On April 4, 1949, Canada became a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of collective security established to defend Europe against Soviet expansion. Canada sent troops to Europe, but perhaps our largest contribution was the decision in August 1951 to establish No. 1 Air Division. Initially headquartered in France, the division’s aircraft patrolled the European skies for the next 40 years to help protect the continent against Soviet aggression.


Operation Leap Frog referred to the ferrying of 11 Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons and their F-86 Sabre aircraft to Europe. There were three phases: Leap Frog I from May to June 1952, Leap Frog II from September to October 1952 and Leap Frog III in March 1953.

The squadrons were organized into four wings that comprised No. 1 Air Division, headquartered at Metz, France. They were Canada’s contribution to NATO air defence in Europe.


No. 1 Wing, Marville, France 410, 439 and 441 Fighter Squadrons
No. 2 Wing, Grostenquin, France 416, 421 and 430 Fighter Squadrons
No. 3 Wing, Zweibrucken, Germany 413, 427 and 434 Fighter Squadrons
No. 4 Wing, Baden-Soellingen, Germany 414, 422 and 444 Fighter Squadrons

For decades, Europe remained a choice posting for RCAF personnel. No. 1 Air Division was reorganized as No. 1 Canadian Air Group, headquartered in Lahr, West Germany, in 1969. The wings and squadrons were, in fact, reorganized and moved several times, with the numbers of squadrons changing, but they continued as stalwart defenders of democracy on the front line of the Cold War.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, with relations between the Soviet Union and the West thawing, Canada announced that its personnel would be withdrawn and its bases closed by 1994. The RCAF’s flying operations ended on January 1, 1993, and a significant chapter in air force history came to a close.


On May 12, 1958, Canada and the United States signed the most successful bilateral air defence agreement in history. The North American Air Defense (NORAD) Command was actually established on September 12, 1957, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and operations were well underway when the agreement was signed. The “air” in NORAD has become “aerospace” in today’s high tech world, but this bi-national command, which centralizes operational control of continental air defences, continues to be a model for international cooperation.