Eagle Squadrons RAF

Several interesting personalities stood at the birth of the American Eagle Squadrons operating within RAF. One of them was

Charles Francis Sweeny, a wealthy American businessman living

in London. He convinced the British government to allow American citizens to serve in the British armed forces. To organize

the recruitment of the Americans to join RAF, Sweeny worked

with the Canadian Clayton Knight Committee, CKC. This committee was founded by Billy Bishop, the Canadian WWI fighter ace

and Clayton Knight, the American aviation artist, and an aviator

himself, a member of the US Signal Corps, having served with

RFC during WWI.

The initial purpose of CKC was to engage the American aviation industry in the British program of the air power build up, BCATP (British

Commonwealth Air Training Plan). The committee, headquartered

at the famous New York hotel Waldorf-Astoria, came to existence in

the spring 1940 and gradually created a network of nine recruiting

offices in the large American cities such as Dallas, San Francisco,

or Kansas City. After the USA joined the war efforts, almost 6,700

applications of the American citizens for service in RAF were received. However, 86 percentiles of them were rejected, so the final

number of Americans accepted to RAF was around 1,000.

It has to be said that the service in the foreign army was illegal

in the USA and breaking the law could result in the loss of the

American citizenship. For all accepted candidates, the committee

provided all necessary documents and organized their travel to Canada. Beside it also compensated them for their travel expenses,

officially in the form of a loan. Since the recruits typically did not

repay the loans, they were in fact gifts which was also breaking the

law prohibiting the American citizens to serve in the foreign armed

forces. Only thanks to the tolerance of the US Department of State

and other authorities, including President Roosevelt himself, who

secretly supported CKC activities, its operation and new candidates’ recruitment could continue until the USA entered the war. Regardless CKC activities were often blocked and disrupted by US Department of State and FBI, especially in 1940. In 1941 the attitude

of various American institutions, including US Department of Defense and the Air Command, gradually changed as it became apparent

that US entry into war is inevitable. That on the other hand meant

that CKC activities represented a competition to the American own

efforts to strengthen the armed forces one of which was the intense recruitment for all its branches. Besides the recruitment for RAF

and RCAF, CKC also negotiated the civilian contracts for the flight

instructors or pilots delivering the aircraft to the units.

According to some sources as many as 10,000 Americans served in

RAF and RCAF in various capacities, be it soldiers or civilian employees. The motivation for joining RAF varied, from the desire

to participate in the war efforts against Germany or seeking the

better position than the American armed forces allowed. For instance, the American Air Force required at least two years of the

university studies in order to commence the pilot training. RAF did

not have such a strict requirement. To start the pilot training high

school graduation was required, not even the prior military service

was necessary however at least 300 flight hours were required. For

example, the future fighter ace, Dominic „Don“ Gentile joined the

Canadian Air Force especially because of the lack of the university education which was common for many future Eagle squadron


The pilots who completed the training in Canada gradually formed

three American units called Eagle Squadrons. Not all Americans in

RAF joined them however, many remained serving with British or

Title photo: In 1968 William R. Dunn was officially recognized as the first American ace of WWII. In the picture he is seated in the cockpit

of his Spitfire Mk. IIa (P7308; XR-D) in RAF uniform. In 1939 he joined the Canadian armed forces having answered the call for pilots who

had logged more than 500 flight hours (Photo: IWM, American Air Museum in Britain).



INFO Eduard - August 2021