadrons were part of the Royal Air Force fighter squadrons that operated during WW2.
Before the United States entered the Second World War in December 1941, it was illegal for a US citizen to join a foreign military unit. They risked losing their US citizenship. But that didn’t deter the young Americans who travelled to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to learn to fly and take part in the war.
The majority of these recruits were young men who had been rejected by the USAAF due to their lack of flying skills or those that had already travelled to Europe to fight alongside Finland during the war with Russia.
The Birth of the Eagle Squadrons
Taking his cue from the famous Lafayette Escadrille of WW1, Charles Sweeney, a wealthy American residing in London, started recruiting American volunteers to form an American squadron within the Royal Air Force.
Keen on the idea of additional support for the RAF from American pilots, the British Air Ministry agreed to meet with Sweeney in July 1940.
At the meeting, it was decided the Americans already serving in the Royal Air Force, plus new recruits, would form unique American squadrons to fight alongside the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
It was agreed the units would be referred to as the ‘Eagle Squadrons’ and during the following twelve months, three squadrons were formed: RAF 71, RAF 121 and RAF 133.
Formed in September 1940, the first Eagle squadron – RAF 71 – became fully operational in February 1941. It operated from the RAF base at Church Fenton in England. However, to carry out operations across Europe, the squadron was shifted to RAF Martlesham Heath near the coast of Sussex.
This base also played an important role in the development of Airborne Interception Radar which gave the RAF early warning of enemy aircraft approaching.
Sadly the squadron suffered its first loss in May 1941 when Mike Kolendorski was killed during an offensive mission in the Netherlands.
Squadron 71 then moved to RAF base North Weald in June 1941 as operations became more intense. The squadron claimed victory for the first time when William R. Dunn shot down and destroyed a German WW2 fighter over Lille and during 1941, the squadron scored numerous victories.
The second Eagle squadron – RAF 121 – was formed in May 1941 at RAF base Kirton-in-Lindsey. It flew Hurricane aircraft and escorted coastal convoys and the squadron claimed its first victory on September 15, 1941.
In July 1941, the final Eagle squadron – RAF 133 – was formed at RAF base Coltishall. Of all the Eagle squadrons, the 133 suffered most losses.
Although initially equipped with Hawker Hurricane single-seat fighters, all three squadrons later replaced these with the high performance Supermarine Spitfire.
A New Name
After America joined the war, the three squadrons were transferred from the RAF to the US Army Air Force and became fighter squadrons 334, 335 and 336 respectively, of the 4th Fighter Group.