The History and the Aircraft of the Air Forces of Canada -  from 1914 to today.

 The Second World War -  Part 1.

On the 1st of September 1939, the Royal Canadian Air Force  strength was 4,061 officers and airmen. They were scattered throughout eight regular squadrons flying a total of 270 aircraft of twenty different types. 146 of these machines were designated as training or transport aircraft and only 19 Hurricanes and 10 Battles could be called first line service types.

The BCATP Era  - 1940 to 1945.

During the Second World War the RCAF expanded into the fourth largest  air force of the Allied nations. In July 1941 a Women's Division (WD) was formed in Canada. 17,000 WDs were enlisted and trained in over 40 trades. Also, in Canada, in the Spring of 1940 the RCAF set up and operated the largest aircrew-training scheme in world history. With a total of 131,553 graduates the renowned British Commonwealth Air Training Plan earned for Canada the title of "The Aerodrome of Democracy."  RCAF Station Trenton was home to 1 Air Navigation School and Central Flying School. Nearby,  RCAF Mountain View housed the Bombing and Gunnery School.

In addition, over 40 operational squadrons flew coastal defence, shipping protection and other duties. During the war aircraft of Eastern Air Command sank six submarines. The Pacific coast had much less submarine activity. But one Japanese submarine was sunk near Prince Rupert by U.S. Navy ships after an RCAF Bolingbroke had damaged it so badly that escape was impossible. Thousands upon thousands of hours were flown on patrol, forcing the enemy to remain submerged away from convoys, permitting the ships to continue unmolested. It was weary and unglamorous work.


The heavy commitment to the BCATP and home defence meant that only three squadrons were originally detached to overseas service. Number 110 Army Co-operation Squadron arrived in Britain in February of 1940. Four months later Number 112 Army Cooperation Squadron and Number 1 Fighter Squadron also went overseas. No. 1  Squadron, under the command of S/L E.A. McNab,  began operations on the 19th of August 1940 during the Battle of Britain as attacks on southern England by the Luftwaffe increased in intensity. Eight weeks later, the squadron score was 31 enemy aircraft definitely destroyed and 43 probables. Three pilots had been killed in action, the first air combat deaths of the RCAF. S/L McNab, F/L G.R. McGregor and F/0 B.D. Russel were awarded the first Distinguished Flying Crosses of the RCAF.

Expansion of the RCAF overseas in the spring of 1941, and a new policy of Canadianization created a new system of squadron numbering to avoid confusion with RAF squadrons. The 400-449 block was allocated to the RCAF. Number 110 became Number 400, Number 1 became Number 401 and Number 112 became Number 402. The first RCAF unit formed overseas was Number 403 Fighter Squadron on the 1st of March 1941.

In the fall of 1941, 406, 409 and 410 Squadrons became  night fighters. Prior to D-Day, their score was 55 enemy aircraft destroyed, 100 probables and 27 damaged. 417 Squadron, attached to the Desert Air Force, flew operations from the Nile Valley to Northern Italy.

During 1941 seventeen more squadrons were formed and, in 1942 ten,  in 1943 four and in 1944 nine, so that by the end of the war the number of squadrons in the 400 series totalled 44. Number 162 Squadron was detached from Eastern Air Command for operations with Coastal Command from bases in Iceland and Northern Scotland. In addition, three Air Observation Post Squadrons (664, 665 and 666) were overseas making the total number of squadrons 48. RCAF squadrons operated with the Royal Air Force in the Northwest European, Central Mediterranean and Far Eastern theatres.

Thousands of RCAF men and women served in the air and on the ground with the RAF throughout the world - among them a group whose existence was one of the best kept secrets of the war - radar mechanics.

The critical need for radar mechanics to maintain and service vital radar equipment for the Royal Air Force and Allied Forces was emphasized by the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom  when he stated in 1941 " . . . R.D.F.  radar technicians had the highest priority of all requests for manpower from the United Kingdom." (The term  R.D.F.  is a contraction of Radio Direction Finding ; "radar" was coined later from  RAdio  Detection And Ranging,- radio or radar technicians were eventually referred to as "radar mechanics.")
Canada responded by agreeing to build a radar training  school at Clinton, Ontario for the RAF. Over 6000 radar mechanics were trained on highly secret radar equipment at #31 RAF Radar School during WWII. Initial training  in radio techniques was provided by Universities and Technical Schools across Canada. Those who passed a tough exam completed their radar training at Clinton. Following a brief leave in Canada, they were sent overseas to the United Kingdom where they were attached to the Royal Air Force for assignment to any  of the Allied Forces where radar skills were required. The importance of the skills of radar mechanics was emphasized  by Winston Churchill, when he said in 1943 that "Radio Mechanics were largely responsible for the United Kingdom victory over the massed German air fleets in 1940."  and also in this quote from Robert Buderi's  book, The Invention That Changed the World - "The atomic bomb only ended the war. Radar won it." 

 5000 copies of a Certificate of Appreciation issued by the British Air Ministry in April 1946 were dispatched to the RCAF in Ottawa for distribution to those  who had served overseas while attached to the RAF. They were never distributed. Replicas were later presented to the radar mechanics at their first nationwide reunion in 1996.
(Information provided by Bob McNarry.)

        HP Hampden                 Fleet 50K                 Bristol Beaufort        Westland Wapiti         DH Dragonfly
  Canada Aviation Museum                                                                                                              

         Northrop Delta                                Avro 626                           Fleet Fort                  Grumman Goose 
      Canada Aviation Museum                                                                                                Canada Aviation Museum  

   Northrop Nomad                       Beechcraft 18              Avro Avian                     Hotspur         
Canada Aviation Museum                                           

          Bristol Blenheim          Lockheed 12A              Avro 621 Tutor         DH 83 Fox Moth

 For more history and photos, please follow the link to Second WW Part 2:  

Second WW P 2 Second WW P 3 422 Squadron Second WW P 4