71st Aces High is a squadron that has been around for many years, flying IL2 1946, Aces High, IL2 Cliffs of Dover, DCS, RoF, and now IL2 GB and IL2 FC.
We fly as No. 71 Sqn RAF, which is most notably remembered as the first of the "Eagle" squadrons. The squadron formed during the Battle of Britain; nominally from American Volunteers serving in the RAF. Most members were recruited through an official plan into the RCAF led by AVM W.A. “Billy” Bishop, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC, ED and Clayton Knight, an American who served as a fighter pilot in No 44 Sqn RFC and No 206 Sqn RAF during WWI.
In reality, the squadron was made up of many nationalities usually led by an RAF Sqn Ldr but most of the pilots were American and Canadians serving in the RCAF because not many Europeans could tell the difference in the accent. In October 1942 the squadron was transferred with much ceremony to the USAAF along with the other two Eagle Squadrons as 334th FS, 4th FG. The Canadian and UK personnel were transferred to other squadrons and some of the Americans chose to remain in the RCAF or RAF instead of “going home” to the USAAF.
The squadron brought along with experience, a certain panache to the newly forming USAAF and a total lack of respect for dress regulations that only Commonwealth Fighter Pilots could pull off that drove the USAAF to distraction. A few Foreign Nationals serving the RAF, mostly from occupied countries, also transferred to the USAAF with the 334th being stood up. This led to the squadron gaining a reputation as a group of nonconformists in the RAF and USAAF.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that No 71 Squadron was viewed in this way. During WWI the RFC accepted foreign recruited and trained squadrons in Flanders and the Middle East. These squadrons were assigned an RFC/RAF squadron number to avoid confusion by duplicating numbers; No 71 was assigned to No 4 Squadron AFC.
The 334th continued to fly it’s Spitfire V’s and Mk IX’s until it was reequipped with the P-47, then the P-51 as part of 8th AF. After the war it was one of the first squadrons to reequip with the new F-86 Sabre and was the first squadron to use it operationally in Korea. The squadron went on to have an eventful career flying the F-100, F-105 and F-4E in Vietnam, and the F-15E in the Gulf War which it still fly’s today.
Interestingly, the RAF reformed No 71 Squadron in 1950 to fly the Canadair Sabre as part of 2 TAF. The virtual squadron retains the motley character of the original, made up of nearly equal numbers of American and Canadian pilots, with a good number of Brits, and a smattering of other nationalities, back to our roots with Australians, Poles, Hungarians and other Europeans and the easygoing nature and camaraderie that must have existed in a war time fighter squadron made up from disparate backgrounds.