Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Canada, Air Force

Canada had virtually no air force before World War II, but it developed one quickly. When the war began in Europe in September 1939, the Canadian government agreed to help train Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots, leading to the development of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Through it, some 130,000 pilots and aircrew from Canada, Britain, and other Allied nations were trained at Canadian airfields built or enlarged with British and, later, American assistance. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) itself grew to over 250,000 personnel.

Thousands of Canadian pilots and aircrew served in the RAF, often in fighter or bomber squadrons composed entirely of Canadians. Ultimately, the RCAF sent 48 squadrons and 94,000 personnel overseas. In the European Theater, RCAF squadrons fought in the Battle of Britain, in Malta, in the campaigns of the Western Desert, and over Europe. In the Pacific Theater, two Canadian transport squadrons served in Burma and a squadron of Consolidated PBY Catalina patrol bombers was based at Ceylon. The RCAF also provided air defense for Canada and assisted in the defense of U.S. installations in Alaska.

In June 1941, the RCAF formed its first bomber squadron. Its Number 6 Group of eight squadrons was formed in Britain in January 1943, flying Wellington bombers from Yorkshire and then Lancaster and Halifax bombers. The group flew 41,000 sorties and dropped 126,000 tons of bombs, one-eighth of Bomber Command's total. It suffered 3,500 dead. In all, 17,101 Canadian aircrew died in the war, some 40 percent of Canada's total war dead.

RCAF pilots also played an important role in ferrying American-built aircraft to the British Isles. Air Commodore N. R. Anderson of the RCAF had lobbied for the ferrying of aircraft in April 1940, arguing that it would save valuable shipping space. The idea languished until the British minister of war production, Lord Beaverbrook, gave it his support and insisted on an experimental flight. This flight took place in November 1940, when a group of Hudsons crossed the Atlantic from Newfoundland without loss. Regular transfers continued, slowly at first because of a shortage of pilots and navigators but gaining momentum when increasing numbers of graduates of the Air Training Plan became available. Ultimately, the RCAF delivered more than 9,000 two- and four-engine aircraft to Britain in this manner. Subsequently, the RCAF also supplied Lend-Lease aircraft to the Soviet Union from airfields in northwest Canada. Many of the routes developed in this activity became the first routes of Trans-Canada Airlines after the war.

Terry Shoptaugh


Further Reading
English, Allan. The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Air Crew, 1939–1945. Montreal, Canada: McGill and Queen's University Press, 1996.; Wise, Sydney F. The Creation of a National Air Force. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
 

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