Long before the United States entered World War II, Americans flew with the Royal Air Force in the renowned “Eagle” Squadrons. Of these US pilots who left their indelible mark in the skies over Europe and in the hearts of the British people, Carroll “Red” McColpin was the only one to serve and fly combat in all three of the American-manned units in the RAF. He started his flying career when, still in his teens, he taught himself to fly an airplane, which he had designed and built himself. Arriving in England, McColpin first served with an RAF Hurricane squadron before joining the newly formed No. 121 “Eagle” Squadron.
After only a month, he was selected to replace experienced American pilots lost in the combat-hardened No. 71 Squadron. While flying one of his initial Spitfire missions, he claimed his first victory on 21 September 1941 when he shot down an Me-109E that was attacking an RAF bomber. Successes mounted fast, and on 2 October he downed two more German fighters and shared credit for a third. Later that same month, McColpin shot down two Me-109s to bring his total to 5 1/2 confirmed victories, thus becoming the second American ace of the war. During this same period, “Red” McColpin also became the only Allied pilot known to engage and “fight to a draw” the top Luftwaffe ace at the time–Werner Moelders. Pilot Officer McColpin was next assigned to No. 133 “Eagle” Squadron as a flight commander and given orders to “straighten them out and make a fighter team out of them.”
On 26 April 1942, he shot down a Focke-Wulf 190, his new squadron’s first confirmed victory and the first downing in the war of the highly acclaimed FW-190. That summer, McColpin achieved two additional victories and was named to command the squadron. With the build-up of US forces in Europe, on 29 September 1942 the three “Eagle ” squadrons were transferred to the USAAF. With a total of 8 1/2 victories, McColpin departed for the United States to participate in the first War Bond drive. He did, however, return to the United Kingdom later in the war and led the 404th Fighter Group flying P-47s. His aggressive airmanship was perhaps best demonstrated in 1944 when, during an intense dogfight at low altitude, he caused three Me-109 fighters to crash into the ground without having fired a shot himself. After the war, Major General McColpin maintained combat ready status in each new generation of fighter aircraft until his retirement in 1968 as commander of Fourth Air Force.