The Battle of Britain

A Canadian Timeline

By Major William March, CD, MA

As with many historical events, there is an often “lively” debate on when the event began or ended, who participated and what actually transpired. For the Battle of Britain, there is also the question of who was actually a “Canadian” in the days before Newfoundland joined Confederation and Canada had yet to issue its own passport. The timeline and information below have been gleaned from a number of different areas and individuals; it reflects, but does not entirely agree with, many of the contemporary sources.

The “phases” of the Battle of Britain noted below reflect the dates used by the Imperial War Museum in London and may not reflect the dates or breakdown of the battle offered by other sources.[i]

 Up to 1939 | 1939 | 1940

DateEvents up to 1939
21 September 1937 No. 1 Squadron forms at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Trenton, Ontario, as a fighter unit. It is equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Siskin aircraft.
August 1938 No. 1 Squadron moves to Calgary, Alberta, as part of Western Air Command.

 

     Date       Events in 1939
17 February A detachment from No. 1 Squadron proceeds to Sea Island, British Columbia, to take delivery of the first new Hawker Siddley Hurricane fighters. They replace the obsolescent Siskins.
31 August No. 1 Squadron begins to move to its “war station” at St. Hubert, Quebec.
1 September Germany invades Poland.
3 September Great Britain declares war on Germany.
4 September Pilot Officer Selby R. Henderson of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the lead navigator with No. 110 Squadron and in the nose of the first aircraft to attack the German battleship Admiral Sheer at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Sergeant Arthur Stanley Prince, age 27, from Montreal, Quebec, is in the second wave and dies after his No. 107 Squadron Blenheim aircraft is shot down over the harbour. The first Canadian airman killed in action during the Second World War, he is buried at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Soltau, Germany.
10 September Canada declares war on Germany.
29-30 September Squadron Leader W.I. Clements, attached to No. 53 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), makes a long-distance, night-reconnaissance flight from Metz, France, to the area of Hamm–Hanover, Germany. He is the first member of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to fly over enemy territory.
30 October The Canadian government, anxious to get “Canadians” into the air war as soon as possible, reaches an agreement with British authorities to man an RAF squadron with Canadians serving in the RAF. No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron is formed at Church Fenton, United Kingdom, under the command of Squadron Leader F.M. Gobeil, a native of Ottawa, who is on exchange with the RAF.
5 November No. 1 Squadron moves to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

  

DateEvents in 1940
16 February No. 110 (Army Cooperation [AC]) “City of Toronto” Squadron, augmented by personnel from No. 2 (AC) Squadron, sails from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
25 February No. 110 (AC) Squadron arrives at Liverpool, England. It is the first RCAF unit overseas.
8 April German forces invades Denmark.
9 April German forces invades Norway.
10 May German forces attacks Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
13-21 May No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron is committed piecemeal to operations in France.
22 May An advance party of No. 112 (AC) “City of Winnipeg” Squadron departs Halifax.
23 May Squadron Leader F.M. Gobeil, an RCAF exchange officer with the RAF, commanding No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron, engages a Messerschmitt (Me) 109 near Berck, France – the RCAF’s first aerial combat of the war.
25 May Squadron Leader F.M. Gobeil, an RCAF exchange officer with the RAF, commanding No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron, shoots down a Messerschmitt (Me) 110 near Menin, Belgium, the first RCAF victory of the war.
30 May The advance party of No. 112 (AC) Squadron arrives at Liverpool, England.
8 June No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, augmented primarily by personnel from No. 115 (Fighter) “City of Montreal” Squadron and the rear party of No. 112 (AC) Squadron, departs Halifax for England.
18 June No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron returns to England and rebuilds at Coltishall.
20–21 June No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron arrives in the United Kingdom and is stationed at Middle Wallop, Hampshire. Canadian Hurricane aircraft are deemed not up to current standards, resulting in the squadron being re-equipped with RAF Hurricane Mk I aircraft that are assigned “YO” as a unit code.
9 July No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron is declared operational.
Phase 1:10 July–11 August Although this is the “official” start date of the Battle of Britain, it is difficult to point to a specific day and say “this is when it all began.” Young men on both sides are flying and dying on 9 July, and the carnage only grows worse in the coming weeks. For the first portion of the battle, the Luftwaffe concentrates on attacking shipping in the English channel, port cities and coastal facilities as well as defences that might be used to turn back the planned invasion. This period is sometimes referred to as the Kanalkampf – Channel Battles. With varying degrees of effort, these attacks continue throughout the battle.
12 July Pilot Officer D.A. Hewitt, from Saint John, New Brunswick, age 20 and serving with No. 501 Squadron, is shot down while engaging a Dornier 17 that is attacking the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portland Harbour, near Dorset in Southern England. This is the first Canadian fatality of the battle. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
?? July No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron transfers to Croydon, south of London, for intensive training.
19 July Pilot Officer R.A. Howley, age 20, from Victoria, British Columbia, is killed while serving with No. 141 Squadron when his Bolton Paul Defiant aircraft (along with five others) is shot down by German fighters off Dover. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial located west of London.
8 August The Luftwaffe begins its large-scale assault against England.
 Phase 2:12–23 August This period of the Battle of Britain is characterized by large air battles carried out further inland from the coasts as the Luftwaffe attempts to defeat the RAF through a combination of attrition and direct attacks on its airfields. RAF Fighter Command’s command and control network, including radar sites, also come under attack. The Germans name this portion of the Battle Alderangriff – Eagle Attack.
11 August Pilot Officer R.R. Wilson, age 20, from Moncton, New Brunswick, is killed in action when his Hurricane aircraft is shot down over Thames Estuary, United Kingdom. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
12 August Pilot Officer R.W.G. Beley, age 20, from Rossland, British Columbia, is killed while serving with No. 151 Squadron. He is buried in the Margate Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.
13 August Adlertag – Eagle Day: attacks on British radar sites signal a shift in focus by the Luftwaffe as they attempted to destroy the RAF in the sky or on the ground.
15 August

In response to heavy losses, the Luftwaffe shifts the focus of its attacks to RAF aerodromes. This day sees the largest number of enemy attacks and a correspondingly high number of casualties on both sides, with 90 German bombers and fighters either destroyed or damaged compared to 42 RAF fighters either lost or damaged.

Pilot Officer J.T. Johnston, age 26, from Brandon, Manitoba, is shot down in a Hurricane fighter over the North Sea. He is buried in the Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.

While flying with No. 111 Squadron, RAF, to gain operational experience, Squadron Leader E.A. McNab is credited with one of the three enemy aircraft destroyed by the unit that day.

Fifteen enemy aircraft attack the field at Croydon, causing considerable damage and destroying No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron’s armament and orderly room. Two squadron personnel suffer minor wounds.

16 August Pilot Officer J.E.P. Larichelière, age 20, from Montreal, Quebec, is killed while serving with No. 213 Squadron. He is credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed in the previous three days. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial.
17 August No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron transfers to an airfield at Northolt, northwest of London, and declared “operational”.
18 August Bitter air combat results in the largest number of casualties to both sides during the battle: Luftwaffe, 96 aircraft destroyed or damaged; RAF, 50 aircraft destroyed or damaged.
Phase 3:24 August–6 September The Luftwaffe again shifts the main focus of its attention, this time to the airfields and objectives in the southeast of England. The RAF begin to feel the growing strain of losses in pilots and aircraft.
24 August Although No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron aircraft had been launched to intercept German aircraft before this date, this is the first time that the squadron fires its weapons. Tragically, they mistake a flight of RAF Blenheim bombers for enemy aircraft. Two Blenheims are shot down, with one crash-landing at Thorney Island and the other plunging into the sea. The crew of the latter aircraft is killed.
25 August The RAF carries out its first bombing raid on Berlin, an action that enrages Germany and results in the diversion of German attacking forces from British airfields to London. Two Canadians are among the crews of the 95 aircraft that strike the German capital: Flight Lieutenant D.L. England, from Kingston, Ontario, with No. 61 Squadron, and Flying Officer M.M. Fleming from Ottawa, Ontario, with No. 58 Squadron.
26 August

No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron is ordered to the airfield at North Weald to relieve a hard-pressed RAF unit.

On its second sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron meets an enemy bomber force over southern England, claiming three destroyed and four damaged for the loss of three Canadian Hurricanes. Flight Lieutenant R.L. Edwards from Coburg, Ontario, age 28, becomes the first fatal casualty of the squadron; the other two pilots survive with minor injuries. Flight Lieutenant Edwards is buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, Woking, Surrey, England.

29 August Flight Lieutenant H.R. Hamilton, age 23, from Oak Point, New Brunswick, is killed while flying with No. 85 Squadron. He is buried in Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.
30 August No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron receives six replacement pilots from the two Canadian Army Cooperation squadrons that are already in England. Flying Officers W.B.M. Millar, J.D. Pattison and C.W. Trevena report from No. 110 (AC) Squadron and Flying Officers D.P.  Brown, P.W. Lochnan and R.W.G. Norris report from No. 112 (AC) Squadron.
31 August

During the first sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron aircraft are “bounced” by German fighters, and three Hurricanes are shot down. All three pilots bail out; Flying Officer W.P. Sprenger is uninjured, but Flight Lieutenant V.B. Corbett and Flying Officer G.G. Hyde suffer burns to their faces, hands and legs.

During the second sortie of the day, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron engages German fighters and bombers, destroying three, claiming one probably destroyed and damaging a further two. Flying Officer J.P.J. Desloges is shot down but survives, albeit with severe burns.

1 September As part of the RAF response to a large German formation, nine Canadians from No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant G.R. McGregor, destroy one aircraft and damage a further five. Flying Officer A. Yuile is shot down but bailes out safely. Flying Officer J.W. Kerwin is also forced to bail out, landing near Maidstone with burns to his hands and face. Flying Officer E. Beardmore’s Hurricane is badly damaged, but he manages to nurse it back to base.
2 September Flight Lieutenant V.B. Corbett and Flying Officers J.P.J. Desloges, J.W. Kerwin and G.G. Hyde are transferred to No. 112 (AC) Squadron to recover from wounds they had received in combat.
3 September Pilot Officer C.R. Bonseigneur, age 22, from Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, is killed in action while serving with No. 257 Squadron when his Hurricane aircraft is shot down near Chelmsford, United Kingdom. He is buried in the Saffron Walden Cemetery, England.
4 September

Flying Officer A.A.G. Trueman, age 26, from Sackville, New Brunswick, is killed in action while flying a Hurricane with No. 253 Squadron. He is buried in the Whyteleafe Cemetery, Surrey, England.

During the first sortie of the day, and while a group of Canadian journalists were visiting, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron is in the thick of things again, claiming two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and six damaged – at no loss to themselves.

Phase 4:7 September–31 October The main enemy attacks shift to London, but airfields, cities and ships within range of German aircraft are sporadically engaged. Losses incurred in large air battles during the mid-September attacks cause the Germans to rethink their plans. Although at times the fighting is heavy, by the end of October, the Battle of Britain is over.
7 September

The focus of the Luftwaffe main effort shifts to London.

Pilot Officer J. Benzie, age 25, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is killed while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. A body found in 1981 is believed to be his. He is commemorated on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, England.

Squadron Leader E.A. McNab claims one Me-109 as probably destroyed.

8 September Sub-Lieutenant (Pilot) J. C. Carpenter, age 21, from Toronto, Ontario, a member of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm serving on His Majesty’s Ship Daedalus (a naval air station) but attached to No. 54 Squadron as a flying officer, is killed in action when his Spitfire goes missing. He is commemorated on the Fleet Air Arm Lee-on-Solent Memorial, Hampshire, United Kingdom.
9 September

Pilot Officer K.M. Sclanders, age 24, from Saint John, New Brunswick, is killed when his Hurricane aircraft is lost while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. He is buried in Whyteleafe Cemetery, Surrey, England.

The RAF scrambles 26 squadrons to intercept a force of between 300 and 350 enemy aircraft attacking London. No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron claims one Me-109 destroyed and three damaged. Flying Officer O.J. Peterson claims the sole victory of the day, but his aircraft is damaged and his windscreen shattered by debris from the Me‑109. With his face cut and blood obscuring his vision, he manages to regain control of his Hurricane and returned to base. Flying Officer W.B.M. Millar is wounded in the leg and forced to bail out of his stricken aircraft, suffering additional burns in the process.

11 September

Pilot Officer H.D. Edwards, age 24, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is shot down over Kent while flying with No. 92 Squadron. He is buried at Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, England.

No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron is in action as part of a 19-squadron RAF response to another large German formation attacking London. At approximately 1615 hours (4:15 p.m.), under the leadership of Squadron Leader E.A. McNab, they attack a formation of Heinkel (He) 111s at 14,000 feet [4,267 metres]. Three of the bombers are destroyed and a further two damaged. Flying Officer T.B. Little, though wounded in the leg, successfully bails out of his damaged Hurricane. Flying Officer P.W. Lochnan is shot down and crash-lands his aircraft near Romney, walking away without a scratch.

15 September

Two large air assaults against England are met and defeated by Fighter Command. Luftwaffe losses total 80 aircraft destroyed or damaged compared to the RAF’s 35. The German High Command is shocked and re-evaluates the planned invasion of England. Henceforth, German bombers would mainly attack at night. This day is officially celebrated as “Battle of Britain Day.”

No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron is “bounced” by Me-109s over Biggin Hill on their first sortie of the day. One enemy aircraft is shot down by Flying Officer A.D. Nesbitt who is, in turn, shot down. He bails out of his aircraft, suffering head injuries. In the same engagement, Flying Officer R. Smither from London, Ontario, age 30, is shot down and killed. He is the second fatal casualty from the unit and is buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, England.

Approximately two and a half hours later, on their second sortie, No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron intercepts a formation of 15 to 20 Heinkel (He) 111 bombers. Two enemy aircraft are shot down, three are probably destroyed and a further two damaged. Although the Canadians suffer no losses, Flying Officer A. Yuile is wounded in the shoulder but makes it safely back to base.

17 September Hitler officially cancels the planned invasion of England.
18 September Despite several scrambles during the day, there is little combat as the majority of enemy aircraft remain above 20,000 feet [6,096 metres] where the performance of the Hurricane is degraded. Despite this limitation, Pilot Officer O.J. Peterson engages Me-109s at 27,000 feet [8,230 metres] and claims one destroyed and one probably destroyed. During one of these events, Flying Officer E. W. B. Beardmore becomes separated from the unit and finds himself flying with No. 229 Squadron. His aircraft is damaged and he is forced to bail out, suffering minor injuries upon landing.
24 September Pilot Officer J. Bryson, age 27, from Westmount, Quebec, is killed while flying with No. 92 Squadron. He is buried in North Weald, Basset Churchyard, England.
25 September Air Marshal William “Billy” Bishop, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross visits No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron at Northolt.
26 September His Majesty King George VI visits No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron at Northolt.
27 September

The Germans make multiple assaults throughout the day, and No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron is in almost constant combat, with 12 aircraft sent aloft for the first scramble of the day, eight for the second and only six for the third. By the end of the day, the Canadians claim four enemy aircraft destroyed, with the destruction of a further seven shared with other RAF squadrons, one probably destroyed and four damaged.

Flying Officer O.J. Peterson from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, age 24, is shot down and killed. He is the third and final fatal casualty during the Battle of Britain from No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron. He is buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, England.

28 September Flying Officer J.G. Boyle, age 26, from Ottawa, Ontario, is killed while flying with No. 41 Squadron. He is buried in Lynsted Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.
7 October Pilot Officer H.D. Edwards, age 24, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is killed in action while flying a Spitfire with No. 92 Squadron. He is credited with 3½ enemy aircraft destroyed and four probably destroyed. He is buried at Hawkinge Cemetery, Kent, United Kingdom.
8 October Pilot Officer G.H. Corbett, age 20, from Victoria, British Columbia, is killed while serving with No. 66 Squadron. Forced to bail out of his damaged aircraft, he does not survive the descent. He is buried in the St. Mary Churchyard Extension, Upchurch, Kent, England.
9 October No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, having been in continuous combat for almost two months, is transferred to Prestwick, Scotland, to rest and rebuild.
17 October

Pilot Officer N.N. Campbell, age 21, from St. Thomas, Ontario, is killed while serving with No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron. He is buried in Scottow Cemetery, Norfolk, England.

Pilot Officer H.W. Reilley, age 22, from London, Ontario, is killed while serving with No. 66 Squadron. His Spitfire is shot down by Luftwaffe Kommodore (squadron commander) Major W. Molder near Westerham, United Kingdom. He is buried in Gravesend Cemetery, England.

19 October Flying Officer G.F. McAvity, age 29, from Little River, New Brunswick, is killed in action while flying a Hurricane aircraft with No. 3 Squadron.
22 October

Squadron Leader E.A. McNab is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services as commanding officer of No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron during the Battle of Britain.

Flight Lieutenant G.R. McGregor and Flying Officer B.D. Russel are each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their services during the Battle of Britain.

26 October No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron is transferred to Duxford to rest and rebuild.

 Major Bill March, a maritime air combat systems officer, has spent over 38 years in uniform.  He is currently a member of the Air Reserve, serving as the RCAF Historian within the Directorate of RCAF History and Heritage.

ABBREVIATIONS

AbbreviationAbbreviation meaning
AC Army Cooperation
He Heinkel
Me Messerschmitt
RAF Royal Air Force
RCAF Royal Canadian Air Force

  

NOTE 

[i]. “The Battle of Britain: Phases,” Imperial War Museum, accessed February 24, 2015, http://archive.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/27/battleofbritain/phase0.htm.