American Eagles provides a photographic snapshot of the lives of the American fighter pilots who volunteered their services during World War II, as well as the Spitfires and Hurricanes they flew.
Keen to help Britain stem the spread of Fascism, or perhaps seeking adventure in a foreign land, a number of American citizens defied the wishes of their government by crossing the border into Canada and subsequently sailing to Britain to join the Royal Air Force.
Some were prewar civilian pilots, others were rich playboys and a few were already serving in the RAF when war was declared. Men such as Don Blakeslee, Billy Fiske, ‘Gus’ Daymond and Jim Dunn, as well as many other notable pilots are featured in this volume, in photographs that have been carefully sourced from official and private archives across the globe.
Each image has a detailed caption, chronicling the wartime exploits of the elite ‘band of brothers’ known as the American Eagles.
American pilots of No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron RAF gathered in front of one of their Hawker Hurricane Mk Is at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire. Having coped with poor weather, poor aircraft and a near incessant stream of visiting VIPs and members of the press since the formation of the unit in October 1940, the ‘Eagles’ were itching for action by the time this group shot was taken in March 194l. All the pilots are wearing 1930 pattern Sidcot flying suits, bar Squadron Leader Taylor and Pilot Officer Tobin. Five of these men would not survive the war, two being killed in action and three dying on active service.
Californian Pole Pilot Officer ‘Mike’ Kolendorski was the first ‘Eagle’ killed in action — four other pilots had previously perished in flying accidents. He was shot down on 17 May 194l by Bf 1O9Es from JG 53 after breaking away from his formation during 71 Squadron’s first Channel patrol. An impulsive individual who had a burning hatred of the Germans, his lack of discipline in the air directly contributed to his death. Posing for the camera in his suitably customized Sidcot suit several weeks before his demise, Kolendorski is adjusting the straps for his parachute harness in front of one of the first Hurricanes adorned with an ‘Eagle’ squadron emblem.
No. 71 Squadron flew Spitfire IIAs for less than a month, but in that time the first ‘Eagle’ squadron ace was crowned in this very fighter. Pilot Officer Bill Dunn succeeded in downing two Bf 1O9Fs on 27 August 194l during Circus 86, which had seen nine Blenheims sent to attack a steelworks in Lille, escorted by more than 1OO Spitres. The American had quickly destroyed two Messerschmitts and was firing at a third when P7308 was struck a series of blows by cannon and machine-gun fire from a fourth Bf lO9F. Badly wounded in the leg and foot, and with his Spitfire seriously damaged, Dunn contemplated bailing out. However, he then decided that he could make it back to England, the newly crowned ace landing at Hawkinge, on the Dover coast — where this photograph was taken. Notice the battle damage to the rear of the Spitfire. A veteran of the Battle of Britain with 74 Squadron and early cross-Channel operations with 54 Squadron, P7308 was patched up and converted into a Mk VA. lt saw further service with 133, 421, 164 and 602 Squadrons, prior to ending its days with 63 OTU in the summer of 1943.
Pilot Officer Jack’ Fessler’s Spitfire VB AA855 was photographed in a ploughed field near Boulogne by a German soldier soon after it had force-landed in France on 27 October 194l. The aircraft’s pilot was something of an ace at straffing, having destroyed two Bf lO9s at nearby airelds just a week earlier. Fessler was not so lucky on this mission, as he recalls. ‘It was a dawn “Rhubarb” over Boulogne. I started a gentle dive at a large freight train engine in the marshalling yards at Boulogne, firing with cannon and machine guns. I continued the attack until I had to pull up to clear the engine. At that moment either the freight engine blew up, or flew into it — I’ll never know. I felt no impact, but my oil cooler and radiator cooling had both been damaged, and my engine was missing badly. I pulled up to about 2000ft, looked for a place to land, and set down in a ploughed field just outside Boulogne. I used a post-fire to ignite my aeroplane, then took off on foot. It was O615 hrs.‘ Fessler did not get far, for he was handed over to the Germans by French gendarmes within hours of crash-landing.