THE RCAF OVER KOREA (1950-1953)
Meet Major-General Claude LaFrance, DFC, AM
The Royal Canadian Air Force trained its first group of post-war fighter pilots almost three years after the end of the Second World War. Among them was Claude LaFrance, newly graduated from Laval University in his hometown of Quebec City, Quebec.
He enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1947 and, after receiving his wings in 1948 at Centralia, Ontario, flew the DH-100 Vampire — Canada’s first jet fighter. When the Korean War broke out, he was instructing on that aircraft at the fighter school in Chatham, New Brunswick.
The Americans were flying F-86 Sabres in Korea and the school switched to the Sabre in early 1952. So the young instructor was seconded to the U.S. Air Force to gain combat experience.
“At that time, the Sabre was the only aircraft that had a chance against the Russian MiGs,” LaFrance said.
By May 1952, LaFrance was in Korea, flying as a wingman with 39 Fighter Interceptor Squadron in a Canadian-built Sabre. By the time he returned to Canada in October 1952, he had flown 50 missions, been promoted from flying officer to flight lieutenant, commanded a patrol of four aircraft and later a flight of 16 aircraft, and had shot down a MiG-15 (the pilot bailed out). The Americans awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for that success and for his leadership during his tour.
When General Jean-Victor Allard, Chief of the Defence Staff, decided to set up French-language units in the 1960s, he knew where to look for assistance. LaFrance was tasked with standing up 433 Squadron, a French language unit, staffed with francophones and bilingual anglophones. There had never been a French-language squadron in Canada, but LaFrance’s leadership and determination bought about the successful establishment of the squadron in 1969.
His last posting of his 34-year career was as chief of plans, policy and programs at NORAD headquarters in Colorado. He was honorary colonel of 1 Wing, the successor to 10 Tactical
Aviation Group — which he had commanded — from May 2003 to December 2007.
Claude LaFrance died in July 2014.