Excerpts from the Handbook for Air Force Non-Commissioned Members
Many of the best flying-boat pilots who flew on coastal operations with the RNAS came from Canada. They shot down Zeppelin airships, fought enemy seaplanes, bombed submarines, conducted searches far over the sea and escorted convoys of merchant vessels bringing supplies to Britain.
Maj Robert Leckie DSO, DSC, DFC
Maj Robert Leckie
DSO, DSC, DFC
One of them was Maj Robert Leckie, DSO, DSC,DFC, who later became Air Member for Training in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the crucial years of the World War II and then Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). In World War I, Leckie participated in the destruction of two Zeppelins and attacked at least five more. In addition to attacks on U-boats and engagements with enemy seaplanes, he also made the first night-crossing of the North Sea by air and the first successful night-landing with a flying-boat.
B.D. Hobbs was another flying-boat pilot who shot down a Zeppelin in flames, and N.A. Magor accounted for one of the few enemy submarines destroyed by air attack in the war. J.L. Gordon and F.S. McGill , both of whom subsequently rose to high rank in the RCAF, were also outstanding flying-boat pilots. In the early experiments at flying Aircraft from "carriers," S.D. Culley won fame by taking his Sopwith "Camel" from the deck of a carrier to shoot down a Zeppelin in flames.
The Evolution of the Air Force
Formation of the Canadian Air Force
Despite a suggestion made by the British Army Council in 1915 that the Dominion of Canada might raise a complete air unit for service with the RFC, no action was taken by Canada in this respect until the spring of 1918. The United Kingdom and the Canadian governments agreed that some all-Canadian squadrons should be formed. In August the training of Canadian mechanics started, followed by the formation of two all-Canadian squadrons in November 1918, one fighter Sqn and the other a day-bomber Sqn. By this time the armistice had been signed, but training of the two units continued and a Wing and Headquarters were formed in England to administer the small Canadian Air Force (CAF).
Formation of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service
Meanwhile, another Canadian flying corps had been formed in Canada. In response to the Admiralty's recommendation that defensive anti-U-boat patrols be organized for the protection of shipping off the Canadian coast, a Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS) was set up in the summer of 1918. While personnel of the RCNAS were being trained in the USA and Britain, the US Naval Flying Corps began convoy escorts and reconnaissance patrols from the two stations which had been established at Dartmouth and North Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, the war ended before the training of its personnel had been completed and the RCNAS was quickly disbanded.
Overseas the CAF remained in existence until February 1920, when it too was disbanded. Meanwhile, the Canadian government had been deliberating its peacetime air policy. The British Air Ministry gave it substantial encouragement in the form of advice, plans, Aircraft and supplies. The Dominion of Canada received approximately five million dollars worth of equipment as a gift. This included airplanes, flying-boats, airships, balloons, hangars and equipment.
Air Board and CAF
In June 1919, the Canadian government established an Air Board of seven members to regulate and control commercial and civil aviation throughout the Dominion. The Board was also charged with the air defence of Canada. This included the organization and administration of a new CAF which was authorized by an Order-in-Council, February 18, 1920. The CAF was given a provisional establishment of 1,340 officers and 31,905 airmen. This new home-based CAF was designed as a non-permanent organization. Its only function was to give 28 day refresher courses, every other year, to former officers and airmen who had served in the RAF during the war.The uniform of the new CAF was navy blue in colour. Silver stars and crowns were used to indicate rank, similar to the Army. An Air Force officer might be recognized as either a Major or as a Squadron Leader. Distinctive badges were designed for the CAF, the cap badge being a maple leaf with the monogram "CAF," flanked by two wings and surmounted by a crown above a scroll which bore the Latin motto "Sic Itur Ad Astra" (such is the pathway to the stars).
The first step in the actual creation of the CAF was the appointment of an Inspector-General in 1920. Major-General Sir Willoughby Gwatkin, who for many years had served as Chief of the General Staff in Ottawa, was appointed to the position with the rank of Air Vice Marshal. Later LCol A.K. Tylee was named Air Officer Commanding for the CAF. A small headquarters was set up in Ottawa, under the Air Board, and Camp Borden was taken over to serve as the CAF training centre. Operations began in Camp Borden, October 1920. The Aircraft, hangars and other equipment that had been donated by the British government were used for training. By the end of March 1922, when refresher training at Camp Borden was suspended, 550 officers and 1,271 airmen had completed the 28 day refresher course.
Air Board Operations
While the CAF of 1920-22 was providing this training to its part-time personnel, other branches of the Air Board were carrying out flying operations for the Federal and Provincial governments. Six stations were opened including Vancouver (Jericho Beach), Morley, AB., (moved to High River), Winnipeg MB., (Victoria Beach), Ottawa (Rockcliffe), Roberval, P.Q., and Dartmouth, NS. In 1920 a wide variety of air operations were undertaken, including forest fire patrols, aerial photography, anti- smuggling patrols, "treaty money" flights, and general communication and transport work. Also, the Air Board arranged the first trans-Canada flight which started from Halifax, October 7, 1920.
Using relays of Aircraft and crews it ended at Vancouver ten days later. Elapsed flying time over the 4,341 mile course was 49 hours and 7 minutes. It is worth noting that the Air Board took an interest in the Canadian Arctic. In the summer of 1922 S/L R.A. Logan accompanied a Department of the Interior expedition into northern Canada. Sailing from Quebec this expedition visited Baffin Island, Bylot Island, Ellesmere Island and North Devon Island. Upon his return S/L Logan submitted a valuable report on the possibilities of aviation in northern Canada.
By the spring of 1922 it had become obvious that a complete reorganization of the Canadian Air Force was necessary. Eighteen months of experience had proven that the policy of a non-permanent, non-professional force that gave only refresher courses was unsatisfactory. One month of training every other year was not adequate to maintain an efficient air force. New pilots were not being trained and permanent units did not exist. The CAF was merely a part-time reserve. Drastic changes were needed if Canada was to have an air force in fact as well as in name. It was decided to reorganize the CAF. Between 1922 and 1924 a transition plan for the future organization of the Air Force was designed and during this same period Canada's defence forces were reorganized. The government decided upon a policy of centralization under one Ministry of National Defence in the interest of economy, greater efficiency, closer co-operation and a single comprehensive scheme of defence. Parliament passed legislation on January 1, 1923 creating the Department of National Defence. It incorporated three previous divisions - the Militia, the Naval Service, and the Air Board.
Birth of the RCAF - April 1, 1924
King George V promulgated the prefix "Royal" in 1923 for the Canadian Air Force and made it official in 1924. The new title Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officially came into being on April 1, 1924. "The King's Regulations and Orders" for the RCAF were then promulgated. Thus, April 1, 1924 became the official birthdate of the RCAF.
Under the new organization the RCAF was to be administered by a Director responsible to the Chief of the General Staff. The RCAF was separated into three components: an Active (permanent) Air Force, an Auxiliary (part-time) Air Force and a non-active Reserve. The authorized establishment of the active Air Force on the day of the RCAF's birth was a modest 68 officers and 307 airmen; actual strength was 61 officers and 262 airmen. The dark blue uniform and insignia of the CAF was now replaced by the sky blue RCAF uniform patterned after the RAF uniform. The insignia, ensign and badges were similar to those of the Royal Air Force. "Sic Itur Ad Astra" gave way to the RCAF motto "Per Ardua Ad Astra" (through adversity to the stars).
RCAF Operations 1924-32
During the next eight years (April 1924 to March 1932) the RCAF expanded slowly but steadily. Its strength grew to a peak of 906 (177 officers and 729 airmen) by March 31, 1932. The annual appropriation for the Force was almost quintupled during these years, rising from one and one-half million dollars between 1924 and 1925 to seven and one-half million dollars in 1930. Several new stations were opened, including Trenton as a major air centre to replace Camp Borden. Buildings at Camp Borden were of 1917 vintage and deteriorating rapidly.
Another significant change of these years was the infusion of new blood into the Air Force. In May 1923, while the re- organization of the RCAF was still being formulated, the first course of cadets (or Provisional Pilot Officers) began training at Camp Borden. They were the first new service pilots to be trained since November 1918. In 1926, a class of NCOs began training as pilots. In 1927 a technical training scheme for boys was started to supply skilled tradesmen for the Force. For the next five years the rank "Boy" was included as one of the ranks in the RCAF.
The expansion of the Force was reflected in its flying statistics. Between 1924-25 it flew 4,000 hours; by 1932 the total had grown to 30,000 hours. Only one-half of the flying time was devoted to service flying. The rest of the time was flown on Civil Government Air Operations.
Prior to 1932, the RCAF was unique among the air forces of the world in that the greater part of its work was essentially non-military in character. In its capacity as the government's civil air company the RCAF performed many valuable services. It photographed great areas of Canada, opened up new sections of the interior, transported officials into inaccessible regions, blazed air routes, patrolled forests and fisheries, assisted in the suppression of smuggling, experimented in air mail services, and did many other similar jobs.
The RCAF also flew sick and injured trappers, traders, farmers, and Natives from remote outposts to places where medical attention could be given. Noteworthy among the civil government operations was the Hudson Strait Expedition of 1927. It was undertaken jointly by various Government departments including National Defence. The expedition studied ice, weather, and navigation conditions along the new grain route from Churchill on Hudson Bay to the ports of Europe. The RCAF provided seven Aircraft for the expedition and a detachment of six officers and 12 airmen under the command of F/L T.A. Lawrence. Three bases were set up on Hudson Strait at Port Burwell, Wakeham Bay, and Nottingham Island. Many flights were made from the bases to collect meteorological information.
"The Big Cut"
All of these services and civil activities were drastically curtailed in the spring of 1932 when a world-wide depression severely reduced budgets. In the "big cut" the Air Force's strength was slashed by almost one-fifth, leaving only 103 officers and 591 airmen.
Reorganization on Service Lines
For three years the RCAF was barely able to survive, but in 1935 the situation began to improve. The budget was increased and the manning strength started to rise. At the same time the character of the Force underwent a major change. The Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of National Defence was transferred to the new Department of Transport. The RCAF's civil role was limited to aerial photography (increasing in importance as time passed) and some transport work.
The RCAF was re-organized along service lines and developed into a military air force. "Squadrons," a nomenclature which had been used in the past, reappeared, and efforts were made to obtain more operational Aircraft. The Auxiliary Air Force, for which provision had been made in 1924, actually came into being in 1932. The first three squadrons were authorized at Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. By the summer of 1939, the number of the Auxiliary squadrons had grown to 12.
Accelerated Expansion 1937-39
In 1937 when the political situation in Europe began to deteriorate rapidly, the increasing gravity of the overseas scene was clearly reflected in the parliamentary votes for Canadian defence. From 1937 - 39, the RCAF was allotted substantial budget increases rising to 30 million dollars by the beginning of World War II. With adequate funds finally available, the expansion, re-equipment, and development of the RCAF was accelerated. This new growth led to a new internal organization - the creation of three Air Commands, Western (Vancouver), Eastern (Halifax) and Training (Toronto). These changes reflected a greater emphasis on operations and the problem of air defence. The development of airfields on both coasts was speeded up as war appeared inevitable.
An Independent Service
November 19, 1938, the RCAF, became an independent arm, directly responsible to the Minister of National Defence. An Air Council was created to advise the Minister, and the head of the Force, known as the Senior Air Officer now became the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). A/V/M G.M. Croil became the first CAS in December 1938.
On the Eve of War
September 1, 1939, the RCAF had a total strength of 4,000 personnel (400 officers and 3,600 airmen) of whom three-quarters were in the Regular component and the remainder in the Auxiliary. There were eight Regular squadrons comprised of two general purpose, two general reconnaissance, one fighter, one bomber, one torpedo- bomber, and one army co-operation. The Auxiliary Force consisted of 12 squadrons including four fighter, four bomber, two army co-operation, and two coast artillery co-operation.
The RCAF had a total of 270 Aircraft of 20 assorted types. In the last days of August, when the situation in Europe was becoming extremely critical, the Regular squadrons began moving to their "war stations." When, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, Canada placed her armed forces on active service. Nine days later Canada declared war on Germany.