Signs such as this became part of the Canadian landscape

Signs such as this became part of the Canadian landscape as schools and airfields opened throughout the nation under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). There were the Initial schools, Elementary Flying Training Schools EFTS, and the next level of SFTS aerodromes, scattered across the country.
Photo Credit: DND

History: Dec, 17, 1939: Canada takes the lead in the air

Share

Everyone knew it was coming, and now that war was declared, Britain knew it needed aircrew for the battles to come.

The problem was that England didn’t have the space or infrastructure needed for a major aircrew training programme, and of course it was vulnerable to air attacks from the continent.

What was proposed was for Commonwealth countries to set up facilities to provide trained aircrew for the coming conflict.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (centre) visits the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan school at RCAF Uplands, Ontario, in December 1941 with Canadian Air Minister C.G. Power (left) and Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (centre) visits the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan school at RCAF Uplands, (Ottawa) Ontario, in December 1941 with Canadian Air Minister C.G. Power (left) and Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien. © Department of National Defence

Thus it was that on December 17, 1939, Canada signed an agreement with Britain to join with other Commonwealth countries to set up facilities for the aircrew programme. The countries included  Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, along with South Rhodesia and South Africa.  With the sudden collapse of French defences within weeks in June 1040, the British training programmes would be transferred to Canada.

This would result in Canada becoming the centre of what would become the greatest training programme in the world.  Even though the other Commonwealth countries had their own training programmes, many personnel were nonetheless sent to Canada to train.

A Tiger Moth flies out of No. 1 Elementary Flight Training School at RCAF Malton, Ontario. Almost all of the pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada began their flight training on Tiger Moths
A Tiger Moth flies out of No. 1 Elementary Flight Training School at RCAF Malton, Ontario. Almost all of the pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada began their flight training on Tiger Moths © DND

Canada had several advantages over other Commonwealth countries.  It had lots of room, a strong manufacturing base which could provide equipment,  parts, and entire aircraft, it was closer to Britain than the other countries for easier and faster transport of men and materiel, and it was a neighbour to the US and its huge manufacturing base of parts and planes.

Architects set feverishly to work to draw up plans for the new aerodromes and came up with an amazing concept of stock design and prefabricated components for the hangars and barracks.

Typical prefab design of the BCATP hangars. All wood Douglas fir trusses, Cedar shingles, concrete pad floor, large sliding door panels and add on side sections for classes, debriefings, storage and so on.
Typical prefab design of the BCATP hangars. All wood Douglas fir trusses, Cedar shingles, concrete pad floor, large sliding door panels and add on side sections for classes, debriefings, repair shops, storage and so on. © google

New aerodromes were suddenly created in spots across the country, while existing airports were re-purposed for the programme.  Signed in December, the first school opened within months  in June 1940

In an incredibly short time the aerodromes were built and operational with eventually 151 “schools” created.

Observers from Australia, Canada and Great Britain walk to their Avro Anson aircraft for navigation training at RCAF Rivers, Manitoba. Twin Engine planes were used for training of bomber pilots, and navigators.
Observers from Australia, Canada and Great Britain walk to their Avro Anson aircraft for navigation training at RCAF Rivers, Manitoba. Twin Engine planes were used for training of bomber pilots, and navigators. © DND

A ground and support operation of over 100,000 people were kept busy learning their trades and keeping the bases running.  Thousands of women were also trained in a number of important support roles, equally vital to keep the operation running.

And of course, aircrew. Before the war ended, over 130,000 aircrew were trained including fighter and bomber pilots, navigators, wireless operators, and air gunners. These came from all the Commonwealth countries, along with hundreds of  Poles, Norwegians, Czechs. Belgians, Dutch, and Free French.

A Canadian arimail stamp issued in 1942 pays hommage to the BCATP. It shows student pilots and instructo with a Harvard advanced trainer as the main feature.
A Canadian arimail stamp issued in 1942 pays hommage to the BCATP. It shows student pilots and instructo with a Harvard advanced trainer as the main feature.

The BCATP involved a month long course in basic military life. This was followed by a posting to an Initial Training School to study mathematics, navigation, aerodynamics, and other subjects. Evaluation of the student performance determined the next phase, whether as pilots, navigators, wireless operators and so on.

Elementary Flight school involved at least 50 hours of flight training in elementary trainers like the Tiger Moth, Fleet Finch, or Fairchild Cornell.

Successful pilots would then be posted to a Service Training School for advanced flying and training on Harvards for fighter pilots and twin engine Avro Ansons, Cessna Cranes, or Airspeed Oxfords.

Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association. Restored Harvard aircraft marked as RCAF planes in the in the colours of the BCATP training programme. The Harvards were used as advanced trainers for pilots who would go one to fly front line fighters like hurricanes and Spitfires
Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association. Restored Harvard aircraft marked as RCAF planes in the in the colours of the BCATP training programme. The Harvards were used as advanced trainers for pilots who would go one to fly front line fighters like hurricanes and Spitfires. The Harvard Association planes often perform at airshows usually around Ontario. © http://www.harvards.com/

Aircrew in other positions would get advanced training for several months in their particular specialty from navigation, bomb aiming, wireless, air gunners, and later flight engineers. All these positions also involved cross training in one or more of the other disciplines.

In the end, although Canada provided vital contributions in ships, planes, guns,  artillery, armoured and other vehicles, communications, and vast amounts of other material, along with hundreds of thousands of personnel in uniform, the BCATP was considered an absolutely critical and hugely important contribution towards the final victory.

Additional info-sources

YouTube Southwest TV news- report on Swift Current EFTS

Share
Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in International, Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*

One comment on “History: Dec, 17, 1939: Canada takes the lead in the air
  1. John McNarry says:

    I’ve done a fair bit of research on the plan and your article is very good.
    Thank you.

    It seems that our own RCAF and Vintage Wings out of Gatineau have decided to celebrate the BCATP’s 75th Anniversary this year.
    The only reason I can think of the RCAF choosing this year is that article in the plan that allows the Commonwealth Countries to form their own Squadrons was put into place in 1941.
    It bothers me slightly as the “Plan” was signed Dec 17 1939 therefore it is 77 years old. This years event warps history slightly. There was a lot of work training and personnel lost prior to this currently presented anniversary.

    John McNarry
    President CATPM