Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIa

The first American ace of World War II scored his fifth kill before his homeland was even in the War.

Let’s take a look at a significant, if lesser known accomplishment.

We’ll start with the obvious, World War II started for Britain, France and Nazi Germany over two years before the United States got involved. Many Americans found ways to get to Britain and offer their help in the War. Summer of 1940, a pretty overtly evil Nazi Empire destroyed France in a matter of weeks, and the flow of US volunteers increased. Many of these took advantage of dual citizenship or other family connections, but I believe the majority simply crossed the border into Canada and enlisted with whichever service would take them. (There were sometimes hiccups, it was technically against US law for US citizens to enlist in another country’s military. Sometimes British/Canadian recruiters chose to honor US law for various reasons. But mostly, they took whatever help they could get).
By Summer 1941 the RAF had enough US citizen pilots on strength form an entire squadron, 71 Squadron was formed as the first “Eagle Squadron”. Two more Eagle Squadrons were formed in the following months. Summer of 1942 the three Eagle Squadrons transferred over to the USAAF to become the 4th Fighter Group.

The red patches on the leading edge of the wing cover the .303 Browning machine guns. This improves airflow and keeps dust and debris out of the barrels. And the freshly applied fabric patch tells ground crew the gun does not need servicing.

William R Dunn was a very early volunteer, and has one of the most eccentric resumes I’ve seen. In 1934 he joined the US Army and served two years as an infantryman. With the outbreak of War, he crossed into Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Army. Over the next year he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, then in December 1940 he transferred to the RAF as a pilot trainee. He completed training in April 1941, just in time to be among the first group of pilots in the first Eagle Squadron. The squadron was flying Hurricanes at this time. On July 21st Pilot Officer Dunn scored his first kill, a Bf 109F, which was also the first kill for the first Eagle Squadron. He scored three kills in Hurricanes, before the squadron switched to Spitfire Mk II in August 1941.
The aircraft shown here was his regular mount that month, he scored two more kills to make ace on August 27th. But he was also injured on that flight, shot through the foot, and spent the next three months in the hospital.

Nicely detailed interior from the Eduard kit.
The white badge under the exhaust was carried by three RAF Eagle Squadrons.

After a lengthy recovery process Dunn was made a flight instructor, based in Canada. So he missed the bulk transfer of Eagle Squadron personnel over to the USAAF and remained RAF until June 1943. He was then assigned to the 406th Fighter Group and deployed back to England in April 1944. This was a 9th Air Force Thunderbolt group mostly involved in close support of the ground forces, but even so Dunn scored on more kill over the Luftwaffe.
In May 1945 Dunn, by now a Lt Col, found himself flying Mustangs in China (as Luchow Air Base Commander), ultimately flying in support of Chinese Nationalist forces against the Communists. After a detail as an advisor to the Shah of Iran, Dunn resigned his commission, to rejoin the Air Force as an enlisted man (Did he dislike his assignment? Get himself in some trouble? I don’t know!). He quickly rose through the ranks; Master Sergeant, Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer. He held a variety of jobs; weapons officer, Intercept Controller, Air Traffic Controller, military advisor (to the Brazilian Air Force), various levels of support officer, and a planning officer during the Viet Nam War. He finally retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 in 1973 (but was considered at his highest rank of Lt Col for retirement).
He wrote, and saw published, his biography (Fighter Pilot: the First American Ace of World War II) and several histories of the American West and Indian Wars. William Dunn passed away in 1995.

Small teardrop bulge on the forward cowling (below the exhaust) covers the cartridge starter. That’s the main visual tell that this is a Spitfire Mk II.

As previously mentioned, this aircraft is the Spitfire Mk IIa flown by Bill Dunn in August 1941. The Mk II was a very minor update on the Mk I. The defining change was moving from a Merlin III to a Merlin XII engine. With 1135 horsepower the Spitfire Mk II had 105 hp more than the Mk I. As a modeler the only “significant” difference is the small bulge on the forward cowling for a cartridge starter. Basically a shotgun charge without any pellets, this meant a battery cart didn’t need to rolled out to get each aircraft started.
Other less obvious changes included a hydraulic system for the landing gear (doing away with the hand crank), a plastic laminate seat (Bakelite, replacing a stamped metal sort), a new radio that did away with the antennae line from mast to tail fin (antennae was all on the mast), a built in IFF transponder and a new propeller. The Mk II started entering service from a new factory in July 1940, 195 by the end of the Battle of Britain. All told, 921 Mk II Spitfires were built until replaced by Mk V production in mid-1941.

This is the Eduard kit. As mentioned previously this is a well engineered, modern kit with oodles of detail! All that detail does make it a harder build than the ’90s era Tamiya kit, but the results can be gorgeous and its available in far more types and sub-types of Spitfire.

The two aircraft Bill Dunn scored kills with to make ace, before the US was even at war.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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7 Responses to Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIa

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I never miss what you have built. I enjoy reading and seeing your work.

  2. ericritter65 says:

    Nice! What’s the scale?

  3. jfwknifton says:

    That is one beautiful aircraft, which, if I may say so, you have made quite beautifully. I have read somewhere that a lot of Americans renounced their American citizenship to join the RCAF who then transferred them straight to the RAF. From December 1941, the American government then offered to take them back, as American citizens again, for their own forces.

    • atcDave says:

      I think that sounds right, for at least part of the period of American neutrality. Several of the accounts I’ve read make no mention of that though, which makes me think it was either inconsistently adhered to or was pure administrative shuffle that some of the guys never were even aware of.

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