Thunderbolt pilots of the 4th Fighter Group in the briefing room at Debden (Photo: American Air Museum in Britain).
The 4th Fighter Group, the 8th Air Force
Eagle squadrons‘ pilots’ integration into the USAAF was not an easy
task as it might seem from today’s point of view. Enormous number
of administrative issues had to be resolved and the actual transfer
from RAF to USAAF was preceded by lengthy negotiations at all levels, including the top one. For example, President Roosevelt was
involved in pardoning the infractions of the law on service in foreign
armed forces. Practically none of the Americans in RAF undertook
the American pilot training and therefore did not have a right to
carry the American pilot’s badge. Major topic of the ongoing negotiations was certifying the Canadian and British pilots‘ tests. After
this matter was resolved, the new issue was the right to carry the
British pilot’s badge on the American uniform. This seemingly minor
problem was resolved by granting the former American members of
RAF the right to carry a smaller version of the British pilot’s badge
on the opposite side of the American pilot’s badge. The British naturally presented their claims as well, for example the compensation for the loss of three complete and trained fighter squadrons. No
wonder that the final agreement was reached after almost a year
of intense negotiations. If we look closer this may remind us of the
difficult negotiations between UK and EU about Brexit.
All is well that ends well, in the summer of 1942 all issues were
resolved and for the Americans serving in RAF, and other British and
Canadian armed forces, the door was opened to join the American
armed forces. On September 29, 1942, all three Eagle squadrons
were officially transferred under the USAAF command and together
formed the 4th Fighter Group of the 8th AF. No. 71 Squadron RAF
became 334th USAAF Fighter Squadron, No. 121 Squadron became
335th FS and No. 133 Squadron was renamed 336th FS.
All units continued operating out of Debden. Lt. Col. Edward W.
Anderson was appointed the commander of 4th FG, the fighter
squadrons were commanded by Majors Daymond, Daley and Mc-
INFO Eduard - August 2021
Colpin. The transfer under full 8th AF command was gradual and
in October the operational command was still within RAF and RAF
Debden station commander was responsible for it. 4th FG was simultaneously operated as Debden Wing within RAF and mostly flew
convoy patrols, coastal patrols, and offensive sweeps over France.
Only later the operational command was fully handed over to the
USAAF and Debden became USAAF Debden AFB. On November 22,
Major Blakeslee was appointed commander of 335th FS and set on
the path to become one of the most respected battle commanders in the history of the American AF. 4th FG flew Spitfires until
March 1943. In February 334th FS started its re-equipment with
Thunderbolts. In the beginning of April, all three squadrons were
operational on Thunderbolts and on April 8, led by Col. Anderson,
they made their combat debut in the operation type Circus. On
March 15, 1943, Donald Blakeslee scored the first 4th FG victory on
P-47D Thunderbolt and on July 28 he led 4th FG over Germany for
the first time after becoming the group’s operational officer in May.
In February 1944, 4th FG was re-equipped with P-51B Mustang as
one of the first 8th AF fighter groups.
In the course of several months, 4th FG was the only fighter group
available to the 8th AF command. Another fighter group assigned
to 8th AF was 78th FG equipped with P-38 Lightnings. It arrived in
Britain in November 1942 but in February 1943 it was re-deployed
to the North Africa under 12th AF command. In March it was back in
England re-equipped with Thunderbolts. Since the summer however, the number of new fighter groups rapidly increased within 8th
AF. In the end of 1943, there were eleven out of the final fifteen
fighter groups located in Britain, which was the 8th AF inventory in
the beginning of 1944.