Date of Award

Fall 10-2021

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Heather Stur

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Susannah Ural

Committee Member 3 School



Before the United States entered the Second World War, 245 American pilots pledged their service to the Royal Air Force (RAF). Organized into 71, 121, and 133 Squadrons, collectively known as the Eagle Squadrons, these foreign volunteers present an intriguing avenue of soldier motivation analysis. Employing the conceptual framework offered by John Lynn and James McPherson, this thesis analyzes three components of the Eagles’ motivation—initial, sustaining, and combat.

Viewed in context, the Eagles’ decision to join a beleaguered air force reflected a commitment to ideological principles, as the desires to defend England and curb German aggression figured largely into their initial motivation. Once in England, these ideals persisted as motives to remain in RAF service, as their eagerness for combat reflected the ideological basis of their sustaining motivation. While actively engaged in combat, these pilots overcame fear by relying on strong leadership and blindly disregarding danger, but an ideological sense of duty likewise factored into their combat motivation.

Though past historians, such as Vern Haugland and Philip Caine, have argued that motivation in the Eagle Squadrons was largely rooted in adventurous and pragmatic factors, their analysis ended with the pilots’ decisions to enlist. By providing a full-scale analysis of the Eagles’ motivation, evidenced by interviews, memoirs, diaries, and letters, this thesis conveys the Eagle Squadrons’ uniqueness. The primacy of ideological factors in these pilots’ initial, sustaining, and combat motivation represents a departure from typical military units and demonstrates the historical significance of the Eagle Squadrons beyond their military contributions.