Before the United States’ entry into World War II, American volunteers were already serving as combat veterans in Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons (71st, 121st, and 133rd). Under American law, it was illegal for United States citizens to join the armed forces of foreign nations. In doing so, they lost their citizenship, although Congress passed a blanket pardon in 1944. Even so, hundreds if not thousands of American citizens volunteered to fly with the Royal Air Force before America officially entered the war in December 1941. Perhaps the most famous result of this were the Eagle Squadrons.When the United States entered the war, these units, and the American pilots in them, were transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces, 8th Air Force, forming the 4th Fighter Group on Sept. 12, 1942.
On 29 September 1942, the Eagle Squadrons joined the 4th Pursuit Group, VIII Fighter Command. Nos.71, 121 and 133 Squadrons, RAF, became 334th, 335th, and 336th Squadrons respectively. These units continued to see service throughout the war in Europe. The 4th Fighter Group was a record setter throughout the air war over Europe, justly earning the motto “Fourth But First.”
It was the first fighter group to use belly tanks, the first to penetrate Germany, the first to accompany bombers to Berlin, the first to accomplish the England-to-Russia shuttle and the first to down jet fighters. The group was credited with the destruction of 1,016 enemy aircraft, more than any other 8th Air Force unit, and produced 38 aces.
Constituted as 4th Fighter Group on 22 Aug 1942. Activated in England on 12 Sep 1942. Former members of RAF Eagle Squadrons formed the nucleus of the group, which served in combat from Oct 1942 to Apr 1945 and destroyed more enemy planes in the air and on the ground than any other fighter group of Eighth AF. Operated first with Spitfires but changed to P-47’s in Mar 1943 and to P-51’s in Apr 1944. On numerous occasions escorted bombers that attacked factories, submarine pens, V-weapon sites, and other targets in France, the Low Countries, or Germany. Went out sometimes with a small force of bombers to draw up the enemy’s fighters so they could be destroyed in aerial combat. At other times attacked the enemy’s air power by strafing and dive-bombing airfields. Also hit troops, supply depots, roads, bridges, rail lines, and trains. Participated in the intensive campaign against the German Air Force and aircraft industry during Big Week, 20-25 Feb 1944. Received a DUC for aggressiveness in seeking out and destroying enemy aircraft and in attacking enemy air bases, 5 Mar-24 Apr 1944. Flew interdiction and counter-air missions during the invasion of Normandy in Jun 1944. Supported the airborne invasion of Holland in Sep. Participated in the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945. Covered the airborne assault across the Rhine in Mar 1945.
The 4th Fighter Group was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, N.J., Nov. 10, 1945. The unit was reactivated at Selfridge Field, Mich., Sept. 9, 1946, as the United States began to rearm due to Cold War pressures.
Spitfire V (9/42 – 4/43)
Hurricane I and II (9/42 – 4/43)
P-47C Thunderbolt (3/43 – 2/44)
P-47D Thunderbolt (6/43 – 2/44)