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The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell During World War II

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With the outbreak of World War II, British Royal Air Force (RAF) officials sought to train aircrews outside of England, safe from enemy attack and poor weather. In the United States six civilian flight schools dedicated themselves to instructing RAF pilots; the first, No. 1 British Flying Training School (BFTS), was located in Terrell, Texas, east of Dallas.  Tom Killebrew explores the history of the Terrell Aviation School and its program with RAF pilots. Most of the early British students had never been in an airplane or even driven an automobile before arriving in Texas to learn to fly. The cadets trained in the air on aerobatics, instrument flight, and night flying, while on the ground they studied navigation, meteorology, engines, and armaments--even spending time in early flight simulators. By the end of the war, more than two thousand RAF cadets had trained at Terrell, cementing relations between Great Britain and the United States and forming lasting bonds with the citizens of Terrell.

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Chapter 1 Inception

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Inception

Chapter 1

4

At the close of World War I in 1918, the Royal Air

Force (formerly the Royal Flying Corps) contained

185 squadrons, 291,175 personnel, and was the largest air power in the world. During the 1920s and

1930s Britain’s military power declined precipitously. By 1922 the number of squadrons had fallen to twenty-eight, only eight of which were in England, and only three of these were allocated for home defense; the rest of the RAF squadrons were scattered throughout the British Empire. At the same time, the French air force deployed 126 squadrons.1

Facing financial crisis, successive British governments slashed military spending and appropriations for armaments.

During the 1920s, Marshal of the Royal Air Force

Sir Hugh Trenchard, commander of the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, laid the groundwork for the modern RAF. Trenchard fought doggedly and stubbornly in the face of considerable political and inter-service opposition to save the RAF as an independent service. He also formed a reserve of volunteer pilots who trained on weekends and could be called upon in case of emergency. The low cost appealed to the government. These efforts, the establishment of the RAF Technical College at Halton, and the creation of the Royal Air Force college at

 

Chapter 1—Inception

ePub

C HAPTER 1

INCEPTION

At the close of World War I in 1918, the Royal Air Force (formerly the Royal Flying Corps) contained 185 squadrons, 291,175 personnel, and was the largest air power in the world. During the 1920s and 1930s Britain’s military power declined precipitously. By 1922 the number of squadrons had fallen to twenty-eight, only eight of which were in England, and only three of these were allocated for home defense; the rest of the RAF squadrons were scattered throughout the British Empire. At the same time, the French air force deployed 126 squadrons.1 Facing financial crisis, successive British governments slashed military spending and appropriations for armaments.

During the 1920s, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Hugh Trenchard, commander of the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, laid the groundwork for the modern RAF. Trenchard fought doggedly and stubbornly in the face of considerable political and inter-service opposition to save the RAF as an independent service. He also formed a reserve of volunteer pilots who trained on weekends and could be called upon in case of emergency. The low cost appealed to the government. These efforts, the establishment of the RAF Technical College at Halton, and the creation of the Royal Air Force college at Cranwell to train a cadre of professional officers earned Trenchard the sobriquet, “father of the RAF” (a term he despised).2

 

Chapter 2—First Courses

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C HAPTER 2

FIRST COURSES

Royal Air Force officials had been overly optimistic in anticipating that flight training in the new BFTS program could begin by the end of May 1941. Delays in congressional approval of lend-lease appropriations, further delays in negotiations with the civilian contractors, and the site selection process all prolonged implementation of the program. The complex program, however, had already been activated in England before the delays became apparent.

The BFTS training program anticipated that each school would house 200 students consisting of four courses of fifty cadets each. Courses were scheduled to last twenty weeks, ten weeks of primary, five weeks of basic, and five weeks of advanced flight training. A new course was scheduled to arrive in Terrell every five weeks to begin training.

Two RAF officers were assigned to each school. The RAF selected Wing Commander F. W. Hilton, a bomber pilot with considerable combat experience, as the Terrell commanding officer and chief flying instructor (CFI), and Squadron Leader A. Beveridge as the chief ground instructor (CGI). Before leaving for the United States, both officers were extensively briefed by air ministry officers. Officials told Hilton and Beveridge that the civilian flight school operators selected for the new program were extremely sensitive regarding their authority and course curriculum. The RAF officers assigned to the schools would act only in an advisory capacity and in no way attempt to alter the established school flight training program.1 In addition, the officers were warned that isolationist feelings in the United States were strongest in western states such as Texas. The officers were instructed in the strongest terms to avoid any discussion of the war, or the possible entry of the United States into the war, for fear of creating adverse publicity that might offend local citizens.2 Due to the novelty of the program, Hilton and Beveridge found that there were no manuals, ground school supplies, or other training publications available from the air ministry. Frustrated, Hilton and Beveridge returned to their previous commands at No.11 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) located at Perth and operational training units (OTU) at Heston and Upper Heyford and gathered manuals, publications, and ground school supplies.3

 

Chapter 2 First Courses

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First Courses

Chapter 2

Royal Air Force officials had been overly optimistic in anticipating that flight training in the new

BFTS program could begin by the end of May 1941.

Delays in congressional approval of lend-lease appropriations, further delays in negotiations with the civilian contractors, and the site selection process all prolonged implementation of the program.

The complex program, however, had already been activated in England before the delays became apparent.

The BFTS training program anticipated that each school would house 200 students consisting of four courses of fifty cadets each. Courses were scheduled to last twenty weeks, ten weeks of primary, five weeks of basic, and five weeks of advanced flight training.

A new course was scheduled to arrive in Terrell every five weeks to begin training.

Two RAF officers were assigned to each school.

The RAF selected Wing Commander F. W. Hilton, a bomber pilot with considerable combat experience, as the Terrell commanding officer and chief flying instructor (CFI), and Squadron Leader A.

 

Chapter 3 The New School

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The New School

Chapter 3

As soon as Major Long and Terrell city officials signed the agreement on June 14, 1941, construction of the airport got underway. At the same time,

Terrell citizens launched a vigorous campaign to ensure passage of the countywide bond election to be held on June 28. More than one hundred Terrell volunteers canvassed the county speaking to various groups.

Airport supporters presented a two-pronged message: support of the airport would be good economically and would also be patriotic. The headline of one full-page newspaper advertisement asked, “Is Your Son’s Life Worth 16 Cents a Year?”

The ad went on, “Can you deny the vital importance of training British RAF flyers on U.S. soil in Kaufman

County as a step toward keeping your own son far from war-torn bomb-shattered lands?” and “Can any red-blooded citizen of Kaufman County afford to ignore even the smallest opportunity to insure our

American way of life?”1 At a mass meeting, Kaufman mayor Emmett Day commented, “In times like these we must forget petty differences and unite in this nation-wide, democracy-wide undertaking.”2

 

Chapter 3—The New School

ePub

C HAPTER 3

THE NEW SCHOOL

As soon as Major Long and Terrell city officials signed the agreement on June 14, 1941, construction of the airport got underway. At the same time, Terrell citizens launched a vigorous campaign to ensure passage of the countywide bond election to be held on June 28. More than one hundred Terrell volunteers canvassed the county speaking to various groups.

Airport supporters presented a two-pronged message: support of the airport would be good economically and would also be patriotic. The headline of one full-page newspaper advertisement asked, “Is Your Son’s Life Worth 16 Cents a Year?” The ad went on, “Can you deny the vital importance of training British RAF flyers on U.S. soil in Kaufman County as a step toward keeping your own son far from war-torn bomb-shattered lands?” and “Can any red-blooded citizen of Kaufman County afford to ignore even the smallest opportunity to insure our American way of life?”1 At a mass meeting, Kaufman mayor Emmett Day commented, “In times like these we must forget petty differences and unite in this nation-wide, democracy-wide undertaking.”2

 

Chapter 4—Operations

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C HAPTER 4

OPERATIONS

By the end of the first week in September 1941, work on the first hangar had been completed. Both hangars had distinctive curved roofs with low shed-type structures along each side for maintenance shops, parts storage, and offices. Full-height sliding doors at each end of the hangars opened to allow unhindered access to the interior of the hangar. The control tower, a raised wood and glass enclosure constructed on metal legs and topped by a rotating beacon, stood at the southeast corner of the first hangar.1

Work progressed on the second hangar located to the east of the first hangar and the Link trainer building, located between the first hangar and the main school buildings. Due to the sensitive electronics, the Link trainer building was the only air-conditioned building on the base.2 A fence encircled the airport complete with signs identifying the airport as government property. The county finished widening and graveling the road from town to the airport and along the northern boundary to the eastern edge of the field.

 

Chapter 4 Operations

PDF

Operations

Chapter 4

By the end of the first week in September 1941, work on the first hangar had been completed. Both hangars had distinctive curved roofs with low shedtype structures along each side for maintenance shops, parts storage, and offices. Full-height sliding doors at each end of the hangars opened to allow unhindered access to the interior of the hangar. The control tower, a raised wood and glass enclosure constructed on metal legs and topped by a rotating beacon, stood at the southeast corner of the first hangar.1

Work progressed on the second hangar located to the east of the first hangar and the Link trainer building, located between the first hangar and the main school buildings. Due to the sensitive electronics, the Link trainer building was the only airconditioned building on the base. 2 A fence encircled the airport complete with signs identifying the airport as government property. The county finished widening and graveling the road from town to the airport and along the northern boundary to the eastern edge of the field.

 

Chapter 5—America Enters the War

ePub

C HAPTER 5

AMERICA ENTERS THE WAR

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war. The next day aircraft at the Terrell school sat idle as groups gathered to listen to the latest details of the attack and discuss the monumental events. Some buffoon, seemingly always present in any gathering of men during times of stress, boasted, “We’ll lick the goddamn Japs in sixty days.” Others asked what the cadets thought. With typical British reserve, the cadets tactfully suggested that it might take a bit longer than that.1

The declaration of war immediately affected Terrell and the school. Guards were added at the front gate and the previously easy access to the base became restricted. Two days after Pearl Harbor the Terrell city marshal, Zeb Henry, arrested an “alien suspect.”2 Terrell merchants removed all merchandise made in Japan from store shelves. County commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting parking on the airport road. A week after Pearl Harbor, Mrs. R. B. Wood of Terrell had still not received word of her son, Van Wood, and stepson, D. C. Ayres, both stationed on the battleship Arizona.

 

Chapter 5 America Enters the War

PDF

America Enters the War

Chapter 5

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United

States entered the war. The next day aircraft at the

Terrell school sat idle as groups gathered to listen to the latest details of the attack and discuss the monumental events. Some buffoon, seemingly always present in any gathering of men during times of stress, boasted, “We’ll lick the goddamn Japs in sixty days.” Others asked what the cadets thought.

With typical British reserve, the cadets tactfully suggested that it might take a bit longer than that.1

The declaration of war immediately affected

Terrell and the school. Guards were added at the front gate and the previously easy access to the base became restricted. Two days after Pearl Harbor the

Terrell city marshal, Zeb Henry, arrested an “alien suspect.”2 Terrell merchants removed all merchandise made in Japan from store shelves. County commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting parking on the airport road. A week after Pearl Harbor, Mrs.

 

photo gallery

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Chapter 6—Expansion

ePub

C HAPTER 6

EXPANSION

As the end of 1942 approached, the Allies took comfort in definite gains. Japanese expansion in the South Pacific toward Australia had been turned back in the Coral Sea. A month later, in June 1942, the Japanese navy suffered a crushing defeat at Midway Island, the turning point in the Pacific war, although few realized it at the time. In August, United States Marines landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Guadalcanal would be the beginning of the long road toward Japan itself.

In North Africa, the new commander of the British Eighth Army, Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery, decisively defeated the German Afrika Korps at El Alamein. At the other end of North Africa, United States troops landed in Morocco, while another force of American and British troops landed in Algeria. In November, Soviet troops surrounded the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. As the brutal Russian winter descended, the plight of the 230,000 German troops became desperate.1

 

Chapter 6 Expansion

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Expansion

Chapter 6

As the end of 1942 approached, the Allies took comfort in definite gains. Japanese expansion in the

South Pacific toward Australia had been turned back in the Coral Sea. A month later, in June 1942, the Japanese navy suffered a crushing defeat at Midway Island, the turning point in the Pacific war, although few realized it at the time. In August, United

States Marines landed on Guadalcanal in the

Solomon Islands. Guadalcanal would be the beginning of the long road toward Japan itself.

In North Africa, the new commander of the British Eighth Army, Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery, decisively defeated the German Afrika Korps at El

Alamein. At the other end of North Africa, United

States troops landed in Morocco, while another force of American and British troops landed in Algeria. In November, Soviet troops surrounded the

German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. As the brutal

Russian winter descended, the plight of the 230,000

German troops became desperate.1

In spite of these gains, United States citizens and

 

Chapter 7—Toward the End

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C HAPTER 7

TOWARD THE END

By the late spring of 1944, the Allies had amassed huge numbers of men, aircraft, and ships, as well as vast quantities of equipment, supplies, and support facilities in England. It was no secret that this massive buildup heralded the invasion of Europe, the long-awaited and much-discussed second front. On the morning of June 6, Terrell residents heard the first radio reports of Allied landings in the Normandy area of northern France. Businesses in town closed for an hour and churches opened as Terrell residents prayed for the success of the invasion.1

The successful D-Day landings assured the outcome of the war, although much hard fighting and many casualties still lay ahead. At the Terrell school, Course 19, the last course to include American cadets, graduated on June 18, 1944.

With training commands now meeting the demand for pilots, the RAF raised the requirements for new pilots to 210 flight hours and shortly thereafter to 220 hours.2 What had started as a twenty-week course of 150 flight hours during the early war years when England stood alone against the Axis powers, had evolved into a thirty-two-week course of 220 hours with Allied victory in sight.

 

Chapter 7 Toward the End

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Toward the End

Chapter 7

126

By the late spring of 1944, the Allies had amassed huge numbers of men, aircraft, and ships, as well as vast quantities of equipment, supplies, and support facilities in England. It was no secret that this massive buildup heralded the invasion of Europe, the long-awaited and much-discussed second front.

On the morning of June 6, Terrell residents heard the first radio reports of Allied landings in the

Normandy area of northern France. Businesses in town closed for an hour and churches opened as

Terrell residents prayed for the success of the invasion.1

The successful D-Day landings assured the outcome of the war, although much hard fighting and many casualties still lay ahead. At the Terrell school,

Course 19, the last course to include American cadets, graduated on June 18, 1944.

With training commands now meeting the demand for pilots, the RAF raised the requirements for new pilots to 210 flight hours and shortly thereafter to 220 hours.2 What had started as a twentyweek course of 150 flight hours during the early war years when England stood alone against the Axis powers, had evolved into a thirty-two-week course of 220 hours with Allied victory in sight.

 

Chapter 8—Epilogue

ePub

C HAPTER 8

EPILOGUE

One of the ironies of wartime RAF pilot training is that graduates of early courses from No.1 BFTS suffered heavy losses after posting to operational squadrons due to the intensity of the fighting, while many graduates of later courses saw little or no action. Bert Allam used both official and unofficial sources after the war to trace the original thirty-three ex-British Army transfers who joined Course 4 in Terrell. Only seven survived the war.1 Another Terrell graduate, Douglas Sivyer, traced the operational records of the graduates of Course 3. Of the thirty-eight graduates, only fourteen survived the war. The list includes details of the last flights of those lost. Many of the descriptions contain nothing more than the poignant epitaph, “failed to return.”2

Eight graduates of Course 3 attended an Operational Training Unit (OTU) on Spitfires. One of the pilots, Eddie McCann, flew with 131 and 165 Squadrons at Tangmere and then 232 Squadron in the Mediterranean where he escorted American medium bombers. Of the others trained on Spitfires, Johnny Gallon and Frank Seeley were killed while operating in 11 Group (England); Vernon Brooker, Blondie Reeves, and George Richardson were killed in North Africa; Bob Wood was killed in Malta, and Peter King in Sicily. Of the original eight, only McCann survived the war.3

 

Appendixes

ePub

APPENDIX A

LIST OF FATALITIES

Twenty-four men died while training at No.1 BFTS between 1941 and 1945. Nineteen British RAF cadets, three civilian instructors, and one Army Air Forces cadet died in flying accidents. One British cadet died of natural causes. The bodies of the three instructors and one army cadet were returned to their homes in various parts of the United States for burial. The twenty British cadets are buried in the Oakland Memorial Cemetery in Terrell.

November 10, 1941

Richard D. Mollett

AND SO HE PASSED OVER A VALIANT YOUNG HEART HIS SPIRIT LIVES ON

The crash occurred at night just after takeoff four miles south of the airport. Mollett was only two days from graduation. He apparently became disoriented after takeoff.

January 18, 1942

William L. Ibbs

AGE 21 A LOVING SON, GOOD AND KIND A BEAUTIFUL MEMORY LEFT BEHIND

The crash occurred five miles from Cumby, Texas, during a night cross-country flight. Ibbs became lost and contacted the Terrell tower and received directions to the field, but he ran out of fuel and crashed before reaching Terrell. Ibbs died only two days from graduation.

 

Chapter 8 Epilogue

PDF

Epilogue

Chapter 8

144

One of the ironies of wartime RAF pilot training is that graduates of early courses from No.1 BFTS suffered heavy losses after posting to operational squadrons due to the intensity of the fighting, while many graduates of later courses saw little or no action.

Bert Allam used both official and unofficial sources after the war to trace the original thirty-three exBritish Army transfers who joined Course 4 in

Terrell. Only seven survived the war.1 Another

Terrell graduate, Douglas Sivyer, traced the operational records of the graduates of Course 3. Of the thirty-eight graduates, only fourteen survived the war. The list includes details of the last flights of those lost. Many of the descriptions contain nothing more than the poignant epitaph, “failed to return.”2

Eight graduates of Course 3 attended an Operational Training Unit (OTU) on Spitfires. One of the pilots, Eddie McCann, flew with 131 and 165

Squadrons at Tangmere and then 232 Squadron in the Mediterranean where he escorted American medium bombers. Of the others trained on Spitfires, Johnny Gallon and Frank Seeley were killed while operating in 11 Group (England); Vernon

 

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