Number 71 Squadron was formed as part of the RAF's Fighter Command on 19 September 1940 at Church Fenton. The RAF picked an Englishman, W. M. Churchill, to be Squadron Leader and the squadron was declared operational on 8 October 1940 and assigned the squadron code XR. On 24 October the squadron received it's first airplanes- three Brewster Buffaloes. The pilots hated the Buffaloes and they were soon trashed by intentionally ground looping them. The squadron started receiving Hurricane Is by 7 November then moved to Kirton-in-Lindsey on 21 November where training began in earnest. By January the squadron was declared combat ready and began flying convoy escort over the North Sea. S/L Curchill took ill and W. Taylor was chosen as his replacement. On 9 April No. 71 was moved to Martlesham Heath, in 11 Group and saw some sporadic action against the Germans. May saw the arrival of Hurricane IIAs and continued convoy patrol. On 23 June the squadron moved to North Weald and H. Woodhouse replaced Taylor as squadron leader. The 3 squadrons based at North Weald flew as a Wing and by this time the fight was shifting from purely defensive to taking the fight to the Germans in Northern France.
It wasn't until 2 July 1941 that the squadron could claim a victory. On that day the squadron was jumped by better than two dozen Me 109's while escorting Blenheim bombers on the coast of France. In the ensuing battle three Me 109's were shot down by S/L Woodhouse, Gus Daymond, and Bill Dunn, with the loss of one Eagle (Bill Hall), who was taken POW. Bill Dunn wrote about that engagement:
"My first big day came on 2 July 1941 when our squadron formed part of the fighter escort for twelve Blenheim bombers on Circus 29 to bomb the Lille electric power station in occupied France. Just before reaching Lille we were attacked by two enemy squadrons of Me 109Es and 109Fs. Their attacks continued during the bombers' run to the target and for about thirty minutes after, until the French coast was crossed near Gravelines. Since we were flying Hurricanes we formed the close escort for the Blenheims. High cover escort was provided by the faster Spitfires of our fighter wing.
I was flying the Red 2 position, with Squadron Leader Paddy Woodhouse leading, when I saw a Me 109F diving through the bomber formation at about 6,000 feet, squirting at the Blenheims as he dove. The 109 pilot made his break to port, right in front of me, maybe 75 or 100 yards away. I jammed the throttle wide open and, attacking the Me 109 from the port quarter, fired one burst of four seconds and three bursts of two seconds each. At about 50 yards (the Hun kite filled my whole windscreen) I could see my machine gun bullets striking all over the German's fuselage and wingroot. Then he began to smoke. I continued my attack down to 3,500 feet, again firing at point blank range. Now the 109 began burning furiously, dived straight down to the ground, where it crashed with a hell of an explosion near a crossroad. Scrub one Squarehead!"
Through July contact with the Germans became frequent with the focus being escort missions to the Lille, France area. Gus Daymond shot down an Me 109E on the 6th while escorting 6 Stirling bombers on Circus 35 to bomb the Lille Steel factories. Bill Dunn shared an Me 109E destroyed with a No 306 (Polish) pilot on that mission. Victor Buno claimed a probable Me 109 on the 19th, and Bill Dunn shot down a Me 109 on the 21st. Bill Dunn wrote of his fight on the 21st while escorting Stirlings on Circus 54 to the Lille steel factories:
During the first half of August both Dunn and Daymond were credited with kills and a tense rivalry developed between the two. On 3 August 1941 Gus Daymond shot down a Do 17Z attacking a convoy off Ordfordness. Daymond wrote of this combat:
On 9 August No. 71 flew escort on Circus 68. Bill Dunn's engine quit and whilst looking to put down in France remarkably managed to down another 109. Dunn recalled:
"He dived to near sea level when I attacked. I opened fire at 250 yards, and had to use emergency boost to keep up with him. I fired a three-second burst. The rear gunner fired back. His aim was inaccurate, and his fire was high and to starboard. The return fire ceased after my second burst. I saw bullets stike below the aircraft, and raised my aim and fired all my remaining ammunition high. The port motor started smoking. The aircraft hit the water, bounced 50 to 75 feet into the air, and plunged into the seas leaving a spot of oil on the surface. I saw no survivors."
In August the squadron received Spitfire IIa's. Bill Dunn said of the Spitfire:
"At 4,500 feet, just above a scattered cloud deck I saw an Me 109E some 2,000 feet above me and coming after me fast. The Kraut pilot tried to shoot me down from his higher position, but he missed. I pulled my gliding Spit's nose up sharply and fired my guns from 100 yards range, hitting the 109 squarely in the cockpit hood as it passed by me, a lucky shot. Practically on a stall, I half rolled and, following the Hun in his dive, fired three more bursts at him from a range of about 300 yards. Luckily, my engine started up again after the half roll, but it was running very rough without much power.
We both went down through the clouds, then just as we broke clear, a second Me 109, flew between the first 109 and my Spitfire. Firing at the second enemy aircraft from 75 yards, I shot some pieces off its starboard wing. This 109 had already been shot up by someone else, since I observed that it was trailing white glycol with back smoke pouring from its engine. The second 109 went down on its back, but I did not see it crash.
I continued to follow the first 109 down to about 900 feet, from where I saw it smash into the ground and explode in a fiery sheet of flame. With my engine giving me at least enough power to stay airbourne, I decided that this wasn't going to be the day the Huns captured me. So I headed westward towards Gravelines at 800 feet."
"It is the only aircraft that I've flown that had absolutely no bad habits. You can't even scare yourself in it. You can do a high speed stall, and it will do about a half flick and you can kick it out of a spin. You can do a low speed stall, and about the same thing will happen. You can bring it up on a stall, and then flutter down in a falling leaf without ever getting into a spin. It's got a very high rate of climb, it's very maneuverable, very fast--so fast that you could close the throttle and you'd feel yourself sliding through the air.
If you wanted to slow up, you had to put the propeller in fine pitch, which acted sort of like a brake. There were just no bad habits in that airplane at all. If you were coming in on a precautionary landing, for example, you could dump the gear and flaps and make your final approach at about 75 miles an hour. Over the fence was about 70, drop in at 65 miles per hour, and you'd stop rolling in a few hundred feet. Yet you could pour the coal to it on takeoff--a high boost, which would be about equal to 108 inches in an American aircraft--and by the time you crossed over the perimeter of the airfield you'd be doing well over 200 miles an hour. Then you could stick the nose up and climb so steeply that the leading edge of your wing blanked out the horizon. A lot of guys climbed right over onto their back."
On 27 August 1941 Bill Dunn put his new Spitfire to good use by shooting down down 2 Me 109Fs near Lille. Bill Geiger wrote of the summer's actions: "We were probably the top close escort squadron in the RAF. We certainly did more than anyone else. I think we had something of a record in that we never lost a bomber due to fighter action in the summmer of 1941." Early in September No 71 began transitioning to the Spitfire Vb and by month's end Gus Daymond & Chesley Peterson each destroyed 2 and Carrol McColpin got 1. Of his first kill, a Me 109 shot down near Le Touquet on 7 Sept 1941, Peterson commented:
"Well, I'd seen this Jerry and I wanted like hell to go after him. But one of the first laws you learn in the air is to stay in formation where you can protect your pals and they protect you. The guys who get into trouble are those that go off alone, trying to do something brilliant on their own. Impulsive and dumb fellows like that, more often than not stick their heads into the Hun bobby traps--and get their heads shot off. You see, Jerry will send a single plane stooging along like a sitting target, just hoping that some emotionally unstable guy won't be able to stand the temptation and will break formation and attack. Usually before the sucker gets really started, three or four Huns drop out of the sky faster than he can see and they shoot him down. I'd seen this Hun and, stooge or no stooge, I wanted to go after him; but I wouldn't have dared until I got the order. But the C.O, had seen that this was honestly a lone Hun and he sent me down. When I went for him, the Hun flew along like a new boy, like some dumb kid just out of training who didn't know what it was all about. He was sort of floating along there without even taking evasive action and I doubt if he knew I was anywhere near him before I gave him a squirt, and he was on fire and going down."In October 1941 No. 71 shot down nine German aircraft which lead all RAF squadrons. 2 October was a good day for No. 71 with 5 enemy aircraft shot down, S/L Meares getting credit for 1/2 destroyed, Arthur Roscoe downing an Me 109, Carrol McColpin claiming 2 Me 109's destroyed and one shared, Newton Anderson and Scarborough sharing in the destruction of a Me 109F.
Meares wrote in his combat report:
"I was leading Blue Section. The squadron was flying as top cover for the wing; we were at 21,000 feet. We had crossed the French coast at Berck and were turning right over Hesdin when I saw 20 Me. 109s climbing underneath and ahead ot the wing. The wing commander detailed 71 Squadron to attack.
I ordered Blue and Green sections to attack and using our superior height-about 3,000 feet-we dived on the Me.s. I closed on the rear of one of the nearest section and gave a six-second burst from dead astern. he started to pour glycol and I saw stikes all over the fuselage near the cockpit. He turned slowly to port and dived straight for the ground."
Art Roscoe wrote in his combat report:
I was Blue IV in the middle section of 71 Squadron. We crossed the French coast at 21,000 feet and observed a formation of 109s in front at about 17,000 feet. The Commanding Officer ordered Green and Blue Section to attack and we dived. After Blue I and II had engaged, Blue III and myself observed two 109s off by themselves. We took after them and they dived away. I gave chase with full revs and boost and fired a short burst of cannon and machine-gun from long range. After several seconds the 109 pulled up and turned to port. I closed to 300-400 yards dead astern and emptied my guns into him. I observed black smoke from his nose and I broke off due to lack on ammunition. I then went down with Blue III to about 1,000 feet and came home. The Me 109 I had attacked was later seen to burst into flames and I claim it as destroyed.McColpin described his engagement:
"I was flying as alternate squadron leader, No. 2 to Stanley Meares, when I saw the Me 109Fs climbing to intercept up. I called out the bogies to Meares. Being in the lead, he and I started accelerating first, diving for the enemy formation, and rapidly drew away from the remainder of the squadron. While Meares was firing at the nearest 109 I overtook the same plane from below and fired a half-second burst from about 100 yards. It burst into flame. I broke away to port and found myself in position for an attack on another 109, so I gave him a burst. He pulled up and dived with smoke pouring out. I thought I saw a man bail out. The plane was seen to hit the ground. I saw another Me 109 below, dived on him, and followed him down to 3,000 feet where I gave him a one-second burst. He never pulled out, and he hit the deck as I pulled up."Later that month McColpin made ace when he shot down two more Me 109s. He wrote in his combat report:
"Five or six miles inland over France, 55 miles east of Dunkirk, I saw six Me 109s in two sections line astern at 500 feet. I pulled up behind them, and seemed to be unobserved. I fired a two second burst with cannon and machine guns, and the rear man in the port section blew up. Firing a similar burst, I shot the rear man in the starboard section. He burst into flames. I saw both Me 109s crash to the ground. I claim them destroyed from 75 yards. I damaged a railroad engine on my return."By November Bill Dunn, Gus Daymond, and Carroll McColpin had become aces. On 15 November, S/L Meares was killed in a collision and Peterson took over command making No 71 an all American outfit. On 14 December the squadron moved back to Martlesham Heath.
Bad weather during the first 3 months of 1942 resulted in little action for No. 71. In April the squadron flew 661 missions, mostly bomber escort & fighter sweeps over France. On 27 April while escorting bombers over St. Omer S/L Peterson claimed two destroyed, P/Os Coen & McPharlin destroyed three between them, and three more were damaged with the loss of one squadron member. On 2 May the squadron moved to Debden and both May & June were busy months flying a variety of missions over France with the most action coming on 1 June over Bruges, Belgium with claims of 1 destroyed (Peterson), two damaged, and one probable. During the month of July the squadron only flew 73 operational missions, primarily because they were preparing to go to the Soviet Union, however this was called off. No. 71 took part in the Dieppe raid of 19 August and this proved to be their last operation of any significance. Of the 73 enemy aircraft destroyed by the Eagle Squadrons 41 were claimed by No. 71. On 29 September 1942 No. 71 squadron was disbanded and most of it's members joined the the USAAF and were attached to the 334th FS, Fourth Fighter Goup.