Air Force

Battle of Britain Day
Air Force, Military History, O Canada

Battle of Britain Day

Hitler’s plan was to destroy the Royal Air Force then launch Operation Sea Lion, an invasion of England. Winston Churchill assumed as much. “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war,” he told the House of Commons in 1940. “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: “This was their finest hour.” The Battle of Britain was a proving ground for Britain’s aerial forces, and it also stirred Churchill to some of his most memorable speeches. On June 4, 1940, he addressed the House, emphasizing how critical the RAF would be in the months ahead. He ended with the famous words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing gro...
Pilots Down
Air Force

Pilots Down

Canada’s most up-to-date aircraft in 1939 was the Northrop Delta, manufactured under licence by Canadian Vickers Ltd. in Montreal. It was about the size of a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter—a large, single-engine, low-wing monoplane, powerful and fast. Although noisy and said to be nose-heavy, the Delta was a versatile aircraft and pilots generally spoke well of it. The first all-metal plane built in Canada, the Delta could be fitted with floats, skis or wheels. Three of 20 were delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force in the fall of 1936 and began photographic survey work the following spring. As war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, the Deltas shifted focus to the U-boat hunting grounds off Atlantic Canada. Ted Doan and Dave Rennie were among the aircrew transporting six of the aircraf...
Vintage warbirds
Air Force

Vintage warbirds

At their most essential, they are wooden or tubular alloy skeletons wrapped in paper-thin fabric or sheet-metal skins—riveted tin cans powered by internal combustion engines, driven by propellers and flown on a wing and a prayer. Belching fire and smoke, coughing and kicking as if in protest at being awakened from slumber, they come to life. Tentatively at first, they rise, shaking their earthly bonds with growing assuredness to finally sing and soar and dance like divas among the clouds. Few machines churn conflicting emotions like Second World War aircraft. They are, after all, instruments of death and destruction: Warbirds. Yet they inspire great nostalgia, tenderness and sentimentality among the veterans who flew them as well as the generations raised on the stories they told....
Radar wars
Air Force

Radar wars

A daring mission by a Canadian-crewed Wellington bomber raised the stakes in the Allies’ battle for air supremacy They called it the Wizard War, a battle of scientists and technicians—American, British, Canadian—striving to stay ahead of their German counterparts waging the first electronic war in history. The weapons were radar, radio and countermeasures. The battlefields were laboratories, vast seas, and the sky itself. It was bloodless and bloody. Combat could involve naval fleets and air forces, but could also centre on a single bomber crew, as happened on the night of Dec. 3, 1942. In 1939, RAF Bomber Command had intended to raid German targets in daylight with unescorted bombers, but by the end of the year that plan had been shot down by Luftwaffe fighters who were directed by gr...
Our first Air Force
Air Force

Our first Air Force

Formed, disbanded and resurrected, 401 Squadron has been at the heart of Canada’s air defences for a century. Much of the history of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 401 Squadron can be seen in a quick glance around Klersy’s, the unit’s lounge in its hangar at 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta. There are photos and newspaper clippings, but what really stands out is a timeline for the unit during the Second World War. Under each year of the war is a column of aircraft silhouettes, representing each enemy plane destroyed or disabled by the squadron. A “kill” is a full silhouette of the aircraft type. Half an aircraft is shown when it was ruled as a probable kill or damaged. “We were the top-scoring unit in the 2nd Tactical Air Force,” said Master Corporal James Ferris, who administers th...
Mystery of the lucky Lancaster
Air Force

Mystery of the lucky Lancaster

It was just six weeks before the end of the Second World War when the telegram arrived for the Lee family in Winnipeg, all capital letters, like someone shouting to be heard above a rising internal wail: REGRET TO ADVISE THAT YOUR SON FLYING OFFICER JIM GEN LEE…IS REPORTED MISSING AFTER AIR OPERATIONS OVERSEAS MARCH TWENTY THIRD STOP LETTER FOLLOWS. It still carries impact after seven decades, individual grief suddenly writ large, one telegram of the 17,000 received across the country by families whose sons and daughters and husbands died serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war. It was among a little collection of carefully preserved papers—slivers of heartache, really—that ended up in a box in the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver, a box opened by curator C...
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