4th FW traces heritage to RAF Eagle Squadrons, 4 FG

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. - As the 4th Fighter Wing approaches its 80th anniversary, its heritage can be traced back to the Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons from World War II.

Prior to the United States entering WWII in December 1941, the RAF created three fighter units
manned entirely by volunteer American pilots, known collectively as the Eagle Squadrons, which were numbered (No.) 71, 121 and 133.

The American pilots who traveled to England to join the RAF were violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts. Each one knowingly broke the law to join in the fight and some even lost their American citizenship as a result.

The No. 71 Squadron was the first RAF Eagle Squadron which was Formed Sept. 19, 1940, at RAF Church Fenton. Within a year, as part of the British fighter buildup, the No. 121 Eagle Squadron was formed at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on May 14, 1941, and the No. 133 Eagle Squadron was formed at RAF Coltishall on Aug. 1, 1941.

Having American pilots fly for the RAF greatly impacted British moral. Even though America was still neutral, these Eagle Squadron pilots put their lives at risk to help Britain defend itself.

Prior to the RAF Eagle Squadrons transfer to the U.S. Army Air Forces, RAF Air Chief
Marshal Douglas Lowe remarked, “over the past 18 months, we have seen the stuff of
which you are made, and we could not ask for better companions with whom to see this fight
through to the finish. You joined of your own free will when our need was greatest.”

The U.S. officially entered WWII December 7, 1941 and on Sept. 29, 1942, the RAF
Eagle Squadrons were transferred to the United States Army Air Forces under the Eighth Air Force, forming the 4th Fighter Group. The No. 71, 121 and 133 Squadrons were renamed the 334th, 335th and 336th Fighter Squadrons and the squadrons were relocated to Debden,

Maj. James Goodson, who was a pilot for the No. 133 Eagle Squadron pilot said, “when the U.S. entered the war, they desperately needed experienced aircrew, so they did everything they could to facilitate our transfer, including restoring U.S. citizenship if it had been lost.”

The training and combat experience gained by the RAF Eagle Squadrons pilots was evident.

Between September 1942 and their return home on Nov. 2, 1945, the 4th FG flew over 400 combat missions. Flying Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, they destroyed 1,016 enemy aircraft becoming the highest scoring fighter group in U.S. Army Air Forces and the top scoring Allied fighter group in WWII. The 4th FG was the first to enter German air space, escort bombers over Berlin and lead the first English to Russian shuttle mission, earning the motto of “Fourth but First.”

Of the 245 Americans who served under the RAF Eagle Squadrons, 78 were killed and 16 became POWs. After the transfer to the 4th FG an additional 29 were killed and 18 captured.

“It is extremely humbling to know the 4th FW history dates back to WWII,” said Maj. Dmitri “Blitz” Mitchel, 334th FS director of operations and instructor pilot. “At a time when everything is so uncertain in our world, one thing remains assured and constant - the 4th FW will continue to be at the forefront of our nation’s defense.”

Due to the dedication and grit exhibited by the 4th FG Airmen 80 years ago, the 4th FW is able to project combat airpower now and into the future.

(Editor’s Note: Information for the article was compiled from Royal Air Force Museum, First Eagles; Air Force History and Museums Program, First in the Air the Eagle Squadrons of World War II; National Museum of the United States Air Force, Eagle Squadrons)