Women Spitfire Pilots of WWII

Women Spitfire Pilots were part of the The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). It was a British WWII civilian organization that ferried new repaired and damaged military aircraft like the RAF Spitfire, between UK factories, Maintenance Units, scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields (but not to aircraft carriers). They also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work. The organisation recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for reasons of age or fitness for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm (therefore humorously referred to as ‘Ancient and Tattered Airmen’), pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.

In late 1939, Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organizing the women’s section of the ATA.There were 166 women pilots (one in eight of the entire service) who volunteered from Britain, the Commonwealth (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), United States, the Netherlands, Poland, and one fromArgentina, Maureen Dunlop. Fifteen lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviator Amy Johnson. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organization starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organization under its jurisdiction.(Note, at the same time, American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP, were earning as little as 65% of their male colleagues.) Although initially restricted to non-combat types (i.e. trainers and transports), women pilots were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.

First Officer Maureen Dunlop

First Officer Maureen Dunlop exits her Fairey Barracuda, Picture Post cover, 16 September 1944

Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA at White Waltham on 30 November 1945.

“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”