The myth and legends surrounding the military lineage of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club has, for decades, been cited as being from former members of the Hell’s Angels Bomber B-17 Group from World War II. This myth has been aided by incorrect reporting by authors who deemed it appropriate to align the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) with ex-service members returning from a war where excitement and adventure had become their lifestyle. Authors and newspaper correspondents, from a wide assortment of daily, weekly and other periodicals have made statements, not founded in fact. It has been stated that these former servicemen were alleged to have been drunkards, military misfits, and generally speaking substandard soldiers that would not adjust to a return to a peacetime environment. If any person, regardless of their association, considered the content of the statements and inferences made, they would find these to lack any rational thought or concern for truthful reporting.
A historical review of the exploits and accomplishments of the implied Bomber Group, 303rd Bombardment Groups (Heavy) (303rd) European Theater of Operations (ETO) show’s that this bomber unit did not tolerate malcontents, drunken pilots or aircrews. Such individuals, had they existed, would have seriously hindered the effectiveness of combat operations and would have been dealt with harshly and promptly. Documented records of the 303rd can be found in „Might in Flight“, Daily Diary of the Eighth Air Force’s Hell’s Angels, 303rd Bombardment Group (H), by Harry D. Gobrecht, LtCol, USAF (Ret). One of the 303rd’s most famous B-17’s serial number #41-24577, commanded by then Captain Irl Baldwin, was named „Hell’s Angels“. This aircraft was unnamed until it’s fourth or fifth mission. The crew decided to adopt the name „Hell’s Angels“ after the 1927 „Hell’s Angels“ WWI fictional Fighter Squadron movie by Howard Hughes. On 13 May 1943 the 303rd’s B-17F „Hell’s Angels“ became the first 8th Air Force B-17 to complete 25 combat missions. This feat has wrongly been credited to the „Memphis Belle“ B-17 including the 1943 and 1990 „Memphis Belle“ movies. The „Memphis Belle“ B-17 was the first to complete 25 missions and return to the USA. „Hell’s Angels“ continued to fly combat missions until 13 December 1943, when she completed 48 combat missions it was retired from combat. Shortly thereafter she was flown to the USA, rejoined by members of the Capt Baldwin crew, went on a morale boosting tour of war production plants. „Hell’s Angels“ B-17F. serial number #41-24577 was dismantled, for scrap, in 1947. On 7 January 1944, by a vote of group and squadron commanders, „Hell’s Angels“ became the name of the 303rd with „Might in Flight“ being retained as the Group motto.
Facts, which have been undeniably proven, show that the 303rd „Hell’s Angels“ B-17F was only flown by highly dedicated, motivated and mission oriented airmen. They were not malcontents and did not report for mission in a drunken state. Crew pilot and commander, Capt Irl Baldwin, completed a stellar military career, retired as a LtCol, and was awarded numerous valorous and meritorious citations.
Records show that the 303rd became one of the 8th Air Forces best Bomb Groups. It operated from Station 107, Molesworth, Huntingdonshire, England from 12 September 1942 until 11 June 1945. During this time the Group flew an 8th Air Force record 364 combat missions, 10,721 sorties and dropped 26,346 tons of bombs on enemy targets. The 303rd is credited with 664 enemy aircraft destroyed, probably destroyed or damaged. They sustained 1,748 personnel casualties and lost 210 B-17’s on combat missions. The 303rd was the first 8th Air Force Bomb Group to complete 25, 50, 75, 200 and 300 combat missions. With this record doesn’t it seem strange that the post war media, more than likely influenced by a law enforcement community biased against the HAMC. Only overzealous sensationalistic reporters, would publish unreliable and malicious comments about 303rd crewmen or any other group, to include HAMC. These tainted reports represent a disservice to journalists that are professional in the execution of their craft. From available historical information at HAMC Berdoo and extensive research by the 303rd reveals that no lineage exists between the HAMC and the 303rd other than both organizations having the same name. HAMC has copyrighted the name Hells Angels (in any form of spelling) in the US and
Internationally, along with all variations of the „Deathshead“ insignia of HAMC. These trademarks copyrights are aggressively protected by HAMC, Inc. The name Hell’s Angels was adopted by no less that twelve B-17s throughout WWII, from a assortment of organizations, additionally it was adopted by a B-26 Medium Bomber squadron, a United States Marine Corps fighter squadron and even on a P-38 Lightning fighter.
The former Squadron Leader of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron „Hell’s Angels“ American Volunteer Group (AVG), Arvid Olsen, was the only known person with specific military lineage to an actual unit which bore the name Hell’s Angels that was affiliated with the foundation of the HAMC, which occurred in Fontana, California in March 1948. Arvid Olsen was an associate of the founders of the HAMC, he never attempted to or became a member of HAMC.
The AVG, or more famously known „The Flying Tigers“ (the name is credited to a United Press correspondent named McGrath for a article written on 26 December 1941) were a secret United States military operational entity, authorized and approved by then President Franklin D. Roosewelt, on 23 December 1940, under conditions of a SECRET Letter of Approval: refer to official file 150, FDR Library, Memoranda 1941. The secret approval was only recently declassified in December 1991, after 50 years, when the AVG was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Additionally the pilots of the AVG were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses. Ground crew personnel of the AVG were awarded Bronze Star Medals. After all those years the AVG veterans, that were still alive, received Veterans status from a grateful nation! This acknowledgment seems more like an after thought to an intentional oversight, on the part of the government.
As part of this covert operation, which had been requested by Claire Lee Chennault ( a former USAAC pilot instructor and veteran of the 94th „Hat in the Ring“ squadron during WWI) on behalf of Chaing Kai-Shek and the Chinese government, who had been at war with the Empire of Japan since 1937. The AVG were to be equipped, organized and deployed, in China, against the Empire of Japan. The AVG received 100 P-40 fighter aircraft. The P-40’s were diverted from a shipment to England. The personnel were recruited from active branches of the War Department: the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Pilots, maintenance, communications, clerical and medical personnel were secretly recruited from active duty units. All documentation, equipment and personnel transfers were processed through and by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), as approved by the US Government. Nothing could then be traced to the United States government, which was not yet in conflict with the Empire of Japan. Chaing Kai-Shek appointed Chennault Commander of the AVG.
The AVG was divided into four elements: a headquarters squadron and three (3) fighter squadrons. Each squadron selected their respective name, which was the custom of the time for military aviation units. The First Pursuit Squadron (1PS) became the Adam Eve’s. The Second Pursuit Squadron (2PS) became the Panda Bears. Chuck Older, Ken Jernstedt, Tom Haywood and Ed Overend, all former USMC pilots, selected the name „Hell’s Angels“ for the Third Pursuit Squadron (3PS). Of note is that Charles ‚Chuck‘ Older, became a judge and presided over the trial of Charles Manson. Ken Jernstedt became a US Senator. After deactivation of the AVG Ed Overend returned to the USMC where he commanded VMF-321, a US Marine Corps fighter Squadron, which he named „Hell’s Angels“ and adopted the „Lady“ insignia of the 3PS AVG. Squadron Leader Olsen was not involved in that name selection, however he immediately agreed with the recommendation. The Tiger Shark motif on the AVG P-40 aircraft was the idea of (3PS) Hell’s Angels Flight Leader Erik Shilling and (1PS) Adam Eve Vice Squadron Leader Charles Bond, when they found a British magazine with photographs of an RAAF P-40 in desert camouflage. When the two took the idea to Chennault he wanted the entire Group to adopt the motif. Even today Shilling and Bond claim first for idea and application of the Tiger Shark paint job on the P-40’s of the AVG. Erik Shilling actually painted his P-40 first, as Bond had gone off base to acquire the paint, whereas Shilling got paint on the base from Chinese personnel that were painting the Chinese Air Force insignia on the P-40’s.
Each of the squadrons, now with an approved name, designed their respective squadron insignia. The Hell’s Angels decided on a red colored silhouette of a very shapely female with halo and wings outlined in white. This design originated with 3PS crew chief Stan Regis in late November or December 1941. Each Hell´s Angels pilot had his own „Lady“ painted on his individual aircraft, subsequently each „Lady“ had her own personality. Yet the colors of red on white was the standard for the entire squadron. This same motif and insignia is used today by active United States Army, Marine Corps and Air Force squadrons, additionally a fighter squadron of the Israeli Air Force. During the seven month combat operations of the AVG this unit acquired a record of 297 Japanese aircraft destroyed, as confirmed by British and Chinese Intelligence. Other sources have placed the total Japanese aircraft destruction, caused by the AVG, at well over 600 to 900, including aircraft destroyed on the ground during strafing operations. AVG losses were 4 pilots killed in air combat, 7 killed by ground fire, 3 died as a result of Japanese bombing while they were on the ground and 1 missing in action presumed dead. That reflects an AVG to Japanese kill ratio of 50 to 1, a record that has never been equaled. Chennault reviewed official Japanese war records, after the war. The Japanese reported the destruction of 544 AVG aircraft. Of note was the fact that at no time did the AVG possessed more than 100 aircraft in their unit. The AVG was disbanded on 4 July 1942, at which time few accepted returning into the US Army Air Force, most optioned to return to the US where they returned to active service or other war efforts. The reason many refused immediate return to active service, in China, was the manner by which Brigadier General Bissell, USAAF, presented the option to them. Bissell had been a long time adversary of Chennault and the Flying Tigers. Chennault, who had accepted return to active military service, prior to the deactivation of the AVG, at the rank of Brigadier General continued to command the 14th Air Force in the China Burma Theater (CBT). The 14th Air Force all referred to themselves as „Flying Tigers“, even though the real „Flying Tigers“ had been deactivated on 4 July 1942.
General Chennault was forced into retirement immediately prior to the Japanese surrender. At the official surrender ceremony, aboard the USS Missouri, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur asked, „Where’s Chennault“? As a final insult General Chennault, founder and commander of the AVG, who had fought the Japanese Empire since 1937 wasn’t even permitted to be present at the official end of hostilities, of which he had participated in for 8 years, unlike the 4 years of participation by other US officials at that ceremony.
To answer the question of lineage between HAMC and a military organization is that Arvid Olsen, „Flying Tigers“ Hell’s Angels squadron gave the idea of the name to the actual founders of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, in Fontana, California. The selection of our colors, red on white, is a result of the association of Olsen with the HAMC founders, like the insignia of the 3PS „Hell’s Angels“. The insignia of the HAMC, our copyrighted Deathshead can also be traced to two variant insignia designs, the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron. Frank Sadliek, past president of the San Francisco Chapter, HAMC, designed the official „Deathshead“ insignia. Arvid Olsen died 16 May 1974 in Point Clear, Alabama.