The Other Canadians in the Battle of Britain (RCAF Journal - SPRING 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 2)

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By Major Mathias Joost, CD

Reprint from The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal, Volume 1, Number 4, Fall 2012

Each September, we celebrate and recognize the pilots and ground crews whose efforts repulsed the Luftwaffe in its attempt to destroy the air forces stationed in Great Britain and, hence, pave the way for an invasion. An estimated 115 Canadians flew in the Battle of Britain, mainly with Number (No.) 1 Fighter Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)—later renumbered 401 Squadron—and in No. 242 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF). However, there were two other Canadian squadrons present in Great Britain during the Battle of Britain (10 July to 31 October 1940) whose activities and support during the battle are hardly mentioned.

In 1932 the RCAF created Nos. 10, 11 and 12 Squadrons as the first units of the RCAF Auxiliary, each with the role of army co-operation. They were formed at the behest of Major-General A. G. L. McNaughton, who wished to have one squadron of aircraft supporting each Canadian Army division that might be sent to Europe in the event of another conflict.[1] In 1940, the government of W. L. Mackenzie King sent Nos. 10 and 12 Squadrons (now renumbered 110 and 112 Squadrons and later 400 and 402) to Great Britain to provide this support to the 1st Canadian Division and to the RAF respectively.

These two army co-operation squadrons were sent to England, prepared for a German invasion and were later converted to fighter aircraft. During the Battle of Britain, they played an important role in the preparation for a potential invasion but also provided support to the RAF’s Fighter Command and Canada’s No. 1 Fighter Squadron. This support has not been recognized in the past, and given its nature, it was a very important factor in the success of No. 1 Squadron, demonstrating how two RCAF units played their role in the Battle of Britain, even if they did not fly operational sorties against the Luftwaffe.

On 20 December 1939, Defence Minister Norman Rogers announced that Canada would be sending the 1st Canadian Division to England. Along with the logistical support for the Division would be No. 110 Army Co-operation Squadron from Toronto.[2] No. 110 was augmented by personnel from the Regular Force’s No. 2 Army Co-operation Squadron, which was disbanded, as well as some personnel from No. 112 Squadron. No. 112 Squadron was deployed when the Canadian government offered Great Britain a second army co-operation squadron, which was readily accepted as the offer was made on 11 May 1940, the day that Germany invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands.[3]

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Both squadrons suffered initial setbacks in becoming operational. Lack of parts for their Westland Lysander aircraft, servicing equipment and critical equipment such as parachutes hindered the start of training.[4] The training was consistent with army co-operation roles and was done in conjunction with the 1st Canadian Division and associated units. With the Battle of Britain raging overhead, the pilots and ground crew of both squadrons could not but wish they could participate; however, the RAF and Major-General McNaughton, Commander of the 1st Canadian Division, had other ideas.

After the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, the 1st Canadian Division became the backbone of the British VII Corps, which was the operational reserve in the south of England and virtually the only mobile formation in Great Britain. The Division, thus, became involved in training for defence against an invasion, with No. 110 Squadron conducting training in parallel. McNaughton had no desire to lose his air component, for which he worked diligently to acquire in the early 1930s. A second army co-operation squadron, the arrival of No. 112 Squadron, fit in with his belief that each army corps should be supported by two squadrons and, thus, enhanced his Corps’ capabilities.[5]

At the same time, the RAF had created Army Co-operation Command; however, it was last on the list of their priorities. The RAF certainly did not have the resources to devote to creating more of its own army co-operation squadrons, especially during the Battle of Britain.[6] Thus, the two RCAF army co-operation squadrons were important pieces in the defence of Britain should there be an invasion.

In preparation for any invasion, the two squadrons conducted a broad variety of training missions. Mock gas attacks were made against the Canadian soldiers as well as dive-bombing them to help them prepare for such possibilities.[7] All of 110 Squadron’s personnel conducted Molotov cocktail training on 26 August. Major-General McNaughton occasionally flew with the squadron to see what problems his eyes-in-the-sky were experiencing and to observe the disposition of the Canadian soldiers during exercises.[8] No. 110 Squadron even conducted tests of 20 millimetre Hispano Suiza cannons installed in the Lysander’s wheel spats, so the aircraft could possibly be used in an antitank role.[9]

While 110 Squadron was busy training with the 1st Canadian Division, it also had the opportunity to become the first RCAF squadron “into action,” to quote Air Vice-Marshal G. V. Walsh. Near the end of the Battle of France, the RAF army co-operation squadrons evacuated that country in a rush, leaving their maintenance crews behind. The British Air Ministry appealed to Walsh for assistance so that the squadrons could continue their operations. As a result, 110 Squadron sent 26 maintenance personnel to Croydon and Wellsbourne to service their aircraft.[10] While the first combat against the enemy by an RCAF unit remains with No. 1 Squadron, No. 110 Squadron’s assistance constitutes the first RCAF unit to support direct action against the enemy during the Second World War.

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These training missions and tests were not without their risks. Fighter Command Hurricanes and Spitfires could appear unexpectedly, to which the response was a very rapid display of the proper identification signal. During air raids, 110 Squadron was ordered to stay on the ground for that very reason.[11] As it was, Fighter Command did shoot down some RAF army co-operation and other RAF aircraft during the Battle of Britain, although 110 and 112 Squadrons were fortunate in never having had this happen. Anti-aircraft gun crews were equally quick at firing rounds at aircraft that did not promptly display proper identification.

The Luftwaffe also posed a threat. The Lysanders began to carry ammunition during training exercises as a training aircraft had been shot down nearby.[12] During the phase of the Battle of Britain when the Luftwaffe attacked RAF airfields, nearby airfields were attacked, and some local towns bombed. Although neither squadron suffered casualties during the Luftwaffe’s attacks, 112 Squadron’s field was shot up by the rear gunner of a Heinkel 111.[13]

With a major air battle going on around them, the two army co-operation squadrons were more affected than just being incidental targets. This is where the two squadrons provided direct support to Fighter Command. Fighter Command occasionally called upon the Lysanders to provide dissimilar air combat training. Three Lysanders would meet three Hurricanes at a pre-designated point and commence dogfighting.[14] While the Hurricanes had the advantage of speed in these mock battles, the Lysander’s much slower speed and turning ability provided the Hurricane pilots with some interesting challenges. In some ways this would be similar to what they would face if they intercepted the Luftwaffe’s Stuka dive-bombers, while the skills learned in meeting an opponent with a better turning ability would be useful against other Luftwaffe aircraft. For the pilots of 110 and 112 Squadrons the benefits were not only more immediate—how to handle their aircraft in a dogfight against a superior opponent, which they could expect if England was invaded—but also more long term, as 112 Squadron became a fighter squadron in December 1940 and some of the pilots of the two squadrons were transferred to No. 1 Fighter Squadron.

Another avenue of support to Fighter Command was the calibrating of anti-aircraft batteries. A Lysander from 110 Squadron would fly back and forth at a steady speed and altitude over the arc of fire of a local anti-aircraft battery. The gun crews would work out the altitude, course and speed of the aircraft and then confirm this with the Lysander crew. These operations were not without their risk. If Luftwaffe aircraft appeared, the Lysanders were on their own. They could not leave their training area lest they risk being mistaken for a Luftwaffe raider; at the same time, they had to avoid the anti-aircraft fire of the guns that they had so recently assisted. The Luftwaffe aircraft also posed a threat to which a Lysander pilot could play “hide and seek” among the barrage balloons. Flight Lieutenant “Jack” Bundy of 112 Squadron was fortunate while he was on such an anti-aircraft calibration mission. Three Italian fighters flew about 150 metres under and about 800 metres from him, apparently not noticing his presence.[15]

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Perhaps the most important contribution to the Battle of Britain from the two army co-operation squadrons was the provision of pilots. Then Group Captain G. V. Walsh, the senior RCAF officer in Great Britain, was worried about replacements for casualties in No. 1 Squadron. The Canadian government and RCAF had not made any arrangements for replacing the pilots, so only RAF personnel would be available. This would, over time, transform the squadron from having a distinct Canadian identity to one of being indistinguishable from other RAF squadrons. Walsh, already having been informally approached by pilots of 110 Squadron, knew that the pilots of the two army co-operation squadrons were ready for action. He also knew it would be galling to these pilots to see replacements from Canada eventually arrive and be the ones to meet the enemy in combat. Accordingly, he requested authority to train a number of the army co-operation pilots in preparation for eventual transfer to No. 1 Squadron and made sure that—even if the answer was in the negative from RCAF Headquarters, which it was—the pilots would still be trained.[16] A little subterfuge on Walsh’s part was likely also necessary, as McNaughton would probably not have supported any diminution of “his” two squadrons.

On 19 August, six pilots were selected for training on the Hurricane. The diary for 112 Squadron stated simply that Flying Officers D. P. Brown, P. W. Lochnan and R. W. G. Norris departed on temporary duty to No. 5 Operation Training Unit (OTU) at Aston Down. On 2 September, they were struck off strength on transfer to No. 1 Canadian Squadron. No. 110 Squadron’s record is even simpler—that three officers were selected for fighter replacement and went to No. 5 OTU on 19 August. These officers were not listed in the squadron record but were Flying Officers W. B. N. Millar, J. D. Pattison and C. W. Trevena.

The six pilots were a diverse group. DePeyter Brown was an American who joined the RCAF on 9 September 1939. He later joined the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in May 1942. Peter Lochnan was a Regular Force pilot who enlisted in early 1939 and was the most successful of the six during the Battle of Britain, being credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed and three damaged. Trevena was an Auxiliary pilot who originally joined 120 Squadron in 1936.[17] They were selected not because they were the best pilots in their squadrons—Walsh would not permit the squadrons to be stripped of their most capable personnel—but because they were good pilots.

The real significance of these six pilots was what they did for the manpower of No. 1 Squadron. With the heavy pace of operations, the squadron was, by 30 September, quite exhausted. Captain R. J. Nodwell, the medical officer for the squadron, noted on that date that the pilots were suffering from strain and general tiredness, that their reaction time was slower and that minor ailments were now becoming lingering ones. His recommendations included that more rest be required, which meant more pilots would be required for the squadron to maintain operational readiness and that the squadron be pulled out of the line.[18] A week later the squadron was redeployed to Prestwick.

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The casualties suffered by the squadron were also showing in the number of pilots available for duty. On 2 September, four pilots were posted to 112 Squadron for rest, while on 19 September, five pilots were convalescing from injuries.[19] Other pilots were also unavailable due to colds and other ailments as well as combat injuries. With Flying Officers R. L. Edwards, R. Smither and O. J. Peterson having already died in combat, the squadron’s pilot strength in mid-September was less than 50 per cent of what it had been at the start of their participation in the Battle of Britain in August.[20] The presence of the six pilots from 110 and 112 Squadrons was, thus, an important addition.

The toll on pilots was recognized early in the operational tour of No. 1 Squadron. On 14 September, a further six officers from 110 Squadron proceeded to No. 5 OTU for eventual transfer to No. 1 Squadron. Although not listed, research has found four of these to be Flying Officers N. R. Johnstone, J. D. Morrison and J. B. Reynolds as well as Pilot Officer J. A. J. Chevrier.[21] Of the four, only Chevrier, who served with No. 1 Squadron RAF before going to No. 1 Squadron, RCAF, was awarded the Battle of Britain clasp.[22]

No. 112 Squadron also sent at least three pilots to No. 1 Squadron, via the OTU, in early September. While in Canada, Flying Officer R. C. “Moose” Fumerton was posted to 112 Squadron. He arrived on British soil on 1 September, was sent on 15 September to No. 6 OTU at Sutton Bridge and did his on-the-job-training with No. 32 Squadron, RAF. While there, he earned his Battle of Britain clasp for having flown operationally. He joined No. 1 Squadron on 29 November, having been on the establishment of No. 112 Squadron for but a short period of time.[23] Flying Officer W. C. Connell similarly participated in the Battle of Britain with No. 32 Squadron, while Pilot Officer F. S. Watson joined No. 112 Squadron on 8 September and went to 6 OTU on 21 September. He earned his Battle of Britain clasp with No. 3 Squadron, RAF, where he arrived on 5 October. He joined No. 1 Squadron (RCAF) on 21 October. A further seven were also transferred from 112 Squadron on 26 October, although their names are not listed in the squadron records.

The fact that the original six transfers from Nos. 110 and 112 Squadron were sent to No. 1 Squadron upon completion of the OTU demonstrates several important points. The original six were urgently required and were sent immediately into battle. By the time that the nine pilots were sent for training on Hurricanes in September, the RAF had recognized that sending “green” pilots into combat was to risk higher than normal losses among pilots new to an aircraft type or to combat operations, hence some time was spent at RAF units. Further, RCAF personnel were included as part of the RAF manning pool and could be sent to any squadron as required. Thus Johnstone, Morrison (they were with No. 85 Squadron after No. 5 OTU) and Reynolds were not posted to any of the squadrons involved in the Battle of Britain.[24]

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The drain on Fighter Command’s resources resulted in one further effort to have the army co-operation squadrons participate in the Battle of Britain or, at least, provide some direct support. On 18 November, Canada’s Minister of National Defence for Air, C. G. Power, announced in the House of Commons that No. 112 Squadron would begin transformation to a fighter squadron so it could take part in the Battle of Britain.[25] However, before the squadron’s transformation could be completed, the Battle of Britain was over.

It is an acknowledged fact that 110 and 112 Squadrons did not participate in the Battle of Britain; however, the facts of their support have not been generally well known. The two army co-operation squadrons not only played an important role in preparing for the defence of Great Britain in case of invasion and supporting the VII Corps but also provided a valuable service to Fighter Command and to No. 1 Squadron.

Most importantly, the injection of six army co-operation pilots was a very significant factor in the continued participation of No. 1 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. The squadron would likely have been withdrawn from combat much earlier without this injection of fresh pilots. Their availability also allowed the squadron to maintain its Canadian identity, but more importantly, they allowed the squadron to keep flying and fighting until 10 October. The pilots of 110 and 112 Squadrons who proceeded to Nos. 5 and 6 OTUs may have been credited with participating in the Battle of Britain with No. 1 Squadron (RCAF) or RAF squadrons; however, their origin with the two army co-operation squadrons has been forgotten or missed.

The foresight and effort of Walsh should also be applauded. He realized that the Canadian identity of No. 1 Squadron could soon be diluted because of casualty replacement if RAF pilots were sent to the squadron and also acknowledged that a ready pool of reinforcements existed in Nos. 110 and 112 Squadrons. His sagacity allowed the original six reinforcements to participate in the Battle of Britain with No. 1 Squadron and, hence, keep that squadron flying in the battle up to 10 October. Without the support of the six original reinforcements from Nos. 110 and 112 Squadrons, by the time that reinforcements did arrive from Canada and were trained on the Hurricane, No. 1 Squadron would likely have been pulled from the line or been filled with RAF replacement pilots.

The two army co-operation squadrons in Great Britain have received little recognition for their support during the Battle of Britain. Just like the ground crew of No. 1 Squadron, they did not fly in the Battle of Britain, but their services were required. Yet, the support of the two army co-operation squadron’s was very important to No. 1 Squadron in continuing operations and maintaining its Canadian identity and the pride of the RCAF for its role in this critical battle.


Major Mathias (Mat) Joost is a historian at the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). He joined the Canadian Forces in 1986, serving in the Navy and as a military police officer. Taking the Force Reduction Plan in 1995, he went to South Korea where he taught English and met his future wife. Returning to Canada in 1998, he joined the Air Reserve, working in Winnipeg until joining DHH in 2003. Mat is currently working on a history of the Air Reserve and on Black Canadians in the RCAF.

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Abbreviations

OTU―operational training unit
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
USAAF―United States Army Air Force

Notes

[1]. Various articles and publications about the Auxiliary / Air Reserve have attributed the formation of the RCAF Auxiliary squadrons to several factors, either separately or in combination. These factors include public lobbying, pressure within the RCAF and lack of funding. However, recent research has demonstrated that the squadrons were formed at the behest of the Militia’s Chief of the General Staff, Major-General A. G. L. McNaughton, to whom the RCAF reported until November 1938. McNaughton, a strong supporter of the Air Force, wished to have Canadian air support for any Canadian divisions sent to Europe in the event of another conflict. See: Mathias Joost, “McNaughton’s Air Force: The Creation of the First Non-Permanent Active Air Force Squadrons, 1931–1933” (master’s thesis, Royal Military College, 2008), accessed January 27, 2015, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/002/MR47897.PDF.  (return)

[2]. “Toronto R.C.A.F. Squadron Will Join First Division With 6,000 Corps Troops,” Toronto Telegram, December 21, 1939. (return)

[3]. Brereton Greenhous, Stephen J. Harris, and William C. Johnstone, The Crucible of War, 1939–1945, Vol. III (Ottawa: University of Toronto Press in cooperation with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Government Publishing Centre, Supply and Services Canada, 1994), 175. (return)

[4]. Details of No. 110 Squadron operations are taken from the No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH), 2004/3, Series 8, Microfilm reel number 117; and Details of No. 112 Squadron operations are taken from the No. 112 Squadron Daily Diary, DHH, 2004/3, Series 8, Microfilm reel number 121. (return)

[5]. Paul Johnston, “McNaughton and the Evolution of Canadian Tactical Air Power: A Cautionary Tale of the Limits to a Junior Partner’s Innovations,” (unpublished article), 18–19. This article provides a more detailed discussion of the evolution of Canada’s tactical air support capability during the Second World War and how it interacted with the RAF’s policies. It should be noted that initially the RAF believed only one squadron was required for a corps, whereas McNaughton believed two. The RAF eventually shifted their position to that held by McNaughton. (return)

[6]. Paul Johnston, “McNaughton and the Evolution of Canadian Tactical Air Power: A Cautionary Tale of the Limits to a Junior Partner’s Innovations,” (unpublished article), 18–19. (return)

[7]. W. J. Bundy, “Airmen Have Many Close Shaves,” Hamilton Spectator, May 13, 1941. Flight Lieutenant W. J. Bundy served with both Nos. 110 and 112 Squadrons during the Battle of Britain. He wrote a series of three articles that were published in the Hamilton Spectator in May 1941. On 4 July, No. 110 Squadron’s Daily Diary notes that one officer went to the Porton Gas Experimental Centre for a lecture on how to load gas spraying equipment and how to decontaminate the aircraft for the mock gas attacks that were conducted on 24 September. (return)

[8]. W. J. Bundy, “A Brigadier Loses His Calm,” Hamilton Spectator, May 12, 1941. No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary notes that McNaughton was a passenger on 7 and 25 July. (return)

[9]. No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary, 13 and 20 July 1940. The testing and consultations continued through August and into September. (return)

[10]. No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary, 19 May 1940; Note written on interview with Air Vice Marshal G. V. Walsh, April 23, 1959, DHH, PRF File, “110 Squadron”; and Ron Wylie, On Watch To Strike: History of 400 (City of Toronto) Squadron (n.p: n.d.), 29. (return)

[11]. Wylie, On Watch, 1. (return)

[12]. No. 112 Squadron Daily Diary, 22 July. A Messerschmitt‑110 shot down a Hawker Hart trainer from Netherhaven the previous day. (return)

[13]. Bundy, “Airmen Have Many Close Shaves.” (return)

[14]. Bundy, “Airmen Have Many Close Shaves.” See also No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary entry for 7 June, noting that the squadron had trained with 501 Squadron. Whether this date refers to the 20 April training held with 501 Squadron is unknown. Although this later date is before the accepted dates of the Battle of Britain, the RAF and RCAF knew that England was next to be attacked. It should also be noted that many flight activities were not recorded in the records of Nos. 110 and 112 Squadrons, such as this fighter training with 501 Squadron, which was noted after the fact. Likewise, anti-aircraft gun calibration flights were not listed until they had been underway for at least two weeks. Other events known to have occurred are also not listed. The diaries of these two squadrons cannot, therefore, be taken to be authoritative for details of squadron activities. (return)

[15]. Bundy, “Airmen Have Many Close Shaves”; and Ross Munro, “Canadian Flyers Direct Fire of Defence Guns,” Globe and Mail, February 1, 1941. No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary for 23 October notes that the squadron had been conducting anti-aircraft-ranging with local batteries for the past several weeks. This continued on into November when on 25 October the squadron was tasked with conducting this activity over London. This tasking was only noted the day after it began. (return)

[16]. Greenhous, Harris, and Johnstone, Crucible of War, 184, 189. (return)

[17]. N. R. Johnstone and J. D. Morrison along with Trevena were among the first 15 pilots transferred to No. 1 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. They had all enlisted in 120 Squadron prior to the war and had been transferred to 110 Squadron to fill out its establishment shortly after war was declared. (return)

[18]. No. 1 Squadron Daily Diary, “Flying Personnel,” 1‑M‑25, 7 October 1940; and Capt R. J. Nodwell to Principal Medical Officer, RCAF in Great Britain. (return)

[19]. No. 1 Squadron Daily Diary. The pilots posted on 2 September were Flight Lieutenant Corbett as well as Flying Officers Desloges, Kerwin and Hyde. Those recovering from injuries were Flying Officers Beardmore, Nesbitt, Desloges, Little and Millar. (return)

[20]. No. 1 Squadron began operations with 21 pilots. (return)

[21] The four names were found and confirmed through various sources. Flying Officers F. W. Hillock and J. B. McColl may have been the other two pilots. They flew with 151 and 607 Squadrons respectively during the Battle of Britain after completing their courses at No. 5 OTU and hence are considered to have been Battle of Britain pilots and received the Battle of Britain clasp to the 1939–45 Star. Hillock and McColl are listed with Johnstone and Morrison in a memo found in the 1 Squadron Daily Diary. Memo S.12‑7, 27 November 1940, from Air Commodore L. F. Stevenson, Air Officer Commanding RCAF in Great Britain. Airmen were also transferred between No. 1 Squadron and No. 110 Squadron. Two Group “B” armament artificers were transferred to No. 1 Squadron on 21 September with No. 110 Squadron receiving two Group “C” armament artificers. See No. 110 Squadron Daily Diary, 21 September. No. 112 Squadron also had Flight Lieutenant W. R. Pollock depart for No. 1 Squadron on 26 July to serve as that unit’s adjutant. (return)

[22]. Memo S.12‑7, from Air Commodore L. F. Stevenson; and 1 Squadron Daily Diary, 24 October. (return)

[23] DHH, Biography File: Robert Carl Fumerton. Fumerton may have been part of the group of 10 reinforcements from Canada that arrived at 112 Squadron on 8 September. Pilot Officer Watson also may have been among this group. 112 Squadron apparently served as the reinforcement pool for the three Canadian squadrons. The squadron’s entry for 26 August notes the appointment of an adjutant for the reinforcement pool. Other entries for Nos. 110 and 112 Squadrons suggest this role for No. 112 Squadron while Greenhous, Harris, and Johnstone, Crucible of War, 30 indicates the squadron provided reinforcements to Nos. 1 and 110 Squadrons. (return)

[24]. No. 85 Squadron was withdrawn from the Battle of Britain on 3 September for rest and recuperation at North Fenton. Hence, any flying that Johnstone and Morrison did with the squadron did not qualify as Battle of Britain service. (return)

[25]. “Second Unit of Fighters Aids Britain,” Globe and Mail, November 19, 1940. At the time of the announcement it was not yet recognized that the Battle of Britain was over and that the Third Reich had changed strategy. Hence, the intent to re-equip and re-role No. 112 Squadron was supportive of the Battle of Britain. No. 112 was to become No. 2 Squadron as part of this effort; the squadron number was changed and then changed again to 402 Squadron. (return)

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