First at Last

First at Last!

First at Last!

The storybook career of Lt. Col. W.R. Dunn, American’s first ace in War War II, AMAer and active RCer

By Jack Aycock

As seen in the January 1978 issue of Model Aviation.

Pilot Officer Dunn in cockpit of a Spitfire belonging to No. 71 Eagle Squadron, 1941. Badly wounded after two victories which made him an ace, his wartime record was overlooked for 25 years.Pilot Officer Dunn in cockpit of a Spitfire belonging to No. 71 Eagle Squadron, 1941. Badly wounded after two victories which made him an ace, his wartime record was overlooked for 25 years.

The Battle of Britain. Spitfires, Hurricanes and the famous No. 71 Eagle Squadron or the Royal Air Force are all part of the heritage of America's first ace or World War II, William R. Dunn. At age 61 he has given up flying fighters and is now an active radio-control modeler, AMA 82765. A member of the Pikes Peak RC Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he is content with designing, building and flying RC models and acting as a judge at dub contests in between numerous other activities and interests.

Retired from the United States Air force as a Lieutenant Colonel, he is a veteran of 38 years of military service during which he served in the armed forces of three countries, fought in three wars and found himself wounded four times. Quite a record!

August 27, 1941 stands as a hallmark for Dunn, who as a Pilot Officer with the Royal Air Force in No. 71 Eagle Squadron destroyed two German Me-109 fighters with his Spitfire Mark IIA and became America's first ace of WW II. This fact was not made known for some time and full recognition was not bestowed on W. R. Dunn until 1965. At that time he donated some Eagle Squadron mementoes to the Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson A.F.B. and, after complete investigation by the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force, it was confirmed that, in fact, Pilot Officer Dunn was credited with a total of five and a half victories on August 27, 1941. U.S. Army Air Force historians had credited Lt. Boyd "Buzz" Wagner with this honor for over 20 years, but the record books have been corrected and Bill is the first—at last!

Sergeant Dunn in England in 1940 after shooting down two Stukas—from the ground! Found with a Canadian regiment.Sergeant Dunn in England in 1940 after shooting down two Stukas—from the ground! Found with a Canadian regiment.

The military service of "Bill," as he is known to local modelers, began in 1934 when he enlisted with the U.S. 4th Infantry Regiment at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. Serving out his enlistment. he again signed his name on the line at Vancouver. British Columbia, and in September of 1939, found himself in England with the Seaforth Highlanders Regiment of the Canadian Army as a Sergeant. with a mortar platoon.

Combat action in France with the Canadian forces was fast and furious until the British Expeditionary Force was pushed off Europe at Dunkirk. Bill was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated and for some time was carried as missing in action. Not so, as he remained with the Seaforth Highlanders as part of the defense of Britain against German invasion.

As the Battle of Britain was raging in the skies above, Bill found himself still on the ground longing to join in the flying and fighting with Spitfires and Hurricanes. In August of 1940 he had his chance, but not from the cockpit! Firing a Lewis machine gun single handed, he downed two JU-87B Stuka dive bombers that were attacking his camp near Borden in Hampshire, England. These aircraft are not accredited in his total kills as a pilot.

At Tern Hill Flying School, England, in 1940, Dunn poses with Miles Master advanced trainer. In spite of an RAF requirement for 500 hours, Dunn managed to qualify with some 100 hours by “telling a white lie.” With only 171 hours he was then posted to No. At Tern Hill Flying School, England, in 1940, Dunn poses with Miles Master advanced trainer. In spite of an RAF requirement for 500 hours, Dunn managed to qualify with some 100 hours by “telling a white lie.” With only 171 hours he was then posted to No. 71 Squadron as combat ready.

During December of 1940 the Royal Air Force was in dire need of fighter pilots and the call went out to all army units that volunteers were needed. The minimum requirement was a total of 500 flying hours. Bill told a little white lie (he had only a little over l00 hours) and soon found himself at a service flying school in the Miles "Master" aircraft. He graduated three weeks ahead of time even though he had never flown a 900-hp airplane equipped with flaps, retractable landing gear, and adjustable prop. He had a grand total of 164 hours and was about to become a full­fledged fighter pilot in the Hurricane after receiving seven hours in the machine and firing the guns twice! A total of 171 hours, and he was posted to the No. 7 I Eagle Squadron as a combat-ready pilot in the Hurricane MK II A.

In this Hurricane, Dunn ran up 3-1/2 kills, the first also being the first victory for the Eagle Squadron. Note four kills on the cowl in front of the Walt Disney Fighting Eagle character. In this Hurricane, Dunn ran up 3-1/2 kills, the first also being the first victory for the Eagle Squadron. Note four kills on the cowl in front of the Walt Disney Fighting Eagle character.

After several months of combat operations, Bill claimed his first victory, an Me-109, on July 2, 1941. It was not only his first, but also the Eagle Squadron's first aerial victory. On July 6 he shared another victory over an Me-109 with a Polish pilot from 306 Squadron, bringing his total to one and a half.

Mid-August 1941 found the squadron being equipped with the long-awaited Spitfires. With Bill's victory mark at three and a half, two more Me-109s being shot down in the interim, he was quite happy to say good-bye to the Hurricane, as the Me-109 outclassed it in the air; he had had two bail-outs, one due to an engine fire on take­off, the other after allowing an Me-109 to get too close and riddle his ship, flaming it over the English Channel.

August 27, 1941. Bill squeezed into the cockpit of his Spitfire IIA for what would be a most historic mission. With over 100 combat missions under his belt this was to be an escort for Blenheim bombers over the Lille steelworks in France. On that day Bill was credited with two Me-109 kills, making him the first American Ace of World War 11. In the course or action he was badly wounded, but managed to struggle back across the channel to Hawkinge field near Folkestone where he landed. Packed off to a hospital. he had wounds classed as “serious." The front of his right foot was amputated, two German machine gun bullets removed from his right leg, and another bullet was found to have creased his scalp. Alter a hospital stay of three months he had flown his last combat mission with the Royal Air Force. Promoted to Flying Officer. W. R. Dunn's name was dropped from the Eagle Squadron roster. About this time war correspondents were comparing American-manned Royal Air Force fighter squadrons with the famed Lafayette Escadrille of World War I. As Bill was out of action with wounds he received little or no publicity It was to take over 25 years to give Dunn his full credit as America's first Ace of World War I.

Following convalescent leave he was assigned as a Flight Lieutenant in Canada. There, as a fighter OTU instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force. his combat experience was passed on to fledgling pilots as he instructed in combat tactics and aerial gunnery. Following this, he was promoted to acting Squadron Leader and given command of No. 130 Fighter Squadron, Bagotville, Quebec, Canada.

Anxious to get back into action, Bill transferred in June 1943, with the rank of First Lieutenant, to the U.S. Army Air Corps' 53rd Fighter Group. A rapid promotion to Captain found him in England with the 406th Fighter Group flying P-47 Thunderbolts in September of 1943. Engaged in low-level ground support missions, including the D-Day invasion of Europe, Bill was still able to raise his score to eight and a half, with at least seven additional unconfirmed foes because destruction could not be confirmed. Throughout this duty Bill was unaware that when he transferred to the Army Air Force his Royal Air Force victories were not recorded. As a result he would have to wait to officially become our first Ace of WWII.

In China during 1945, Major Dunn was fighting the CHICOMS—note 12 crosses on his P-51. He served in many significant advisory and command roles during 38-year career, ending in Vietnam.In China during 1945, Major Dunn was fighting the CHICOMS—note 12 crosses on his P-51. He served in many significant advisory and command roles during 38-year career, ending in Vietnam.

At hostility's end in Europe, he was transferred to the China-Burma area as Commanding officer of Liuchow, a P-51 fighter base. When the war in the Pacific ended, he was assigned in Shanghai as director of all military air transport in China. Another transfer, then as Air Advisor to the 4th Fighter Group (P-51) of the Chinese Air Force, he fought against the CHICOMS until December of 1946 when he returned home as a Lieutenant Colonel.

The United States Air Force continued to utilize Bill and his vast experience as he was assigned to a number of important air operations duties, such as fighter advisor to the Imperial Iranian Air Force and Brazilian Air Forces. Ironically, the Iranian Air Force was equipped with P-47s and Hurricanes. Bill felt right at home as the Hurricane was the airplane in which he had made his first kill.

During the period 1967-1968 Dunn was engaged in yet another war, Vietnam. Too old to be considered for combat flying. he was assigned to the Seventh Air Force as a tactical weapons and force officer, planning air-strike operations against the V.C.

February of 1973 found Bill Dunn retired from active duty after 38 years of military service and an incredible war record. He had flown 234 combat missions, accumulated 519 flying hours, shot down 15-1/2 enemy planes, destroyed 12 more on the ground. plus 168 vehicles, and sank a 4000-ton troopship.

Lt. Col. Dunn at the Pikes Peak RC field with scratch built Dave Platt Spitfire, converted to an MK-V-B with Eagle Squadron markings. He’s now modeling the Thunderbolt that he flew in Europe.Lt. Col. Dunn at the Pikes Peak RC field with scratch built Dave Platt Spitfire, converted to an MK-V-B with Eagle Squadron markings. He’s now modeling the Thunderbolt that he flew in Europe.

Today finds Bill designing and building models of aircraft he had flown in combat For his first-ever RC project Bill built a Dave Platt Spitfire from scratch, converting it into a MK-V-B complete with Eagle Squadron markings. Currently, he is working on a P-47 Thunderbolt which will be finished the same as the one he flew in Europe. His capable design work can be attested to by the author who has flown his “original'' bipe a very fine performer. but, not a fighter! Bill's comment on this was, "I need a trainer but want one that looks like an airplane." That is the attitude and outlook of the man who is the first American Ace of World War II.

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Lt. Col. Dunn for his assistance in supplying records, photographs, and recollections for the above article.

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