Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot: The First American Ace of World War II

Foreword by Edward M. Coffman
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 272
  • Book Info
    Fighter Pilot
    Book Description:

    At the age of twelve, American William R. Dunn decided to become a fighter pilot. In 1939 he joined the Canadian Army and was soon transferred to the Royal Air Force. He was the first pilot in the famous Eagle Squadron of American volunteers to shoot down an enemy aircraft and later became the first American ace of the war. After joining the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, he saw action in the Normandy invasion and in Patton's sweep across France. Twenty years later he fought again in Vietnam. Dunn keenly conveys the fighter pilot's experience of war -- the tension of combat, the harsh grip of fear, the love of aircraft, the elation of victory, the boisterous comradeship and competition of the pilot brotherhood. Fighter Pilot is both a gripping story and a unique historical document.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4609-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Edward M. Coffman

    Most of us enjoy adventure vicariously. Television, movies, and books provide all we want of such experience. It is different for a few, as Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out in his essay “Heroism”: “But whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge.” Bill Dunn was such a man, and the time in which he lived was certainly filled with crises. His memoir is an extraordinary adventure story spanning the turbulent years from the mid-1930s to the early 1970s.

    As a teenager in the early days of the Great Depression, he not only hunted wild horses on the...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Prologue: The Early Years
    (pp. 1-15)

    Since I’ve got to start some place, I’ll begin at the very beginning. The Lord said, “Let there be light,” and on 16 November 1916 He created me, like you, in His own image. This took place at Minneapolis, Minnesota. My father, Walter, was a doctor of medicine, a physician and surgeon. My mother’s name was Ellen. Eighteen months after my birth, my kid brother was born. My immediate family was American born, but our ancestors immigrated to the United States from several European nations. Some came from France, via Canada, in the 1870s. Others came directly from Norway in...

  6. 1. The Ladies from Hades
    (pp. 16-29)

    On September 1, 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939 England and France declared war on Germany. On 6 September 1939 I was on a train that crossed the Canadian-United States border enroute to Vancouver, British Columbia. My intention was to volunteer for military service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Down the narrow aisle in the passenger car came two Canadian officials, a customs and an immigration officer, checking travelers’ identification and questioning their purpose for entering Canada. They asked me why I was going to Vancouver and I truthfully told them my purpose. For a...

  7. 2. First from the Eyries
    (pp. 30-43)

    In October of 1940 a message was sent from the British Air Ministry to all army and navy units requesting the names of personnel who wished to serve with the Royal Air Force and who had some previous flying experience—at least 500 hours as pilots. These persons, if accepted, were to be immediately transferred to the RAF to make up the heavy pilot losses suffered by Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. Three of us, all Americans, in the Seaforth Highlanders, qualified more or less and so applied for transfer. We were Corporal Jimmy Crowley, Private Jack Doherty,...

  8. 3. Baptism to Air Battle
    (pp. 44-62)

    Back at Martlesham Heath, Flight Lieutenant George Brown took me under his wing—and some wing it proved to be. We spent at least five hours in the air the first day doing formation flying, aerobatics, simulated attacks on bombers, and simulated fighter-to-fighter dogfighting. George was a very tough instructor. He was a stickler for perfection, and nothing less than perfection suited him. He was a strict, hard man who demanded every ounce of effort from the pilots of his flight. In summary, he knew his business as a fighter pilot, and he expected us to damned well know ours....

  9. 4. For the King’s Shilling
    (pp. 63-76)

    August proved to be a month of contrasting events—some good, some bad, some in between. To begin with the bad events, elderly Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh “Boom” Trenchard, the father of the Royal Air Force and its first Chief of Staff, paid an inspection visit to No. 71 “Eagle” Squadron at North Weald, “To meet our very first American allies,” he said. Well, we had a terrier-mix dog, our squadron mascot, named “Pipsqueak,” who didn’t approve of all the pomp and ceremony of this inspection nor of the inspecting officer. Commented Sir Hugh when he returned to the...

  10. 5. The Ace
    (pp. 77-88)

    It was still pitch dark on the morning of 27 August 1941 when the batwoman (yes, I said woman, a WAAF type) knocked on my quarters door, entered the room uninvited, and turned on that bloody bright light. “Four o’clock, sir,” she cheerfully informed me. “You’ve got to be at dispersal in an hour. Come on now. sir, hop to it.” Then she shoved a cup of boiling hot tea under my nose. How the hell could she be so cheerful at such an ungodly hour as four in the morning. I think she took a perverted delight in waking...

  11. 6. Holiday at the Seaside
    (pp. 89-102)

    I awoke sometime in the late afternoon of the next day, 28 August, still groggy from the pain-killing shot the doctor at the airfield had given me and the other medications they gave me in the hospital operating room. I didn’t seem to hurt any place, just felt lousy and tired out. The hospital room appeared to be very white and clean, with bright sunlight streaming through two tall windows. There was one bed next to mine. It was empty. In the sunlit corner of the room was another bed, and in it was a young fellow about twenty-two years...

  12. 7. In the Eye of the Storm
    (pp. 103-118)

    I arrived back at North Weald airfield and the squadron about noon the next day, after a pleasant overnight visit with Wendy at her London flat. My squadron buddies welcomed me enthusiastically at lunch time, but they had to get right back to dispersal; a big fighter sweep over France was on for that afternoon. The sorry news, told to me by Uncle Sam, was that my very young and good friend, Tommy McGerty, had been shot down and killed on 17 September. It happened on a bomber escort mission, a circus. No one really seemed to know exactly how...

  13. 8. Air Offensive Europe
    (pp. 119-131)

    The 406th Fighter Group entered the fray with a fury that was spurred by Colonel Grossetta’s words as he opened his fighter’s throttle on takeoff to lead the first full group mission: “All right guys, here we go! Remember, no guts, no glory!” An hour later we sustained our first combat casualty—Major Bill “The Green Hornet” Merriam, who was senior group operations officer. We had flown into northern France, our mission to dive-bomb and strafe a German airfield. The airfield was defended by all sorts of flak guns—heavy, medium, and light—and after the first section of four...

  14. 9. D-Day and Operation Overlord
    (pp. 132-145)

    It seemed I had barely fallen asleep when I was suddenly awakened by the sound of multitudes of aircraft engines overhead. Ours or theirs? I lay in my canvas cot and listened for a moment. The engines didn’t have the unsynchronized throb of the enemy’s bombers; must be ours. I looked at my watch; just past midnight and raining. L.C. wasn’t in his cot. He must be at group operations. I figured I’d better go find out what the hell was going on, so I quickly dressed and went slopping through the downpour to ops. When I arrived, there was...

  15. 10. The Battle for France
    (pp. 146-158)

    Operation Cobra, which was the code name for the massive air attack on Saint Lo, was, as I’ve already mentioned, carried out on 24 and 25 July 1944. Saint Lo was the location selected for our armies to break through the German lines and begin their liberation sweep across France. On 1 August General Patton’s armored columns smashed through the enemy positions beyond Saint Lo and began their rapid advance along the Loire River and on toward Paris. Patton was moving so fast that he hadn’t the time to protect his right flank from the large number of German troops...

  16. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  17. 11. War in the Far East
    (pp. 159-179)

    I got my leave in the States all right—one whole week with Martha and Jerry! Martha seemed a bit fed up with me going off to war again so soon, but it couldn’t be helped. It had been a long war—nearly five years—and it would prove to be still longer. My next assignment, before going to the Far East, was to attend the Command and General Staff School (Air Staff Course) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This course, in peacetime, lasted for a year, but in wartime had been compressed into three months, and they were still teaching...

  18. Epilogue: The Later Years
    (pp. 180-194)

    When I arrived back in the States from China, a bunch of us went to the “Top of the Mark” hotel in San Francisco to celebrate. There we spent several happy hours with a glass of cold milk in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other. I don’t know which tasted better. Transportation arranged, I went to Picton, Ontario, to see my wife Martha and my son Jerry. The long years of waiting for me to return from the wars had somehow changed things between Martha and me. When she, Jerry, and I met, Martha was accompanied...

  19. Appendix: The War Birds
    (pp. 195-226)
  20. Index
    (pp. 227-234)