The Battle of Britain: A Canadian Timeline (RCAF Journal - SPRING 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 2)

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By Major William March, CD, MA

As with many historical events, there is often a “lively” debate on when the event began or ended, who participated and what actually transpired. For the Battle of Britain, there is also the question of who was actually a “Canadian” in the days before Newfoundland joined Confederation and Canada had yet to issue its own passport. The timeline and information below have been gleaned from a number of different areas and individuals; it reflects, but does not entirely agree with, many of the contemporary sources.

The “phases” of the Battle of Britain noted below reflect the dates used by the Imperial War Museum in London and may not reflect the dates/breakdown of the battle offered by other sources.[1] 

Up to 1939

  • 21 September 1937
    • No. 1 Squadron formed at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Trenton, Ontario, as a fighter unit. It was equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Siskin aircraft.
  • August 1938
    • No. 1 Squadron moved to Calgary, Alberta, as part of Western Air Command.

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1939

  • 17 February
    • A detachment from No. 1 Squadron proceeded to Sea Island, British Columbia, to take delivery of the first new Hawker Siddley Hurricane fighters. They replaced the obsolescent Siskins.
  • 31 August
    • No. 1 Squadron began to move to its “war station” at St. Hubert, Quebec.
  • 1 September
    • Germany invaded Poland.
  • 3 September
    • Great Britain declared war on Germany.
  • 4 September
    • Pilot Officer Selby R. Henderson of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the lead navigator with No. 110 Squadron and in the nose of the first aircraft to attack the German battleship Admiral Sheer at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Sergeant Arthur Stanley Prince, age 27, from Montreal, Quebec, was in the second wave and died after his No. 107 Squadron Blenheim aircraft was shot down over the harbour. The first Canadian airman killed in action during World War II, he is buried at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Soltau, Germany.
  • 10 September
    • Canada declared war on Germany.
  • 29–30 September
    • Squadron Leader W. I. Clements, attached to No. 53 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), made a long-distance, night-reconnaissance flight from Metz, France, to the area of Hamm–Hanover, Germany. He was the first member of the RCAF to fly over enemy territory.
  • 30 October
    • The Canadian government, anxious to get “Canadians” into the air war as soon as possible, reached an agreement with British authorities to man a RAF squadron with Canadians serving in the RAF. No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron was formed at Church Fenton, United Kingdom, under the command of Squadron Leader F. M. Gobeil, a native of Ottawa, currently on exchange with the RAF.
  • 5 November
    • No. 1 Squadron moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

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1940

  • 16 February
    • No. 110 (Army Cooperation [AC]) “City of Toronto” Squadron, augmented by personnel from No. 2 (AC) Squadron, sailed from Halifax.
  • 25 February
    • No. 110 (AC) Squadron arrived at Liverpool, England. It was the first RCAF unit overseas.
  • 8 April
    • German forces invaded Denmark.
  • 9 April
    • German forces invaded Norway.
  • 10 May
    • German forces attacked Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
  • 13–21 May
    • No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron was committed piecemeal to operations in France.
  • 22 May
    • An advance party of No. 112 (AC) “City of Winnipeg” Squadron departed Halifax.
  • 23 May
    • Squadron Leader F. M. Gobeil, an RCAF exchange officer with the RAF, commanding No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron, engaged a Messerschmitt (Me) 109 near Berck, France—the RCAF’s first aerial combat of the war.
  • 25 May
    • Squadron Leader F. M. Gobeil, an RCAF exchange officer with the RAF, commanding No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron, shot down a Me‑110 near Menin, Belgium, the first RCAF victory of the war.
  • 30 May
    • The advance party of No. 112 (AC) Squadron arrived at Liverpool, England.
  • 8 June
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, augmented primarily by personnel from No. 115 (Fighter) “City of Montreal” Squadron, and the rear party of No. 112 (AC) Squadron departed Halifax for England.
  • 18 Jun
    • No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron returned to England and rebuilt at Coltishall.
  • 20–21 June
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron arrived in the United Kingdom and was stationed at Middle Wallop, Hampshire. Canadian Hurricane aircraft were deemed not up to current standards, resulting in the squadron being re-equipped with RAF Hurricane Mk I aircraft—assigned “YO” as a unit code.
  • 9 July
    • No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron declared operational.

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Phase 1:

  •  10 July–11 August
    • Although this is the “official” start date of the Battle of Britain, it is difficult to point to a specific day and say “this is when it all began.” Young men on both sides were flying and dying on 9 July, and the carnage only grew worse in the coming weeks. For the first portion of the battle, the Luftwaffe concentrated on attacking shipping in the English channel, port cities and coastal facilities as well as defences that might be used to turn back the planned invasion. This period is sometimes referred to as the Kanalkampf—Channel Battles. With varying degrees of effort, these attacks would continue throughout the battle.
  • 12 July
    • Pilot Officer D. A. Hewitt, from Saint John, New Brunswick, 20 years old and serving with No. 501 Squadron, was shot down while engaging a Dornier 17 that was attacking the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portland Harbour, near Dorset in Southern England. This was the first Canadian fatality of the battle. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
  • ?? July
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron transferred to Croydon, south of London, for intensive training.
  • 19 July
    • Pilot Officer R. A. Howley, age 20, from Victoria, British Columbia, was killed while serving with No. 141 Squadron when his Bolton Paul Defiant aircraft (along with five others) was shot down by German fighters off Dover. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
  • 8 August
    • The Luftwaffe began its large-scale assault against England.

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Phase 2

  • 12–23 August
    • This period of the Battle of Britain is characterized by large air battles more inland from the coasts as the Luftwaffe attempted to defeat the RAF through a combination of attrition and direct attacks on its airfields. RAF Fighter Command’s command and control network, including radar sites, also came under attack. The Germans named this portion of the Battle, Adlerangriff—Eagle Attack.
  • 11 August
    • Pilot Officer R. R. Wilson, age 20, from Moncton, New Brunswick, was killed in action when his Hurricane aircraft was shot down over Thames Estuary, United Kingdom. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
  • 12 August
    • Pilot Officer R. W. G. Beley, age 20, from Rossland, British Columbia, was killed while serving with No. 151 Squadron. He is buried in the Margate Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.
  • 13 August
    • Adlertag—Eagle Day—attacks on British radar sites signaled a shift in focus by the Luftwaffe as they attempted to destroy the RAF in the sky or on the ground.

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  • 15 August
    • In response to heavy losses, the Luftwaffe shifted the focus of its attacks to RAF aerodromes. This day saw the largest number of enemy attacks and a correspondingly high number of casualties on both sides, with 90 German bombers and fighters either destroyed or damaged as compared to 42 RAF fighters either lost or damaged.
    • Pilot Officer J. T. Johnston, age 26, from Brandon, Manitoba, was shot down in a Hurricane fighter over the North Sea. He is buried in the Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.
    • Squadron Leader E. A. McNab, while flying with No. 111 Squadron, RAF, to gain operational experience, was credited with one of the three enemy aircraft destroyed by the unit that day.
    • Fifteen enemy aircraft attacked the field at Croydon, causing considerable damage and destroying No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron’s armament and orderly room. Two squadron personnel suffered minor wounds.
  • 16 August
    • Pilot Officer J. E. P. Larichelière, age 20, from Montreal, Quebec, was killed while serving with No. 213 Squadron. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial. He was credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed in the previous three days.
  • 17 August
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron was transferred to an airfield at Northolt, northwest of London, and declared “operational.”
  • 18 August
    • Bitter air combat results in the largest number of casualties to both sides during the battle: Luftwaffe, 96 aircraft destroyed or damaged; RAF, 50 aircraft destroyed or damaged.

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Phase 3

  • 24 August–6 September
    • The Luftwaffe again shifted the main focus of its attention, this time to the airfields and objectives in the south-east of England. The RAF began to feel the growing strain of losses in pilots and aircraft.
  • 24 August
    • Although No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron aircraft had been launched to intercept German aircraft prior to this date, this was the first time that the squadron fired its weapons. Tragically, they mistook a flight of RAF Blenheim bombers for enemy aircraft. Two Blenheims were shot down, with one crash-landing at Thorney Island and the other plunging into the sea. The crew of the latter was killed.
  • 25 August
    • The RAF carried out its first bombing raid on Berlin, an action that enraged Germany and resulted in the diversion of attacking forces from British airfields to London. Two Canadians were among the crews of the 95 aircraft that struck the German capital: Flight Lieutenant D. L. England, from Kingston, Ontario, with No. 61 Squadron and Flying Officer M. M. Fleming from Ottawa, Ontario, with No. 58 Squadron.
  • 26 August
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron ordered to the airfield at North Weald to relieve a hard-pressed RAF unit.
    • On its second sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron met an enemy bomber force over southern England, claiming three destroyed and four damaged for the loss of three Canadian Hurricanes. Flight Lieutenant R. L. Edwards from Cobourg, Ontario, age 28, became the first fatal casualty of the squadron; the other two pilots survive with minor injuries. Edwards is buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, Woking, Surrey, England.
  •  29 August
    • Flight Lieutenant H. R. Hamilton, age 23, from Oak Point, New Brunswick, was killed while flying with No. 85 Squadron. He is buried in Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.
  • 30 August
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron received six replacement pilots from the two Canadian Army Cooperation squadrons that were already in England. Flying Officers Millar, Pattison and Trevena reported from No. 110 (AC) Squadron and Flying Officers Brown, Lochnan and Norris reported from No. 112 (AC) Squadron.

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  • 31 August
    • First sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron aircraft were “bounced” by German fighters, and three Hurricanes were shot down. All three pilots bailed out; Flying Officer W. P. Sprenger was uninjured, but Flight Lieutenant Corbett and Flying Officer G. G. Hyde suffered burns to their faces, hands and legs.
    • During the second sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron engaged German fighters and bombers, destroying three, claiming one probably destroyed and damaging a further two. Flying Officer J. P. J. Desloges was shot down but survived, albeit with severe burns.
  • 1 September
    • As part of the RAF response to a large German formation, nine Canadians from No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant G. R. McGregor destroyed one aircraft and damaged a further five. Flying Officer A. Yuile was shot down but bailed out safely. Flying Officer J. W. Kerwin was also forced to bail out, landing near Maidstone with burns to his hands and face. Flying Officer E. Beardmore’s Hurricane was badly damaged, but he managed to nurse it back to base.
  • 2 September
    • Flight Lieutenant Corbett and Flying Officers Desloges, Kerwin and Hyde were transferred to No. 112 (AC) Squadron to recover from wounds they had received in combat.
  • 3 September
    • Pilot Officer C. R. Bonseigneur, age 22, from Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, was killed in action while serving with No. 257 Squadron when his Hurricane aircraft was shot down near Chelmsford, United Kingdom. He is buried in the Saffron Walden Cemetery, England.
  • 4 September
    • Flying Officer A. A. G. Trueman, age 26, from Sackville, Nova Scotia, was killed in action while flying a Hurricane with No. 253 Squadron. He is buried in the Whyteleafe Cemetery, Surrey, England.
    • First sortie of the day, and while a group of Canadian journalists were visiting, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron was in the thick of things again, claiming two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and six damaged at no loss to themselves.

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Phase 4

  • 7 September–31 October
    • Main attacks shifted to London, but airfields, cities and ships within range of German aircraft were sporadically engaged. Losses incurred in large air battles during the mid-September attacks caused the Germans to rethink their plans. Although at times the fighting was heavy, by the end of October, the Battle of Britain was over.
  • 7 September
    • Focus of Luftwaffe main effort shifted to London. 
    • Pilot Officer J. Benzie, age 25, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was killed while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. A body found in 1981 is believed to be his. He is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, England.
    • Squadron Leader McNab claimed one Me-109 as probably destroyed.
  • 8 September
    • Sub-Lieutenant (Pilot) J. C. Carpenter, age 21, from Toronto, Ontario, was a member of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, serving on His Majesty’s Ship Daedalus, a naval air station. He was attached to No. 54 Squadron as a flying officer and was killed in action when his Spitfire went missing. He is commemorated on the Fleet Air Arm Lee-on-Solent Memorial, Hampshire, United Kingdom.
  • 9 September
    • Pilot Officer K. M. Sclanders, age 24, from Saint John, New Brunswick, was killed when his Hurricane aircraft was lost while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. He is buried in Whyteleafe Cemetery, Surrey, England.
    • The RAF scrambles 26 squadrons to intercept a force of between 300 and 350 enemy aircraft attacking London. No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron claimed one Me-109 destroyed and three damaged. Flying Officer O. J. Peterson claimed the sole victory of the day, but his aircraft was damaged and his windscreen shattered by debris from the Me‑109. With his face cut and blood obscuring his vision, he managed to regain control of his Hurricane and returned to base. Flying Officer W. B. M. Millar was wounded in the leg and forced to bail out of his stricken aircraft, suffering additional burns in the process.

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  • 11 September
    • Pilot Officer H. D. Edwards, age 24, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was shot down over Kent while flying with No. 92 Squadron. He is buried at Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron was in action as part of a 19-squadron RAF response to another large German formation attacking London. At approximately 1615 hours, under the leadership of Squadron Leader McNab, they attacked a formation of Heinkel (He) 111s at 14,000 feet [4,267 metres]. Three of the bombers were destroyed and a further two damaged. Flying Officer T. B. Little, though wounded in the leg, successfully bailed out of his damaged Hurricane. Flying Officer P. W. Lochnan was shot down and crash-landed his aircraft near Romney, walking away without a scratch.
  • 15 September
    • Two large air assaults against England were met and defeated by Fighter Command. Luftwaffe losses totaled 80 aircraft destroyed or damaged to the RAF’s 35. The German High Command was shocked and re-evaluated the planned invasion of England. Henceforth, German bombers would mainly attack at night. This day is officially celebrated as “Battle of Britain Day.”
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron was “bounced” by Me-109s over Biggin Hill on their first sortie of the day. One enemy aircraft was shot down by Flying Officer A. D. Nesbitt who was, in turn, shot down. He bailed out of his aircraft, suffering head injuries. In the same engagement, Flying Officer R. Smither from London, Ontario, age 30, was shot down and killed. He is the second fatal casualty from the unit and is buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, England.
    • Approximately two and a half hours later, on their second sortie, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron intercepted a formation of 15 to 20 He 111 bombers. Two enemy aircraft were shot down, three were probably destroyed and a further two damaged. Although the Canadians suffered no losses, Flying Officer A. Yuile was wounded in the shoulder but made it safely back to base.
  • 17 September
    • Hitler officially canceled the planned invasion of England.

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  • 18 September
    • Despite several scrambles during the day, there was little combat as the majority of enemy aircraft remained above 20,000 feet [6,096 metres] where the performance of the Hurricane was degraded. Despite this limitation, Pilot Officer O. J. Peterson engaged Me-109s at 27,000 feet [8,230 metres] and claimed one destroyed and one probably destroyed. During one of these events, Flying Officer E. W. B. Beardmore became separated from the unit and found himself flying with No. 229 Squadron. His aircraft was damaged, and he was forced to bail out, suffering minor injuries upon landing.
  • 24 September
    • Pilot Officer J. Bryson, age 27, from Westmount, Quebec, was killed while flying with No. 92 Squadron. He is buried in North Weald, Basset Churchyard, England.
  • 25 September
    • Air Marshal William “Billy” Bishop, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, visited No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron at Northolt.
  • 26 September
    • His Majesty King George VI visited No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron at Northolt.
  • 27 September
    • The Germans made multiple assaults throughout the day, and No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron was in almost constant combat, with 12 aircraft sent aloft for the first scramble of the day, 8 for the second and only 6 for the third. By the end of the day, the Canadians claimed four enemy aircraft destroyed, with the destruction of a further seven shared with other RAF squadrons, one probably destroyed and four damaged.
    • Flying Officer O. J. Peterson from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, age 24, was shot down and killed. He is the third and final fatal casualty during the Battle of Britain from No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron. He is buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, England.
  • 28 September
    • Flying Officer J. G. Boyle, age 26, from Ottawa, Ontario, was killed while flying with No. 41 Squadron. He is buried in Lynsted Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.

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  • 7 October
    • Pilot Officer H. D. Edwards, age 24, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was killed in action while flying a Spitfire with No. 92 Squadron. He was credited with 3½ enemy aircraft destroyed and 4 probably destroyed. He is buried at Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.
  • 8 October
    • Pilot Officer G. H. Corbett, age 20, from Victoria, British Columbia, was killed while serving with No. 242 Squadron. Forced to bail out of his damaged aircraft, he did not survive the descent. He is buried in the St. Mary Churchyard Extension, Upchurch, Kent, England.
  • 9 October
    • No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, having been in continuous combat for almost two months, was transferred to Prestwick, Scotland, to rest and rebuild.
  • 17 October
    • Pilot Officer N. N. Campbell, age 21, from St. Thomas, Ontario, was killed while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. He is buried in Scottow Cemetery, Norfolk, England.
    • Pilot Officer H. W. Reilley, age 22, from London, Ontario, was killed while serving with No. 66 Squadron. His Spitfire was shot down by Luftwaffe Kommodore (Squadron Commander) Major W. Molder near Westerham, United Kingdom. He is buried in Gravesend Cemetery, England.
  • 19 October
    • Flying Officer G. F. McAvity, age 29, from Little River, New Brunswick, was killed in action while flying a Hurricane aircraft with No. 3 Squadron.
  • 22 October
    • Squadron Leader McNab was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for services as Commanding Officer, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron during the Battle of Britain.
    • Flight Lieutenant G. R. McGregor and Flying Officer B. D. Russel were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their services during the Battle of Britain.
  • 26 October
    • No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron transferred to Duxford to rest and rebuild.

Major Bill March, a maritime air combat systems officer, has spent over 38 years in uniform.  He is currently a member of the Air Reserve, serving as the RCAF Historian within the Directorate of RCAF History and Heritage.

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Abbreviations

AC―Army Cooperation
He―Heinkel
Me―Messerschmitt
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
Sqn ―squadron

 

Note

[1]. “The Battle of Britain: Phases,” Imperial War Museum, accessed February 24, 2015, http://archive.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/27/battleofbritain/phase0.htm.  (return)

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