Home History Who Was America’s First World War II Ace?

Who Was America’s First World War II Ace?

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“I used to be on patrol between Deal and Calls, main a bit of Hurricanes from my squadron, once we noticed, at 12,000 toes, a Dornier 17 ‘Flying Pencil,’” Flight Lt. Jimmy Davies of No. 79 Squadron, Royal Air Power, is describing his first encounter with a German bomber.

“My Hurricane rapidly outmaneuvered him. I received on his tail, and gave him three sharp bursts of fireplace …. The final I noticed of him he was simply above sea degree. He had turned on his again, and a second later crashed into the ocean.”

The encounter came about over the Straits of Dover on Nov. 21, 1939, solely 2 1/2 months after World Battle II had began. Flight Lt. Davies shared the Dornier kill with a sergeant named Brown, of the identical squadron. Probably the most notable element of this encounter is the truth that Davis, thought on the time a British citizen, had been born in America.

Jersey Boy

James Davies was born to British dad and mom in Bernardsville, New Jersey, in 1913, and attended Morristown Excessive Faculty. Within the Nineteen Thirties, Davies — who nonetheless held British citizenship — returned to his dad and mom’ homeland and was commissioned within the Royal Air Power in 1936. When struggle broke out in September 1939, he was a Hurricane pilot with No. 79 squadron, which operated from Biggin Hill airfield in Kent, England.

Davies would declare his second victory on Could 12, 1940, after German troops had invaded France and the Low International locations. By then, the British and French air forces had been all however overwhelmed by the Luftwaffe. By June 8, Davies had certified as an ace, having destroyed eight enemy plane, and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On the day Davies was to have been awarded the DFC by King George VI, June 25, 1940, he was shot down and killed. The king requested in regards to the remaining DFC on the desk and was advised in regards to the expatriate American. A squadron mate reported that the king was “fairly moved.”

Davies had been credited with six enemy plane plus two shared on the time of his loss of life, and that was greater than sufficient to make him the primary American-born ace of the struggle. American report books, nevertheless, don’t acknowledge him as an “American” ace. He had, in spite of everything, been a British citizen.

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Volunteer pressure

The USA was a impartial nation through the first two years of the World Battle II and was decided to remain that approach. The so-called Neutrality Acts handed by Congress between 1935 and 1937 made becoming a member of the armed forces of a “belligerent Nation,” together with Britain’s RAF, a prison offense. The punishment included 10 years in jail, a $20,000 high quality and the lack of U.S. citizenship.

Six potential volunteers from California discovered in regards to the Neutrality Acts the laborious approach. That they had decided to hitch the RAF and headed for the Canadian border to attempt to make their solution to England. When their prepare made its first cease in Canada, they had been met by brokers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI males gave them a alternative — both return dwelling or go to jail. It was not a troublesome choice—the six younger males went again to California. On their second try, they made it to the Canadian border and Joined the Royal Canadian Air Power, or booked passage to England as “reporters” or below different false covers. In a single occasion, a Wall Road banker advised Boston Customs officers that he was going to Canada “for some capturing.”

Official Royal Air Power information record solely seven People as having served with RAF Fighter Command earlier than the formation of the Eagle Squadrons in 1941. They had been Pilot Officer W.M.L. Fiske, No. 601 Squadron, who died August 17, 1940; Pilot Officer Arthur Donahue, 64 Squadron; Pilot Officer J.Okay. Havilland, 151 Squadron; Pilot Officer Phil Leckrone, 616 Squadron; and pilot officers Andrew Mamedorff, Vernon Keough and Eugene Tobin, all three with 609 Squadron. However there have been many greater than these seven. As a result of it was towards American legislation to hitch the RAF, most People wouldn’t give their true nationality when signing their enlistment papers. Nobody is aware of what number of pilots, formally listed as Canadian or Commonwealth residents, had been truly American. Ministry of Protection information record them as Canadians, which is not any proof that they actually had been.

Pilot Officer Carl Raymond Davis (left) might be thought of the second American ace of the struggle serving with No. 601 Squadron (County of London). Hugh William Reilley (proper) was considered initially from the US however maintained that he was Canadian proper up till he was shot down by the German ace Werner Mölders on October 17, 1940. (Histrorynet Archives)

Canuck Canard

Pilot Officer Hugh Reilly was one such American pilot. Though he didn’t grow to be an ace, the strategy by which Reilly entered the RAF provides an concept of the willpower of some People to come back to England earlier than 1941.

Reilly not solely declared himself to be Canadian but in addition managed to pay money for a Canadian passport. No person is kind of certain how he received the passport, since he made everybody linked together with his little plot swear to secrecy. If both the Canadian of American authorities had gotten wind of the scheme, everybody concerned would have wound up in jail.

The unlawful passport served its goal. It received Reilly previous U.S. Customs and the Neutrality Acts and entry to England. In September 1940, the 22-year-old was commissioned as a pilot officer (equal to a second lieutenant in america). Later that month, Reilly was posted to No. 66 Squadron, based mostly Gravesend, Kent, and took half within the nice air battle of Sept. 15 that culminated the so-called Battle of Britain.

Reilly shot down a Messerschmitt Bf-109 on Sept. 27. Three weeks later, he was shot down and killed by German ace Werner Mölders. Reilly is buried in a churchyard in Gravesend. Due to his unlawful passport, his true nationality was buried with him.

South African pilot

One other of the various “unofficial” People on the RAF — and likewise the second unofficial American ace of the struggle — was Carl Davis. Davis is formally listed as a citizen of South Africa the place he had been born, however he truly was a U.S. citizen. His dad and mom had been People, and Davis held a U.S. passport (a authorized one issued by the State Division). Due to the Neutrality Acts, it was lots handier for him to be South African than to declare his actual citizenship.

Pilot Officer Davis was assigned to No. 601 Squadron (County of London) Squadron, which flew Hawker Hurricanes from Tangmere Aerodrome, Sussex. Between July 11 and Sept. 4, 1940, on the top of the Battle of Britain, Davis himself downed 9 German plane and helped destroy yet another.

On Sept. 6, two days after he destroyed his final German plane, Davis was shot down. His Hurricane crashed, the other way up, close to Tunbridge Wells, Kent. He died because of his accidents and is buried in Storrington, Sussex, within the churchyard of St. Mary’s Church. Davis’ citizenship was probably not lined up the way in which Hugh Reilly saved his a secret; it had simply been ignored.

For lots of the “secret People” or “American Canadians” who served within the Royal Air Power previous to Pearl Harbor, the one traces of their nationality are nicknames, buried within the struggle information, similar to “Tex,” “America,” or “Uncle Sam.” Establishing the identification of the primary “official” American ace in WWII was no much less complicated than looking for out who was the primary unofficial ace. It took 26 years to definitively set up the pilot who can be acknowledged as the primary U.S. fighter ace.

A part of the confusion, after all, stemmed from the truth that so many People had circumvented the Neutrality Acts, gone to Britain and joined the RAF. Within the fall of 1940, RAF Fighter Command determined to kind a squadron made up totally of People — No. 71 Squadron, the primary of WWII’s well-known Eagle Squadrons. Now there can be a full squadron of potential aces, competing to be the primary.

Among the many early younger People to defy their nations neutrality legal guidelines, RAF Pilot Officers Andy Mamedoff, Vernon Charles Keough and Gene Tobin pose with an Eagle Squadron Hurricane. The three had already seen fight flying with No. 609 Squadron. (IWM CH 1440)

Fight Operations

Quantity 71 Squadron started fight operations in the summertime of 1941. On July 2, throughout an escort mission to Lille, France, rivalry between pilot officers William R. Dunn and Gregory Augustus “Gus” Daymond set off an issue that may not be settled till a few years after the tip of the struggle. Dunn and Daymond didn’t have very a lot in widespread aside from need to fly. Gus Daymond joined the RAF age of 19 due to what he known as a “sophomoric, however real, sense of social consciousness.” He had been working as a make-up man in Hollywood, which had a big Jewish neighborhood. “Individuals on movie units used to take heed to Hitler’s species between takes,” Daymond recalled. “We had been immensely involved and there was an environment of dread and foreboding. Effectively, I went tearing off to do my stuff.”

Invoice Dunn got here to the RAF by means of the military — he went to Canada in 1939 and volunteered for the Seaforth Highlanders. Dunn advised the sergeant when he enlisted that he was from Moosejaw. He had no concept the place Moosejaw was, but it surely was the primary Canadian city that got here to thoughts.

After Dunkirk, within the spring of 1940, the British Air Ministry invited anybody with 500 or extra hours of flying time to switch to the RAF. Dunn didn’t have anyplace close to 500 hours — he had extra like 160 hours. However, he mentioned, his pen will need to have slipped a bit on the appliance, “With my 160 wanting like 560.” The Air Ministry didn’t say something, so he didn’t both.

Dunn was accepted into the RAF. Within the spring of 1941, he traded his regimental kilts for the RAF blue. He started an accelerated coaching course due to the pressing want for pilots. Pilot Officer Dunn was assigned to No. 71 Squadron in April 1941. He thought that his reception was “considerably cool” when he first arrived, however he didn’t know why. It might have been as a result of he was a brand new arrival, or as a result of he had been an enlisted squaddies “who had crawled from the muddy trenches into their blue heaven.”

Veteran Pilot

Dunn, in reality, had seen much more fight — with the Seaforth Highlanders — than any of the opposite Eagles had. He had even shot at two Stuka dive bombers that had attacked the Seaforths at Camp Borden, so he didn’t really feel awed by the enemy. He did, nevertheless, really feel like an outsider. His first fight mission, in addition to Gus Daymond’s, was on July 2, and when it was over, he nonetheless was the “outsider.” A pressure of 12 Bristol Blenheim was despatched to destroy the Lille electrical energy station that day, and 71 Squadron was one of many models assigned to guard the bombers. Going to Lille meant flying within the neighborhood of Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlegeter,” which had 9 squadrons of Messerschmitt Bf-109Fs based mostly at airfields within the Abbeville space. Jagdgeschwader 26, thought of the elite of German fighter models the West, was commanded by Adolf Galland, who already had 70 Allied plane to his credit score. The “Abbeville Boys,” because the British had nicknamed them, weren’t about to let any enemy formation go unchallenged. The RAF formation was attacked by a swarm of Bf-109s over Lille, which shot down 4 bombers. However the Luftwaffe rapidly discovered that the escorting fighters gave them extra of a battle than they’d anticipated.

The primary member of the Eagle Squadron to shoot down an enemy plane was Dunn, who destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf-109 at 12:35 p.m. 5 minutes later, Daymond received the squadron’s second kill. He shot away a Messerschmitt’s proper aileron. The enemy pilot jettisoned the cover hood and bailed out — “simply appeared to drift out of his machine,” in line with Daymond’s report. The squadron chief, Stanley T. Meares, additionally accounted for a Bf-109. However despite the fact that Dunn had downed the squadron’s first enemy plane, the media nonetheless reported that Daymond was first. Dunn was not completely satisfied about this error. He claimed that elitism inside the squadron was chargeable for Daymond’s being given the consideration and for his being ignored.

However there have been different issues to fret about. On July 6, No. 71 Squadron was given one other escort project. The RAF was going to Lille once more, which meant one other brush with the Abbeville Boys. Daymond shot down a Bf-109 within the ensuing struggle, and Dunn was credited with a half kill, sharing a Bf-109 with a Polish pilot from No. 306 Squadron.

The Actual factor

Precise fight got here as a nasty shock to a few of the Eagles. They totally realized that they’d be doing their share of the capturing on the Germans, but it surely by some means by no means had occurred to them that the Germans had been going to shoot again.

Certainly one of Daymond’s first encounters had come when No. 71 Squadron was flying an operation with a Polish squadron. Over his earphones, Daymond heard a “terrific quacking” from the Poles: they’d been jumped by a flight of Bf-109s. At first they known as out in English, however when the preventing started to get frantic, they “blew their gaskets and started to garble-garble amongst themselves in Polish, and we didn’t know what the hell was taking place,” famous Daymond.

Daymond regarded all around the sky, looking for the preventing. He noticed a Bf-109 taking place, with a Pole chasing it and “capturing into mighty small items.” The Pole stayed proper behind the German on the way in which down, capturing on the Messerschmitt in addition to the “poor man inside it.” For the primary time, it dawned on Daymond that he was in the course of an actual struggle, and that “these guys had been actually taking part in for retains.”

All through the month of July, the rivalry developed between Dunn and Daymond. The competition was to see who might destroy probably the most enemy airplanes, however the tone was not cordial. The lead modified fingers a number of instances. After sharing the Bf-109 with the Polish pilot, Dunn took a half-plane lead on July 6. Daymond then shot down a Bf-109, which gave him a half-plane benefit. Dunn regained the lead when he destroyed one other Bf-109 close to Lille on July 21. Daymond answered together with his third kill, however on August 8, Dunn downed a Bf-109 west of Mardyck to achieve a 3 1/2-to-3 benefit.

Escort obligation

On Aug. 27, the complete squadron was up. Now flying Supermarine Spitfire IIs, it was assigned to escort 9 Blenheim bombers to France. The Blenheims’ goal was the Lille once more. That meant yet one more encounter with the Abbeville Boys and their yellow nosed Bf-109s.Anti-aircraft hearth started popping all-around as quickly because the formation crossed the enemy coast. Enemy fighters had been anticipated at any time, and everybody saved a pointy eye out for them.

Dunn noticed three Bf-109s that had been identified by an alert squadron mate, however didn’t see the one behind him. His first inkling got here when tracers began whizzing previous him. Dunn shouted a warning to his flight, which instantly broke up into particular person combats. Dunn adopted swimsuit, darting away from his pursuer, lucky that the honlydamage had been carried out to his composure.

Dunn got here out of his evasive maneuvers and will see preventing throughout him. The yellow-nosed Messerschmitts had been attempting to get via to the bombers, and a Spitfire was trailing white smoke, however he was not below assault himself. Beneath him, he caught sight of two Bf-109s ready to complete off any straggling Blenheim. Dunn pushed his stick ahead and dove after them.

The German chief noticed Dunn coming and rapidly broke away. However his wingman executed a sluggish climbing flip to the left, proper in entrance of Dunn.

When he was about 150 years away from his goal, Dunn pressed the Spitfire’s firing button. He might see tracers from his eight .303-caliber machine weapons converge on the Messerschmitt, and watched the enemy fighter falter below the influence. Dunn was in a position to near inside 50 years, shut sufficient in order that the oil from the stricken Messerschmitt splattered the Spitfire’s windscreen.

The German pilot by no means made any actual effort to evade Dunn. His Bf-109 fell away, on hearth, and crashed in a French subject. Dunn felt a bit sorry for the German, who was most likely only a inexperienced child, proper out of flight faculty. However Dunn added, “What the hell, all of them rely.”

Off within the distance, Dunn might see the Blenheim bombing the goal, and there have been nonetheless 9 of them. He was keeping track of the bombers when one other Messerschmitt locked onto his tail. His first warning got here within the type of bullet holes in his port wing, together with a jagged tear close to its tip. The Bf-109, closing in from behind, was firing tracer and cannon shells.

Dunn’s dogfight on August 27, 1941 almost value him his life. As an alternative it made him an ace. Regardless of severe accidents and injury to his Spitfire (word the dameged tail) he nursed his fighter again to base to inform the story. U.S. Air Power)

Dunn reacted immediately, he throttled again sharply, modified the propeller pitch to high quality for extra drag, opened the flaps and skidded the Spitfire out of the Messerschmitt’s gun path. The Spitfire’s pace dropped instantly, and the Bf-109 shot previous his airplane, skimming no more than 10 toes above Dunn’s head. He might see the black crosses on the German fighter, in addition to the unit markings and a purple rooster insignia on the facet of the cockpit—signifying III Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen.”

The state of affairs had rapidly reversed, and now Dunn was behind the Bf-109. He fired a three- or four-second burst, which was all it took to set the Messerschmitt on hearth. It rolled over and veered away, uncontrolled. On the way in which down, its tail part broke away. Kill No. 2 for the day, giving Dunn a complete of 5 1/2.

Dunn noticed one other Bf-109 flying about 500 toes beneath him and went after it. When he received inside vary, he fired a brief burst and noticed smoke path from the German fighter. Dunn was about to fireside one other burst when 4 different Messerschmitts jumped him. The primary one missed — cannon shells darted previous Dunn and curved away. However the second Bf-109 was proper on the right track. He heard “explosions and a banging like hail” towards the Spitfire’s fuselage. A cannon shell blew a gap in his instrument panel; his foot was hit and went numb. His leg and his head additionally damage. Dunn started to lose consciousness. Via his rising visible haze, he might see bits of metallic and damaged glass on the cockpit flooring.

Dunn had been dazed by the influence of the bullets and cannon shells. When his head cleared, he discovered himself alone within the sky. He didn’t understand how badly he had been injured. However his head nonetheless damage and his proper proper boot was lined with blood. His Spitfire was nonetheless flyable, which meant that he would not less than be capable of get again dwelling.

Dunn introduced his broken Spitfire down on the grass touchdown subject at Hawkinge, close to Folkstone, Kent, simply inland from the Channel coast. Within the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkstone he was knowledgeable {that a} cannon shell had blown off the entrance of his proper foot. Additionally, two machine gun bullets had gone via his proper calf, and one other had glanced off his cranium, leaving a three-inch-long welt on his scalp. One of many medical doctors advised Dunn that he was fortunate to be alive. He already knew that.

REturn to 71

Dunn was posted to a coaching command in Canada when he was effectively sufficient to return to obligation. However earlier than he left England, he determined to pay a go to to No. 71 Squadron at North Weald, Essex. He was in no way completely satisfied to search out his private belongings had been ransacked. Someone had helped himself to Dunn’s socks, shirts, underwear, ties and towels. And so as to add insult to damage, what was left of his possessions had been carelessly dumped right into a parachute bag that Dunn discovered on the ground in a puddle of water.

Dunn had a contensious relationship with fellow 71 Squadron Pilot Officer Gregory “Gus” Daymond (left). A future ace, Chesley G. Peterson (proper) was a gifted younger pilot who would go on to command the 4th Fighter Group. (Nationwide Archives)

However he was much more sad to find that Gus Daymond and his squadron mate, Chesley Peterson, had every been awarded the DFC, and that Daymond was formally credited with being the primary American ace.

Dunn had collected his fifth victory almost a month earlier than Gus Daymond. And Peterson solely had two victories. The DFC is often awarded to a pilot with 5 victories. Dunn by no means acquired the DFC. “What about my victories?” Dunn requested. “Didn’t they rely?”

Dunn attributes this snub to the squadron’s intelligence officer, J. Roland “Robbie” Robinson, a member of Parliament who had affect on the Air Ministry. (He later turned Lord Martonmere.) Dunn felt that Robinson was at all times pushing his buddies for promotions and decorations on the expense of anybody not within the charmed circle, and that he had labored “the DFC gongs for his two truthful haired boys.”

Favoritism or not, Daymond was listed as the primary American ace of World Battle II. Dunn knew the consideration was his personal, despite the fact that there was nothing he might do about it. Dunn transferred to the U.S. Military Air Power in 1943 and completed the struggle as a Lieutenant Colonel. (He additionally shot down three extra enemy plane).) However regardless of his service report, he was at all times troubled as a result of his declare had been overruled. “I at all times felt that my honesty was being questioned,” he mentioned.

20 Years Later

And so it remained for greater than 20 years, till an accident introduced Dunn’s declare to mild once more. In 1965, Dunn donated his previous RAF uniform, together with some pictures and paperwork, to the U.S. Air Power Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The museum’s director, Colonel William F. Curry, took a specific curiosity in Dunn’s logbook, particularly within the dates of Dunn’s 5 1/2 victories in 1941. After cautious examine of the logbook, Curry requested Air Vice Marshal Sir Patrick Dunn (no relation to William Dunn), to recheck the official information. It appeared to him that William Dunn’s declare to being the primary American ace is perhaps legitimate in spite of everything.

Air Vice Marshal Dunn and W.J Taunton of the RAF Historic Department did certainly recheck the official information. What they found confirmed each Curry’s suspicions and William Dunn’s info — Dunn had shot down 5 enemy plane and shared a victory with a pilot from one other squadron whereas he was a member of No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron. And William Dunn had scored his fifth victory earlier than Daymond or some other member of the all-American squadron had achieved a fifth.

In a letter dated March 19, 1968, Dunn acquired the next data from Raymond F. Toliver, historian of the American Fighter Aces Affiliation: “The American Fighter Aces Affiliation is completely satisfied to tell you that in a lately accomplished examine along side the Royal Air Power, victory credit clearly point out that you’re America’s first fighter ace of World Battle II.” The letter went on to sy that the information of the affiliation, which judges U.S. air victory claims, had been being modified to replicate Dunn’s achievement.

It took greater than 1 / 4 of a century, however the controversy was lastly over. “I used to be actually glad to have the matter settled,” Dunn mentioned.

The current examine’s conclusion, nevertheless, doesn’t have in mind the 9 1/2 victories (the fifth of which was confirmed on August 13, 1941) of Carl Davies, who’s formally listed as South African, or the six enemy plane destroyed by Jimmy Davies of Bernardsville, N.J., who is basically the primary American-born ace struggle. Davies shot down his fifth German plane greater than a yr earlier than Dunn scored his fifth victory, which signifies that the controversy isn’t over in spite of everything.

David Alan Johnson is a contract historical past author from England who now lives in Union, New Jersey. Recommended studying: “The Eagle Squadrons,” by Vern Haugland; “Battle Over Britain,” by Francis Mason; and “Fighter Pilot,” by William Dunn.

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