THE DEVELOPMENT OF AIR POWER IN CANADA
AN ADDRESS BY HON. COLIN GIBSON, K.C., M.C., M.P.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, February 28, 1946
MR. THOMPSONS Gentlemen, the Empire Club of Canada is again honoured by the presence of a Dominion Cabinet Minister; on this occasion we are privileged to have with us the Minister of National Defense for Air
Born in Hamilton, a son of Sir John Gibson. K.C.M.G. former LieutenantGovernor of Ontario, our speaker was educated at Highfield School, Hamilton; Royal Military College, Kingston and, Osgoode Hall, Toronto. A lawyer by occupation, he was called to the Bar in 1915 and created a K.C. in 1935.
He has a distinguished military career, having served during the 1914-18 World War with the Royal Fusiliers, was wounded twice and was awarded the Military Cross, Belgian Order of Leopold and the Croix de Guerre.
An expert rifle shot, he has been a member of the Canadian Rifle team to Bisley five times. Amongst his many military activities, he has commanded the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, the 4th Infantry Brigade and, also the Hamilton Garrison.
Elected to the House of Commons in 1940 as Member for Hamilton West he was then appointed Minister of National Revenue. On his reelection in 1945, he was appointed to his present post, that of Minister of National Defense for Air.
From the days of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (then the Royal Air Force and now the Royal Canadian Air Force) Canada's interest in flying has been steadily growing. The great part played by Canada in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan made us more air conscious than ever and, now that World War Z is over, we are naturally anxious to hear what our government proposes for the 'continuance and advancement of this important arm of our defense forces.
It is with extreme pleasure that I now introduce to you Colonel the Honourable Colin Gibson, K.C., M.C., M.P., who will address us on the subject, "The Development of Air Power in Canada".
Horn. COLIN GIBSON: Once a year, by the laws of Ontario and of most other civilized communities,, it ,is laid down that the directors of a corporation present a report to their stockholders on the achievements of the past, and on the immediate and long-term expectations of the company.
You, the stockholders in Canada's future, are entitled to know what your directors, the members of the Government, have been doing with your investment and how they intend to develop your business further. You want to know what dividends have been declared, what the current expenditures are, and in what direction we intend to expand.
It is my purpose, as Minister of National Defence for Air, to place the balance sheet before you, and to outline Canada's plans for the future of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
It seems almost incredible today that only thirty years ago there was no Canadian Air today at all. The air age had scarcely dawned in 1914, and the necessity for such a Force was not recognized at that time.
During the First World War the adventurous spirit of 20,000 young Canadians called them overseas, where they joined the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service, and, later, the Royal Air Force. At the time of the Armistice one officer out of four in the R.A.F. was a Canadian.
The names of more than 1,500 officers and men appear in the Book of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber at Ottawa. 800 were decorated or mentioned in despatches. Three, Major W. G. Barker, Major W. A. Bishop and 2/Lieutenant A. A. McLeod were awarded the Victoria Cross.
By 1918 it had become obvious that the old ideas of defence would have to be modernized and steps were taken to organize a Canadian Air Force. In April, 1920, with a nucleus of wartime flyers, this Force was formed, on a part time or militia basis. Three years later it was given the prefix "Royal" and it became a permanent Force in April, 1924. At that time the R.C.A.F. had 95 officers and 375 airmen. Thus your company was founded.
What of dividends and expansion in the years before 1939? How much did this Force contribute to the development of Canada and the advancement of our Canadian civilization?
Vast areas of the North were surveyed and photographed, new routes were plotted, our timber reserves and fisheries were protected by numerous patrols: sick and injured Indians, trappers, and farmers were flown out of the bush for medical treatment, and agents were transported to pay treaty money to Indians. These were the dividends, although all cannot be calculated in terms of dollars and cents.
But dividends are not all, the company also expanded. By March, 1931, the strength of the R.C.A.F. had risen to 177 officers and 729 airmen. Current expenditures had likewise increased from the modest sum of $1,377,328 in 1924-25 to a total of $7,147,018 in 1930-31.
The Auxiliary Air Force was first formed in 1933 and twelve squadrons of these militia airmen were formed by September, 1939.
It was not until 1938 that the R.C.A.F., which up to that date had operated as a branch of the Canadian Army, was created as an independent corporation under its own Chief of the Air Staff. At the outbreak of war in September, 1939, it had a strength of slightly over 4,000 officers and airmen.
As a result of the expansion and development of the R.C.A.F. in the years between the wars we were in a position to pay out one of the biggest dividends that the history of aviation has ever witnessed. We were able to develop and administer the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and to turn Canada into what the late President Roosevelt described as "the aerodrome of democracy". It was a dividend which Canada shared with the whole civilized world.
Thousands of young men from the United Kingdom. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the countries occupied by the enemy were literally trained from the ground up, and proceeded overseas in an ever-expanding stream to re-inforce the R.A.F.
The Agreement to set up the B. C. A. T. P. Was signed in December, 1939. In five months the first flying school was opened on schedule. By January, 1944, over 100 flying schools and 260 ancillary units and schools were in operation. Down to 31st March, 1945, when the Plan was terminated, 131,553 aircrew were fully trained, over 55% of the graduates being Canadians.
At first, due to commitments in the Training Plan, the participation of the R.C.A.F. in air operations overseas was limited. In February, 1940, an army cooperation squadron arrived in Britain to work with the First Canadian Division. In June another army cooperation, and a fighter squadron, proceeded overseas.
Gradually new R.C.A.F. squadrons were formed in England, or went over as units from Canada, until 47 Canadian squadrons were operating from overseas bases, and one from Iceland. Bomber, Fighter, Coastal and Transport Commands all had Canadian Squadrons.
As the number of our bomber squadrons increased a separate Canadian Bomber Group was formed, and commenced operations on January 1st, 1943. During the year the Group made over 7,300 sorties and dropped 13,630 tons of bombs for a loss of 340 aircraft. In 1944 the scale of operations showed a very marked increase, while the ratio of losses steadily declined. The number of sorties jumped to over 25,300 and the tonnage of bombs showed an even greater ratio of increase, to well over 86,000 tons. In addition to the squadrons in the R.C.A.F. Bomber Group there was a Canadian Squadron in the Pathfinder Force of Bomber Command, which played a brilliant part in marking targets for following waves of bombers.
The original R.C.A.F. Fighter Squadron, which had its baptism of fire in the Battle of Britain, was joined in 1941 by six more, and early in 1944 by another six, which came from Canada after periods of service on the East and West coasts. In 1942 an all-Canadian fighter wing had been formed in Britain from three Spitfire squadrons. Later several more R.C.A.F. wings were set up, equipped with Spitfire aircraft and Typhoons.
From the spring of 1941 to the spring of 1944 the major duty of the Fighter Squadrons was to escort the day bombers of the R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. which struck at airfields, railroad centres and factories in enemyoccupied territory.
As a change from high-flying escort missions, the fighters also engaged in low-level ground strafes, shooting up enemy defences, airfields, camps, locomotives, factories, vehicles and power lines.
Another--less welcome--duty was convoy patrol, to guard shipping in British coastal waters. On the other hand our Spitfire pilots occasionally made attacks on enemy ships attempting to slip from harbour to harbour.
In the spring of 1944 the R.C.A.F. fighter wings added a new role to their varied activities, and became fighter-bombers. In the weeks immediately preceding D-Day they played an, important part in dive-bombing "rocket" sites, bridges, freight yards and radar posts. From D-Day onward they were the spearhead of attack, covering the invasion beaches, dive-bombing enemy strongpoints, and taking a heavy toll of the German Army's transport and fighting vehicles.
A fighter-reconnaissance wing of the R.C.A.F., equipped with Mustangs and Spitfires, gathered tactical information in preparation for the opening of the Second Front, and continued this work for the British Forces as they fought their way forward from the beachhead.
When the war ended this wing had penetrated, deeper into Germany than any other Canadian unit, and was flying from a field at Luneburg.
In addition to the day fighter units, the R.C.A.F. also contributed three squadrons for the night defence of Britain, and they won an impressive number of victories over the raiders. They also destroyed large numbers of flying bombs before they could reach their targets. During the invasion of Normandy they spread a protective shield over the convoys and our men on the beaches and harried the Germans on their home bases.
Coastal Command, which shared with the Royal Navy in the arduous and vital duty of guarding Britain's shipping, and destroying that of the enemy, also had its quota of R.C.A.F. units, in addition to the Canadian units operating from Canada and Newfoundland. Sunderland squadrons spent thousands of hours sweeping over the seas in search of U-boats, or shepherding convoys to port. Often their patient watch was rewarded by unmistakable evidences of a kill; in many other attacks the Nazi submarine was certainly damaged.
A Canso squadron which moved from Canada to Iceland, also took part in the Battle of the Atlantic, and scored several successes, in one of which F/L D. E. Hornell of Mimico, won the V.C.
While these units were sharing in the work of the R.A.F. based in Great Britain, one of our fighter squadrons was accompanying the Eighth Army in its triumphant advance from El Alamein to Cape Bon, across to Sicily, and from the heel of the Italian peninsula to the valley of the Po. The Canadian Spitfires did particularly good work over Anzio and Cassino, and then, when the Luftwaffe withdrew from the daylight skies of Italy, our Spitfires became fighter-bombers, cutting rail lines and highways, and strafing rolling stock and vehicles.
Farther east, in the wide expanses of the Indian Ocean, another of our squadrons escorted convoys, carried freight, hunted submarines, and aided in the rescue of shipwrecked seamen. It was a Catalina, from this Canadian squadron, which, early in 1942, detected the approach of a Japanese invasion force, and warned the defences of Ceylon in time for them to repulse the enemy.
In the last months of the war in Europe the R.C.A.F. formed several transport squadrons, one of which played a part in conveying troops and supplies to our forces in the Netherlands and Germany, while on the other side of the world two others were doing similar work in Burma.
During the war the strength of the R.C.A.F. increased from slightly over 4,000 to a peak of over 206,000.
In addition to the personnel of the 47 Canadian squadrons overseas, approximately 20% of the aircrew in R.A.F. operational squadrons were Canadians. These Canadians flew with R.A.F. units in every command, and in every theatre of war. They helped to destroy the Mohne and Eder dams, they fought in the battle of Malta, they accompanied the R.A.F. mission to Russia, they flew over the Western desert, they roamed the skies of Italy and took part in battles and bombing missions over the steaming jungles of Burma. R.C.A.F. casualties amounted to over 20,000 and about two-thirds of these gave their lives for their country. It was a tremendous price to pay, but our enemies bear witness to the effectiveness of our war in the air.
"Three factors", said Field Marshal Von Runstedt, "defeated us in the West. First, the unheard of superiority of your Air Force, which made all movement in daytime impossible. Second, the lack of motor fuel-oil and gas-so that the Panzers and even the remaining Luftwaffe were unable to move. Third, the systematic destruction of all railway communications so that it was impossible to bring one single railroad train across the Rhine. This made impossible the reshuffling of troops and robbed us of all mobility."
Field Marshal Kesselring, who commanded the German armies in Italy and succeeded Von Runstedt in the West, said much the same thing when he remarked that "Allied air power was the greatest single reason for the German defeat". Other Generals made similar comments, which Hermann Goering summed up with the words "The Allies owe the success of the invasion to the Air Forces. They prepared the invasion, they made it possible." These are eloquent tributes to the real value of 'the development that took place between the wars.
All this has now become history, and as the Air Force is always looking ahead it may well be asked "What of the future?"
It is frequently said that Generals and Chiefs of Staff prepare, not for the next war, but for the one that has just been successfully concluded. But as General Arnold recently stated in an American broadcast-
"Until the fantastic possibilities of untried and undeveloped weapons have definitely indicated otherwise, we can do nothing but continue to develop the art of war in the air in the natural development of any science, or any branch of human achievement. There is no other way than to build on our experience,, and draw upon the ingenuity of our best military, scientific, economic, social and political minds; and so constantly to keep, what we have at the moment, the most effective shield and sword of peace."
That shield--or sword--consists of three elements. An Army and Navy we must have. An Army's radius of operations is limited, however, but less so with the cooperation of an Air Force. A Navy's range is great, but, as with the Army, its speed is restricted. An Air Force combines both range and speed. It can strike and strike far, while ships are getting under way, and armies are mobilizing:
This is not to say that we need only one arm, or that we can concentrate on one and neglect the other two: All three are essential for a well rounded scheme of national defence. But it nevertheless remains true that it is the Air Force which must be ready to ward off the first blows of an attack--before they can reach our shores--and, if need be, strike the first blows at the foe. "Airpower", to again quote General Arnold, "is the first line of defence, and the first weapon of attack.
One often hears talk of defensive and offensive weapons, defensive and offensive forces, as if they were types of weapons and forces which were specifically designed for one function and not for the other. In modern warfare no such distinction exists. The Halifaxes and Lancasters of the R.C.A.F. Bomber Group, for instance, played their part in the invasion of Normandy. Nor does the existence of the atomic bomb alter the fact that airpower is still the first line of defence. The atomic bomb may appear to be an essentially offensive weapon, but it may well prove to be the most effective defensive one ever developed.
So an Air Force can be turned to either purpose. We can use it for offence or for defence. We can use it to banish war from the face of the earth. In no case can we afford to be without one.
The question remains "how large should our peacetime Force be?" It has been necessary to consider many factors before reaching a decision. .
After long and careful study it has now been decided that Canada shall have a Force composed of Regulars, Auxiliaries and Reserves, and containing Fighter, Bomber and Transport Squadrons, with the necessary ancillary units. The Permanent Force will include eight operational squadrons and eight composite flights with a total strength of 16,100 officers and men. The operational force will consist of two bomber reconnaissance, two transport, one fighter reconnaissance, one fighter bomber, one air observation and one photographic squadrons, while the composite flights will provide for communication, air-sea rescue, target-towing, a glider unit, and practice flights for aircrew employed on administrative duties. The glider unit, like the air observation squadron, will use both Army and Air Force personnel.
Fifteen auxiliary squadrons, with a total strength of 4,500 officers and men, will also b- created, ten of these squadrons being fighters, three fighter bombers and two fighter reconnaissance. Of these it is proposed to organize five squadrons at an early date, at Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
All of these units, in the Regular and Auxiliary Forces, will be supported by the necessary formation headquarters, supply, maintenance and training units, as well as research establishments. In addition to the Regular and Auxiliary Forces there will be a Reserve composed of 10,000 officers and men.
The Auxiliaries are intended to provide a Force fully organized, manned and equipped which, should the necessity arise, can be mobilized as a Tactical Air Force for operations in conjunction with the Army, in the same way that the R.C.A.F. wings formed part of the Second Tactical Air Force during the war in Europe.
Citizens of Toronto will be interested to know that one of the Auxiliary Squadrons to be formed, here will perpetuate the record of Number 400, the famous City of Toronto Squadron. That units, originally known as No. 10 Army Co-operation Squadron, was the first R.C. A.F. Auxiliary Squadron to be formed. It was authorized in 1932, and remembered as 110 City of Toronto in 1937. At the outbreak of the war its Commanding Officer was Air Commodore Geof O'Brien, CBE. AFC, and Air Vice-Marshal W. A. Curtis, CBE, DSC, was its second in command. Reinforced with personnel of No. 2 Army Co-operation Squadron, it was the first R.C.A.F. Squadron to go overseas, and earned an enviable record for work well done. This Toronto Auxiliary Squadron will have its headquarters at the old Eglinton Hunt Club property, those premises having the necessary parade ground, drill hall, messes and instruction rooms.
In addition to the Regular, Auxiliary and Reserve Forces there will also be the Air Cadet Corps, which will continue to prepare young men for entry into the Regular the Auxiliary Forces or into civil aviation. I would like to pay tribute to the Air Cadet League and those who have done so much to support the Air Cadets.
An Air Force does not consist, only of squadrons and the airfields from which they fly. It requires highly trained officers able to plan, organize and direct. It needs expert staff officers and instructors. For this purpose the R.C.A.F. Staff College at Toronto will be retained, and will work in close co-operation with the staffs of the other Canadian armed services, the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F.
Now you may say, all this does not sound like a mighty Force and you will be right, since a democratic nation, that loves peace, cannot maintain in peace the armed forces which would be necessary for its protection in time of war. The essential thing is to maintain a balanced force capable of rapid expansion in time of need, and providing some measure of protection when the enemy first strikes; a nucleus from which a wartime force can be speedily developed. It is believed that this plan for the postwar establishment meets this requirement.
But what of the cost? And you may ask is it all one sided or do we get anything out of it, other than tax receipts? The estimated cost of maintaining a regular Force of 16,100 men is $55,650,000. The Auxiliary Force will require an additional expenditure of about $3,000,000, and the Reserve about half a million. The total annual outlay therefore will be $59,150,000 a year when the full establishment has been reached.
I should also add that new rates of pay will go into effect after approval is given to the report of the Committee now working on the subject. It is intended to make the pay in all the Services commensurate with the rates paid in industry for men of similar trades.
Now what do we get out of this? First, of course, we derive a measure of security. Then we have the various services provided by the Air Force including Transport services; air photography, and mapping of the great expanses of our uncharted areas; air-sea rescue services and in addition we benefit from a considerable amount of the research which is being undertaken to keep Air Force abreast of the times.
This research is quite extensive. Establishments have been set up at Rockcliffe, Edmonton and Toronto for the study of a wide variety of subjects. The Test and Development Establishment at Rockcliffe experiments with aircraft, engines, armament, electrical and photographic equipment, and tests new designs that are submitted. At Edmonton the Winter Experimental Establishment examines and reports on the performance, under low temperature operational conditions, of aircraft, fuels and accessories; while here at Toronto the Institute of aviation Medicine serves as the aviation medical centre of the R.C.A.F. This unit has facilities for Consultant and Specialist officers, and laboratories for nutritional activities in relation to messing. Its statistical section provides all available data and the records of medical activities. Besides well-equipped laboratories, it houses a human centrifuge, a cold low-pressure chamber, and a tropical room. Thereby the complete coordination of all medical activities, from which medical standards and policy can be determined, is made possible.
One of the most important phases of research now being carried on by the R.C.A.F. is a study of the propagation of radio signals. Canada is faced with special problems, which do not to the same extent confront any other country in radio propagation, because of its location with respect to the earth's geo-magnetic pole and because so much of the Dominion lies within the auroral zonea broad belt circling the geo-magnetic pole. In this zone radio reception is particularly sensitive to sunspots. When they are large and numerous (as they are just now) high frequency reception is often very bad in the auroral zone. A reliable frequency prediction service is therefore of particular value to this country.
In the Division of Research and Development of the R.C.A.F. a special section or group has been set up to study these problems, in co-operation with the other Government Departments. Their investigations are coordinated through the Canadian Radio Wave Propagation Committee, which in turn co-operates closely with similar organizations in the United States and Britain.
Before the war no stations for the continuous study of the ionosphere existed in Canada. There are now five, under the direction of the Canadian Radio Wave Propagation Committee. These Stations, one of which is at St. John's, Newfoundland, and controlled by the R.C.A.F. send radio pulses straight upwards to the ionosphere and record the echoes as they are returned--exactly as with radar.
The knowledge gained from the study of these ionosphere, echoes, together with the analysis of R.C.A.F. radio traffic, is used as the basis for predicting future conditions of radio propagation. Three months in advance, all R.C.A.F. stations are supplied with a guide which shows what frequencies should be used for the best reception at each hour of the day and night. The R.C.A.F. was the first organization in Canada to provide a complete frequency prediction service.
In addition to research on the ionosphere, experimental work is also proceeding on the troposphere-which is the lower portion of the atmosphere nearest to the earth. In the use of radar during war time it was discovered that the troposphere region has peculiar effects on propagation, which are bound up with the weather. The R.C.A.F. group, in conjunction with others, is studying these effects to learn and utilize the fundamental principles.
Increased knowledge of the upper atmosphere is valuable for another reason-to aid in the further development of high altitude flying, and in this work our research is making a valuable contribution to the future of aviation.
The end of the war witnessed important changes in aircraft design. But in the light of our present knowledge there is a speed beyond which controlled flight is impractical, even for the most powerful and efficient combination of engines and propellers. This upper limit is the speed of sound, and is approximately 700 miles per hour. It is also economically impractical to extend much further the altitude at which engines and propellors can function. The engine-propellor combination loses power and efficiency as altitude is reached.
This, however, does not mean that further progress in aircraft development is impossible. The aircraft designer has a new source of power available, the jet engine. Aircraft propelled by these engines are now in operation and have reached speeds, and altitudes, hitherto believed impossible. The jet unit develops more horse power, per pound of engine weight, than the conventional engine, and increases in efficiency at high speeds and altitudes. There seems to be no limit to its future possibilities. The R.C.A.F. is vitally interested in jet propulsion, and plans to construct fighter aircraft with jet engines of Canadian design and manufacture.
Other research projects in which the Air Force is deeply interested, and in which it participates with other Government Departments, include a Photographic Research Establishment, a Flight Research Section, Chemical Warfare Laboratories, an Armament Research and Development Centre. Many of these, it can readily ' be seen, bring benefits to mankind at large, as well as serving to keep the Air Force prepared for any eventuality.
Finally, if, amongst the benefits provided by our Air Force, we can list peace, it will be well worth our while to make our contribution to the United Nations Organization. What that contribution may be has not yet been decided, but a nation that has met such high costs for war cannot, and I am sure will not, grumble at the relatively small expenditure required for the maintenance of peace throughout the world.
In this age we can no longer rely on one country maintaining a Pax Brittanica, we must all do our share. Our neighbours to the South have realized this. They see clearly that peace and prosperity can only be obtained in co-operation with other nations. We must co-operate too. Security, peace, national development and research; these are the dividends you are getting from your investment. Intangibles perhaps, but none the less real.
There, then, is the balance sheet. From small beginnings your Air Force developed in the war years into a mighty force: Its young men, fired with the spirit that animated those who fought in the First World War, have left us a wonderful record of achievement. They lived up to that motto, contained in the scroll surrounding the Eagle in the Air Force Badge, Per Ardua ad Astra--to the stars, by hard work, by uphill endeavour.
It is now up to us to help their successors to keep bright and unsullied that escutcheon.
By the maintenance of our post-war Air Force, and a willing acceptance of our new responsibilities in the world, we may prove worthy of the sacrifices that have been made in the past. You, citizens of Toronto, can do your part by living up to the motto of No. 400 Squadron, "On the Watch to Strike". If we are watchful, and help in the uphill work, we can reach the stars; and there may never be occasion to strike.