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James Amsler Gray


James Gray was in college and taking a civilian pilot training course when the European war began. "I tried for the U.S. Army Air Corps and couldn’t pass the physical," he says. "I heard that the British were recruiting pilots for the Royal Air Force. I wanted to fly a fast fighter." Like many prospective Eagle Squadron pilots, Gray went to a special school in the United States and learned flying from former U.S. Army Air Corps pilots before shipping off to England. James Gray joined the RAF as an American volunteer in September 1941, and was posted to 71 Eagle Squadron flying Spitfire Vbs. Gray’s first missions in the Spitfire were mostly convoy patrols over the English Channel. By September of 1941, the faster Spitfire Mk.V had replaced No.71 Squadron’s Mk. IIs, and along with the aircraft change came Eagle missions of a little more range - sweeps across the Channel into France. These missions were dubbed Rhubarbs, Circuses and Rodeos, depending on the number of aircraft used, their tactics and varied methods of enticing the Luftwaffe to fight. Gray says he shot down his first enemy plane in the spring of 1942. The day before, some RAF bombers had been badly shot up on a major operation. Rescue boats went out looking for aircrew that might still be floating in dinghies, and Spitfires were sent to provide air cover for the operation. While on this patrol they were attacked by a number of Fw190's. Gray attacked one of the Fw190s which was pursuing Wing Leader Bob Sprague's Spitfire, Gray opened fire with his cannons and sent the Fw190 plunging into the sea. Staying in the RAF throughout the war, he flew Spitfires in North Africa and the Mediterranean, first with 93 Squadron, and later 111 Squadron. His luck eventually ran out in Italy when he was shot down early in 1945 whilst serving with 72 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant James Gray was shot down on January 4th, 1945, his 26th birthday. Gray's Squadron’s Spitfire IXs were carrying 500-pound bombs in ground attacks against German troops in northern Italy. He was taken POW for four months in Stalag-Luft I, north of Berlin. Among Flight Lieutenant James Gray's awards and decorations is the prestigious British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). After the war Flight Lieutenant James Gray became a pilot for United Airlines, started flying the DC-3, then flew the Convair 340 and, after a long successful career, retired as a Captain in DC-8 jets. He was also the historian for the Eagle Squadrons. James Gray at the age of 90 passed away on the 25th of November 2009.



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Units served with

  • No 71 'Eagle' Squadron

    No 71 'Eagle' Squadron

    'On 19 September 1940, No. 71 was reformed at Church Fenton as the first 'Eagle' Squadron to be manned by American personnel. The Squadron received Hurricanes in November and became operational on defensive duties on 5 February 1941. No. 71 converted...

Associated Place

  • Kirton-in-Lindsey

    Military site : airfield
    Used as an RFC and RAF Home Defence landing ground during the First World War, Kirton-in-Lindsey was built during 1938-40 as an RAF fighter station. It had two grass runways, 10 hardstandings, three grouped C hangars and four over-blister hangars....

  • Martlesham Heath

    Military site : airfield
    Opened in 1917 as home to the RFC Aeroplane Experimental Unit, Martlesham Heath became well known during the 1920s-30s as home to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment. Used as an RAF fighter station from 1939, with only a grass airfield...


Event Location Date
Born 4 January 1919
Service pilot training Tulsa, OK, USA 1941

Underwent service pilot training.

Shipped Overseas Merseyside, UK 1941

Shipped abroad to ETO.

Joined RAFVR United States September 1941

Joined Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Assigned Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK October 1941

Assigned to 71[Eagle] Sqn RAF.

Transferred Souk El Khemis, Algeria 29 September 1942

Transferred to 93 Sqn. North Africa.

Transferred Rimini RN, Italy November 1944

Transferred to 111 Sqn. Mediterranean.

Shot down Italy 4 January 1945

Shot down in Spitfire Mk IX on January 4th, 1945 on a ground attack mission, Northern Italy.

Prisoner Of War POW Barth, Germany 4 January 1945 – 4 May 1945

Prisoner Of War Stalag Luft I, north of Berlin.

Died San Jose, CA 25 November 2009

Passed away 25th November 2009.

Buried Mission City Memorial Park Santa Clara, Santa Clara County, CA December 2009

Mission City Memorial Park
Santa Clara, Santa Clara County, California


Date Contributor Update
17 June 2021 10:38:41 Al_Skiff Changes to events

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2017 18:09:20 SGD Changes to middlename and nickname


Date Contributor Update
25 February 2016 14:00:34 Al_Skiff Changes to unit associations and place associations

Date Contributor Update
06 October 2015 12:57:59 Al_Skiff Changes to events

Date Contributor Update
06 October 2015 12:19:05 Al_Skiff Changes to middlename, highest rank, role, biography, awards, events, unit associations and place associations

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:14:27 AAM AAM ingest

Air Power, December 1 2000 / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia