“Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster”

Joseph Charles McCarthy of New York was one of approximately 9,000 young Americans who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) before the United States officially entered the Second World War. His story (Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster) is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the American volunteers have largely been overlooked — especially those who served with Bomber Command.

Secondly, this book presents readers with a realistic perspective on what the intrepid British and Commonwealth aircrews of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command experienced on their dangerous nocturnal bombing and mining missions. Statistics compiled by Karl Kjarsgaard of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Handley Page Halifax, recovering crashed Halifaxes, and restoring an example to airworthiness, reflect that at least 835 ‘Yanks’ were Killed In Action while on operations in RCAF bomber squadrons alone. Dave Birrell confirms this (page 20) and states, “Of the 8,864 Americans who served in the RCAF, about 800 were killed, many while serving with Bomber Command.”

Thirdly, Joe was one of the pilots who flew on the famous Dams Raid of 1943 during which Ruhr Valley dams were breached and areas of German industrial territory were as a result flooded. He survived the conflict and Dave Birrell recounts Joe’s postwar RCAF service.

Particularly interesting is Joe’s test pilot postings. He flew 20 exotic former Luftwaffe aircraft including the Junkers JU 352, Junkers Ju 290, Junkers Ju 188, Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, Siebel Si 204, Arado 232B, Donier Do 335 Arrow and Heinkel He 219 Owl. Allied aeroplanes included the Vickers Windsor, de Havilland Moaquito, de Havilland DH.89 Dominie, Supermarine Walrus, Supermarine Spitfire, Vickers Wellington, Hawker Typhoon, Lockheed Hudson, Douglas Dakota, North American Mustang, North American B-25 Mitchell, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Gloster Meteor. Later he flew Lockheed T-33s and commanded Canadair Sabre and Lockheed Neptune squadrons.

Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster is highly recommended. Author Dave Birrell and The Nanton Lancaster Society should be commended for producing this interesting and historically significant work.

Paperback copies are available through the Bomber Command Museum of Canada‘s website. Telephone orders may be placed by phoning (403) 646-2270.


This reviewer (John T. Stemple) thanks Bomber Command Museum of Canada for supplying a copy of Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster for review.

Reference Citation

Birrell, Dave. Big Joe McCarthy: The RCAF’s American Dambuster. Nanton, Alberta: The Nanton Lancaster Society, 2012.