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The Inter-War Years (1920 – 1939)

From the CAF to the RCAF
Efforts toward the creation of a Canadian air element continued at the beginning of 1920s. The Canadian government established an Air Board of seven members to regulate and control commercial and civil aviation throughout the Dominion in 1919. The Board was also charged with defending the country from the sky. This included the organization and administration of the Canadian Air Force (CAF), authorized on 18 February 1920. The new organization was given a provisional establishment of 1,340 officers and 31,905 airmen, but it remained as a non-permanent air force. Its only function was to give a 28-day refresher courses every other year to officers and airmen who had served in the RAF during the war. 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 there in October 1920, with all equipment, aircraft and hangars donated by the British government. 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 course.

gallery-ww21By 1922, a transition plan for the future organization of the Air Force was needed. It was a period of reorganization for the Canadian forces that culminated with legislation passing on 1 January 1923; the Militia, the Naval Service, and the Air Board were thus incorporated under one Ministry of National Defence.

The prefix “Royal” to the Canadian Air Force was added in 1923, but made official on 1 April 1924. The RCAF was to be administered by a Director responsible to the Chief of the General Staff and had three components: an Active Air Force (permanent), an Auxiliary (part-time) Air Force and a non-active Reserve. 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 insignia, ensign and badges were similar to those of the Royal Air Force. A Latin motto was adopted: “Per Ardua Ad Astra” (through adversity to the stars).

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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 gallery-ww25RCAF 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.