BIG JOE McCARTHY -The RCAF's American Dambuster
by Dave Birrell
Joe McCarthy was one of about 9000 Americans who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force prior to the United States entering World War II. Of the 9000, Joe McCarthy’s air force career is clearly the most outstanding, remarkable for the degree of his involvement and for the variety of his challenges and successes. During an interview recorded following his retirement, Joe remarked of his wartime career, “That whole time was amazing. The things that we got into and what we did in those times -the stories and the events that happened were fantastic.”
Looking back, there is no question that they were. Joe served and flew with extraordinary people and played a significant role in numerous extraordinary events. A tour of operations with 97 Squadron and being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross was only the beginning. Personally selected by W/C Guy Gibson, Joe trained for and executed his role during the Dams Raid, the most demanding tactical air operation of the Second World War. Almost fourteen months of special and varied operations with 617 Squadron followed. These flights included low-level bombing, target marking, amazingly precise high-level bombing, the use of huge, special purpose bombs against critical targets, and clandestine low-level operations to supply the underground forces in occupied Europe. Through all this, Joe worked closely with and was highly respected by many of the legends of Bomber Command including Guy Gibson, Mickey Martin, and Leonard Cheshire. Immediately following the war, Joe played a major role in the acquisition and testing of numerous exotic German aircraft before returning to Canada and completing an exemplary post-war career with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Through all of this, as was almost always the case with Bomber Command aircrew, Joe remained self-effacing and modest, willing to give the credit to his crew and fellow airmen, and believed that he was just doing his job.
The author made extensive use of video and audio interviews recorded following Joe’s retirement.
- Dave Birrell, April 2012
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