Ed Tracey: RCAF-American WW2 flight instructor and USAAF fighter pilot

Ed Tracey in Canada while serving as an RCAF flying training instructor. He is posing with a Fleet Finch. Photo: Tim Tracey.

31st March 2016 (Updated 14 April 2016) | Despite the passage of seven decades historians are still learning of overlooked heroes from the Second World War as the clouds of time briefly part to reveal sagas that were previously unknown. A minority of these stories feature quiet, unassuming individuals who have provided great service in the armed defense of democracy. Edward “Ed” Tracey is one notable example. He was defending the British Empire before the United States officially entered the great conflagration and later fought for his own homeland.

According to Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC), in excess of 8,000 Americans joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the early years of World War II. Edward Tracey, who hailed from of Cortland, Ohio, was one of these valiant men. Cortland is a city located near Youngstown that lies within Trumbull County.

Ed Tracey’s RCAF pilot wings on his uniform tunic. Photo: Tim Tracey.

Europe was at war before the end of 1939. England and her British Commonwealth of Nations, which of course included the Dominion of Canada, were warring with Nazi Germany. About this time Ed acted on his attraction to aviation and commenced flying lessons.

A leading proponent of recruiting Americans for RCAF service was famous WWI Canadian aviator Air Marshall W. A. “Billy” Bishop. Writer Fred Gaffen states (page 47) in Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces From the Civil War to the Gulf that Bishop remembered “the contribution of the Americans who had flown with British squadrons in the First World War. . .”

Early in World War II the RCAF needed large numbers of pilots because the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) effectively made Canada a center for aircrew training, and on 7 June 1940 Canada removed the requirement for foreign volunteers to pledge allegiance; they had only to obey. Thus, by the middle of 1940 Americans could join the RCAF without the fear of losing U.S. Citizenship. The gates were wide open to those desiring to defend the Mother Country (England) and the British Empire.

The Clayton Knight Committee maintained a recruiting center in Cleveland and actively sought American pilots for the RCAF, Royal Air Force (RAF) and RAF Ferry Command. Now a licensed pilot, in May 1941 Ed Tracey made the relatively short journey from Ohio, which borders Canada, to a RCAF enlistment reception center. Two other famous pilots from the Buckeye State, namely Don Gentile and Donald Blakeslee, also made excursions to Canada to join the RCAF.  Others from Ohio made similar treks.

Why exactly did these men go up to Canada? The article “Florida’s WWII RCAF Veterans Rememberedproffers some of the motivations. The piece records that in 1960 wartime correspondent Arch Whitehouse wrote (page 121) in his book The Years of the War Birds that by 1941 the “Union Jack flew from staffs all over the United States.” Whitehouse recognized that in practicality and sentiment, public opinion and Lend-Lease made America as much “a part of the Empire as any member of the Commonwealth.”

Another example of the feelings held within former American colonies’ that attested to citizens’ pro-British allegiance is contained in a TheStar.com article The Americans who died for Canada in WWII finally get their due: These men are my heroes. The newspaper quotes an American RCAF servicemember, Flight Sergeant Tom Withers, who around this time wrote the following in a letter to relatives: “He who serves Great Britain or any of its Dominions also serves the U.S. and vice-versa.”

Yet another motivation was the desire to fly military aircraft when the U.S. Armed Forces accepted only perfect physical specimens with college educations for pilot candidates. The RCAF and RAF were not so discriminatory.

Within his work Fred Gaffen also states (page 51) the following: “The most significant contribution made by Americans who joined the RCAF was that of the American flying instructors and staff pilots who helped put the BCATP into full operation so quickly.” Edward Tracey was one of the invaluable men incorporated into the scheme.

Fleet 16B Finch at the Canadian Museum of Flight in South Surrey BC 23 July 1988. Photo: by Ahunt. Via Wikipedia.

The intrepid Ed trained to become an EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) instructor and was stationed at Toronto, Ontario (May to July 1941), and Trenton, Ontario (July to December 1941).

By 7 December 1941, the date the United States’ Territory of Hawaii was attacked at and around Pearl Harbor, some 6,000 Americans were serving in the RCAF, and on 8 December 1941, the day the U.S. declared war on Japan, it is estimated that 3,000 were undergoing training or waiting to commence.

Their presence markedly improved RCAF operational capabilities.

Ed Tracey was posted to Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec from December to February 1942. During February to May 1942 he served at Lachine, Quebec, and Rockcliffe, Ontario.

Wartime photo of a North American Harvard and Fairey Battle in Canada. Photo courtesy of BCMC va Maynard Norby.

While with the RCAF, Ed logged 375 hours in the following training aeroplanes: Fleet Finch, North American Harvard, de Havilland Tiger Moth and Fairey Battle.

The latter, although outmoded, had initially and briefly been utilized on combat missions with RAF Bomber Command.

Battles ended their operational usage, according to Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt’s The Bomber Command War Diaries (page 93), on the night on 15/16 October 1940. These “obsolete” aeroplanes were duly relegated to service as trainers, and rare color footage of BCATP Battles in Canada is incorporated into the 1941 film Captains of the Clouds.

RAF No. 218 Squadron Fairey Battles over France circa 1940. Photograph C 447 from the Imperial War Museums by RAF FO A Devon.

With the United States finally in the war and needing qualified pilots, Sergeant Pilot Edward Tracey transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) during May 1942 and was commissioned. Tim Tracey revealed that, based on his research, “Approximately 3,800 men transferred from the RCAF to the USAAF. Of this group a very small number of pilots went on to become single engine combat fighter pilots and instructors during WWII.” Ed Tracey was one of the few.

Tunic button on Ed Tracey’s RCAF uniform. Photo: Tim Tracey.

Ed soon began USAAF orientation training at Tyndall Army Air Field (AAF), Florida, where he met actor Clark Gable at the Tyndall Field Officer’s Club. “It was a night dad would never forget.  Clark was at Tyndall to attend Gunnery School,'” said Tim. “When they left the club that night, Dad had Gable’s Crusher on his head and Gable was sporting my father’s hat. I wish Dad would have kept it as a souvenir, but it was returned,” he added. “I would have loved to have been a part of that entire experience. It must have been awesome,” commented Tim.

Ed Tracey’s USAAF Wings and Citation. Photo: Tim Tracey.

Ed was stationed at Tyndall from May 1942 to May 1943 and learned to fly the following types: Curtiss-Wright AT-9, Douglas A-33, Douglas O-46, Lockheed B-34 Lexington, Martin B-26 Maurader, North American AT-6 Texan (“Harvard” in RCAF and RAF service), North American B-25 Mitchell, North American O-47, Piper L-4 Grasshopper and Vultee BT-13 Valiant.

Subsequently, Ed Tracey was sent to Bartow Army Air Field, Florida, from June 1943 to August 1943 for conversion to fighters. At Bartow he flew Curtiss P-40Ls, North American P-51As and North American P-51B Mustangs. In total his logbooks show 264 hours of training in USAAF aircraft.

North American A-36A Apache at NMUSAF. USAF photo.

In September 1943 Ed found himself in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations and specifically at Capaccio Air Base, Sicily with the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group and flying a North American A-36 Apache/Invader. By May 1944 his squadron had relocated to Santa Maria Airfield in Italy, where the men remained until July 1944.

While with the 27th Ed Tracey logged 165 hours of combat flying in A-36s (49 sorties), Curtiss P-40F (43 sorties) and Republic P-47D Thunderbolt (10 sorties) fighter-bombers.

A-36 of the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group, 522nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron. USAF photo.

Related to the Apache, Tim added an interesting aside: “I do remember my father commenting on how loud the Allison engines were. He said they were too noisy and the enemy could hear the A-36s coming. His favorite aircraft powerplant of the period was the Rolls-Royce Merlin.”

During his tenure (September 1943 to July 1944) in the campaigns around Italy Ed Tracey completed 102 combat missions as the 27th undertook attacks on Pantelleria and Lampedusa, provided air support for forces during the Allied conquest of Sicily, served as aerial cover for the landings at Salerno and worked in conjunction with the Fifth Army as it advanced toward Rome.

Ed Tracey posing with his Republic P-47D Thunderbolt in Italy. Photo: Tim Tracey.

On one flight 2nd Lieutenant Tracey’s A-36 went down. Tim Tracey described what transpired: “He was on a mission to take out enemy gun positions close to the front lines in south central Italy when his Apache developed engine trouble in the vicinity of Gaeta Point.  As a result, my father had to leave the formation and got as far as the Volturno River valley before having to make a forced belly landing in a field. His landing was successful but the impact caused the propeller to slice through the canopy, but thank God my dad was uninjured. My father’s head went down and forward, just in time to avoid disaster.” Tim added, “He was listed as Missing in Action but returned before a search party was deployed.”

DAYTON, Ohio — North American P-51D Mustang at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. USAF photo.

July 1944 brought a transfer to the 3rd Army Air Force at Miami Beach, Florida, where First Lieutenant Tracey was again detailed as an instructor.

Additional teaching postings followed until December 1945. He variously taught at Harris Neck AAF (Georgia), Punta Gorda AAF (Florida), Pinellas AAF (Florida), Dyersburg AAF (Tennessee), and Esler Field (Louisiana).

Two additional planes Ed mastered during his 362 hours of instructional flying were the Cessna UC-78 and the vaunted P-51D.

Captain Edward Tracy was discharged from the USAAF on 7 December 1945. He had accumulated, while flying for the two air forces, 1,200 hours from May 1941 to December 1945. However, Ed was hardly finished with aviation for In the 1980s he built and flew an “Experimental” homebuilt category aircraft (Bushby Mustang/Mustang II), a Robert Bushby design derived from David Long’s Midget Mustang.

Ed Tracey in his Mustang II. Photo: Tim Tracey.

Tim Tracey is pleased that BCMC is actively recognizing the more than 8,000 Americans who joined the RCAF. The Canadian museum’s Karl Kjarsgaard has assisted with three recognition ceremonies (Virginia War Memorial, and Clearwater and Winter Haven, Florida) to date and at least three (Colorado, North Carolina and Ohio) additional events are in currently in the planning process.

Justifiably and rightfully proud of his parent, Tim Tracey is embarking upon multiple paths that will record his father’s legacy and honor those of his American RCAF colleagues. He is also pursuing his inspirational initiative to have a Congressional medal approved and struck in honor of the RCAF-Americans and plans to publish a comprehensive book about Ed’s flying career.


The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Tim Tracey for providing materials related to his father’s service and commends him and Bomber Command Museum of Canada for their continuing efforts to see that the RCAF-Americans receive adequate recognition.

Sources and References

27th Fighter Group


British and Commonwealth Air Training Plan


British and Commonwealth Air Training Plan


Captains of the Clouds


Cessna T-50/UC-78 Bobcat


Cortland, Ohio


Canada Honors Virginia Airmen for WWII Sacrifices


Curtiss P-40 Warhawk


Curtiss-Wright AT-9


de havilland Tiger Moth


Douglas A-33


Douglas O-46


Fairey Battle


Fairey Battle


Fairey Battle IT


Fleet Finch


Fleet Finch


Gaffen, Fred. Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces From the Civil War to the Gulf, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995.

Lockheed B-34 Lexington


Martin B-26 Maurader


Middlebrook, Martin and Chris Everitt. The Bomber Command War Diaries. An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945. London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Mustang II


Mustang Aeronautics Midget Mustang MM-1


Name of Canada


North American A-36 Apache


North American AT-6


North American Harvard


North American (Noorduyn) Harvard Mk IIB


North American Harvard Mk II

North American B-25 Mitchell


North American O-47


Piper L-4 /O-59/L-18 “Grasshopper”


RCAF Trainer Aircraft


RCAF war dead from Virginia commemorated


Republic P-47D Thunderbolt


The Americans who died for Canada in WWII finally get their due: These men are my heroes


Vultee BT-13 Valiant


Whitehouse, Arch. The Years of the War Birds, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1960.