Canadian Air Force
During World War II the
RCAF of 1939 expanded into the fourth largest air power of the Allied
Forces. Its small group of aging Aircraft was replaced by thousands of the
latest training and operational types and its personnel increased more
than fifty-fold to a peak of over 200,000. In Canada, a vast training
organization was formed to put over 80 operational squadrons in the field
on coastal defence, shipping protection and overseas duties.
The Air Cadet Corps
The expansion of the Air Force and operation of the large training
establishment depended upon a steady flow of recruits. One valuable agency
in maintaining a steady supply of pre-trained recruits was the Air Cadet
Corps. Formed in June 1941, as a voluntary civilian organization, the Air
Cadet League was subsequently incorporated in the RCAF in April 1943. Air
Cadet squadrons with over 30,000 schoolboys between 12 and 18 years of age
received preliminary instruction during the war. Many later served with
distinction in operational squadrons.
During the war, the RCAF was divided into three major forces. One force
was engaged in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), another
was employed in theatres of war overseas, and the third was stationed in
Canada in the Home War Establishment on western hemisphere operations.
The British Commonwealth
Air Training Plan (BCATP)
From the beginning of hostilities it was recognized that one of Canada's
major roles in the war would be as a training ground where instruction
could be carried on away from the actual battle area. Government
representatives from United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada met
in Ottawa and signed an agreement in December 1939 to set up the BCATP,
converting Canada into what President Roosevelt later termed "the
aerodrome of democracy."
The initial plan provided for Elementary Flying Training Schools, Service
Flying Training Schools, and Air Observer Schools. Supplementing these
were numerous other units for recruiting, training, maintenance, and
administration, making a total of 74 schools, depots and other formations.
When fully developed, the BCATP was required to produce 520 pilots a month
with elementary training, 544 pilots with service training, 340 air
observers, and 580 wireless operator-airgunners. The first schools opened
in April 1940, and all were in operation by 1942. The initial
responsibility for establishing, administering and operating this complex
plan was placed upon the shoulders of the RCAF which had scarcely more
than 4,000 officers and airmen.
It was a challenging task. Sites for dozens of aerodromes had to be
selected, roads and runways built, hangars, barracks, and other buildings
erected. Incredible quantities of equipment, ranging from thumbtacks to
airplanes had to be procured. Experts had to be recruited - doctors,
dentists, chaplains, technicians, executives, mechanics, bookkeepers,
cooks, teachers, flying instructors - to receive, examine, equip, instruct
and train the thousands of young men who were clamouring to enlist. Around
the nucleus of RCAF personnel and the specialist RAF officers who had been
sent to assist them, a force of skilled men from all walks of life rapidly
gathered. Among them were some of Canada's leading citizens: doctors,
engineers, bush pilots, scientists and lawyers. From the US came a
contingent of American commercial pilots eager to help in what they
considered to be the common cause.
At the close of 1943, the BCATP reached its maximum expansion of 97
schools and 184 ancillary units. Production averaged over 3,000 graduates
per month, and in less than three years 82,000 trained aircrew were
qualified. The reserve of aircrew was in excess of immediate needs
overseas and it was possible to start a reduction in training early in
1944. The closing down of schools was accelerated in October and at the
end of March 1945, the BCATP officially was terminated. It had done its
job beyond all expectations.
The Defence of Canada
Eastern and Western Commands were assigned the defence of Canada's coasts.
Their maritime squadrons went on duty at the beginning of September 1939,
and continued to operate over the Atlantic and the Pacific until the final
surrender of Germany and Japan. The bulk of the work fell to Eastern Air
Command (EAC). After Pearl Harbour the major responsibility continued to
be EAC's, whose Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief directed all the work of
air protection in the North West Atlantic.
Battle of the Atlantic
The first 18 months of the war were relatively quiet, but from the spring
of 1941, the resources of EAC were taxed to their utmost limits in the
grim Battle of the Atlantic. Enemy U-boats were sighted and attacked in
Canadian coastal waters. The enemy even penetrated into the St. Lawrence
River to sink vessels.
The most critical period was in 1942 and the first six months of 1943 when
submarine activity in the North Atlantic reached its peak. Then the tide
turned, and although the introduction of the acoustic torpedo and later
the "Schnorkel" breathing-tube presented new serious defence problems, the
sea and air forces of Britain, US and Canada retained the upper hand until
the last U-boats surrendered in May 1945. Aircraft of EAC sank six
submarines. This figure is not full measure of the Command's contribution,
nor would the total number of sightings and attacks express it. A better
indication is to be found in the thousands upon thousands of hours flown
by the aircrew, through weather that was often appalling, while they
carefully searched the grey expanse of water, forced the enemy to
crash-dive or remain submerged, drove them away from our convoys and
permitted the ships to continue on their way unmolested. It was weary and
unglamorous work but its importance cannot be over-emphasized. The battle
lines of Western Europe were fed by the long Atlantic sea lanes. Although
there was much less submarine activity on the Pacific coast, the Aircraft
of Western Air Command (WAC) were not unrewarded for their long hours of
hunting. One venturesome Japanese submarine was sent to the bottom near
Prince Rupert by two US naval vessels after it had been so badly damaged
by an RCAF Bolingbroke that it was unable to escape.
In the late spring of 1942, WAC sent several bomber- reconnaissance and
fighter squadrons to Alaska and the Aleutians to assist the American
forces in checking a Japanese threat from that direction. For months they
carried out reconnaissance patrols and strafing missions in that isolated
theatre of war. During one of these missions, a Canadian Kittyhawk pilot
shot down a Japanese Zero, the only enemy Aircraft that was destroyed by
home-based units during the war. The Canadians remained in the Aleutians,
flying side by side with the Americans in "the worst flying weather in the
world," until the Japanese withdrew from Kiska in August 1943. Later
another potential threat developed when the Japanese began sending paper
balloons across the Pacific carrying incendiaries and small bombs. The
balloons caused no appreciable damage although they kept the west coast
fighter squadrons on the alert for many months,
To move Aircraft and supplies from the US to Alaska and the Aleutians, a
North West Staging Route was developed within Western Air Command. Along
this aerial highway also flowed great quantities of Aircraft and material
for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The volume and
importance of the traffic led to the formation in June 1944, of the North
West Air Command with headquarters at Edmonton. It was formed to
administer the great chain of airfields and Aircraft control facilities.
On both coasts the Aircraft Detection Corps contributed outstanding
service. This was an organization of volunteer civilian ground observers -
farmers, woodsmen, schoolboys, housewives, fishermen - who reported
movements of Aircraft and kept watch for submarines or suspicious surface
vessels. There was little enemy activity for them to report, but their
network of observer posts on many occasions was of assistance in rescuing
Aircraft in distress. Although the Corps was officially disbanded in
November 1944, observers remained on the watch in certain key areas until
the end of hostilities.
The RCAF Overseas
The heavy commitments of the RCAF in the development and administration of
the BCATP, in addition to its responsibility for air defence, made it
necessary to retain the greater part of the Force at home. Only three
squadrons could be spared for overseas service in the early months of the
The Original Three
The first of these units for overseas service was No. 110 Army
Co-operation (Auxiliary) Squadron which was strengthened by personnel from
No. 112 (Auxiliary) and No. 2 (Permanent) Squadrons. No. 110 arrived in
Britain in February 1940, and began training with the intention of
accompanying the Canadian Army divisions to France. Four months later when
the war situation was extremely critical, No. 112 Army Co-operation
(Auxiliary) Squadron and No. 1 Fighter (Permanent) Squadron, reinforced by
personnel from No. 115 (Auxiliary) also went overseas.
The fall of France and the cessation of land operations in Western Europe
relegated the two Army Co-operation squadrons to a long period of waiting,
but No. 1 Fighter Squadron saw action in the Battle of Britain in the
summer and autumn of 1940.
The 400 Block
At the end of 1940 the first trickle of BCATP graduates began to flow
overseas, most of them being posted to RAF units. In the initial stages of
the Plan many of the aircrew graduates had to be retained in Canada as
instructors for the further expansion of the BCATP. However, as the number
of personnel available for service abroad increased, it became possible to
organize new RCAF squadrons in Britain. Many of these new units were RCAF
in name rather than in fact, until the policy of "Canadianization"
eventually changed the situation.
When this expansion of the RCAF overseas began in the spring of 1941, a
new system of numeration was adopted to avoid confusion with RAF units.
The 400-449 block was allotted to the RCAF and the three original
squadrons were given new numbers; No. 110 became No. 400, No. 1 became No.
401, and No. 112 (which had been reorganized as No. 2 Fighter in December
1940) became No. 402.
The first unit formed overseas was No. 403 Fighter in March 1941.
Seventeen more squadrons were formed in 1941, ten in 1942, four in 1943,
and nine in 1944, so that by the end of the war the number of squadrons in
the overseas 400 series had grown to 44. Included in this number were six
squadrons which, after periods of service in EAC and WAC, were transferred
to Britain late in 1943 and early 1944 and completed a second tour of
operations with the Second Tactical Air Force. No. 162 Squadron was also
detached from EAC for operations with Coastal Command from bases in
Iceland and Northern Scotland during the last 17 months of the war. In
addition to these 45 units there were also three Air Observation Post (AOP)
squadrons (Nos. 664, 665 and 666) composed of Royal Canadian Artillery and
RCAF personnel. The total number of squadrons that saw service overseas
was 48 (including No. 162 Squadron).
The RCAF squadrons included 15 bomber, 11 day-fighter, three
fighter-bomber, three fighter-reconnaissance, four night- fighter and
intruder, six coastal, three transport, and three AOP. In addition to
these units there were large numbers of RCAF personnel who served in RAF
formations in the air and on the ground in every command and theatre of
The Battle of Britain - Fighter Command
It was in the critical period of May-June 1940, when France was crumbling
and the cause of freedom seemed in retreat, that No. 1 Fighter Squadron of
the RCAF arrived in Britain under the command of S/L E.A. McNab. After a
few weeks training the squadron began operations August 19, 1940, at a
time when the Luftwaffe's attacks on southern England were increasing in
intensity. The first few days only resulted in fruitless scrambles; then
on August 26, the Canadian Hurricane pilots finally encountered a
formation of Dornier 215 bombers, three of which they destroyed. Eight
weeks later, when the Squadron flew to Scotland for a well-earned rest,
the score stood at 31 enemy Aircraft definitely destroyed and 43 more
probably destroyed or damaged. Three pilots had been killed in action -
the RCAF's first combat casualties.
The three most successful fighters, S/L McNab, F/L G.R. McGregor, and F/O
B.D. Russel, were awarded the DFC and thus became the first members of the
RCAF to be decorated for gallantry in action. In the Battle of Britain the
RCAF had received its baptism of fire and had acquitted itself with
"Rhubarbs and Circuses"
It was the summer of 1941 before the Canadian fighter pilots, whose
strength had now increased to five squadrons, were again heavily engaged
in action. In the interval the character of the air war had changed. The
Luftwaffe's daylight offensive against Britain had been thrown back with
heavy losses. Fighter Command, released from its defensive role, lost no
time in resuming the offensive.
Late in December 1940, Aircraft of Fighter Command began daylight
operations over northern France starting an air offensive which grew
steadily in magnitude until the day of final victory. In time, many types
of offensive operations were developed (in addition to the routine work of
patrolling over convoys moving along the coast), but broadly speaking the
activities of the fighters fell into two categories - "rhubarbs and
circuses". The purpose of a "rhubarb" was to hit the enemy on the ground
where it would inconvenience him the most. Hurricanes and Spitfires in
pairs or larger formations struck into Nazi-occupied France and Belgium
attacking railroads, munitions factories, airfields, electric lines and gun
The "circus" was a large formation of bombers and fighters which roared
high across the Channel to strike at railroad junctions, airfields, or
munitions plants. It had a twofold objective - to inflict damage upon the
enemy's communications and industries, and to draw the Germans into the
air where the fighter escort could engage it. These varied operations
forced the Nazis to maintain large anti- Aircraft defences in the
threatened areas and at the same time steadily whittled down the
Luftwaffe's fighter strength.
In all this work, squadrons of RCAF Hurricanes and Spitfires played their
part. In air battles over the Pas de Calais many pilots won distinction -
D.R. Morrison, J.C. Fee, L.V. Chadburn, K.L.B. Hodson, L.S. Ford, R.W.
McNair and H.C. Godefroy, to name but a few. At first the Canadian
squadrons flew in formations with other RAF units. Then, an all-Canadian
wing of three squadrons was formed and by the time D-Day arrived there
were three of these RCAF Spitfire wings. One was led for many months by
W/C J.E. Johnson, the top-scoring fighter pilot of the RAF, who ended the
war with 38 victories to his credit.
Americans in the RCAF
The US did not enter the war until December 1941, following the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbour. Many Americans did not wait for this declaration
of war and instead opted to join the Allied Forces.
One story is that of P/O Claud Weaver III, DFC, DFM, an American, born at
Oklahoma City, Okla., on August 18, 1922. He came to Canada to enlist in
the RCAF at Windsor, ONT., on February 13, 1941. He earned his wings in
October 1941, went overseas at once, and after a brief period with a
fighter squadron in Britain was posted to Malta. There he flew with No.
185 Squadron from July to September, 1942.
In August, Sgt Weaver was decorated with the DFM, for destroying five
enemy fighters and participating in a bomber kill within a period of one
week. He ran his Malta score up to ten before being shot down over Sicily
and taken prisoner on September 9, 1942. A year later he escaped from the
Prisoner of War (POW) camp and walked 300 miles to freedom. Appointed to a
commission, he immediately returned to operations with No. 403 (RCAF)
Squadron in Western Europe, late October 1943. He won two more victories
before he was shot down and killed in air combat while on a "ranger"
mission in the Amiens area on January 28, 1944. March 1944, the award of
the DFC was published and P/O Weaver also was mentioned in dispatches in
Air Prelude to the Invasion
After some sharp encounters in the air during the summer and autumn of
1943, the German fighter squadrons almost disappeared from the coastal
area in the six months preceding the invasion of Normandy. Many of them
had been withdrawn to Germany in a vain attempt to stem the devastating
daylight blows of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Fortresses and
Liberators. There was no lack of work however, for the squadrons of the
Second Tactical Air Force as the aerial preparation for D-Day gained
Mk XVIE Spitfire
In the spring of 1944, the Spitfires became fighter-bombers, carrying a
500 lb. "egg" under each wing with which to blast bridges, railroad
junctions, radar posts and coastal defences. Again and again the Spitfires
dive-bombed the carefully camouflaged "rocket" sites which the Nazis were
constructing in the Somme and Pas de Calais areas in preparation for the
flying bomb (V-1) offensive against England. An RCAF wing of Typhoon
fighter-bombers formed early in 1944, also had an active share in all
From Normandy to The Baltic
At dawn, June 6, 1944, the Canadian fighter wings were sent over the
beaches to stand guard while the Allied Forces poured ashore. Then, when
the beachheads were firmly established, they gave air support to the
British and Canadian Forces during the long and bitter fighting around
Caen. The Luftwaffe did not often appear over the battle area and on the
few occasions when it did come out in strength it lost heavily. June 28,
1944, RCAF Spitfires shot down 26 enemy Aircraft and crippled a dozen
others. Four days later they bagged 20 more, plus 11 damaged.
Ground strafing on armed reconnaissances, which steadily nibbled at the
Wehrmacht's armoured fighting vehicles and motor transport, reached a
climax in the four days in mid- August when the Nazi Seventh Army, caught
in a pocket between Falaise and Argentan, sought to escape eastward. From
dawn to dark, Spitfires and Typhoons raked the long columns of vehicles
with cannon and machine-gun fire and left the roads strewn with blazing,
smoking, shattered wrecks. The RCAF Wings alone estimated that they had
destroyed or damaged over 2,600 enemy vehicles. Then began the long
pursuit across northern France and Belgium into the Netherlands and
finally through the West Wall, across the Rhine River and into the plains
of north- western Germany. The fighter wings covered the advance of the
Armies, drove the enemy airforce out of the sky, blasted bridges and
strongpoints, and paralysed movement by road or rail.
When hostilities ended, No. 126 RCAF Spitfire Wing had flown 22,372
sorties and had destroyed 361 enemy Aircraft. The record of No.127, the
second Canadian Spitfire Wing, was equally impressive. During the same
period, No. 143 Typhoon Wing made 11,928 dive-bombing sorties and dropped
6,442 tons of bombs on Nazi defences, lines of communication and other
objectives. These Typhoon squadrons calculated they had blown up 16
bridges and two lock gates, cut rail lines in 1,210 places, and destroyed
or damaged over 3,600 locomotives, freight cars, tanks, vehicles, and
barges. Repeatedly the pilots had been commended for the support given
troops on the ground by their attacks on enemy positions.
Throughout all this long period No.39 Wing also had performed other
valuable services such as carrying out photographic and tactical
reconnaissances to gather information for the staffs planning the June 6th
invasion which had the Codename "Overlord." Then, moving to the continent,
they had continued this work for the British Second Army as it fought its
way from the beaches of Normandy to the banks of the Elbe River and
beyond. The Wing was the first major RCAF formation to cross the Rhine
River and it ended the war deeper in Germany than any other Canadian unit.
The Desert Air Force
In addition to these squadrons which served in Western Europe with Fighter
Command and Second Tactical Air Force (TAF), another RCAF day-fighter
squadron (No. 417) flew with the famed Desert Air Force on operations from
the Nile valley in Egypt to the plains of northern Italy. Its Spitfires
gave air protection to the port of Alexandria, participated in the closing
stages of the Tunisian campaign, covered the Allied invasions of Sicily
and Calabria, and guarded the beach-head at Anzio. Then, they become
fighter-bombers and supported the Eighth Army as it slogged its way up the
peninsula to the foothills of the Alps.
Night-fighting was still crude and elementary at the beginning of the war.
Radar assisted the Air Force to become more effective. By the time the
RCAF night-fighter squadrons (Nos. 406, 409 and 410) became operational in
the autumn of 1941, Beau-Fighters equipped with airborne interception
radar (AI) were already in use and the night blitz of the Luftwaffe had
been checked. Sporadic attacks, such as the "Baedeker raids" continued,
and the Canadian night- fighter teams were able to collect a total of 55
enemy Aircraft destroyed, 100 probables, and 27 damaged in the period
The invasion opened a new chapter in their history, as the squadrons now
flying Mosquitos patrolled over the beach- heads and the enemy's rear
areas to intercept German night raiders. In the last 11 months of the war,
the three squadrons shot down or destroyed on the ground over 150 enemy
Aircraft with 60 more as probably destroyed or damaged.
When the German V-1 flying-bombs began buzzing across the Channel in June
1944, two RCAF Mosquito squadrons were detailed to patrol the night skies
as part of the first line of defence. No. 409 Squadron destroyed ten
flying-bombs during the comparatively short time it was engaged on this
work. The other squadron, No. 418, shot down 77 V-1s over the Channel and
five more over the English coast. One crew, S/L Russ Bannock and F/O R.R.
Bruce, contributed 19 of this total.
Before it entered the V-1 campaign, No. 418 had won an outstanding
reputation as an intruder squadron. Flying Bostons and then Mosquitos, the
crews had been engaged on a counter-offensive against the Nazis' night
operations, patrolling over enemy airfields attack bombers as they
returned from raids or enemy night-fighters that sought to intercept
allied bombers. When no targets were to be found in the air, the intruder
crews dropped bombs on runways, bridges or rail junctions. Many victories
were scored on these night sorties, but the squadron achieved its greatest
success on daylight intrusions deep into enemy-held territory where its
Aircraft sometimes penetrated as far as the Baltic coast. Great fighter
teams such as S/L Charlie Scherf of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
and his Canadian observers, F/Os E.A. Brown and C.G. Rinlayson; F/O J.T.
Caineand P/O E.W. Boal; S/L R.A. Kipp and F/L Pete Huletsky repeatedly
distinguished themselves on these far- ranging forays.
In the three years that No. 418 Squadron was employed as an intruder unit
(November 1941-44) it tallied 105 enemy Aircraft destroyed in the air, 73
destroyed on the ground and 103 damaged in combat or strafes. In the last
five months of the war, the Squadron was converted to close support work
for the armies in Western Europe, making night bombing attacks on enemy
concentrations and communications.
When the war began Bomber Command's Aircraft consisted of single-engined
Battles and twin-engined Blenheims, Whitleys, Hampdens and Wellingtons.
Five years later these sturdy war-horses were replaced by fast twin-
engined Mosquitos and large four-engined heavy bombers, the Halifax and
the Lancaster. Mosquitos were regularly carrying 4,000 lb. "block-busters"
as far as Berlin, and the normal bomb load for the heavies was four to
five tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs.
The Command had increased many times in size; it had its own night-fighter
force capable of protecting streams of RCAF bombers, and could call upon
several hundred medium bombers from its Operational Training Units to
carry out "spoof" or feint (to divert attention and/or deceive opponent)
attacks. Bombs had grown from the 500-pounder used in the first raids in
September 1939, to the giant earth-shaking "Ten-Ton Tessie." The whole
technique of bombing had been completely transformed by the use of radar
which guided the Aircraft to the target, identified the objective even
when cloud completely covered the ground, and told the bomb-aimer
precisely when to let his bombs drop. Pathfinders led the way for the main
bomber force pinpointing and marking the target with flares while Master
bombers directed the ensuing attack.
Instead of using small forces to scatter bombs individually over several
targets, Bomber Command now concentrated its great strength on one
objective to saturate it with truly devastating effect. The cities of
Cologne, Bremen, Hamburg, and Berlin were the proof of the devastation.
RCAF Bomber Development
The first Canadian bomber squadrons were Nos. 405 (Wellington) and 408
(Hampden), formed in April and June 1941. In December, Nos. 419 and 420
squadrons were organized and began operations a month later on the same
Aircraft. For over a year these four original units carried the RCAF
standard in Bomber Command. Cologne, Bremen, Kiel, Wilhelmshaven,
Mannheim, Duisburg, Berlin, Essen...most of the names in the "Bomber's
Baedeker" appeared on their list of targets.
In May and June 1942, the first three 1,000 bomber raids were carried out
against Cologne and Bremen and a number of Halifaxes joined the veteran
Wellingtons and Hampdens in the Canadian bombing force. No. 405 Squadron,
which flew the four-engined heavies, was now under the command of W/C J.E.
Fauquier, the first RCAF officer to lead a bomber squadron. Thrice
decorated with the DSO and with the DFC for his services as bomber pilot,
squadron commander, and master bomber, Johnny Fauquier, as he was best
known, became the RCAF's outstanding bomber leader of the war. He rose to
the rank of Air Commodore and was one of the senior staff officers at the
Canadian Group Headquarters. He later voluntarily relinquished this rank
to assume command of the famous No. 617 ( "Dam-Busters") Squadron of the
RAF, which had breached the Mohne and Eder dams and then had sunk the
German battleship, the "Tirpitz."
No 6 Group Formed
By the fall of 1942, the number of Canadian bomber units had grown to five
with the addition of No. 425 ("Alouette") Squadron. Six more Wellington
units were organized before the year ended and in January 1943, RCAF
Bomber Group No. 6, was formed under the command of A/V/M G.E. Brookes. He
was succeeded a year later by A/V/M C.M. McEwen.
North African Wing
Three RCAF bomber squadrons were detached to the Mediterranean theatre to
take part in the invasion of Sicily and Italy. In May and June 1943, Nos.
420, 424 and 425 Squadrons (recognized as No. 331, Medium Bomber Wing
under the command of G/C R Dunlap) moved by sea and air from England to
Tunisia, Africa. For over three months their Wellingtons went out almost
every night to bomb airfields, harbours, freight yards, and rail junctions
in preparation for the landings by the British, American, and Canadian
troops. When Italy deserted the Axis and became a co-belligerent the Wing
returned to Britain and rejoined No. 6 Group.
The Final Tally
The winter months of 1944-45 with their long periods of fog and rain
caused a decrease in the high tempo of the Group's operations. By early
spring of 1945, the Group's pace again quickened in the final all-out
offensive. Targets however, were rapidly becoming scarcer as the Allied
armies drove into Germany from east and west. The enemy's fighter defences
were overwhelmed and daylight attacks, with escorts of long-range Mustangs
and Spitfires, were carried out with little loss.
During its 28 months on operations with Bomber Command, No. 6 Group flew
271,981 hours on 40,822 sorties and dropped 126,122 tons of bombs and
mines. Its losses totalled 814 crews missing.
As implied in its slogan "Find the enemy; strike the enemy; protect our
ships," from September 1939 to May, 1945, was the waging of war against
the enemy's U- boats, warships, and merchant shipping, in close co-
operation with the Admiralty and Royal Navy. Coastal's other
responsibilities embraced photographic reconnaissance, air- sea rescue,
meteorological flights and in the early months of the war, minelaying.
From an embryo organization of five headquarters and 25 subordinate units
at the beginning of the war the Command developed into a powerful force
which at the end of the campaign comprised 10 headquarters and 247
To the cause of keeping Britain's life-lines open and strangling the
enemy's commerce, Canada contributed large numbers of aircrew and ground
personnel as well as a small group of civilian and service scientists
familiarly known as "the back-room boys" or "boffins." There was indeed
virtually no sphere of endeavour within Coastal Command in which the RCAF
did not participate. At one time or another, while Coastal was fighting
the Battle of the Atlantic and clearing the seas for the invasion of
North-West Africa and the landings in Normandy, seven RCAF squadrons
served under its banner. These included three squadrons, Nos. 404, 407,
and 415, equipped with landplanes - Blenheims, Beaufighters, Mosquitos,
Hudsons, Wellingtons, Hampdens, and Albacores; three squadrons, Nos. 413,
422 and 423, equipped with Catalina and Sunderland flying-boats; and No.
162 squadron on detachment from Eastern Air Command, flying the amphibious
Canso. The war records of the seven Canadian units illustrate the
versatility of Coastal Command's operations.
No. 404 Squadron spent most of the war in northern Scotland and the
Shetland Isles. Its career began as a coastal fighter unit, sending its
Blenheims on long reconnaissances and escort missions across the North Sea
to the coast of Norway. Once re-equipped with rocket-firing Beaufighters,
it became a strike unit, harrying Nazi shipping from the fiords of Norway
to the ports of southern France. No. 407 Squadron gained fame as an
anti-shipping unit that made daring mast-height attacks on enemy convoys
off the Frisian Islands and the Dutch coast. With a record of 83,000 tons
sunk or damaged in a single month, it was acclaimed as the most successful
strike squadron in Coastal Command during the latter part of 1941 and
When the Hudson became obsolete for this work No. 407 Squadron was
converted to an anti-submarine role, using Wellingtons equipped with
powerful Leigh Lights to illuminate the target for night attacks. Four
definite kills were credited to the crews of this squadron in addition to
a number of other U- boats and midget submarines more or less severely
After a period of service on Hampden torpedo-bombers attacking enemy
shipping, No. 415 Squadron was re- equipped with Wellingtons and Albacores
and won many successes in night attacks on flagships, motor-torpedo-boats
and merchant vessels in the North Sea and English Channel before
transferring to Bomber Command in the summer of 1944.
Nos. 422 and 423 (Sunderland) Squadrons were continuously employed in the
campaign against the U-boat escorting convoys and searching the seas from
Iceland to Gibraltar. Six submarines were sent to the bottom by crews of
these squadrons. Early in 1944, No. 162 Squadron flew its Cansos from Nova
Scotia to Iceland to join Coastal's forces in the Battle of the Atlantic
and its crews killed six U-boats, five of them in a period of less than a
Farther afield No. 413 (Catalina) Squadron carried out coastal duties over
the Indian Ocean and adjacent waters. Formed in Britain,it had started
operations over the North Sea late in 1941, but early in the following
year was hastily transferred to South-East Asia where the Japanese flood
had broken loose. The Catalinas arrived in Ceylon just in time, for on one
of the first sorties flown from the new base S/L J. Birchall and his crew
discovered an approaching Japanese invasion fleet. The Catalina was shot
down, but its warning message enabled the island's defences to be ready
and Ceylon was saved.
In the months that followed the squadron sent detachments to the east and
west coasts of Africa until it became the most widely dispersed unit in
the RCAF. No. 413 continued its reconnaissance, convoy escort, and air-sea
rescue operations until late in 1944 when it returned to Britain for
conversion to a new role and never completed its new assignment due to the
termination of hostilities.
In addition to its representation in Fighter, Bomber, and Coastal Commands
the RCAF also contributed units to Transport Command of the RAF. The RCAF
did not form its own transport squadrons until the late summer of 1944
when three transport squadrons were formed overseas: two transport
squadrons to operate in South-East Asia and one to operate in north-west
Europe. No. 437 Squadron was initially employed in towing Horsa gliders
taking part in the airborne assault on Arnhem and the crossing of the
Rhine at Wesel. After the German surrender, No. 437 Squadron moved to
Belgium where it conducted airlift operations throughout the European
continent from Norway to Greece.
Some of the worst flying conditions of World War II were experienced by
Nos. 435 and 436 Squadrons in South-East Asia. Attached to the Combat
Cargo Task Force the squadrons carried out troop movements and air drops
under enemy fire and in almost impossible weather conditions. Their
contribution was extraordinary in that over a period of just one year they
flew over 50,000 hours during which they airlifted nearly 60,000 tons of
supplies and 30,000 passengers.
At the end of World War II the three Dakota squadrons teamed up in Europe
to form a Wing until they were eventually disbanded between August 1945
and May 1946. Later these airmen became the backbone of Air Transport
The third unit, No. 437 Squadron, began operations almost immediately,
towing gliders for the airborne landing at Arnhem in September 1944. In
the months that followed, its Dakotas dropped supplies and ferried troops,
equipment, ammunition, and gasoline to continental bases, returning with
casualties and VIPs. In March 1945, the Squadron again towed gliders for
the Rhine crossing at Wesel and then resumed its routine ferrying work.
After the German surrender, No. 437 moved to the continent and extended
its operations as far afield as Oslo, Vienna, Naples, and Athens. Its
Aircraft brought home released prisoners of war and displaced civilians,
carried food supplies for the relief of starving peoples of the once
Nazi-occupied lands, and flew mail from home to Canadians scattered over
In the Far Eastern theatre of war the Dakotas of Nos. 435 and 436
Squadrons did similar work in vastly different surroundings. Supporting
the Fourteenth Army Operations in Burma they dropped supplies by parachute
on DZs (drop zones) which were usually small clearings in the jungle where
from the air appeared to be no larger than "geranium pots."
In addition to the hazards of the jungle and the storms and diseases of
the tropics, the crews often had to run a gauntlet of intense ground fire
from Japanese positions close to their DZs or landing strips. On one
occasion the unarmed Dakotas were attacked by enemy fighters.