2. Preparing for the Great Undertaking

by Peter C. Conrad

The development of the widely dispersed air training organization expected to consist of 33,000 service personnel and 6,000 civilians demanded a large commitment on the part of the administrators of the Royal Canadian Air Force. At the start of the Second World War, the RCAF had only five aerodromes and six more under construction. For matters of construction, the RCAF had developed a partnership with the Department of Transport during the interwar period. This partnership was extended on October 3, 1939, when Air Vice-Marshal G. M. Croil and J. A. Wilson, the controller of civil aviation, reached an agreement with the department for the rapid expansion of air training facilities. The department was to select sites and, after the approval of the air force, develop landing fields. The air force would design and build the buildings.1

Where the Schools Were to Go

The sites for the fields were selected and surveyed even before the agreement for the Air Training Plan was signed. Already, in the summer of 1939, work was underway to expand the existing RCAF schools, which were inadequate even for the prewar training work of the RCAF. The pace of construction accelerated as soon as the formal agreement that brought about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was signed.2

A major reorganization of the RCAF was needed to administer the new facilities. It was soon obvious that the responsibilities of the RCAF and the Air Training Plan were too large for the Department of National Defence to administer. The three services of the navy, army, and air force had to be separated with expanded administrations. K. S. Maclachan held the post of acting associate deputy minister for the navy and air from September 8, 1939, until April 11, 1940, when James S. Duncan, who had been the senior executive of Massey Harris Company Ltd., was appointed associate acting deputy minister for air.

At the same time, German successes in Denmark and Norway in the spring of 1940 made it obvious to cabinet that even more expansion of Canadian military forces was required. The result was the creation of new ministries for the air force and the navy. The former postmaster general, C. G. “Chubby” Power, was appointed minister of national defence for air on May 23, 1940. In July, a similar ministry was created for the navy.3

Private Business and the New Air Schools

Civil aviation played an important role in the Air Training Plan. The Canadian Flying Clubs Association obtained the role of administrating elementary flying training schools for its member clubs. The role of administrating the elementary schools was not unexpected because eight of the flying clubs had been training pilots for the RCAF in cities across Canada since June 1939. As well, fourteen more clubs obtained contracts at the outbreak of the war. The clubs had to prove that they had the resources to provide adequate instructional, administrative, and technical staff for each proposed school. Once the clubs demonstrated their financial stability and technical ability, they were given a contract reorganizing them into Crown corporations known as flying training companies. The contracts allowed for monthly managerial fees, an allowance for operation and maintenance, a set payment per flying hour, and a ration allowance. The government supplied major equipment such as aircraft. These payments, which allowed for a five percent profit, were subject to periodic revision. Any balance over five percent profits was placed in a government-controlled fund. By organizing the elementary flying schools this way, the government was able to make use of qualified civilian pilots, as instructors, and existing facilities for the war effort. This saved both money and time in the establishment of the Plan.4

Establishing Air Observer Schools

Larger commercial aviation companies administered the air observer schools, which gave instruction in flight navigation. Often the same facilities used for elementary flying schools were also home to observer schools until 1942, when the Air Training Plan was reorganized and many of the air observer schools were expanded and separated from the elementary flying schools.

The contracts for the air observer schools closely resembled the agreements that established the elementary flying training schools, with one notable difference. The agreements establishing the air observer schools did not make allowances for a five percent profit to the operating companies. The payments to the operating companies were adjusted to cover only the actual costs of the training.

[ Photograph missing]

In May 1940, the men were hard at work in the drafting room of the Directorate of Works and Buildings as they prepared blueprints for the air training schools. (PMR 79-133)

Air force personnel provided the entire air observer training. The companies to fly the students and their instructors on their exercises provided civilian pilots. The civilian pilots, who were often called “taxi drivers” or “air chauffeurs,” guided student navigators when they directed the pilot off course during navigational exercises.5

The flying schools in the West featured a wide variety of aircraft. Whatever was available was used. The two most common aircraft at the elementary flying schools on the Prairies were the Tiger Moth, and, later, the Fairchild Cornell. Early in the war, a number of Fleet Finches were also in service for training. Another uncommon type of aircraft, the Fort Fleet, was used at the wireless school in Calgary. At the service flying schools, the bombing and gunnery schools, and the air observer schools, the most widely used aircraft were the double-engine Avro Ansons and Cessna Cranes. Other common aircraft also at these kinds of schools were Harvards, Hurricanes, Fairey Battles, Bristol Bolingbrokes, and Westland Lysanders, just to name a few. The RAF service flying training schools had Airspeed Oxfords as well.

[Photograph missing]

This is a Lockheed 10A Electra CF-BAF aircraft used by Canadian Airways Limited. Canadian Airways was one of the largest airlines in western Canada before the war and won the contract to operate an air observer school. (JRA 015304821)

Schools opened, closed, and were transferred throughout the war. Elementary flying training schools were located at Lethbridge, High River, Assiniboia, De Winton, Bowden, Caron, Pearce, Portage la Prairie, Virden, Davidson, Yorkton, and Neepawa. Service flying training schools were established in Macleod, Weyburn, Claresholm, Vulcan, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, Penhold, Estevan, Swift Current, Dauphin, Yorkton, Brandon, North Battleford, Souris, Gimli, and Carberry. Larger centers such as Winnipeg received more than one school; that city had a wireless school and an air observer school. Regina and Edmonton each received an initial training school, an elementary flying school, and air observer school. Saskatoon received an initial training school and a service flying training school. Calgary received a service flying school and a wireless school. Prince Albert had both an elementary flying school and an air observer school. The community of Portage la Prairie was the host of an air observer school, while Rivers received the central navigation school. Bombing and gunnery schools, which needed to be more isolated, were constructed at Mossbank, Lethbridge, MacDonald, Dafoe, and Paulson. A flying instructor school was established at Vulcan, and then transferred in 1943 to Pearce, Alberta.

[Photograph missing]

Residents of Yorkton inspect the new air buildings and runways on the opening day of the service flying training school. There was no disappointment as western Canadians saw what they had achieved on their opening days. (RA 7109[1])

The Royal Air Force Schools

Not all the air training schools in the BCATP were administered by Royal Canadian Air Force personnel. The Royal Air Force ran a number of schools. During the negotiations that led to the Plan, the British government suggested that at some point during the war it might prove necessary to transfer service schools from Britain to Canada. Nothing more was said about this idea until the war worsened for the Allied cause in the spring of 1940. With the fall of Norway, Denmark, and France, all British airfields and airspace were needed for operations, and air training activities could no longer be sustained in Britain. The Canadian government was informed that the United Kingdom wished to transfer four RAF service flying training schools to Canada.6

[Photograph missing]

American, New Zealand, and British airmen line up at clothing stores to receive new kits. The cooperation between the aircrew of all nationalities was obvious throughout the Air Training Plan. (PL 5288)

Canada responded positively to this request after it was agreed that the British government would cover the costs for the schools. With Canadian acceptance, the RAF revised the request to include eight service flying training schools, two air observer schools, one bombing and gunnery school, one air navigation school, one general reconnaissance school, and one torpedo bombing school. While facilities were being established, the RAF personnel arrived to begin training in partly completed schools. In March 1941, the burden was increased again when the RAF requested an additional nine service flying training schools, fifteen elementary flying training schools, ten air observer schools, and four operational training units. Again, Canada accepted these schools because Britain was paying for them. With these new developments, many more facilities had to be established. The prairie provinces received the largest number of new schools: Alberta received six, Saskatchewan eight, and Manitoba two RAF schools.7 The RAF elementary flying training schools in the Prairies were located at Neepawa, Caron, Assiniboia, Moose Jaw, Estevan, Swift Current, De Winton, Bowden, Pearce, Medicine Hat, Penhold, and Calgary; the service schools of the RAF at Carberry, Weyburn, and North Battleford.

The Visiting Forces Acts of Canada and Britain defined the legal status of the British schools in Canada. In 1933, both countries had passed acts allowing the easy transfer of service personnel from one country to the next. When the RAF schools were established in Canada, they were declared by the governments as “acting in combination,” meaning that they mutually agreed to work together. As long as the RAF personnel were in Canada, they were to follow RCAF administrative and operational control. The RAF was given access to supplies and the medical services of the RCAF. The RCAF also supplied maintenance facilities to the RAF schools. The British fully cooperated with the RCAF while they were in Canada, although each service kept its national identity and their own officers commanded personnel. The air personnel were also allowed to follow their own customs and traditions. The RAF followed its own routines and rules, which differed very little from those of the RCAF.8

Training Schools for the Royal Norwegian Air Force

The Royal Norwegian Air Force, like the RAF received permission to set up their own independent training school with aircraft bought for the United States at the Toronto Island airport, which became known as “Little Norway.” The Royal Norwegian Air Force Training Centre was moved later to Muskoka airport, which was near Gravehurst, Ontario. The Norwegian training school remained completely financially independent of the BCATP as it was fully funded by the Norwegian government-in-exile. This Norwegian training center did receive significant support from the BCATP.9

Training for All the Allies

The Air Training Plan was established to train the majority of the aircrew for the Allies during the war. As a result, trainees arrived from Australia, New Zealand, India, and other countries of the Commonwealth. Aircrew of other nationalities who had joined the Allies after the fall of their countries were also trained, but the numbers of trainees from countries not in the Commonwealth remained small with nearly 2,000 Free French, about 900 Czechoslovakians, 677 Norwegians, 450 Poles, and about the same number of Belgians and Dutch receiving training. However, the majority of the trainees were British and Canadian and the proportion of trainees from other countries was small.10

The Plan Reorganized

The original agreement that established the BCATP automatically expired on March 31, 1943. The Plan had to be renegotiated, which provided the government of Canada the opportunity to address irritants that had appeared over the years. The government wanted to strengthen the RCAF by improving the process of granting commissions to officers and creating more RCAF squadrons instead of having large numbers of Canadians absorbed into the RAF.11

1943 was a bleak year for the Allies as the German forces had taken much of Europe. After the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States blocked the export of engines and aircraft parts. The most pressing concern for Canadian officials was that the increasing demand for aircraft in the war was threatening the need for training aircraft in the BCATP. At the same time New Zealand and Australia had to withdraw resources from the Plan as they had to focus their efforts on defence against Japan.12

The British felt there was a need to transfer RAF schools to Canada and the United States wished to participate in an American training plan. Canada felt its position was threatened as Britain carried out some early discussions with the United States about such a possibility. Canada demanded that it retain control of the BCATP, the RAF schools be transferred to the BCATP instead of be continuing independently, and a better cost sharing formula be established.13

The RAF schools were incorporated into the BCATP under Canadian control, but the RAF would maintain their uniforms and identity. The United States formed their own air training establishment. The BCATP expanded with the arrival of RAF schools from Britain and the increased size of many other schools. The amount of time needed to train was also increased. The kind of training and the amount of time taken to complete this training changed during the war years to accommodate the different needs of aircrew during the war.14

Costs were shared with Canada and Britain paying about half each plus about five percent more paid by Britain for the crews from Australia and New Zealand. The issues over the commissioning of aircrew from the BCATP were resolved in Canada’s favour as well.15

Notes for Chapter 2

1. Douglas, The Creation of a National Ail Force, p. 220.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pp. 121-123.

4. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy, p. 42; Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force, pp.123-124.

5. Douglas, p. 124; R. W. Ryan, From Boxkite to Boardroom (Moose Jaw: Moose Jaw Publications, 1987), en passim

6. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy, p. 63.

7. Ibid., pp. 63, 69-70.

8. Ibid., p. 70.

9. Douglas, p. 236.

10. Hatch, p. 192.

11. Douglas, p. 248.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

About peterconrad2014

I am a writer with experience in writing short stories, articles, non-fiction books, the novel, on line course content, journalism, and encyclopaedia articles. Never accepting limitations, I have had successes in diverse writing approaches. I am a storyteller, teacher, and artist.
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