Battle of Britain American Pilots

A Short Synopsis

American Pilots in the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain Sign outside Operation Buiilding, Duxford, England.
The sign that you see at the operations building on Duxford Airfield.
This is the base where Douglas Bader was CO at during the battle.
He was a proponent of the "Big Wing" concept which was at odds
with Air Marshall Dowding.
The "Big Wing" concept was successfully employed from 1942 onwards.

Nine American pilots flew with units under the command of RAF Fighter Command between 10 July and 31 October 1940, thereby qualifying for the Battle of Britain clasp to the 1939-45 British campaign star. During this period the USA was officially neutral, but American pilots were drawn across the Atlantic by the urgency of defending democracy in Europe and their sense of adventure.

Through special arrangement with the UK, they did not have to give up their US Citizenship to fly for the RAF.

The first American to give his life in the Battle of Britain was Pilot Officer William M.L. Fiske of No. 601 Squadron. Fiske was a graduate of Cambridge University and a leading personality in the American bob sleigh teams that won the Olympic championships in 1928 and 1932. he died in hospital on 17 August 1940 after bringing back his damaged Hurricane to Tangmere.

Also with No. 601 Squadron was Flying Officer Carl R. Davis, one of a small number of Americans who had seen active service with he RAF before the Battle of Britain. He had taken part in the attack on the German seaplane base at Borkum on 28 November 1939. Today helicopters have repaced the need for seaplane training in the military. There are a few countries who still have extensive need for seaplanes - especially in the Pacific Rim and in the Gulf - and quite a few commercial firms rely on them for business needs.

A British Sptifire and Hawker Hurricane on the airfield at Falaise France in 1994.
A British Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane on the old German
airfield at Falaise France in 1994.

American pilots in the thick of the action also included Pilot Officers Vernon C. Keough, Andrew Mamedoff and Eugene Q. Tobin on No. 609 Squadron. This trio had traveled to Europe with the original intention of joining the French Air Force. A notable American in Duxford's history is Pilot Officer Phillip H. Leckrone from Salem, Illinois. He was a member of No. 616 Squadron and fought alongside the British, Commonwealth, Czech and Polish pilots of the Duxford Wing in the late stages of the Battle of Britain.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "Battle of Britain" speech (1:35 seconds, MP3 4 megs) to the House of Commons after the fall of France.

The other Americans in the Battle of Britain were Pilot Officers Arthur G. Donahue, John K. Haviland, and De Peyster Brown. The last one mentioned flew with No. 1 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force which arrived in Britain in June 1940.

Since the war books and official documents had Hugh W. Reilley (64 and 66 Sqds) as being an American - he was not - he was Canadian. For full details see for the correct information regarding his nationality. The blog is published by his son, C.H. A. Reilley.

Some of the above individuals later became members of the three Eagle Squadrons made up of exclusively of American pilots and formed between September 1940 and October 1941. These were No 71, 121 and 133 Squadrons. These squadrons did not FLY during the battle and so the Eagle Squadron members, except those noted above, regardless of what movies have stated, are not part of "The Few" who defended the UK during 1940.

PM Winston Churchill's "Never in the field of human conflict . ." speech (0:38 MP3, 1.7 megs) to Parliament in September of 1940.

The Eagle squadrons operated as part of the RAF Fighter Command on convoy escort duties and fighter sweeps over France. All three were involved in the intense battle of Dieppe on 19 August 1942.

In the late autumn of 1942 the USA had fully entered the war in Europe and the three RAF "Eagle" Squadrons were transferred to the 8th US Air Force and became the 4th Fighter Group. The promise not to transfer any members away lasted a month. Around 1/2 were transferred to other units, back to the states to train other pilots soon after becoming officers in the 8th Air Force. Initially the 4th FG continued to fly Spitfires till they were re-equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts.

Some members refused to transfer into the US Forces and remained as part of the RAF throughout the war.

Of all the Americans who flew in the Eagle Squadrons - 244 - over 50% were WIA, KIA or POWs by the time the 4th FG was established in the US 8th Air Force.

Some of the history came from the American Air Museum in Britain Campaign newsletter of in the fall of 2000.

Other Nations

There were 10 Irish, 13 French, 20 south Africans, 21 Australians, 29 Belgians, 84 Czechoslovakians, 86 Canadians, 98 new Zealanders, and 139 Poles that fought in the Battle of Britain.

United Kingdom Battle of Britain Official Site

UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) Battle of Britain (BoB) Official Web Site

RAF Benevolent Fund

Battle of Britain Memorial dedicated in 2003.
Battle of Britain
(BOB) memorial
unveiled in 2003.

Official List of Battle Of Britain Pilots

List of Pilots in the Battle of Britain also on the MoD site.

Pilot Stories of WW-II

There are tens of thousands of books out there on World War Two but there are likely less than 10,000 books that deal with an individual. Yet there are many stories that should be recorded for posterity. There are some real good books on the market talking about individual stories like Ian McLachlan's book, USAAF Fighter Stories (ISBN # 1 85260 5693; published by PSL) and then there are Tom Brokaw's book which only talks with the MOST famous people already known and to the "average" person who fought in WW2.

I have heard stories from around 35 people so far. Most have only rarely talked about their experiences. I will be writing them up and posting them here as time permits. They include Navy, Air Corps, Army, British pilots and other military branches.