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James C Nelson

Military

Born in Colorado in 1919, James Nelson learned to fly when studying at university. Having first enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Nelson came to England in July 1941, and joined the new 133 Squadron, one of the three 'Eagle Squadrons' of the Royal Air Force composed of United States nationals who wished to fight before their country had entered hostilities. Based then at RAF Coltershall, 133 Squadron flew Hurricanes, but after a brief spell at RAF Duxford in August were, in early 1942, converted to Spitfires. In May of that year the Squadron became part of the Biggin Hill Wing. Nelson is known to have participated in one action which involved the shooting down of three German aircraft off of the Humber and was part of the fighter cover over York when that City was being bombed. He also flew on the Dieppe Raid, when all three Eagle Squadrons were engaged. Whilst most US nationals transferred over to the USAAF in 1942, following America’s entry into the War, Squadron Leader Nelson remained with the Royal Air Force where he commanded special high-altitude Spitfire Mk VI aircraft with No.124 Squadron, designed to counter the threat of German Ju86 bombers that could fly in excess of 40,000 feet. For his leadership he was awarded the Air Force Cross in the New Years’ Honours List, January, 1944.
By now a Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, Nelson later test flew for Vickers, then F G Miles, and finally A V Roe in 1948. It was while flying a Mosquito in September 1945 that Nelson had his luckiest escape, as one engine failed at an altitude of only 200 feet. He crashed, breaking 30 bones and later lost one leg as a result of the incident at Farnborough.
After recovering he returned to the RAE on the Jet Development Flight. He joined Avro in 1948 after three years as a test pilot for Miles Aircraft. Besides flying the Avro 707 in 1951, forerunner of the Vulcan bomber, he flew the Ashton, Shackleton and Athena but then returned to the USA in 1953.
Retired from RAF as a Sqn Ldr
Awards: Air Force Cross, 1939-1945 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, Defence Medal.

Service

Units served with

  • No. 133 'Eagle' Squadron

    No. 133 'Eagle' Squadron

    Squadron
    'On 1 August 1941, No. 133 reformed at Coltishall as the third 'Eagle' Squadron manned by American personnel. Equipped with Hurricanes it became operational at the end of September. The next month the Squadron moved to Northern Ireland, returning to...

Associated Place

  • Biggin Hill

    Military site : airfield
    An RAF Station with US lodger units. USAAF Spitfires and P-38s were attached to RAF No 11 Group stations in mid-1942 for training; also used for special operations by British and US forces.

  • Duxford

    Military site : airfield
    RAF Duxford, now a museum and still a working airfield, was operated by the USAAF from 1943 to 1945. The base was briefly the home of the 350th Fighter Group in late 1942, but it was not until April 1943 that it became a fully American station when the...

  • Manston

    Military site : airfield
    Built for Royal Naval Air Service use in the First World War, it was both an RAF and Fleet Air Arm base from 1918-50, and after the war a USAF Strategic Air Command base from 1950-51, a United States Air Forces Europe base from 1950-58, an RAF station...

  • Eagle Squadrons Memorial

    Other location

Events

Event Location Date
Born Colorado, USA 1919
Joined RCAF Canada 1940

Joined Royal Canadian Air Force.

Service pilot training Ottawa, ON, Canada 1940 – July 1941

Service pilot training.

Shipped overseas Merseyside, UK July 1941

Shipped overseas to ETO. Departed Halifax.

Assigned London Biggin Hill Airport, Main Rd, Biggin Hill, Bromley, Kent TN16 3BH, UK August 1941 – 14 September 1942

Assigned to 133 [Eagle] Sqn RAF.

Transferred Manston, Ramsgate, Kent CT12, UK 14 September 1942 – 1943

Transferred to 124 Sqn RAF.

Test Pilot Farnborough, Hampshire, UK 1943 – 1945

Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough

Test Pilot Brooklands, Weybridge, Weybridge, Surrey KT13, UK 1945 – 1948

Test Pilot for Vickers, later F G Miles.

Test Pilot Woodford, UK 1948 – 1953

Test Pilot for AV Roe.

Died 1989

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
26 February 2016 17:11:13 Al_Skiff Changes to unit associations and place associations
Sources

EAGLES of the RAF - The World War II Eagle Squadrons by Phillip D Caine.
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30105456
http://thetartanterror.blogspot.co.uk/2011_02_01_archive.html?_sm_au_=iV...

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:22:13 Al_Skiff Changes to nickname
Sources

EAGLES of the RAF - The World War II Eagle Squadrons by Phillip D Caine.
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30105456
http://thetartanterror.blogspot.co.uk/2011_02_01_archive.html?_sm_au_=iV...

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:21:00 Al_Skiff Changes to biography and events
Sources

EAGLES of the RAF - The World War II Eagle Squadrons by Phillip D Caine.
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30105456
http://thetartanterror.blogspot.co.uk/2011_02_01_archive.html?_sm_au_=iV...

Date Contributor Update
13 November 2015 15:02:35 Al_Skiff Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nationality, highest rank, role, biography, events, unit associations and place associations
Sources

EAGLES of the RAF - The World War II Eagle Squadrons by Phillip D Caine.
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30105456

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