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No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron Royal Air Force in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron Royal Air Force during the Second World War -

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No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron Royal Air Force

August 1939 

19th September 1940 New squadron formed  Under American law, it was illegal for United States citizens to join the armed forces of foreign nations, and in doing so, they forfeited their US citizenship. Nevertheless in 1939 American mercenary Colonel Charles Sweeney had begun raising an American squadron to fight in Europe. He managed to dodge the FBI and Axis agents while illegally seeking pilots in the United States, risking $1000 fines and prison. Initially he wanted them to fight in Finland against the Russians, but his attention soon moved to France. Recruited and financed by Sweeney, over thirty Americans made their way to France before the Germans invaded in May, 1940. Although some joined the French Air Force, none got to fly in France. Several made their way to Britain after the German invasion of France and were recruited into RAF service.

After the fall of France the United States relaxed its concern over British recruiting and in July 1940 the FBI declared that there was 'no wrong done' by Sweeney (although those who had already left to join the Allied forces did not get their Citizenship officially restored until 1944). In Canada WWI Ace Air Vice Marshall Billy Bishop VC and a WWI American pilot, Clayton Knight, created the Clayton Knight Committee with the purpose of recruiting and training Americans for the Royal Canadian Air Force. By the end of 1941 Sweeney and the Committee had recruited over 7,000 Americans (though fewer than 15 percent became pilots). Almost all the pilots went to Britain to serve with the Royal Air Force.

With the steady influx of US volunteers, the RAF agreed to create a new Squadron to be manned by American personnel under British RAF officers, and on the 19 September 1940 No. 71 Squadron was reformed at Church Fenton. Sweeney had designed a unit shoulder patch bearing an American Eagle, giving squadron the title 71 'Eagle' Squadron. Seven of the initial recruits had already seen action in the Battle of Britain as members of other squadrons: Billy Fiske, Eugene “Red” Tobin, Andrew Mamedoff, Vernon “Shorty” Keough, Arthur Donahue, John Haviland and Phil Leckrone. Other recruits came through Canada with Canadian or civilian flying qualifications, and the initial task of the seven experienced flyers was to train their new colleagues.

The Squadron was initially equipped with American-built Brewster Buffalos. Royal Air Force acceptance personnel criticised the aircraft on numerous points, including excessive weight (despite a limited armament and a lack of pilot armour), poor high-altitude performance, engine overheating, unreliability and poor cockpit controls. The aircraft were deemed unsuitable for European conflict as it was being experienced in the Battle of Britain, and Hawker Hurricanes were supplied to replace the Buffalos from November 1940.

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19th September 1940 New squadron formed

23rd November 1940 Relocated

5th Jan 1941 Killed in training

5th February 1941 Operations

15th February 1941 Mystery crash

5th April 1941 On the move

17th May 1941 Shot down

23rd June 1941 New role

August 1941 Re-equipped

December 1941 Transfer requested

14th December 1941 Recuperation

2nd May 1942 Back to the front line

19th Aug 1942 Dieppe Raid

29th Sept 1942 

29th September 1942 Transfer to USAAF

2nd May 1943 Moved

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Those known to have served with

No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron Royal Air Force

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

    The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

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