ATLANTA, Ga. – It was not Winston Churchill who won World War II, but it was indeed he who did not lose it, wrote prominent World War II historian John Lukacs.
In order not to lose the battle in the air, especially when England was one-on-one against initially victorious Nazi Germany, Churchill needed airplanes. However, London lacked resources for manufacturing them in the necessary quantities. This was when deliveries from Canada and the United States became critical. With the shipping of planes across the Atlantic onboard cargo-ships taking too much time (and being too dangerous, as Germany’s U-boats were patrolling the ocean), Churchill suggested that the planes fly instead. From Newfoundland, the Western Hemisphere’s closest island to the European continent with suitable airports, the planes would fly directly to Britain. This may sound like something very doable today, but it was not so in early 1940s when radar was still developing. To travel in the direction of England the pilots had to rely on…the stars. “Flying the North Atlantic was something very new in those early war years. Commercial airlines didn’t do it. It was widely considered unflyable,” Kerkorian’s biographer William Rempel wrote.
Imagine no heating in the cockpit, no developed system of weather forecast, no extra fuel, so if the pilot missed the British islands they would run out of fuel and very likely crash. The British Royal Air Force started recruiting the best pilots in America who could make this dangerous flight, and one of the aces they found was Kirk Kerkorian. Another courageous pilot was Bill VanDerKloot. He and Kerkorian served the Royal Air Force for years, delivering dozens of planes to embattled England.
“They were really a small band of civilian airmen that were flying this very dangerous operation,” William VanDerKloot, the son of Bill VanDerKloot said over a Zoom interview. “Kirk and my father formed a bond. After the war, they stayed in touch and Kirk invited my dad out to Las Vegas to the openings of some of his casinos.”
William VanDerKloot is a producer. He made a film on this called “Flying the Secret Sky,” which tells the story of this dangerous adventure of delivering planes from Canada to England. While working on this film, he met Kerkorian in person and interviewed him for the film. This is one of the rare videos of our famous compatriot as the Las Vegas tycoon was known for not being fond of interviews.
The video segment provides the interviews of Kerkorian provided by Mr. VanDerKloot as a courtesy and the interview with William VanDerkloot.