Canada played a key role in the vital Battle of the Atlantic. Its contribution in the Air War was not as central, but none the less important. The Luftwaffe was at the beginning of the War the most poweful air force in the world. The Allies expected the NAZIs to immediately launch air attacks on cities. Canada was also concerned about air defnese, and some minor efforts were made to prepare. The Atlantic proved, however, to be an unsurmountable obstacle for the Luftwaffe. With the fall of France (1940), however, the skies over Britain became an active combat zone. Britain laid the groundwork for a vastly expanded air force. The fact that the air was being fought over Britain as well as the fact that the British isles were heavily populated created problems in training air crews. As part of a much larger plan, Britain and Canada set up the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which was to be located in Canada. The vast streaches of Canada and the distance from the fighting often perfect conditions for a training facility. There were 72,800 Canadians trained. Most were involved with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command in the Strategic Bombing Campaign over northern Europe.
The Luftwaffe was at the beginning of the War the most poweful air force in the world. The Allies expected the NAZIs to immediately launch air attacks on cities. Canada was also concerned about air defnese, and some minor efforts were made to prepare. The Atlantic proved, however, to be an unsurmountable obstacle for the Luftwaffe. Göring was to order the construction of the America's bomber, but battlefield reverses and the Allied strategic bombing campaign meant that the War ended before the bomber could be built.
The new Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) like the Navy was not ready for World War II. They had an authorized establishment of 23 squadrons. Only 8 of the permanent squadrons had been formed at the time that Hitler had launched the war in Europe (September 1939). RCAF commanders were only able to bring 15 squadrons up to strength and mobilized. Commanders sloughted 12 of the squadrons for home defence and 3 for overseas service. The Canadian aircraft were a hodgepodge of 20 different types totaling 230 planes, few of which were modern combat aircraft that could be used in the War. Most were largely obselete types and about were training or transport aircraft. The only modern fighters weere 19 Hurricanes. Britain was at the time hard pressed to produce fighters for the RAF, few planes were available for the Dominions. The RCAF also had 10 Fairey Battle light bombers. This hardly posed a challenge for the Luftwaffe. But this minisucle nucleus of planes and personal would become the fourth largest allied air force (after America, Britain, and the Soviet Union). The RCAF would oplay an important role in both the Battle of the Atlangtic and and the Strategic Bombing Campaign.
Canada did not develop any aircraft during World war II. It used American and British aircraft. Canada was, however, a highly indistrialized nation. This was less true during World War I, but there had bveen considerable industrial development during World War II. And Canadian industry made a valuable contribution to the Allied war effot. At thge onset, to evade U,S. neutralioy Laws, the Canadians imported American parts and assemblec aircraftyjin Canadian factories. Eventually, Canadian factories ptoduced massuive quabtitie of wa material, including ship construction (especially escort ships), aircraft construction, and other war material.
The RCAF would conduct three princiopal World War II operations, two of which weere carried out in Canada or waters off the Canadian coast. These were 1) the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and 2) the Home War Establishment (HWE). The RCAF deployed 37 squadrons for coastal defence, protection of shipping, air defence and other duties in the western hemisphere. The third RCAF operation, headquartereds in London, was the the Overseas War Establishment. The RCAF by the end of the war had 49 squadrons serving with the Royal Air Force in Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East. The RCAF reached its peak wartime strength of 215,200 personnekl (including 15,153) women (January 1944). The bulk of the RCAF personnel (104,000) were in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Britain and the Dominions at the onsett of the War prepared plans to train airmen in the safe skies of Canada.
Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand commanders began planning the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Agreement (BCATP) (October 10, 1939). They signed the agreement (December 17). This essentially converted Canada into what President Roosevelt would describe as the 'airdrome of democracy'. The BCATP became an important cog in the Allied air effort which was focvused on defeating Germany. Tghe training facilities were close to Britain, but beyond the reach of the Luftwaffe. It provided a uniform system of training Commonwealth airmen and created a firm foundation for the pooling of Commonwealth air power. With the fall of France (1940), the skies over Britain became an active combat zone and the wisdom of seting the BCATP in Canada became immediately apparent. Commonwealth air men played a role in the Battle of Britain, but it was after this that the weight of BCATP trainees began to make their weightvfelt in the Air War. Each of the Domonions were relatively small, bit comined they made a major contribution to the Allied war effort. Britain laid the groundwork for a vastly expanded air force as it became obvious that Hitler meant to laubch a new war. One of the bottlenecks was training new pilots. The fact that the air war was being fought over Britain as well as the fact that the British isles were heavily populated created problems in training air crews. The vast streaches of Canada and the distance from the fighting often perfect conditions for a training facility. And oil to support the operation did not have carried by tankers through U-boat infested waters. More than 131,000 aircrews (pilots, navigators, gunners, bombardiers, and flight engineers) were trained for the the air war. More than hald (72,800 men were Canadians. Most British auir ccrews were trained in Britain, but training the Commonwealth air men in Canada, took a great deal of pressure off the British training effort.
Te RCAF Home War Establishment (HWE) at the ionset of te War had two operational commands. Eastern Air Command (EAC) and Western Air Command (WAC). Tey oversaw seven under strength squadrons equipped with a variety of largely obsolete aircraft, with which could be used to defend the country. Fortunatly for the Canadians, the Luftwaffe could not cross the North tlantic. The greatest threat to the Canadians was at first the German U-boats in the North Atlantic attempting to severe the sealanes to Britain. Admiral Dönitz began the War with only 38 U-boats. He had not been given a gigh priority by the Kreigsmarine. Even so, it soon becanme apparent that the Allies includug the Royal Navy and espcially the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had insufficient escorts to asequately protect the convoys. Canadian commanders thus gave priority to strengthening RCAF's EAC. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941) and later occupied the Aleutian Islands (June 1942), priorities had to be shifted at least temprarily to the WAC. The focus on home defense and the Battle of the Alantic mean that the HWE was rapidly expanded, especialy as airctft production increased (1941-42). Squadrons protecting the convoys were deployed on Newfoundland in the east and assigned to supporting the Americans in Alaska in the west. Problems were experienced as a result of the rapid growth and far-flung operatuiions. Both Commands formed operational groups. Odd numbered groups were assigned to the EAC and even numbered groups to WAC. The HWE reached its maximum strength of 37 squadrons - 19 for the EAC and 18 for the WAC.
While home defense was important, especially convoy protection, the War as being foughtb in Europe. Canada could offer very limited support for the British in the Battkle of Britain (July-September 1940). But Vanada waas building its capbilities. RCAF commanfers by this time were advocating the formation of overseas units to support the war against Germany from an early poingt (Fall 1939). A supplementary agreement to the BCATP was signed with the British (January 7, 1941). The initial plan was to form 25 RCAF Squadrons for deployment to Britain. Canadian commanders proposed the creation of a RCAF fighter and bomber group. In negotiantions with the Briitish, however, it was ddecidd that formong a fighter group was not feasible. An all Canadian fighter group would require 40-50 fighter squadrons which was beyonf Canada's capabilities. A few Canadian fighter squadrons were formed, but assigned to RAF groups. Canadian fighter pilots made an especially important contribution to the dense of embattled Malta. Particularly outstanding was George Frederick 'Buzz' Beurling who became the most successful Canadian fighter pilot of the War. He had trouble flying in the more tradition based RAF, but hit it off with the Polish pilots flying with thr RAF. Beurling came to his own in Malta. Beurling was recognised as "Canada's most famous hero of Second World War", dubbed the Falcon of Malta. He may well have been the nmost gifted fighter pilot of the War. The Canadians instead concentrated on bombers. A Canadian bomber group was formed--No. 6 (RCAF) Group. In addition, RCAF personnel served in many RAF squadrons and Commands. The RCAF contributed 14 Bomber Squadrons to RAF Bomber Command which became the central British contribution to the War. RAF Bomber Command consumed a huge amount of Britain;s war economy. Many of the Canadians involved in the Air war during World War II were involved with Royal Air Force Bomber Command in the Strategic Bombing Campaign over northern Europe. The RCAF transferred three Bomber Squadrons (Nos. 420, 424, and 425) to North Africa (May 1943). The three squadrons were equipped with Wellington Mk X aircraft and constututed No. 331 (Medium Bomber) Wing, RCAF. They took part in the heavy bombardment in preparation for, and in support of the allied landings in Sicily and Italy in which Canadian ground units played an inportant role as part of the British 8th Army. Canada also contributed to Coastal Command protecting the Western Approaches. Canada contributed air and ground crews and another, seven squadrons. This included three shore based squadrons (Nos. 404, 407 and 415) and four sea planes (Nos. 413, 422, 423 and 162). Much of the success of the Germans in the early phase iof tghe War was due to their Blizkrieg dictrine, part of which as close air support of ground opetations. It took the Allies some tiome to adopt similar operations. The RAF began experimenting with similar operations in the Western Desert 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. RCAF No. 437 Squadron was formed as part of RAF Transport Command and equipped with American C-47 Dakotas (Summer 1944). Canadian OWE operations were conducted primarily in the European theater. There was, however, limited contributions to South East Asia Command. The RCAF contributed three squadrons, two transport and one coastal reconnaissance squadron. No. 413 was the coastal reconnaissance squadron. Canadian sources say it was instrumental in preventing a Japanese invasion of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), but we are not sure about this. The transport squadrons (Nos. 435 and 436) were deployed to India and flew American Dakotas in support of the British Fourteenth Army in India and Burma.
Canada like Britain and the other Dominions had Army and Navy cadet forces, a sort of junior officer training program for teenagers. There were no comparable air force program, although some Army Cadet Corps were informally affiliated with RCAF Air Reserve squadrons. The shortage of pilots at the onset if the war prompted efforts to set of an air force cadet program. Air Minister Power directed that a nation-wide voluntary organization be formed to sponsor and develop and prepare youth for pilot training and other service with the RCAF. [Air Cadet League] An Order-in-Council was passed establishing the Air Cadet League of Canada to work with the RCAF (November 11, 1940). The first squadrons were organized (1941). There were 135 squadrons and 10,000 cadets (1942). Most of the boys were recruited from the existing Army Cadet program. This had grown to 315 squadrons with a membership of 23,000 (1943). The program reached its peak membership with 29,000 cadets in 374 squadrons (1944). The boys were issued with air force blue uniforms featuring a long tunic with stand-up collar and wedge cap (1941). This was changed to the battle dress style uniform after the War.
Air Cadet League of Canada. "The Air Cadet Story: The Early Days". (Manitoba).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Canadian World War II page ]
[Return to Main World War II displaced children page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]