Article: RCAF Celebrates Silver Jubilee–From Tiny Group to Fighting Force

  • (92-30-006) BCATP trainees with Fairey Battle at MacDonald Airfeild Manitoba 1941-640x250
    May, 1949, Canadian Aviation

    In April, 1949, the Royal Canadian Air Force completed a quarter century of service. The Silver Jubilee pinpoint on the RCAF air map provides an occasion for surveying the route-made-good and summarizing a few of the more interesting log entries. When it was formed on April 1, 1924, the RCAF roll call numbered only 300 personnel. Surviving the turbulent depression period, the Service was able to expand with remarkable efficiency from 4,000 personnel just before the war to a Force of 215,000 and performed with the utmost distinction in the air battle against the enemy.

    Forty-eight operational squadrons of the RCAF flew overseas during the war, while thousands more Canadians flew with the Royal Air Force. At the same time, the RCAF administered the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which trained 131,000 air crew, more than half of them Canadian.

    Although the RCAF dates back only to 1924, Canadians had won their spurs in the air before then. In 1914, a Canadian Aviation Corps came into being, consisting of two officers and one aircraft. One of the two pilots, Lt. W.F. Sharpe, was killed overseas on a training flight, the first Canadian military aviator to give his life in the war. The Corps as such vanished, but thousands of Canadians joined the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service.

    In the autumn of 1918, two all-Canadian squadrons were formed in the RAF, but the war ended before they completed training. This Canadian Air Force, consisting of headquarters, one wing and two squadrons, continued training overseas until February 1920. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1918, the Canadian Government had formed a Royal Canadian Naval Air Service in Canada for antisubmarine work. Its personnel were still under training when the war ended and the RCNAS was disbanded. In all, in the First World War, about 22,000 Canadians served in the RFC, RNAS, and RAF, and 1,563 gave their lives. Over 800 were decorated; three receiving the Victoria Cross.

    In June, 1919, an Air Board was formed to control all aeronautics in Canada, and it recommended formation of a non-permanent, nonprofessional Air Force. This Canadian Air Force was born in 1920 and training was limited to 28-day refresher courses every two years at Camp Borden, one of the camps where the RAF had trained Canadian fliers during the war. The CAF existed at this time only for training purposes; air operations being carried out by the Civil Operations Branch of the Air Board.

    January, 1923, saw creation of a single Department of National Defense, including the Air Board, and plans were laid for creation of a permanent Air Force. This permanent force, known as the Royal Canadian Air Force, came into being April 1, 1924. Strength of the RCAF, when created, was somewhat over 300. The infant force grew slowly but steadily and, in addition to normal training, was given numerous civil flying commitments previously carried out by the Air Board. These included photographic survey work, preventative patrols for suppression of smuggling, treaty money flights, fisheries patrols, and forest fire patrols.

    From 1924 to 1931 activities increased. New bases were established, and military training grew in scope, as did operations of a civil nature. Experimental air mail runs were flown, and new types of aircraft were obtained, replacing the wartime planes with which the Force had been originally equipped by the British Government. Total strength rose from 323 to 906, and appropriations from $1.5 million to nearly $7.5 million.

    This article originally appeared in the May, 1949 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine. This photo from the museum archives is of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan trainees at MacDonald Airfield, Manitoba, c. 1941.

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