“A Very Swift Death to the Enemy”: The RCAF’s Number 1 Fighter Squadron and the Battle of Britain (RCAF Journal - SPRING 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 2)

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By Dr. Richard Mayne, CD

Their motto called for “a very swift death to the enemy,” and it was one that Number 1 (No. 1) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), practised frequently during the Battle of Britain. A total of 27 RCAF pilots flew with this squadron during the 53 days it was operational over the skies of southern England in 1940.[1] During that time, No. 1 pilots filed reports claiming 30 enemy aircraft destroyed, 8 probably destroyed, and 35 damaged as they fought to stem the tide of Luftwaffe bombers and fighters seeking to force the United Kingdom (UK) into submission between 10 July and 31 October 1940.[2] By denying the Luftwaffe air superiority—and thereby preventing an invasion of Great Britain (Operation SEALION)—all the Allied forces involved in the battle won a hard-fought defensive stand which finally stymied a German onslaught that had just ploughed over Western Europe. But for a young Canadian Air Force, which only 16 years earlier had marked its birth as a professional organization, the blood spilt during the Battle of Britain was significant, as it marked the RCAF’s first real steps toward maturity.[3] Important for other reasons as well, this article will not only outline the contribution that No. 1 Squadron made 75 years ago but also will explain why the commemoration of their actions is significant for both Canada as well as today’s RCAF.

In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, No. 1 Squadron was involved with typical peacetime training.[4] This consisted of general flying and simulated air combat followed by instruction that included wireless and radio telegraphy; air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air communication; and ground-attack practice. All of this training began to prepare the squadron for a European war that, by 1938,  many people suspected was on the horizon.[5] With a number of nations now rearming, Canadian defence expenditures increased to a point where the RCAF was able to modernize the squadron. Having moved to Calgary, Alberta, in 1938, while under the command of Squadron Leader E. G. Fullerton, No. 1 was then transferred to Western Air Command where, early the following year, it finally traded in its outdated Siskin biplanes for modern Hurricane fighters.[6]

By August 1939, it was clear that war was unavoidable, and as a result, the squadron moved east to St. Hubert, Quebec, the following month. After Germany attacked Poland in early September and Europe was faced with an enlarged conflict, the squadron was immediately placed on a war footing. With no enemy directly threatening Canadian territory, No. 1 used the rest of September and October to continue its training, which included live firing exercises at Trenton, Ontario. By the end of October, No. 1 eased even closer to a theatre of operations when preparations were made to relocate to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Most of the squadron’s aircraft arrived during the first week of November, and in addition to more training, it began conducting convoy and maritime-reconnaissance patrols in response to early concerns that German U-boats and Kreigsmarine surface units could appear off the coast of North America at any time.[7]

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Shortly before moving to Halifax, the squadron experienced a change that would have important ramifications for the coming battle over southern England. On 1 November 1939, Squadron Leader Ernest A. McNab took command. He was a good choice. Born in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, McNab was the son of one of the province’s former lieutenant governors. Having obtained a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, McNab joined the RCAF in 1926 and received his commission and pilot wings two years later, having taken reserve flying training while at school. He, therefore, had plenty of pre-war experience as an instructor, a photographic-survey pilot, and even as a member of the highly skilled Siskin aerobatic team. Two years with an exchange programme in the late 1930s also gave him considerable exposure to the Royal Air Force (RAF).[8] As a noted air historian has observed, “one might view almost the whole of Ernie McNab’s pre-war career as preparation to lead the first RCAF Squadron into battle.”[9] This is indeed an accurate portrayal, as McNab’s leadership was instrumental in guiding the squadron through its growing pains and baptism of fire.

That baptism came sooner than anyone had anticipated. Originally, the government planned to send the Canadian Army’s 1 Division from the UK to France along with the RCAF’s 110 Squadron, which had arrived in England in February 1940. Another army co-operation unit (112 Squadron) as well as fighters would follow at a later date.[10] However, the German Blitzkrieg shocked the Allies. France soon found itself on the verge of defeat after the European lowlands countries quickly crumbled under the weight of the Wehrmacht’s advance. Even before this eventuality, the Canadian High Commissioner in London had advised the British that his government was anxious to provide whatever support it could. Their response was simple; the British hoped that there was “the possibility of making available a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron, both aircraft and personnel, at an establishment, if possible of sixteen initial equipment [aircraft].”[11] There was only one squadron that came close to fitting this bill, and Ottawa responded on 21 May 1940 that “we are sending at earliest possible moment No. 1 Fighter Squadron RCAF, together with all available Hurricanes, fourteen in number, it being understood [that the] United Kingdom will provide reinforcements as required, there being no facilities for [operational] training here.”[12]

The government’s desire to immediately send No. 1 Squadron to Europe was understandable, particularly since France capitulated soon after these messages were exchanged. Losses to Britain’s Fighter Command during the Battle of France were heavy, amounting to some 453 RAF fighters and 362 combat pilots.[13] As it was anticipated that the Germans would now turn their attention on Great Britain, No. 1 was quickly dispatched overseas to help a badly mauled RAF defend its homeland. It was a noble gesture, but there were risks, as some questioned whether No. 1 had sufficient resources and was properly prepared for actual combat.

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Such concerns were well founded. Years of interwar cutbacks could not be undone overnight. In fairness to the government, defence spending was not popular between the two world wars, but the steady increase to the Air Force’s budget—which amounted to $11.5 million (or one-third of the 1937–38 defence appropriation) allocated to military aviation—was too little too late. Nothing captured this dark period better than the concept that their lack of equipment and resources made the RCAF little more than a collection of “bush pilots in uniform.”[14] Of course, the sudden increase of money and support from the government was welcome news, but Air Vice-Marshal G. M. Croil, the first Chief of the Air Staff, put this largesse into perspective when he candidly admitted “it was not possible to take full advantage of a sudden and relatively large increase in appropriations.”[15] The reason, Croil would elaborate, was that increases of this nature had to be done incrementally. The infrastructure, training, and standards for pilots as well as air and ground crew could not be fixed overnight or by throwing money at the problem. Building, or–more precisely–rebuilding, an air force after the “great cut of 1932”—in which defence expenditures were drastically reduced—took time.[16] That, however, was a luxury that no one could afford in the face of the threat posed by an expansionist Nazi state.

No. 1 Squadron had other factors working against it as well. Certainly, a lack of up-to-date equipment was one problem. While the acquisition of Hurricanes was a vast improvement over its Siskins, the fact that the RCAF originally had only enough machine guns to equip five of these aircraft reeked of an air force that was desperately unprepared for war.[17] Moreover, at least one pilot confided that he was uncomfortable with the potential of engaging the enemy with “the incomplete outfitting and training of the squadron.”[18] Nor did it help that No. 1 initially did not have enough personnel to support wartime operations. Rapidly expanding from its September 1939 strength of 5 officers and 72 airmen, No. 1 “absorbed” 115 Squadron, an auxiliary reserve unit based out of Montreal, during the last days of May 1940, thereby adding an additional 8 officers and 86 ranks to its roster.[19] They were welcome additions, but this sudden amalgamation posed its own problems, as 115 was an auxiliary squadron equipped with trainers and light bombers, which meant they lacked fighter experience. Put simply, the squadron was nowhere close to the level of competence that was required for what was coming.[20] Worse yet, the amalgamation of the two squadrons still did not provide enough personnel for what was needed, and as a result, more airmen were drawn from three bomber-reconnaissance squadrons in the maritime area (8, 10, and 11 Squadrons) as well as 83 individuals from a Toronto manning depot.[21] The RCAF had patched together enough officers and airmen to form an operational fighter squadron, which collectively boarded the DUCHESS OF ATHOLL for the transatlantic voyage to the UK.

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The addition of personnel from other units helped to give the squadron a pan-Canadian composition, but absorbing 115 Squadron certainly increased the contribution from Quebec. Indeed, a full 42.8 percent of the 27 pilots who flew with No. 1 were from Quebec, compared to 28.5 per cent from Ontario, 17.7 per cent from the West, followed by 7 per cent from the Maritimes.[22] These numbers vary slightly when looking at the squadron as a whole. From a reported strength of over 300 officers and airmen in June 1940, Quebecers still made up the largest provincial component with 35.2 per cent calling la belle province home, while 31.2 per cent claimed Ontario as their primary residence, Manitoba 3 per cent, Saskatchewan 9.5, Alberta 5.2, British Columbia 3.95, Nova Scotia 6.5, New Brunswick 4.6, and just under 1 per cent was from Prince Edward Island.[23]

Perhaps the most interesting statistical data from the squadron was its average age, which stood at 25.4 years old. This demonstrated the wide range of experience among the squadron, with new recruits on the one hand, such as 18-year-old Aircraftsman Max William Blakney, to the rugged maturity that one would expect from individuals with considerable pre‑war experience, like 48-year-old Warrant Officer Sydney Collins, on the other.[24] The pilots also reflected a wide range of ages. McNab, for instance, was 34 years old at the start of the battle, but he was not the oldest. That distinction belonged to 38-year-old Flying Officer Gordon MacGregor, who, as one observer aptly noted, “was engaged in a trade in which 25 was considered to be an advanced age for the physical stresses of combat flying. Gordon MacGregor showed how wrong the theorists were … .”[25] Many of the other pilots were also above the squadron’s average age. Paul Pitcher, a member of 115 Squadron in September 1939, explained that “most of us were professionals or businessmen in our late twenties and early thirties, some married, and quite conscious of the validity of the then-current philosophy that ‘the ideal age for a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain was 19 years; after that, you had more sense.’”[26]

While the racial composition of the squadron has never been analysed fully, recruiting policies of the time meant that the vast majority—if not all—of the unit would have been white. Likewise, more study is required to understand the religious backgrounds of those who served in the squadron during the battle; although, a cursory survey of pilot personnel files suggests that they were mostly Protestant. With regard to its social composition, it appears that a wide array of Canadians from various economic circumstances joined the squadron. However, largely due to the influx of individuals from 115 Squadron, the pilots tended to come from affluent Montreal families, a fact that likely explains why No. 1 was named after a wealthy area of that city when it became the “City of Westmont” Squadron.[27]

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While a good number of the pilots came from prestigious Canadian families, others originated from typical households of more modest means. No matter what their backgrounds, however, these men came together as they prepared to fight for their country. Indeed, they were reported to be in good spirits, as one officer even claimed that they sang the self-styled lyrics to popular songs as they disembarked onto a tender after the Duchess of Atholl made port at Liverpool, an example of which went as follows:

From the shores of Canada we have come
To put old Hitler on his bum
We’ll take the thug, and flatten his mug,
We’re Canada’s fighter squadron.
CHORUS
Away, away with plane and gun
Here we come, Number One,
Seeking the Hun [Germans] to put on the run,
We’re Canada’s fighter squadron.[28]

Although humorous, these lyrics clearly demonstrated the squadron’s eagerness to get into the fight.

Whether No. 1 was prepared for that fight was still a pressing issue when the squadron arrived at its first airfield, Middle Wallop, where it joined 10 Group of RAF Fighter Command. This was a somewhat safe sector that lay to the west of where 11 Group would face the brunt of the battle, and this made it a comparatively good area to try to whip the rookie squadron into shape. That effort was quickly assisted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Fighter Command, who came to welcome No. 1 to the UK on 25 June 1940. Dowding was impressed with the Canadians, telling McNab after meeting his pilots that they were of a “very fine type.”[29] He then briefed them on new flying tactics and practices that were the product of some hard lessons learned in battle. These, he explained further, would have “differed from those they were accustomed to in Canada.”[30] While asking what level of training proficiency the squadron had reached, Dowding was surprised to learn that No. 1 had unmodified Hurricanes, which, despite having survived the torpedoing of the ship that had brought them over, lacked all the latest updates that their RAF counterparts had acquired. This made them outdated for the fight that Dowding was leading.[31] A man of incredible character and leadership ability, Dowding told the squadron that he had made arrangements to get them at least some new Hurricanes. He was true to his word. With their original Hurricanes being reassembled and some already flying, the squadron was delighted when a handful of new aircraft arrived soon after Dowding had promised them.[32]

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The squadron’s first order of business was to get organized and accustomed to an operational theatre of war. Members were given “disembarkation leave,” with 30 percent of the unit allowed off the station at any one time, while those who remained busied themselves with unpacking and assembling equipment, taking care of personal administration as well as setting up and moving into the tents and barracks that would accommodate them. Other necessities were also established, such as motor transport, dental and medical sections as well as the administrative and support infrastructures that would be essential to meet the squadron’s needs in Great Britain. The pilots were equally busy, conducting numerous reconnaissance and test flights that served to familiarize them with the local area. Perhaps more importantly, for those from 115, it represented the chance for their first flight in a Hurricane, which, when compared to the North American Harvard and Fairey Battle aircraft that they had flown in Canada, was an entirely different and more sophisticated experience.[33] Yet, it was one that other new pilots such as Dal Russel, who joined the squadron on 28 May 1940, were willing to voluntarily come back early from leave to do.[34] It was also during these early stages of their deployment that No. 1 got its first taste of being in a war zone, as an air-raid siren was heard on the night of 27 June, followed by a “stick of bombs being dropped in the vicinity of the station.” [35] It was undoubtedly a surreal experience, hearing the sounds of war for the first time; something that was about to become more common as the squadron was moved closer to the action. On 4 July, No.1 was reassigned to Croydon, just south of London, and transferred to 11 Group.

No. 1 still had much training to do before becoming operational. Much like Middle Wallop, however, the squadron’s first priority was to readjust to a new station while the pilots flew sector reconnaissance flights to familiarize themselves with the area around Croydon.[36] Yet two somewhat unsettling experiences occurred on 11 July that once again reinforced the fact that the squadron was not yet ready for combat. The first was the more troubling of the two. It began when a No. 1 Hurricane was approached by an RAF fighter whose pilot, after flying aggressively around the Canadian, gave a hand signal indicating that the latter should land immediately. The issue was that the underside of No. 1’s aircraft were still painted in an early half-white, half‑black colour scheme, but this configuration was abandoned due to fears that the Germans might use captured aircraft from the Battle of France to create confusion. According to orders, the RAF airman would have been within his rights to shoot the Canadian Hurricane down; fortunately, he erred on the side of caution. The result of this encounter was that the squadron was grounded until the aircraft were repainted and given new unit designators. This process took five days (12–17 July), after which No. 1 received a new paint scheme and the squadron prefix “YO,” along with the letters A through Z to identify individual aircraft.[37]

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The second incident that occurred on 11 July involved a visit to Croydon by Group Captain G. V. Walsh, who was the RCAF’s senior officer in the UK. During the visit, McNab informed him that the AOC 11 Group, Air Marshal Keith Park, was apparently prepared to use the under-trained No. 1 on operations in an emergency. Walsh was disturbed by what he was hearing. No. 1 was progressing well, but it had not yet received nearly enough training for combat operations. Walsh felt that only 9 of the 21 pilots were even close to the proficiency that would be needed to survive against the Luftwaffe.[38] Park would later ease Walsh’s concerns by telling him that someone must have misinformed McNab; there was no intention of employing No. 1 until it was combat ready.

Park was undoubtedly sincere. The Battle of Britain was just entering what many historians would later describe as its first phase (10 July–11 August), in which the Luftwaffe was attempting to entice the RAF to engage it over the channel by instigating a series of probing attacks against ports and local convoys.[39] While the RAF was dealing with Kanalkampf, or the Channel Battle, No. 1 Squadron’s training intensified and became more operational in nature. Much had to be learned in a short period of time, as the squadron was sent in groups to radio‑telegraphy and attack courses at RAF Station Uxbridge, while in the air they conducted firing, reconnaissance, formation flying, tactics, attack practices, and interceptions. Of course, the ground crew required its own training, some of which took place at the courses held at the Hawker and Rolls Royce companies and was designed to familiarize them with the maintenance requirements of operational Hurricane aircraft.[40]

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As the squadron crept closer to operations, McNab did two things that demonstrated his value as a leader. First, to further prepare his pilots, he flew to the RAF station at Northolt on 5 August 1940 to personally make arrangements for them to receive training from the Air Fighting Development Unit. Second, with no one in the squadron having been in actual combat, McNab had himself temporarily attached to RAF’s No. 111 Squadron so that he could fly operational sorties. This would give him some combat experience before leading his own men into battle. As one early historical account observed:

Realizing that air leadership cannot be acquired in other than the school of hard experience, the OC [Officer Commanding] of No. 1 [McNab] very wisely decided to serve an apprenticeship before graduating to the class of formation leader. From the very first “show” he proved himself worthy of this position and justified his selection as the fighting commander of the eager Canadians. [41]

Indeed, McNab had acquitted himself well, as he managed to draw first blood for No. 1 when he shot down a Dornier (Do) 215 on 15 August 1940 over Kent.[42] McNab’s combat report vividly captures this encounter:

I was Blue 2 and took off at 1530 hours on orders to patrol Beechy Head. Two enemy bombers DO 215 were sighted flying in close formation and I did a stern attack on them firing a short burst with no apparent effect before breaking off. On my next attack after the first [b]urst, the rear gunner ceased firing and the enemy aircraft started to lose height. I followed him down, firing. His engines began to smoke and he crashed in some marshy ground just west of Westgate on Sea. As my ammunition was used up, I returned to my base and re-fueled.[43]

McNab’s account is interesting as it identifies how little ammunition the fighters of the day carried, as he had enough for two passes before he had to return to base. In this instance, he made it count, and after flying twice more with No. 111 on the following day, he headed back to his own squadron to lead them into the fight.[44]

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With each passing day, No. 1 was getting closer to the battle. In fact, while the pilots were receiving instruction at Northolt, the airfield at Croydon was bombed by a formation of Messerschmitt (Me) 110s. Upon their return they found that the armament section quarters and orderly room had been destroyed, and two members of the ground crew had suffered minor injuries.[45] The attack itself, it has been reported, was an error, as the Me 110s mistook Croydon for Kenley four miles [6.4 kilometres] to the south. Nevertheless, it was the product of a shift in German tactics. Launched three days earlier, Adlertag (Eagle Day) saw the fight move from the channel attacks to one that focused on blinding the RAF by knocking out its radar sites. This was soon followed by an attempt to disable Fighter Command on the ground through the destruction of its airfields.[46]

With the battle ratcheting up, the time for No. 1 Squadron to become operational had finally arrived. On 16 August, control of the squadron was officially handed over from the Canadian administrative authority in the UK (Walsh) to the RAF, and on the flowing day, it moved from Croydon to Northolt, where it joined the battle as a fighting unit.[47] Its first operational forays were relatively uneventful, being scrambled a number of times without engaging the enemy. Unfortunately, the first time the squadron fired its guns in anger it resulted in a friendly fire incident.

This event began on 24 August, when the squadron was scrambled in response to an incoming wave of German bombers that was believed to be headed toward the Tangmere Sector Station. In reality, the formation was headed for Portsmouth and at 10,000 feet [3048 metres] the eager RCAF squadron spotted three aircraft some 2,000 to 4,000 feet [610 to 1220 metres] below. What the RCAF airmen thought were Junkers Ju 88s were actually British Bristol Blenheims.[48] The mistake itself was not unreasonable, as the twin-engine Blenheim did share some characteristics with the Ju 88. However, moments into the attack, McNab spotted one of the key differences: a mid-upper turret that the German bomber did not have. Thus, immediately recognizing them as friendlies, he ordered his flights to disengage. It was too late. In a post‑incident assessment, it was determined that the pilots of one of the sections did not hear McNab’s orders and misinterpreted the Blenheims’ flares—which were used to signal that they were friendly aircraft—as incoming tracer rounds. The result was one Blenheim shot down, while a second crash landed.

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Confusion in war is common. In fact, the RAF had suffered a similar mishap in the opening days of the war when two Hurricanes were shot down by Spitfires, which led to the first British air casualty of the war.[49] Of course, this would have been of little consolation to the RCAF pilots involved with the Blenheim incident, who, McNab later reported, were devastated by the experience:

The mental strain experienced by the pilots in both sections … has been a punishment more severe than any that could be physically given for it is not a pleasant thought to imagine one has been responsible for the death of two comrades. It was some time before these officers settled down … .[50]

McNab also took the incident to heart, recording that it was “the lowest point in my life,” [51] and while this was undoubtedly a hard event to bear, the squadron nevertheless managed to regroup and carry on.

It was certainly needed. Two days after the friendly fire incident, No. 1 temporarily relieved an exhausted RAF unit at North Weald.[52] Scrambled not long after they had landed that morning, No. 1 followed this up with yet another sortie in the afternoon. The first true encounter with the Luftwaffe occurred during the latter operation, and apart from McNab’s success with No. 111 Squadron nine days earlier, it resulted in No. 1’s first victories as a unit. It also came at a cost. After getting vectored to a formation of 25 to 30 Do 215s, the squadron pounced and accounted for three enemy aircraft destroyed with another three heavily damaged. Intense crossfire from the Germans accounted for two of No. 1’s Hurricanes (those flown by McNab and Flying Officer (F/O) J. P. J. Desloges) being sent into forced landings and later being written-off;  a third was lost completely and resulted in the death of F/O R. L. Edwards.[53]

Edwards’ death was significant. Not only did it mark the first time that the squadron had to deal with the loss of a comrade while engaging the enemy, but Edwards also represented the first combat death sustained by a member of the RCAF while serving in a Canadian flying unit. Hailing from Cobourg, Ontario, Edwards had to fight hard to join the RCAF as a pilot. Originally declined because his degree from the University of Toronto was in arts rather than the required one in engineering, Edwards eagerly tried again once he learned that the RCAF had eased this particular requirement. However, while his arts degree was now acceptable, too much time had passed, as he had reapplied a few weeks after he surpassed the maximum pilot acceptance age of 25. Described as a self-confident and easy-mannered individual, Edwards did not give up. He wrote to the Senior Air Officer of the RCAF, Air Commodore Croil, explaining that, “I am not appealing to you for a job. I am asking for the chance to follow the one career that I desire above all others.”[54] It worked. In the summer of 1938, he was finally allowed to join the RCAF as a pilot.

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Edwards did well in the Air Force, and this fact was emphasized in the condolence letter his young bride received from the Minister of National Defence for Air, Charles Power. Sadly, by the end of the war Power had written thousands of these letters, but in this first instance, he not only acknowledged Edwards’ “fine courage and marked ability” but also expressed his regret “that so promising a career should be terminated in such sad circumstances.”[55] Press accounts from the day suggest that Canadians were equally proud of Edwards.[56] Indeed, while flying next to McNab, who was leading his squadron and had just succeeded in downing one of the Do 215s, Edwards opened up fire on a target of his own. He was at a close range, and after his rounds sheared off the tail of his victim, he, himself, was hit and subsequently followed the plummeting Do 215 into the ground.[57] It was a heroic death, and the press was happy to stress this fact in particular, since his loss was not in vain. In this raid, the German formation was so badly ravaged (the more so after other squadrons finished off what No. 1 had started) that it headed home before attacking its intended target.[58]

No.1 returned to Northolt, but there was little action over the next four days. This did not mean the squadron was not busy during this period, as it was often at readiness—so much so, in fact, that Edwards’ burial on 30 August unfortunately had to compete with four scrambles. The relative lull in actual combat did not last long, as on 31 August, a group of Me 109s attacked from out of the sun and pounced on No. 1 while it was patrolling over Dover. It was an unfortunate encounter and one that the controllers at 11 Group saw coming as they tried to recall the Canadians. It was too late, and the squadron did not do well. Only two aircraft got their sights on the enemy, which led to quick bursts without result. The Germans, on the other hand, managed to down three Hurricanes with F/Os V. B. Corbett and G. G. Hyde suffering from burns around the face, hands, and legs, while F/O W. P. Sprenger managed to bail out without serious injury.[59]

Fortunately, No. 1 was given an opportunity to even the score later in the day. Scrambled at 1730 hours, another group of approximately 50 bombers with escort were intercepted over Gravesend. Although complicated by having to fly through heavy “friendly” anti-aircraft fire, the squadron nevertheless made a successful interception, as two Me 109s were shot down by F/Os B. E. Christmas (often referred to as “F/O Xmas”) and T. B. Little, while F/O R. Smither damaged another. Nor did the success end there. Two bombers were also claimed, as F/O J. W. Kerwin took credit for a Do 215 destroyed, and a damaged aircraft was awarded to F/O B. D. Russel. However, this encounter also came with sacrifice. F/O Deloges, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who had joined the RCAF in October 1937, was forced to bail out with “severe burns.”[60]

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The operational pace was clearly picking up, and it was a sign of what was yet to come. However, something resembling a routine also quickly emerged. For instance, during the first week of September, the squadron faced four days where it scrambled three times in a 24‑hour period, which, as the operational diary noted, were occurring “at the usual hours of 09.00 hrs, Noon and 17.00 hrs.”[61] On the remaining days of that week, it was scrambled at least once, and all this culminated in two squadron engagements along with three enemy aircraft destroyed, two probable and eleven damaged. It was a good week. But weighed against these successes, the squadron saw one of its aircraft shot down (the pilot, F/O Kerwin, survived but with severe burns) while another Hurricane suffered heavy damage and a third was a write-off.

The issue of being burned was a constant fear among most, if not all, pilots; it was considered more terrifying than death itself. Indeed, the severe pain and disfigurement that resulted, often left horrific, permanent physical scars as well as extreme psychological ones. Doctors found that Kerwin, who suffered second-degree burns on his hands, thighs, and right forearm, expressed considerable anxiety when he heard bombs and gunfire near the hospital at which he was recovering. Worse yet, he also suffered from nightmares in which he relived constantly “this experience of being shot down and being unable to get out of his aeroplane.”[62] There was also the frustration that many felt when they were no longer able to fight and were relegated to secondary duties or to a convalescent home. Even more difficult for those who returned to Canada was that they sometimes had to face the reactions of citizens who were unprepared to see first-hand the horrendous scars of war. For No. 1’s initial batch of severely burned victims (four in total), their journey began by declaring them “non-effective,” after which they were posted to the RCAF’s No. 112 Army Co-operation Squadron. However, this was not always the end of their combat career. Kerwin, for instance, did return to operational flying. Unfortunately, he was unable to cheat death a second time, when his aircraft ploughed into the side of a mountain while serving in the Aleutian campaign.

The second week of September brought yet another change in the Luftwaffe’s tactics; although, it was not immediately appreciated. It all began with an earlier errant bomb raid on a highly populated area of London, which, in turn, resulted in a retaliatory raid on Berlin by RAF’s Bomber Command. Tactically, the relatively small RAF raid achieved little; however, its strategic value was immeasurable. The German attacks on Fighter Command were taking their toll, but outraged by the raid on Berlin, Hitler wanted revenge. The brunt of the new offensive was to fall on London, and No. 1 noticed that something had changed when it was ordered to protect Northolt on 7 September. The squadron was somewhat puzzled when it spotted a large raid of approximately 200 enemy aircraft over London. The squadron wanted to help, but the sector defences, not realizing that something new was a foot, refused to release the squadron from defending the station due to the belief that its own airfield could still come under attack.[63]

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Two days later, No. 1 finally got its chance to participate in the defence of London. That battlespace had changed, however, as the Germans adopted new tactics to go along with the shift in targets. With the German bombers now acting as strategic assets, the need was for their fighters to cling closely to them for protection. This prevented the Luftwaffe from the tactical advantage that their fighters had enjoyed during the earlier raids on airfields and radar stations when they were able to operate more independently. With one escort formation now tied to the bombers and another nearby, the Me 109 lost one of its greatest strengths. No longer able to employ its ability to dive quickly through British formations and then climb to escape to a relatively safe altitude, the Me 109 was suddenly vulnerable.[64]

This was certainly evident during the second week of the month. On 9 September, the squadron was ordered to intercept a group of bombers approaching London and, while trying to gain the advantage of altitude, ran smack into the protective screen of German fighters. The result was favourable, as No. 1 managed to destroy one Me 109, with another three damaged in exchange for one Hurricane (the pilot of this aircraft managed to bail out, although with a wounded leg and burns). The rest of the week was a mixture of relatively quiet days combined with active and exhausting combat. Between 10 and 14 September, the squadron accounted for one Heinkel (He) 111 destroyed and one damaged as well as a truly unique victory when F/O A. Yuile claimed a Ju 52. This kill—which was shared with a RAF squadron—was odd, since, as a three-engine transport aircraft, the lumbering Ju 52 had no place over southern England. Yet, Yuile’s account is hard to dismiss, since the vivid description in his combat report fits no other type of German aircraft.[65] In contrast, during this period No. 1 saw one Hurricane shot down (with the pilot suffering a leg wound) and one aircraft that crash landed.

The next day, however, was busier than usual and, as such, has become the key date associated with the commemoration of the Battle of Britain. On 15 September, the Luftwaffe launched a massive raid on London with the aim of finally bringing the heart of the Empire to its knees.[66] During a day of great activity that kept the squadron at constant readiness, No. 1 found itself in the thick of this pivotal battle of survival. Fighting over the Biggin Hill area, the squadron was scrambled twice that day. The second encounter went better than the first. Having been caught flatfooted during the morning—which led to one pilot bailing out with injuries and another, F/O Ross Smither, becoming the squadron’s second loss when he was killed after being caught by a Me 109 that had attacked out of the sun—No. 1 had a much better afternoon.

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Indeed, based on earlier comments in the unit’s unofficial war diary, few were surprised when, after sharing in a victory over a He 111 with 223 Squadron Hurricanes, F/O P. W. Lochnan actually belly-landed his damaged aircraft beside his crashed prey. Hollywood itself could hardly have done a better job of scripting what happened next, as the somewhat eccentric Lochnan drew his personal sidearm and took the crew prisoner.[67] Dramatics aside, what really mattered that day was that the squadron had destroyed 3½ enemy aircraft, along with 2 probable and 2 damaged in comparison to the 2 lost Hurricanes. It was a small but important contribution to overall claims that RAF and its Allies had downed 185 German aircraft with a loss of only 25 of their own. Of course, post-war analysis produced a more accurate picture, which suggests that the real score was 61 to 31, but this does not take away from the fact that 15 September was a resounding success for RAF, which, unknown to most at that time, had effectively put the last nail in the German hope to invade Great Britain.[68]

The loss of Smither once again brought home to the squadron that great victories often come with a cost. At 28 years old, Smither had served in the RCAF longer than most members of the squadron. After two years in the militia, Smither had joined the Air Force on 10 September 1930 as a junior rank and fitter. Later getting qualified as an air gunner, Smither then applied to the airmen pilot’s course. He did well as assessments noted he was an above-average pilot with a “good air sense but heavy on controls.”[69] He was also a popular officer and his death was felt by many—most of all his family. Acting as an extreme example of the types of loss that Canadians faced during the war, Smither’s father, who had lost his wife in the late 1920s, had to deal with not only the tragedy of this son’s death, but also with another fatality in the family two years later. Sydney Smither, another son, had followed his older brother’s lead when he joined the RCAF three months after Ross Smither’s death. He, too, became a fighter pilot and had even joined the exact same squadron, which by this point had been redesignated as 401, before being killed on operations while flying a Spitfire on 5 June 1942. For a second agonizing time, their father learned that he had lost a son.[70] It was a devastating blow to the family, but life, as with the war, went on.

Between 16 and 26 September, the squadron was on constant state of readiness and scrambled as many as four times a day. No. 1 saw little action during this period although there was a particularly hair-raising incident when all three squadrons at Northolt were scrambled at the same time. Taking off from three different corners of the airfield, they actually converged at roughly the same point, which, it was claimed, prematurely aged the base commander. “By some miracle,” one No. 1 pilot remembered of the near-disastrous collision, “the only casualty was the Station Commander, who had witnessed the scene and was so shaken by it that he had to be helped to his staff car and taken to the Mess for a reviving drink.”[71] He was not the only one, as the constant stress of combat was taking its toll on the entire squadron.

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One problem adding to that stress was that the squadron had no pool of replacements for lost or wounded pilots. This was an issue that Canadian authorities in the UK spotted long before No. 1 joined the fighting. In his capacity as the AOC of the RCAF overseas, Wing Commander Walsh wrote to the Air Staff in Ottawa, asking for permission to canvass the RCAF’s 110 and 112 Army Co-operation Squadrons for a potential pool of replacement pilots for No. 1. Ottawa refused, preferring that these pilots remain with their Westland Lysander aircraft in case they were needed in their army co-operation role. Instead, in a signal dated 25 July, Walsh was promised 10 pilots from Canada.[72] He was not convinced that they were coming, and as a result, he turned to the AOC of 11 Group. A fervent nationalist, Walsh was concerned about asking RAF for help, as the addition of British pilots would dilute the Canadian identity of the squadron. In the end it did not matter, as Park responded that RAF was stretched to its limits and had no pilots to spare.[73]

Walsh’s hand was forced soon after No. 1 became operational. Breaking Ottawa’s orders not to use Nos. 110 and 112 pilots as reserves, Walsh asked the two squadrons for volunteers. Unable to fly often so as to keep the sky clear for the fighters, the morale of these army co‑operation units was low, and naturally, their response was overwhelming.[74] Six men were selected almost immediately as potential replacements for No. 1 and sent on accelerated operational fighter training. It was not enough. In early September, Walsh made his most urgent appeal yet to Ottawa, noting that the reinforcement situation was becoming critical. No. 1 was now taking casualties, and while the 10 pilots that Ottawa had promised over a month earlier had finally arrived, Walsh explained that they would not meet the immediate need, as “from their own statements [they] are out of flying practice. Understand some have done practically no flying last two or three months.”[75] Throwing them into the fray would have been disastrous, and as a result, the RCAF Headquarters in Great Britain’s war diary entry for the next day observed that a decision had been made to reorganize No. 112 so that it would temporarily become a “composite pool squadron” to feed No. 1.[76] It was a decision that was clearly against Ottawa’s wishes, but one that Walsh somewhat creatively noted was the product of having received the orders after he had already acted.

Having started the battle with roughly 24 pilots to man 12 aircraft, the squadron had just over half that original number by mid and late September. It was a true testament to the stamina and determination of the squadron that it managed to have its most successful day of the entire battle in spite of these drawbacks. Remaining at readiness from dawn to dusk, 27 September was an intensive and draining experience. After the initial scramble in the morning, No. 1 had only 8 serviceable aircraft left for the noon engagement and 6 for its final foray at the end of the day. In total, it had survived engagements with 70 enemy aircraft through 26 sorties over 3 scrambles, and that, it was reported, had reduced the squadron to “a very tired and unshaven group of warriors.” [77] For their efforts, they unleashed a terrible vengeance on the enemy as they, often in concert with the Polish 303 and RAF 229 Squadrons, bagged a remarkable tally of one Ju 88 destroyed, one Ju 88 probable, four Me 110s destroyed, one Me 109 destroyed and one Me 110 damaged.[78]

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Unfortunately, this encounter resulted in another RCAF fatality, which would be the squadron’s last for the battle. F/O Otto John Peterson, who was married in Halifax only two and a-half months before going overseas, was born in Lloydminister, Saskatchewan, on 14 March 1916. Having joined the RCAF on 7 November 1938, Peterson did well and was, in fact, one of the squadron’s top scorers with three confirmed kills.[79] However, his luck came to an end when his aircraft was riddled by enemy fire and crashed near Greenland’s Farm in Kent. In a strange twist of fate, his widow received the “dreaded cable” from the Department of National Defence announcing her husband’s death immediately after she had opened a letter from him. It outlined his 9 September victory over a Me 109 and, as a Halifax newspaper explained:

The letter describing the adventure was received by Mrs. Peterson yesterday, just moments after she opened the cable telling her of her husband’s death. Two Messerchmitt 109’s closed in on the tail of the machine flown by Squadron-L[eader] McNab, the letter said. Flight-Lieut[enant] Reyno matched one and chased it off while Peterson swooped to attack the second. He “got it” with a burst of fire from his machine guns, he said in his letter, “in fact, it seemed to disintegrate in the air.” The cable received by Mrs. Peterson yesterday said simply that he had been “killed in action.”[80]

A letter from Air Commodore Walsh to Peterson’s widow further identified how the squadron had just lost one of its best:

As you know, your husband has seen several weeks of active service and has participated in many flying battles during which he has displayed initiative, courage and skill and believe me his death is a great loss to No. 1 Canadian Fighter Squadron and the Royal Canadian Air Force as a whole. Not only his brother officers but also the airmen of his Squadron had the greatest admiration and respect for his daring as a fighter pilot. Your husband established an excellent record of service. I knew him personally and had a great liking for him and I am proud to be able to tell you that on September 9th he shot down one Me 109 himself and on September 25th he shot down a Dornier 215 bomber.[81]

Peterson was yet another painful loss, but the fact that No.1 had participated in the air battles of 27 September was nevertheless rewarding, as this was the last time that the Luftwaffe appeared in force over the skies of southern England during daylight hours.

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Recognition for No. 1’s efforts soon followed, as during the first week of October it was learned that the squadron’s commanding officer was going to receive the RCAF’s first valour medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, for having led the squadron with great success. Four days later, more good news arrived when it was further revealed that two more members, F/Os MacGregor and Russel, were being honoured with the same distinction. While these accomplishments certainly boosted morale, the reality was that the squadron was completely exhausted. So much so, in fact, that one medical officer, who had not seen the unit in three weeks, was so shocked with what he saw after his return that he wrote a report on 7 October outlining how:

There was a marked change in the general reactions of the pilots as compared to three weeks previously. There is a definite air of constant tension and they are unable to relax as they are particularly on constant call. The pilots go to work with forced enthusiasm and appear to be suffering from strain and general tiredness. They have been working long hard hours with not much as 24 hours off over a period of two or three weeks in numerous cases. This is carried on with little or no reserves with which to alternate duties. None of the pilots have had leave since arrival in England and the most time off at on[e] [sic] time has been 24 hours. This constant strain and overwork is showing its effects on most of the pilots, and on some it is marked. They tire very easily, and recovery is slower. Acute reactions in the air are thereby effected. There is now a general tendency to eat irregularly or to have a sandwich in place of a hot meal. The pilots are becoming run-down and infections which would otherwise be minimal are becoming more severe. There is a general state of becoming stale.[82]

It was a telling report that clearly captured the state of a squadron that was reeling from weeks of constant combat.

Squadron life was indeed tough. Pilots on duty generally woke very early in the morning, often between 4 and 5 o’clock, and after collecting their flying accoutrements, they would wait at dispersal for the first encounter of the day. They ate and relaxed when they could, but as one pilot later recalled, “every time the telephone rang [for a possible scramble], their stomachs rolled over. At the first ringing, many pilots would stroll around and look nonchalant, and the subsequent wait for the scramble order constituted the most stressful period of all.”[83] Inevitably, that scramble would come, sending the pilots rushing to the aircraft that the ground crew had readied for flight. Combat itself was intense and exhausting, but most of all there was the fear, and it was not uncommon for pilots to complain about “cotton mouth” (the drying of saliva) and sweaty palms in combat, which were natural products of the body’s reaction to intense anxiety and stress. Sleep, when possible, was often interrupted, usually by the sounds of nearby air raids. This was such a problem that the unit’s diary observed on 1 October how “there is still talk of dispersing the squadron for the night in some other place so that a good night’s rest could be had, but still nothing comes of it.”[84] Making matters worse, the squadron was hit with a rash of colds that made combat flying even more miserable. However, the well-earned rest that the unit so desired was finally on its way. On 9 October 1940, the RAF’s 615 Squadron landed at the station so that No. 1 could head north to 13 Group and a new posting in the relatively serene skies of Prestwick, Scotland.

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The Battle of Britain was finally over for No. 1 Squadron. Almost two months of constant combat had cost the unit three pilots killed, eleven wounded, and sixteen aircraft damaged beyond use or destroyed.[85] Yet no one could dispute that they had done well. Hailed in the press as “Canada’s new heroes,”[86] the squadron had allowed the nation to take the fight to a distant enemy. This is one of the key reasons why the Battle of Britain is important to both today’s RCAF and Canada as a whole. Never before had Canada sent its own identifiable national air assets on an expeditionary operation in a coalition atmosphere. But this contribution to the Battle of Britain would set a 75-year pattern where the Government of Canada would demonstrate its support to alliance commitments and the restoration of international stability as well as order by sending RCAF squadrons overseas and into harm’s way. Moreover, the nation can be proud that its Air Force was directly involved in an early epic battle of the Second World War that not only helped save a country but also stemmed what many at the time feared was an invincible German war machine. That tradition of assisting allies still exists today and extends to the RCAF’s 2011 involvement over the skies of Libya and to the current conflict against the Islamic state in Iraq. No. 1 Squadron also achieved a number of other important “firsts” for the RCAF, including its first Battle Honours, first unit victory over an enemy aircraft, and first personal decorations for bravery. However, perhaps the most crucial element of No. 1 Squadron’s participation in the Battle of Britain is that it was the first time that members of an RCAF unit died protecting the values that define Canadians as a people and Canada as a nation. And it is for this reason, more than any other, that commemorating the first Sunday after the 15th day of September represents an important exercise in national identity and sacrifice.


Dr. Richard Oliver Mayne, CD, spent 17 years in the Canadian naval reserve and has worked as a historian for the Directorate of History and Heritage as well as a deputy section head for the Chief of Force Development’s Future Security Analysis Team. He earned his PhD from Queen’s University in the spring of 2008 and has authored numerous publications on Canadian military affairs. He now works for the RCAF as the Director of Air Force History and Heritage.

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Abbreviations

AOC―air officer commanding
BIOG―biography
CAS―Chief of the Air Staff
DHH―Directorate of History and Heritage
Do―Dornier
F/O―flying officer
He―Heinkel
Ju―Junkers
LAC―Library and Archives Canada
Me―Messerschmitt
No. ―number
ORB―Operational Record Book
PRO―Public Records Office
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
RG―Records Group
UK―United Kingdom
Vol.―volume

Notes

[1]. The numbers of pilots who served in the squadron vary between accounts. This article has selected those cited in Brereton Greenhous and Hugh Halliday, Canada’s Air Forces, 1914–1999 (Montreal: Art Global, 1999), 60, which suggests that 27 pilots flew with the squadron during the Battle of Britain, consisting of the 21 original pilots as well as the 6 reinforcements that came from 110 and 112 Squadrons.  (return)

[2]. Various sources denote different tallies for the squadron during the Battle of Britain. For instance, a letter from No. 1 to the AOC RCAF dated February 1941 accounted for 26½ aircraft destroyed, 8 probable and 30 damaged. No. 1 (F[ighter]) Squadron, RCAF to AOC RCAF, 1 February 1941, Directorate of History and Heritage [DHH], 181.003 D 3038. Other sources, such as Fred Hitchins, one of the RCAF’s post-war historians, observed that further research led him to believe the squadron had scored 30 destroyed, 8 probable, and 35 damaged. Yet another post-war narrative, this one also at DHH, found that 28½ destroyed, 7 probable and 32 damaged was the squadron’s most probable score. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[3]. Richard Mayne, “Royal Matters: Symbolism, History and the Significance of the RCAF’s Name Change, 1909–2011,” Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 1, no. 4 (Fall 2012), accessed May 22, 2015, http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/cf-aerospace-warfare-centre/elibrary/journal/archives.page. (return)

[4]. For a complete history of No. 1 squadron’s lineage see Canada, DND, A‑AD‑267‑000/AF-004, The Insignia and Lineages of the Canadian Forces, Volume 4: Operational Flying Squadrons (Ottawa: DND, 2000); No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401; and No. 1 Operational Record Book [ORB], various dates in 1938–1939, Library and Archives Canada [LAC], Records Group [RG] 24, Volume 22637. (return)

[5]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[6]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[7]. No. 1 ORB, various  dates, LAC, RG 24, Volume [Vol.] 22637; No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[8]. “Pilot with First Kill Retires Here” and Group Captain Ernest A. McNab, biography, September 1960, DHH, Biography [BIOG] file, BIOG M (McNab). (return)

[9]. Tim Dube, “Past Meeting: Hugh Halliday – Canadians in the Battle of Britain,” The Observair 50, no. 7 (October 2013). The quotation comes from Tim Dube’s recollection of a presentation on Canadians in the Battle of Britain made by Hugh Halliday to the Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society. (return)

[10]. Carl Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” High Flight 2, no. 5 (Sept–Oct 1982): 167. (return)

[11]. As cited in Brereton Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 1939–1945, Vol. 3, (n.p.: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 183. (return)

[12]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 183. (return)

[13]. David Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles (Toronto: Stoddart, 1996), 25; and Greenhous and Halliday, Canada’s Air Forces, 59. (return)

[14]. Canada, House of Commons, Debates, 1939, III, 3237-62; Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 169; and Greenhous and Halliday, Canada’s Air Forces, 25. (return)

[15]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 170. (return)

[16]. Greenhous and Halliday, Canada’s Air Forces, 36. The big cut of 1932 left only $1.75 million for defence expenditures, which represented a drop of $5.75 million from the vote of two years earlier. (return)

[17]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[18]. B. R. Sprenger to Group Captain H. R. Stewart, 8 January 1944, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28712, Sprenger’s personnel file. (return)

[19]. No. 1 ORB, 27 May 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[20]. Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 167. (return)

[21]. S. Kostenuk and J. Griffin, RCAF Squadrons and Aircraft (Toronto: Samuel Stevens Hakkert & Company, 1977), 21–22; and No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[22]. These figures are based on calculations from a list of Canadians who flew in the Battle of Britain that was produced by Hugh Halliday. A copy of this impressive research can be found at DHH under file number 181.003. (return)

[23]. Squadron Nominal List, June 1940, LAC, RG 24, No. 1 Squadron ORB, Vol. 22637. (return)

[24]. Squadron Nominal List, June 1940, LAC, RG 24, No. 1 Squadron ORB, Vol. 22637. (return)

[25]. “In Memoriam, Gordon R. MacGregor,” The Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society 9, no. 3 (Fall 1971): 82. MacGregor would go on to become a leader and eventually a commander of the squadron. There is also the fact that he was one of the top Canadian scorers during the Battle of Britain (which was followed by a distinguished wartime career and later some notoriety for his post-war career as the president of Trans Canada Airways, which then became Air Canada). (return)

[26]. Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 30; Pitcher Biography, DHH, BIOG P (Pitcher). (return)

[27]. An interesting commentary on the social composition of the squadron can be found in Eric Dennis, “We Had So Few, Enemy So Many: AVM [Air Vice-Marshal] Ed Reyno Recalls the Battle of Britain,” Halifax Chronicle Herald, 18 September 1965. (return)

[28]. Dave McIntosh, ed., High Blue Battle, (Toronto: Stoddart, 1990), 21. (return)

[29]. S/L RH Foss Report, 24 June 1940. DHH, 181.009 (D1933) (return)

[30]. S/L RH Foss Report, 24 June 1940. DHH, 181.009 (D1933) (return)

[31]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[32]. 23 June, 25 June, and 28 June 1940, No. 1 ORB, LAC, Vol. 22637. For an excellent biography on Dowding see Vincent Orange, Dowding of Fighter Command: Victor of the Battle of Britain (London: Grub Street Publishing, 2008); McIntosh, ed., High Blue Battle, 22; and J. A. Griffin, Canadian Military Aircraft Serials and Photographs, 1920–1968 (Publication number 69-2, Canadian War Museum, 1969), 207–8. There is a myth that Dowding had all No. 1’s aircraft not only replaced but arriving on the same day that he promised them. This does not appear to be true, as Griffin’s work shows that Hurricanes with serial numbers 310–29 were original aircraft purchased in Canada. Aircraft 312, 317, 323 and 329 were struck off strength before the war as accidents or crashes. Therefore, the aircraft that arrived at the air station on 25 June were not the ones from Dowding, as their serial numbers match aircraft that had been brought over from Canada. Moreover, records show that Hurricanes 330–33 were the only ones taken on strength in the UK in 1940, and this strongly suggests that Dowding originally had only given the squadron four new aircraft. There is no doubt, however, that the squadron was grateful for these aircraft. (return)

[33]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 183; and No. 1 ORB, June 1940, LAC, Vol. 22637. (return)

[34]. Russel career summary, nd, DHH, BIOG R (Russel). (return)

[35]. No. 1 ORB, July 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[36]. Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 168. Croydon had been the main London airport before the war. (return)

[37]. No. 1 ORB, 11–16 July 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; and Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 168. (return)

[38]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 184. (return)

[39]. Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 32. (return)

[40]. No. 1 ORB, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 183; No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401; and Greenhous and Halliday, Canada’s Air Forces, 59. (return)

[41]. Government of Canada, The RCAF Overseas: The First Four Years (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1944), 11. (return)

[42]. No. 1 ORB, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; and No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. It is interesting to note that the No. 1 Squadron ORB claims that he achieved this victory on 11 August while other accounts, including McNab’s combat report, note 15 August 1940. To confuse matters further, the ORB for No. 111 Squadron observed that McNab’s victory was achieved on 16 August 1940. Identifying that record keeping during this period was not always accurate sources also differ on the type of aircraft he shot down, with one source noting it was a Do 17 while another observed it was a Do 215. (return)

[43]. McNab Combat Report, 15 August 1940, Public Records Office [PRO], AIR 50/43/5. (return)

[44]. No. 111 Squadron ORB, 16 August 1940, PRO, AIR 27/ 866. (return)

[45]. No. 1 ORB, 15 August 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[46]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401; Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 34. (return)

[47]. Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 169; and No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401.  (return)

[48]. No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. One of these Blenheims was shot down with two of its crew of three killed. The other Blenheim crash landed at Thorney Island. The combat reports filed claimed one Ju 88 destroyed and one probably damaged on patrol over Tangmere near Portsmouth. The Blenheims were from 235 Squadron. (return)

[49]. Len Deighton, Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain (n.p.: Castle Books, 2000), 62–63. This incident was known as the “Battle of Barking Creek” and involved a situation where two Hurricane pilots from No. 56 Squadron were shot down by Spitfires of No. 74 Squadron. One of these pilots, Montague Hulton-Harrop, was killed and, as such, became the RAF’s first casualty of the war. For more details, also see: Richard Hough and Denis Richards, The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II, (Nortin, 1990), 67; and Richard Collier, Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain, (London: Cassel, 1999), 128. (return)

[50]. E. A. McNab to AOC, 28 October 1940, DHH,181.009 (D64) (return)

[51]. Collier, Eagle Day, 128. (return)

[52]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 187. (return)

[53]. No. 1 ORB, 26 August 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[54]. R. L. Edwards to Croil, 28 July 1940, and HFH Hertzberg, Applicant assessment, 30 May 1938, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 27453, Edwards Personnel file. The age requirement stated that candidates for the Permanent General List had to be between the ages of 18 and 25 as of 1 June in a given year. (return)

[55]. Charles Power to Ruth Edwards, 2 September 1940, LAC RG 24, Vol. 27453, Edwards personnel file. (return)

[56]. “Cobourg Airman in RCAF Dies Fighting Raiders,” Canadian Press, August 29, 1940. (return)

[57]. Government of Canada, The RCAF Overseas, 14. (return)

[58]. Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 169. (return)

[59]. No. 1 ORB, 31 August 1940, PRO, AIR 27/ 1771; and Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 169. (return)

[60]. No. 1 ORB, 31 August 1940, PRO, AIR 27/ 1771; and Vincent, “No.1 in the Battle of Britain,” 170. (return)

[61]. No. 1 ORB, 6 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[62]. Kerwin Ministry of Health report, 20 September 1940; and Handwritten notes on medical observation, 23 October 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 27898, Kerwin personnel file. (return)

[63]. No. 1 ORB, 7 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; and Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 189. (return)

[64]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 191. (return)

[65]. No. 1 ORB, 8–14 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; and No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. (return)

[66]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 193. (return)

[67]. Various documents on file LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28008, Lochnan personnel file; and Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 51. (return)

[68]. No. 1 ORB, 15 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637; and Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 50. (return)

[69]. RCAF Flying Training Report, 2 September 1939, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28689. (return)

[70]. RCAF Casualty Notification, 29 January 1943, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28688, Sydney Smither personnel file. (return)

[71]. Johnny A. Kent, One of the Few: A Triumphant Story of Combat in the Battle of Britain (The History Press, 2008); and Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 58. (return)

[72]. RCAF London to Chief of the Air Staff [CAS], 12 July 1940, and CAS to RCAF London, 13 July 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 5170, file HQ 515-1-70, Vol. 1; and AOC RCAF in Great Britain to Secretary DND, 3 August 1940, DHH, 181.009 (D4791). (return)

[73]. Vincent, “No. 1 in the Battle of Britain,” 168; and No. 401 Squadron Narrative, DHH, RS 7 401. For more information on Walsh’s nationalism, see his papers at LAC, MG 30, E307 E 311, Walsh Papers. (return)

[74]. Walsh informed Ottawa that unfortunately their cable denying permission had arrived too late. Cavendish Carling-Kelly, Never a Shot Fired in Anger, unpublished memoir, Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence Archives, North Bay, Ontario. (return)

[75]. RCAF London to CAS, 9 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 5170, file HQ 515‑1‑70, Vol. 1. (return)

[76]. Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 175. Six pilots from 110 departed for fighter training prior to posting as replacements to No. 1. (return)

[77]. No. 1 ORB, 27 September 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[78]. Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 54. (return)

[79]. Particulars of Service, F/O Otto John Peterson, 10 September 1973, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28414, Peterson personnel file. (return)

[80]. Halifax Chronicle Herald, October 1, 1940. (return)

[81]. Walsh to Mrs. O. J. Peterson, 2 October 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 28414, Peterson personnel file. (return)

[82]. R. J. Nodwell to Principal Medical Officer, 7 October 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[83]. Bashow, All the Fine Young Eagles, 47. (return)

[84]. No. 1 ORB, 1 October 1940, LAC, RG 24, Vol. 22637. (return)

[85]. I would like to thank Mathias Joost for his painstaking research in clarifying the number of members of the squadron who were wounded, as figures in other sources vary. (return)

[86]. “Canada’s New Heroes,” The Standard Magazine, October 12, 1940. (return)

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