Peter Frampton, Spitfires, Kittyhawks, Mustangs and RCAF-American Fred Vance

Karl Kjarsgaard addressing CAHF members. Photo: Military Aviation Chronicles.

16 October 2019 | Lakewood, Colorado, USA.  On a Saturday evening in early September legendary guitarist Peter Frampton took the stage at MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, Florida. Frampton performed many songs from his long and successful career, noting during the concert that in June 2019 his All Blues album had debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart. A previously released work is the 2012 CD titled Thank You Mr. Churchill, the cover of which features a Supermarine Spitfire in flight.

On 12 October 2019, a Coloradan by the name of Fredrick Renshaw Vance was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame. Vance, like thousands of other ‘Yanks’ in Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) uniform, gave his life in the defence of freedom and liberty. Fred Vance first flew in combat at the controls of a Spitfire.

Frederick Renshaw Vance in RCAF uniform. Photo: American Air Museum in Britain.

At the 50th anniversary Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame Banquet, and prior to the 200 attendees enjoying a catered lunch, Joe Thibodeau gave a benediction that referenced the famous sonnet High Flight. This poem was composed by another RCAF-American by the name of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., who was also a Spitfire pilot. Colorado Aviation Historical Society Chairman of the Board Lance Barber and President Stephen Kelly welcomed those who had gathered for the inductions. This event was one of a number of notable 2019 aviation-related celebrations, which included the unforgettable Coronation Review of the Fleet Commemoration & Anniversary Flight, held within the borders of the State of Colorado.

Thibodeau also mentioned the biblical verse Isaiah 40:3, which alludes to flight and contains the wording “wings like eagles”. A bagpiper piped a song to mark the official commencement of the event.

Karl Kjarsgaard and former Tuskegee Airman Lieutenant-Colonel James Harvey discuss their experiences with North American Mustangs. Photo: Military Aviation Chronicles.

Later, after conclusion of the meal, cosponsor of the inductee *Karl Kjarsgaard, a retired Air Canada captain and an official representing *Bomber Command Museum of Canada, took the podium.

A bagpiper pipes his way into the CAHF Banquet. Photo: Military Aviation Chronicles.

Karl, who logged some dozen hours at the controls of a Spitfire Tr.9 in Colorado airspace during the 1980s, gave a presentation on Fred Vance. His voice was occasionally choked with emotion, and many in the audience had misty eyes or were streaming tears as he proceeded with the saga of Fred Vance and his fellow RCAF-Americans.

Frederick Renshaw Vance was the son of Deane Harold Vance. He was an officer and physician in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. Deane was born in Silverton, Colorado. Harrietta, Fred’s mother, was born at Fort Morgan, Colorado. It appears that Fred left school at age 16 and joined the U.S. Merchant Marine. He served as a seaman from 1934 to 1938. From 15 September 1936 to 1 June 1939 Fred was employed as captain of the yacht Senrab. Over the course of one season in 1939 he also captained the yacht Windigo.

Fred Vance then enlisted in the RCAF at Toronto, Ontario on 4 November 1940. He underwent flying training at No. 14 Service Flying Training School at Aylmer, Ontario. Fred was subsequently posted to No. 1 Manning Depot, Toronto, Ontario on 26 September 1941. After graduation he was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth, Dorset, England. Fred was afterward, on 25 November 1941, sent to No. 58 Operational Training Unit at RAF Grangemouth, which was located near Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland. On 3 March 1942 Vance was sent to No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), at RAF North Weald, Essex, England. At the time 121 (Eagle) Squadron was equipped with Supermarine Spitfire VB fighters.

Fred Vance (right) when posted to 121 Eagle Squadon RAF. Photo: American Air Museum in Britain.

Fred Vance saw some action during his time with No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron. One combat report, in part, states, “On 27 May 1942, 121 flew a shipping recce [reconnaissance] off Flushing Harbour. Squadron Leader Kennard saw two minesweepers and a destroyer and took his no. 2 – Sgt. Kelly – down into a screaming attack on one of the sweepers, ordering Jimmy Daley and Sgt. Vance onto the other. Kennard’s example also went for the first vessel. Both ships were badly shot about, Daley and Vance’s target sending up a column of smoke after an explosion. As they pulled up, Daley saw eight Me 109’s above and immediately attacked one which Vance saw dive into the sea. Vance put some lead into another which staggered away smoking.”

Spitfire VB of No. 222 Squadron RAF in flight during 1942. RAF photo.

Another document records the following details of a later action: “Hugh Kennard flew a similar mission on the 31st, this time to the Northeast of Walcheren, and again they found two minesweepers. Kennard ordered an attack on one of them, Flight Lieutenant Tom Allen and Sgt. Vance going in.”

On 11 July 1942 Fred Vance was assigned to No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron Headquarters at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. From there he was sent to No. 185 Squadron, RAF, at Malta and afterward to RAF Air Headquarters Malta. On 27 January 1943 Fred found himself at RAF Operational Headquarters Middle East. A posting to the RAF Personnel Transit Centre at RAF Almaza (Almaza, Egypt) followed on 6 April 1943. From there he went, on 4 June 1943, to RAF Headquarters Mediterranean Air Command. On 7 April 1943 Fred was attached to 239 Wing, RAF Desert Air Force. Finally, on 24 April 1943, he joined No. 112 Squadron, RAF, at Medenine, Tunisia.

No. 112 Squadron RAF Kittyhawks at Tunisia RAF. Photo: Imperial War Museums photograph TR 975 2.

No. 112 Squadron, RAF, was nicknamed ‘The Shark Squadron’ because they were the first of any Allied air force to use the famous shark mouth artwork on variants of the Curtiss P-40. The RAF unit adopted and modified the ‘shark mouth’ design, having been inspired by those painted on some German Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110s of Zerstörergeschwader 76. (Notably No. 112’s adoption of the shark mouth image was subsequently similarly undertaken by other Allied P-40 units, including the American Volunteer Group [aka ‘Flying Tigers’] of the Chinese Air Force.) By the time of Fred Vance’s arrival No. 112 Squadron were utilising Curtiss Kittyhawks.

No. 112 Squadron RAF Kittyhawk Mk IIIs at Medenine, Tunisia on 31 December 1942. Royal Air Force photograph TR 978 via Imperial War Museums no. 4905-03.

‘Kittyhawks’ (RAF terminology for the U.S. Army Air Forces designation of P-40 ‘Warhawk’) were rugged and competent fighter-bombers. The American-built fighter-bombers were considered generally superior to the legendary Hurricane, which they eventually replaced. But after having flown Spitfires in combat, Fred Vance probably was longing to again go to war in the Supermarine product for, as former RAF Battle of Britain Geoffrey Wellum says in the 2018 documentary Spitfire: The Plane that Saved the World, “You can’t fly a Spitfire and forget about it. Stays with you forever.”

As fate would have it, Fred’s last sortie was over Sicily. He was flying a Kittyhawk during a tactical operation on 13 July 1943 in support of the British 8th Army’s advance north along the eastern coast of Italy. Apparently a victum of antiaircraft ground fire, he was officially listed as ‘Missing Presumed Dead’ on 14 July 1943.

Fred Vance’s headstone at Cantania, Sicily. Source: Frederick Galea via Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

A tombstone in a Cantania, Sicily cemetery marks the final resting place of the remains of this valiant American who unhesitantly went to the defence of America’s Mother country (England) and Britain’s overseas dominions in order to battle Nazism and fascism.


*Author’s Note:  On 31 October 2019 Karl Kjarsgaard will be awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers/Médaille du souverain pour les bénévoles, which is a Canadian decoration intended to honour volunteers who have made significant contributions. The medal is intended for someone whose voluntary leadership and associated activities provide extraordinary assistance to individuals, groups or community organisations.  The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta will officiate at the 31 October 2019 ceremony on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen and the Governor General of Canada, who is the viceregal representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Ottawa.

The author (John T. Stemple) wishes readers to know that legislation (H.R. 980/American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2019) in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to award Congressional Gold Medals and recognize the legacies of the American volunteer aviators and others who risked life, limb and citizenship to defend liberty before America officially became a belligerent.

*Bomber Command was a branch of service that incurred thousands of deaths as a result of combat operations. Amongst these casualty figures are thousands of Canadians and also hundreds of Royal Canadian Air Force-Americans. RCAF squadrons were often equipped with Handley Page Halifaxes, and eventually Avro Lancasters, heavy bombers. Scores of Canadians and RCAF-Americans perished as they unreservedly and bravely took the war to Germany’s National Socialist (‘Nazi’) forces in occupied Europe. Their sacrifices have been overlooked. In fact, one of the few organisations which actively pay tribute to these men and women is Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta.

Sources and Suggested Readings

Alberta Order of Excellence

Avro Lancaster

Battle of the River Forth: The day World War Two started for real in skies over Edinburgh

British East Florida

Click to access British%20garrison.pdf

British East Florida

Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial

Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame

Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame Laureates

Colorado Aviation Historical Society

Colorado Aviation Historical Society

Colorado Aviation Historical Society

Commemorative Air Force salutes Her Majesty The Queen and military veterans

Commonwealth of Nations

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Desert Air Force

East Florida

Florida of the British

Fred Renshaw Vance

Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)

Handley Page Halifax

H.R.980 – American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2019

Joseph Thibodeau and William Hamilton Inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame

Lavigne, Michel, James F. Edwards, and Alain Gagné. Kittyhawks Over the Sands: The Canadians & the RCAF Americans. Victoriaville, Québec: Lavigne Aviation Publications, 2002.

Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre

No. 112 Squadron, RAF

North American P-51 Mustang

Peter Frampton

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee: “High Flight”

RAF 112 Squadron tribute site

No. 121 ‘Eagle’ Squadron

Old Florida Maps: The English Period

Peter Frampton

Rock and roll

Spitfire Society

Supermarine Spitfire

Spitfire: The Plane that Saved the World. DVD. Eliptical Wing Ltd. 2018.  ASIN: B07D59528V.

Thank You Mr. Churchill

Thank You Mr. Churchill

Tuskegee Airmen