Air Force History
Canadian Aviation Corps
1914 - 1915
Canada found itself at war with Germany on August 4, 1914. Several European nations were employing the airplane as a military weapon. Canada, however, had neither aircraft or aircrew in her armed forces. Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence, was responsible for assembling the Canadian Expeditionary Force for overseas service. Colonel Hughes inquired to the British Secretary of War about the about the need for aviators and was advised that Britain could accept 6 experienced aviators immediately, with more positions to follow. Colonel Hughes was unable to find any aviators to meet the British needs, but did approved the formation of a small aviation unit to accompany the Canadian Expeditionary Force to England.
The Canadian Aviation Corps was formed on September 16, 1914 and consisted of two officers and one mechanic. E.L. Janney was appointed the "Provisional Commander" of the CAC with the rank of Captain and was authorized to spend not more than five thousand dollars for the purchase of an airplane. Captain Janney arranged to purchase a biplane from the Burgess-Dunne Company in Massachusetts and the aircraft was delivered to Quebec City.
The airplane arrived on October 1 and was immediately loaded aboard one of the thirty ships of the Canadian Expeditionary Force bound for England. On arrival in England the aircraft was unloaded and trucked to Salisbury Plan where the Canadian Troops were training. The aircraft never flew in England as not one of the three members of the CAC was a qualified pilot. Parked out in the damp English climate, the Burgess-Dunne quickly deteriorated and was eventually written off.
By May 7, 1915 the Canadian Aviation Corps had ceased to exist and this ended the short life of Canada's first military aviation force.
Canadian Air Force
1918 - 1920
In 1915 the British Army Council suggested that the Dominions would raise there own air units for service within the Royal Flying Corps. Canada did not act on this suggestion until the spring of 1918. The Canadian government made a proposal to form a wing of eight squadrons for service with the Canadian Corps in France. The RAF and the British Air Ministry thought that the disruption in re-alocating Canadians from RAF squadrons and transferring RAF personnel to fill the voids would unduly distrupt the war effort. There was also a severe shortage of trained CAF groundcrew and it was decided to train Canadian groundcrew first and establish the squadron when enough groundcrew had been trained.
On August 5, 1918 the Air Ministry decided to form two Canadian Squadrons, one a fighter and the other a day bomber squadron. The Canadian Government approved the formation of the Canadian Air Force on September 19, 1918 comprising these two squadrons. Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Bishop, Canada first airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross and the British Empires leading ace was the CAF's first commander.
Further proposals were made to form the additional 6 squadrons but the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 precluded the formation of any additional squadrons.
On November 20, 1918, nine days after the Armistice, No. 1 (F) Squadron was formed at Upper Heyford with Sopwith Dolphins, later converted to the S.E. 5a, and on November 25, 1918 No. 2 (B) Squadron was formed with deHavilland DH 9 bombers.
On June 19, 1919 the Canadian Government decided not to form a permanent peacetime air force and orders were sent to cease all flying operations and all equipment belonging to Canada was to dismantled and shipped to Canada. No. 1 Squadron was disbanded on January 29, 1920 and No. 2 on February 5, 1920. So ended Canada's first air force, composed for a time of many of not only Canada's top airmen, but many of the top airmen of the British Empire.
A Civil Air Force
1925 - 1932
On May 19, 1925 the Government authorized an establishment for the RCAF that provided for service squadrons to fulfill operational requirements of various government departments and agencies.
RCAF Headquarters - Ottawa, Ontario
No. 1 Flying Training Station - Camp Borden, Ontario
No. 1 (Operations) Wing - Winnipeg, Manitoba
No. 1 (Operations) Squadron - Vancouver, British Columbia
No. 2 (Operations) Squadron - High River, Alberta
No. 3 (Operations) Squadron - Ottawa, Ontario
No. 4 (Operations) Squadron - Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
In 1927 there was strong opposition to the performance of civil operations by a military organization. This resulted in the formation of the Directorate of Civil Government Air Operations (DCGAO) to control all government air operations (other than military) and all RCAF operational flying units were transferred to this new organization. The RCAF establishment was reduced to a headquarters and two training stations and five training squadrons.
Unfortunately with most of the RCAF personnel posted to DCGAO and lacking sufficient funds, the RCAF was only a paper force and never functioned in a military sense.
A Military Air Force
1932 - 1938
Since it inception in 1924 the RCAF had been heavily involved in civil air operations. Forestry patrols, anti-smuggling, forest spraying, and surveying. In 1936 it was decided that the RCAF should be a purely military organization
and the Department of Transport was formed to establish and implement a civil aviation policy. Thereafter the RCAF's only involvement in civil aviation was aerial photography, a task that would increase in importance as time passed.
Freed of its civil responsibilities, the RCAF was reorganized along service lines and developed into a military air force. The first service squadrons began to appear in 1933 with the formation of No. 4 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Vancouver and No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Dartmouth. Two more squadrons were formed No. 7 (General Purpose) at Ottawa and No. 8 (General Purpose) at Winnipeg.
With the creation of the Department of Transport to handle civil aviation the RCAF was authorized to form three purely military squadrons. No. 2 (Army-Cooperation) Squadron and No. 6 (Torpedo Bomber) Squadron which consisted of two flights each. No. 3 (Bomber) Squadron with a two flights one bomber and one fighter. In May 1937 No. 3 (Bomber) Squadron was reorganized as a purely bomber unit with the fighter flight becoming No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron - the last squadron to be formed before World War II.
RCAF Headquarters - Ottawa, Ontario
RCAF Station Camp Borden (landplane training)
No. 1 (Ab Initio Training) Squadron
No. 2 (Advanced Training) Squadron
No. 3 (Service) Squadron "A" Flight - Fighter - Siskins
"B" Flight - A/C - Atlas's
"C" Flight - Communications - Fairchild 71s and Bellanca
RCAF Station Vancouver, British Columbia (seaplane training)
No. 4 (Training) Squadron
No. 5 (Service) Squadron
The War Years
The RCAF peace time establishment called for a total of twenty-three squadrons, of which eight of the eleven permanent squadrons had been formed on the eve of war. In the first month of World War II it was found that only fifteen squadrons could be brought up to strength and mobilized - twelve for home defence and three for overseas service. For aircraft there were 20 different types totaling 230 aircraft, over half were training or transport aircraft, and only nineteen (19) Hurricanes and and ten (10) Fairey Battle light bombers could be considered front line aircraft. From this small nucleus both in personal and equipment the RCAF expanded to become the fourth largest allied air force.
The wartime RCAF consisted of three main parts, two of which were in Canada. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the other the Home War Establishment - which was to deploy thirty-seven squadrons for coastal defence, protection of shipping, air defence and other duties in the western hemisphere. The third with its headquarters in London, England the Overseas War Establishment. At the end of the war it had forty-eight squadrons serving with the Royal Air Force in Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East.
On the first of January 1944 the RCAF reached its peak wartime strength of 215,200 all ranks (including 15,153) women, 104,000 were in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 64,928 were serving at home and 46,272 were serving overseas. There were 78 squadrons in service: 35 overseas, 43 at home (of which six had been ordered overseas).
Home War Establishment (HWE)
At the beginning of the war the RCAF's Home War Establishment had two operational commands. Eastern and Western Air Commands and seven under strength squadrons equipped with a variety of obsolescing aircraft, with which to defend the country. The largest threat to Canada and allies at the time were the German U-boats in the North Atlantic so top priority was given to expanding the facilities and capabilities of the Eastern Air Command. In December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and later occupied the Aleutian Islands off Alaska and the priorities were reversed with the focus now on Western Air Command.
Through out 1941 and 1942 the Home War Establishment was to achieve its maximum growth. With squadrons dispersed as far east as Newfoundland and supporting the Americans in Alaska serious problems arose with in exercising operational control. To overcome these difficulties, both air-commands were authorized to form operational groups as require. Odd numbered groups were assigned to Eastern Air Command and even numbered groups to Western Air Command.
In November 1942 the Home War Establishment reached its peak strength with a total of 37 squadrons - 19 in Eastern Air Command and 18 in Western Air Command.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Agreement, between Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand was laid out on October 10, 1939 and on December 17, 1939 the agreement was signed, converting Canada into what President Roosevelt of the United States later termed the "airdrome of democracy." The signing of the BCATP Agreement was a momentous event. Strategically it was important for three main reasons: it furnished air training fields that were reasonably close to the United Kingdom yet well beyond the reach of enemy aircraft, it provided a uniform system of training and laid the basis for the pooling of Commonwealth air power. For more info on the BCATP view our feature article. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Overseas War Establishment (OWE)
Early in the fall of 1939, the RCAF officers were pressing for the formation of overseas units. A supplementary agreement to the British Commonwealth Air Training plan was signed on January 7, 1941, between Canada and Great Britain, stating the 25 RCAF Squadrons would be formed in the United Kingdom. Canadian officials proposed that a RCAF fighter and bomber group should be formed, however it was determined that due to the geographical nature of the RAF's fighter groups an all Canadian fighter group would require between 40 and 50 fighter squadrons and this was determined to be unfeasible. In the end only a Canadian bomber group was formed this being No. 6 (RCAF) Group.
The RCAF and RCAF personnel served in many RAF squadrons and Command.
Army Co-operation Command
When Canadian army requirements for France were drawn up up , one of the units was to have been an army co-operation wing (No. 101) consisting of 3 squadrons. No. 400 (previously 110) squadron and No. 414 Squadron, equipped with P-40 Tomahawk aircraft, formed No. 39 (AC) Wing (RCAF). In January of 1943 a third squadron, No. 430 Squadron was added and all three squadrons were now equipped with P-51 Mustang aircraft. On June 1, 1943 RAF Army Co-operation command was disbanded and the RCAF units were transferred to the newly-created Second Tactical Air Force.
A total of twelve RCAF squadrons served within RAF Fighter Command during the war. Eight day fighter, three night-fighter and one intruder squadron.
No. 6 (RCAF) Group - The RCAF contributed 14 Bomber Squadrons to RAF Bomber Command.
No. 331 Wing
In May 1943 three RCAF Bomber Squadrons, Nos. 420, 424, and 425, were removed from No. 6 Group equipped with Wellington Mk X aircraft and sent on loan to North Africa. There, as No. 331 (Medium Bomber) Wing, RCAF, they took part in the heavy bombardment in preparation for, and in support of Operation Torch, the allied landings in Sicily and Italy.
Canada contributed large numbers of air and ground crews and, at one time or another, seven squadrons. Three of these squadrons, Nos. 404, 407 and 415 were shore based and Nos. 413, 422, 423 and 162 were equipped with flying boat aircraft.
South East Asia Command
The RCAF contributed three squadrons to this command, two transport and one coastal reconnaissance squadron. No. 413 was the coastal reconnaissance squadron and was instrumental in preventing the Japanese invasion of Ceylon. The transport squadrons, Nos. 435 and 436, were formed in India and flew Dakota aircraft in support of the British Fourteenth Army in India and Burma.
Second Tactical Air Force
The success of the Luftwaffe in supporting its ground operations led the allies to examine it close air support ideas. The RAF's first effective close support operations came with the Desert Air Force, in support of the British Eight Army. The Second Tactical Air Force was formed with squadron mostly drawn from Fighter Command and would support the British 21st Army group consisting of the British Second Army and First Canadian Army.
In the summer of 1944 No. 437 Squadron was formed as part of RAF Transport Command and equipped with C-47 Dakota aircraft.
The summary of the work preformed by the squadrons at home and overseas is but one part of the story. The other part of the story concerns the 249,662 men and women who wore the uniform of the RCAF. Of this total, 93,844 personnel served overseas, the majority with the British rather than Canadian units. Nearly 60 percent of RCAF personnel were with RAF squadrons. The RCAF contribution to the Royal Air Force was significant . At least one in four fighter pilots in the Battle of Malta was from Canada as did one-fifth of Coastal Command's Aircrew. At the end of the war, almost a quarter of Bomber Command's aircrew were from the RCAF.
The RCAF's Roll of Honour contains the names of 17,100 personnel who gave their lives in the service of Canada. Of these fatalities 14,544 occurred overseas - among them 12,266 on operations and 1906 in training accidents. The majority of overseas casualties were with Bomber Command.
The Cold War
On the first of January 1944 the RCAF reached its peak wartime strength of 215,200 all ranks (including 15,153) women, 104,000 were in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 64,928 were serving at home and 46,272 were serving overseas. There were 78 squadrons in service: 35 overseas, 43 at home (of which six had been ordered overseas). By April 1, 1945 the strength of the RCAF had been reduced to 164,846 all ranks through the termination of the BCATP and a reduction of the home war establishment. With the formal end to hostilities on September 2, 1945, and a proposed peace time establishment of 16,000 all ranks, a two year "interim period" was declared during which the emphasis was to be on demobilization of approximately 90% of the wartime force.
Beginning in 1948, the RCAF began to reorganize its command structure along functional rather than regional lines. No 9 (Transport) Group was elevated to Air Transport Command and No 1. Air Defence Group was formed. In 1949 , Maintenance Command became Air Materiel Command; Central Air Command was renamed Training Command; and Nos. 10 and 11 Groups were redesignated Maritime and Tactical Group respectively. Increased tension in world affairs in the early 1950's resulted in further expansion, with the formation of No. 1 Air Division Europe, No. 5 Air Division (formerly No. 12 Group) and No. 14 (Training) Group, while a number of groups were elevated to command status: Air Defence Command, Maritime Air Command, Tactical Air Command.
From a regular force of 11,569 officers and airmen and a Auxiliary of 655 on December 31, 1947, the RCAF was to show a steady growth a relations between the western democracies and the Communist bloc deteriorated. In January 1954 the strength "ceiling" was lifted to 51,000, placing the RCAF, for the first time in history, higher than the army. From five regular force squadrons in 1947 the RCAF reached a peak of 29 Regular and 12 Auxiliary flying squadrons in 1955. Commencing in 1962, it was gradually reduced as the CF-100's were withdrawn from operational service and replaced by fewer CF-101 Voodoos, and as the CF-104 Starfighter replaced the aging Sabres from the Air Division in Europe.
Initially upon unification the air elements of the Royal Canadian Air Force were divided up within the operational commands of the Canadian Armed Forces and there was no longer a separate air force component. After several years this was found to be unworkable and and Air Command was created to embody all air elements of the Canadian Forces. With the return of the Air Force blue uniforms in 1982 Canada could now claim, more or less, to have an independent air force.
Air Command was divided into the following Operational Groups.
Air Defence Group / Fighter Group
- all Canadian based fighter and attack aircraft
- all transport aircraft and SAR assets
10 Tactical Air Group
- "army" aviation consisting of tactical and transport rotary wing assets.
14 Training Group
- all training assets, including fixed and rotary wing aircraft, as well a ground training
Maritime Air Group
- "naval' aviation consisting of shipborne helicopters and land based patrol aircraft
1 Canadian Air Group
- European fighter squadrons, consisting of CF-104 Starfighters and later CF-18 Hornet aircraft.
On July 31, 1997 all previous commands and groups were disbanded and replaced by 1 Canadian Air Division / Canadian NORAD Region (1 CAD/CANR) with a operations structure based on the traditional wing concept. The 1 CAD wings are as follows:
1 Wing - Kingston
3 Wing - Bagotville
4 Wing - Cold Lake
5 Wing - Goose Bay
8 Wing - Trenton
9 Wing - Gander
12 Wing - Shearwater
14 Wing - Greenwood
15 Wing - Moose Jaw
16 Wing - Borden
17 Wing - Winnipeg
19 Wing - Comox
22 Wing - North Bay
In 1999 the Canadian Air Force celebrated its Diamond Jubilee after 75 years serving Canadians. With its current unified command structure, new programs, and new aircraft Canadians can be proud of their air force and look to the future with much optimism.
Note:This history was borrowed from the RCAF.com website with permission.