Legendary WWII 4th Fighter Group Association Plans October Reunion


The Association of the 4th Fighter Group will hold a reunion this year in Savannah, Georgia, from Sept. 28 – Oct. 1. The association consists of servicemen, family members and devotees of the World War II 4th Fighter Group, which was based at the Royal Air Force’s Debden Airfield, some 20 miles south of Cambridge, England. The location of the reunion is nearby the “Mighty Eighty Air Force Museum,” and tours will be a part of the program.

“The Fourth” was unique in that it originated as the three “Eagle Squadrons” of American volunteers who (mostly) crossed the U.S. border into Canada while the U.S. was still neutral to join the Royal Canadian Air Force and fight for England in her time of greatest need. Risking their citizenship, the volunteer pilots (many of whom were adventure-seeking civilian pilots who could not qualify for the United States Army Air Forces—USAAF) received military flight training and made their way across the Atlantic to fly for the RAF. Those assigned to fighters flew Spitfires with No. 71, No. 122 and No. 133 Squadrons, later dubbed the Eagle Squadrons, reminiscent of the expat U.S. pilots of the World War I Lafayette Escadrille.

After Pearl Harbor, the Eagles traded their RAF blue uniforms for USAAF “pinks and greens”—khaki trousers with olive drab tunics. They became 334, 335 and 336 Squadrons, ultimately trading in their Spitfires for Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (briefly) and then P-51 Mustangs. Soldiering on until VE Day in May 1945, the Fourth went on to destroy more than 1,000 enemy aircraft, more than any other group in the war.

Few of the original “Debdenites” remain, but according to Tim McCann, editor of the association’s newsletter “The Eagle Eye,” 335 Squadron pilot William Newell recently celebrated his 99th birthday. He joined the Fourth in March 1944 at the age of 19. It’s not clear if Newell will attend this year’s reunion, but previous gatherings have hosted the likes of late Group Commander Colonel Don Blakeslee and Squadron Leader Major James Goodson, pricelessly swapping Debden memories over a cold beverage—or two (or more). Equally welcome and respected are the numerous ground crewmen and other support personnel who kept the Mustangs flying. And this year, more than ever, family members and admirers of the now-departed heroes.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. As a young man my father was one of those who traveled to Canada with the intent of joining the RCAF.
    All was going well until they got to the point where he was told to “ Raise his right hand and swear allegiance To the Crown”
    At that time it would have potentially cost him his American citizenship and that was something he was not willing to do.
    He returned to Washington and went to work at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, a position which kept him safe from the draft.
    The requirement to become a British subject apparently was later dropped.
    He was a “little guy” only about 5”6’ and 140 pounds and would have fit very well in a Spitfire.