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4th Fighter Group
P-51D Mustang of the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group
Active12 September 1942–10 November 1945
CountryUnited States
BranchUnited States Army Air Forces
Garrison/HQRAF Debden
Nickname(s)Debden Eagles
Motto(s)Fourth But First
EngagementsAir Offensive, Europe
Market Garden
Battle of the Bulge
Invasion of Germany
DecorationsDistinguished Unit Citation
Edward W. Anderson
Chesley G. Peterson
Donald Blakeslee
Everett W. Stewart
4th Fighter Group Emblem
334th Fighter SquadronQP
335th Fighter SquadronWD
336th Fighter SquadronVF
Aircraft flown
FighterSupermarine Spitfire 1942–1943
P-47 Thunderbolt 1943–1944
P-51 Mustang 1944–1945

The 4th Fighter Group was an American element of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force during World War II.[1][2] The group was known as the Debden Eagles because it was created from the three Eagle Squadrons of the Royal Air Force: No. 71, No. 121 Squadron RAF, and No. 133 Squadron RAF.[3] These squadrons became the 334th, 335th, and 336th Fighter Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Group based at RAF Debden. The group was the first fighter group to fly combat missions over German airspace, the first to escort bombers over Berlin, and the first selected to escort bombers on shuttle bombing runs landing in Russia. The group was credited with shooting down 1,016 German planes.[4]

Eagle Squadrons

The Eagle Squadrons were formed in 1940 with volunteer pilots from the United States prior to its entry into World War II in December 1941.[5] The three Eagle Squadrons formed between September 1940 and July 1941 were turned over to the Eighth Air Force. They existed until 29 September 1942 and became the 4th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force. The 71, 121, and 133 squadrons became the 334th, 335th and 336th Fighter Squadron and transferred as complete units.

European theatre

Lieutenant Howard Hively of the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group with his dog mascot "Duke" and a P-47 Thunderbolt at Debden, October 1943

The group was briefly at RAF Bushey Hall before moving to Debden in late September, 1942. They served in combat over Europe from October 1942 to April 1945 and was the longest serving USAAF fighter group in the European theatre of World War II. It was assigned to VIII Fighter Command, 12 September 1942 and the 4th Air Defense (later, 65th Fighter) Wing, July 1943 – November 1945.

The group operated until 1 April 1943 using Spitfires. Aircraft were changed to P-47 Thunderbolts on 1 April 1943 and then to P-51 Mustangs on 25 February 1944.

The 4th was the first group to escort U.S. bombers over Berlin on 4 March 1944. The group earned Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for aggressiveness in attacking enemy aircraft and air bases, 5 March – 24 April 1944. The group escorted bombers in the first shuttle bombing mission from Britain to Russia on 21 June 1944, supported the airborne invasion of Holland in September, participated in the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945, and covered the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945.

The 4th claimed 583 enemy planes shot down in air-to-air combat during the war, for a victory-loss ratio of 2.35-to-1. Pilot losses were 125 killed-in-action (including missing-presumed-dead) and 105 prisoners-of-war, of 553 pilots serving, or 42%.

The group was credited by VIII Fighter Command as having the most combined victories over German aircraft (583 air, 469 ground against 248 combat losses) of any group in the Eighth Air Force, and scoring the fourth highest number of air-to-air victories in Europe. Aircraft losses totaled 248 planes: 8 Spitfire VB, 28 P-47C and P-47D, and 212 P-51B and P-51D.

The group moved to RAF Steeple Morden from July to November, 1945 and returned to the U.S. and was inactivated on 10 November 1945.

Top aces

Triple ace Ralph Kidd Hofer in his P-47 Thunderbolt "Sho-Me".

Top aces (aerial victories) in the group were Dominic Salvatore Gentile (21.83),[6] Duane Beeson (17.33), John T. Godfrey (16.33), James A. Goodson (15), Ralph K. Hofer (15), and Donald Blakeslee (14.5).

Don Gentile joined the RAF 133 Eagle Squadron after going to Canada for training in 1940. He was with the squadron when it converted to the 336th Fighter Squadron in 1942. General Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to Gentile as a one-man Air Force. John Godfrey was Gentile's close friend and wingman; Winston Churchill referred to the pair as Damon and Pythias of the twentieth century.[7]

Duane Beeson joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and was transferred to Britain to join RAF No. 71 Eagle Squadron in 1942.[8] He was assigned to the 334th Fighter Squadron in September 1942. He was shot down over Germany on 5 April 1944 and was held in Stalag Luft I until April 1945.

James Goodson joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 before transferring to No. 43 Squadron RAF, followed by No. 416 Squadron RAF, then the No. 133 Eagle Squadron, based at Debden.[9] In September 1942, he transferred to the 4th Fighter Group, 336th Squadron. He was shot down near Peenemünde 20 June 1944 and was held in Stalag Luft III until liberation in 1945.

Ralph Kidd Hofer was a light heavyweight boxer who joined the RCAF in 1941 and transferred to the 4th Fighter Group, 334th Squadron at Debden in July 1943.[10] Hofer and his plane were lost 2 July 1944 near Mostar, Yugoslavia after a bomber escort mission to Budapest.


Don Gentile (left) and Donald Blakeslee receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Dwight D. Eisenhower

See also


  1. ^ Frank E. Speer (1999). The Debden Warbirds: The Fourth Fighter Group in World War II. Schiffer Publishing, Limited. ISBN 978-0-7643-0725-6.
  2. ^ Troy L. White (12 July 2015). Adventures of the 4th Fighter Group. Stardust Studios. ISBN 978-0-578-16605-6.
  3. ^ Philip D. Caine (July 1994). Eagles of the RAF: The World War II Eagle Squadrons. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7881-1114-3.
  4. ^ Frank Speer (2009). Eighty-One Aces of the 4th Fighter Group. Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0-7643-3374-3.
  5. ^ Philip D. Caine (2008). The RAF Eagle Squadrons: American Pilots who Flew for the Royal Air Force. Fulcrum Pub. ISBN 978-1-55591-702-9.
  6. ^ Philip Kaplan (19 February 2006). Two-Man Air Force: Don Gentile & John Godfrey World War Two Flying Aces. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-4738-0065-6.
  7. ^ Edward Jablonski (1 January 1972). Airwar, vol.4: wings of fire. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-04277-2.
  8. ^ Eric Friedheim; Samuel W. Taylor (1945). Fighters Up: The Story of American Fighter Pilots in the Battle of Europe. Macrae-Smith-Company. pp. 149–.
  9. ^ Bernstein, Adam (1 May 2014). "James Goodson dies; leading Army Air Forces ace in World War II". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  10. ^ Troy L. White (13 January 2003). Kidd Hofer-- the Last of the Screwball Aces: The Story of Lt. Ralph K. Hofer and the 4th Fighter Group in WWII. Stardust Studios. ISBN 978-0-9727413-8-5.