The event was held in celebration of the RAF 100th anniversary and marks the date U.S. Army Air Corps Col. Charles Sweeney wrote to the U.K. Air Ministry proposing the formation of RAF fighter squadrons comprised of American volunteers in 1940.
“It’s a very special year,” RAF Air Vice Marshal Gerry Mayhew, Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group said. “It’s the century mark for the Royal Air Force.”
Senior U.S. Air Force and RAF officers attended the event along with veterans, families and 121 Squadron RAF Air Cadets.
“I, as an American Airman, am incredibly proud to be involved in a ceremony to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force,” said USAF Brig. Gen. Christopher Short, United States Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché.
Three ‘eagle squadrons’ were formed between 1940 and 1941 from U.S. citizens who volunteered to serve in the RAF. Initially they had British commanding officers, a combination of U.S. and British pilots and British ground crew.
All three squadrons flew fighter patrols during the Dieppe Raid in 1942. Pilots from the squadrons served with RAF squadrons defending Malta, in the Desert Air Force in North Africa and with the RAF in the Far East during the war against Japan.
“If you think about, ‘Service before self,’ and giving up your citizenship to go serve a cause,” Short said. “It wasn’t just glamour, because you had to know that most of you wouldn’t make it home.”
Leadership from the 48th Operations Group at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England and the 4th Operations Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, attended as representatives of current “eagle” squadrons that fly F-15E Strike Eagles and F-15C Eagles.
When the U.S. entered World War II the three eagle squadrons, and the American pilots in them, transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force, forming the 4th Fighter Group in 1942. Their proud heritage of service is carried on today by the 4th Fighter Wing. The 48th Fighter-Bomber Group, now the 48th Fighter Wing, flew aircraft in support of operations in Europe, including the Invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944.
A special badge, approved by King George VI in October 1940 was worn by the pilots – the spread eagle badge surmounted by the letters ‘E.S.’
The RAF 121 and 133 eagle squadron badges, worn by the pilots in the original eagle squadrons, will now be displayed at the RAF Club in their honor.