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Royal Canadian Air Force (1925-1968)

The RCAF and the Government’s Civil Air Operations

By 31 March 1932 the RCAF expanded to 177 officers and 729 airmen. Several new RCAF stations were opened, including Trenton as a major air centre to replace Camp Borden. The statistics also show the growth of the young organization: the flying time expanded between 1924 and 1932 from 4,000 hours to 30,000.

However, during the first eight years, only one-half of this time was devoted to military activities, the rest was flown on civil government air operations. The RCAF 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.

The RCAF during the Great Depression

The world-wide depression severely reduced budgets at the beginning of the 1930s. The RCAF’s strength was thus slashed by almost one-fifth, leaving only 103 officers and 591 airmen. The situation began to improve in 1935 with a re-increased budget. At the same time, a major change occurred within the Air Force: the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of National Defence was transferred to the new Department of Transport. The RCAF was re-organized along service lines and redeveloped into a military air force.

The RCAF and the Second World War

As the political situation in Europe was declining at the end of 1930s, the expansion, re-equipment, and development of the RCAF was accelerated. This also led to the creation of three Air Commands: Western (Vancouver), Eastern (Halifax) and Training (Toronto). the Minister, and the head of the Force, known as the Senior Air Officer, now became the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). In 1938, the RCAF became an independent arm, directly responsible to the Minister of National Defence.

When war was declared on Germany, 1 September 1939, the RCAF had a total strength of 4,000 regular personnel, an auxiliary force of 12 squadrons and a total of 270 aircraft. During the Second World War, the RCAF expanded into the fourth largest air power of the Allied Forces. 232,000 men and 17,000 women enlisted in a service that operated a total of 86 squadrons, including 47 overseas (Europe or South-east Asia). Many other thousands of Canadians fought in the British Royal Air Force or other Commonwealth air forces.

The RCAF’s war effort was oriented towards the training of Commonwealth air forces personnel, operations in the theatres of war overseas, and defence of the country’s East coast.

British Commonwealth Training Plan (BCATP)
When the war started, representatives of gallery-sww3Commonwealth governments met in Ottawa to discuss the instruction needs for the Royal Air Force personnel. On 17 December 1939 the “Riverdale Agreement” was signed and thus began the training plan set up by the British Air Ministry. Canada was chosen as the primary location due to ample supplies of fuel, wide open spaces suitable for flight and navigation training, industrial facilities for the production of trainer aircraft, parts and supplies, the lack of any threat from Luftwaffe and Japanese fighter planes. When fully developed, the BCATP was required to produce 520 pilots a month with elementary training, 544 pilots with service training, 340 air observers, and 580 wireless operator-air gunners. BCATP reached by 1943 its maximum expansion: 97 schools and 184 ancillary units, with over 3,000 graduates per month. The program was officially terminated at the end of March 1945.

The Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain was a sustained strategic effort by the Luftwaffe during the summer and autumn of 1940 to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force. This was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces during the Second World War and caused huge damages, especially civilian casualties as a result of air raids over London. The RCAF arrived in Britain at the beginning of the 1940 summer; No. 1 Squadron began operations on 19 August, at a time when the Luftwaffe’s attacks on southern England were increasing in intensity. By the end of October 1940, 54 enemy aircraft were definitely destroyed or damaged by the RCAF fighter aircraft and three pilots had been killed in action.