427 (Lion) Squadron was formed on November 7, 1942, as the eighth of fifteen overseas Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Bomber Squadrons. Initially part of 4 Group, the squadron was transferred to 6th Bomber (RCAF) Group where it remained until the end of the war. The squadron initially flew Wellington aircraft out of Croft, Yorkshire, switching in 1943 to Halifax and Lancaster bombers based out of RAF Station Leeming. The unit’s first Commanding Officer was Group Captain Dudley Burnside.
With 3,200 sorties comprising 26,000 flying hours, Lion Squadron won an impressive list of battle honours and individual distinctions. 415 squadron personnel were killed in action, 121 were shot down and taken prisoner, and 14 downed aviators managed to escape to allied lines. Lion Squadron earned four Distinguished Service Orders, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, 16 Distinguished Flying Medals, and 147 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
- English Channel & North Sea 1943-1945
- Baltic 1944-1945
- Fortress Europe 1943-1944
- France & Germany 1944-1945
- Biscay 1944
- Ruhr 1943-1945
- Berlin 1943-1944
- German Ports 1943-1945
- Biscay Ports 1943-1944
- Normandy 1944
As they both have lions for mascots, on May 24, 1943, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios adopted Lion Squadron and presented it with a bronze lion. The studio also allowed the names of movie stars like Lana Turner, Greer Garson, Joan Crawford and Hedy Lamarr to be displayed on aircraft. Later in the war the squadron was also presented with a lion cub (Mareth) by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
427 Squadron was disbanded at war’s end, but the story did not end there.
On August 1, 1962, the Lions were reactivated as a fighter squadron flying F-86 Sabres out of St-Hubert, Quebec, later moving to Zweibrucken, Germany. As ambassadors for Canada, the squadron saw service in France, Morocco and Sardinia. In 1962 the unit was the first Canadian squadron to be equipped with the CF-104 Starfighter. The Squadron was again disbanded on July 1, 1970.
Helicopters to present day
The Lions re-emerged in their present home, Petawawa, Ontario, on January 1st, 1971 as a tactical helicopter squadron flying the CH-136 Kiowa light observation helicopter and the workhorse CH-135 Twin Huey utility helicopter.
As a helicopter squadron the unit has participated in numerous overseas exercises and operations in places such as Norway, Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula and Central America.
After switching exclusively to CH-135s in 1992, the Lions deployed to Somalia in support of Operation Deliverance, where they distinguished themselves in day and night operations. The squadron has also provided support for humanitarian missions in Haiti from 1995 to present day.
The Twin Hueys were replaced in July 1997 by the CH-146 Griffon, which are in use to this day. The Griffon has served the unit well in places as far away as Bosnia, as well as on many domestic operations, including during the 1998 Quebec Ice Storm, and Search and Rescue (SAR) in the Ottawa Valley when required.
On February 1, 2006, the unit was renamed 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) and became a part of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). 427 SOAS provides dedicated special operations aviation effects as part of high-readiness Special Operations Task Forces for domestic and international operations. Bearers of a proud legacy, the Lions enable CANSOFCOM to be where it’s needed, when it’s needed, no matter how challenging the conditions may be.