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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History


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Second World War
Troops and Traditions

Air Operations

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) numbered just over 4,000 officers and men, and had 53 aircraft deemed suitable for active service. By August 1945, nearly a quarter of a million men and women had entered the service, and 85 squadrons had seen active service in North America, North-West Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean, South East Asia, and in the skies over the ocean. In addition, the RCAF had assumed responsibility for training thousands of Commonwealth and allied aircrew in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

As with the histories of the land war, any understanding of the history of the RCAF must begin with the official histories. Two volumes cover the war years : Douglas's The Creation of a National Air Force deals with RCAF operations in North America, the Battle of the Atlantic as fought from the East Coast and the BCATP; while The Crucible of War, by Brereton Greenhous and a writing team from the Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence, treats the air war overseas. F.J. Hatch's The Aerodrome of Democracy is the official account of the BCATP, but much of its story is incorporated into The Creation of a National Air Force.

Because the official histories have appeared relatively recently, there has so far not been much revision by independent historians to the interpretations offered in them. The story of Canada's largest formation overseas, no. 6 Group of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, has also been told by William Carter, then re-packaged in an enlarged and more popular account by Carter and Spencer Dunmore, Reap the Whirlwind. Perhaps the television episode "Death by Moonlight : Bomber Command" of the McKenna brothers' series The Valour and the Horror, listed under "Film and Video" in the Art, Music and Literature section, has done as much to stimulate thought and writing about this most important part of the RCAF's operations overseas.

Much of the air force literature takes the form of memoir and biography and a number of examples are listed under "Air Force" in the Personal Stories section. In general, the most perceptive memoirs are from bomber aircrew, but there are a number of good fighter pilots' accounts. Alexander Velleman's account is one of the few ground crew stories. See also the works under "War Crimes and Prisoners of War", later in this section, for accounts of downed aircrew.

Bishop, Arthur. -- Destruction at dawn : the air-raid coded "Bodenplatte" : Luftwaffe vs. the Allies, New Year's Day, 1945. -- Toronto : McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1998. -- 295 p.

Carter, William S. -- Anglo-American wartime relations, 1939-1945 : RAF Bomber Command and no. 6 (Canadian) Group. -- New York : Garland Pub., 1991. -- 204 p.

  • A published version of the author's Ph.D. thesis

Christie, Carl A. ; Hatch, Fred. -- Ocean bridge : the history of RAF Ferry Command. -- Toronto : Univ. of Toronto Press, 1995. -- 458 p.

  • Ferry Command, with its headquarters at Dorval, Que., was the only British operational command based in North America

  • Its mixed military and civilian aircrew delivered mainly American-made aircraft by air across the Atlantic

* Douglas, W.A.B. -- The creation of a national air force. -- [S.l.]: Univ. of Toronto Press in cooperation with the Dept. of National Defence and the Canadian Government Pub. Centre, 1986. -- 797 p. -- (The official history of the Royal Canadian Air Force, vol. II). -- Also published in French under the title: La création d'une aviation militaire nationale

  • Policy and operations of the RCAF in North America and in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945

Dunmore, Spencer. -- Above and beyond : the Canadians' war in the air, 1939-45. -- Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1996. -- 384 p.

Dunmore, Spencer ; Carter, William. -- Reap the whirlwind : the untold story of 6 Group, Canada's bomber force of World War II. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1991. -- 437 p.

* Greenhous, Brereton ; Halliday, Hugh A. -- Canada's air forces, 1914-1999. -- Montreal : Art global, 1999. -- 158 p. -- Also published in French under the title: L'aviation militaire canadienne 1914-1999

  • Another of the popular Art global publications prepared by the Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence

* Greenhous, Brereton, et al. -- The crucible of war, 1939-1945. -- [S.l.] : Univ. of Toronto Press in co-operation with the Dept. of National Defence and the Canadian Government Pub. Centre, 1994. -- xxiv, 1,096 p. -- (The official history of the Royal Canadian Air Force, vol. III). -- Also published in French under the title: Le creuset de la guerre, 1939-1945

  • Policy and operations of the RCAF overseas

McCaffery, Dan. -- Battlefields in the air : Canadians in the Allied Bomber Command -- Toronto : J. Lorimer, 1995. -- 196 p.

  • Prompted to re-evaluate a well-trodden subject by the critical work of the McKenna brothers in The Valour and the Horror (see under Film and Video in the Art, Music and Literature section), McCaffery has produced a pro-air force assessment of the air war

_____. -- Hell island. -- Toronto : J. Lorimer, 1998. -- 214 p.

  • Canadian pilots and the 1942 air battle for Malta

* Melnyk, T.W. -- Canadian flying operation in South East Asia, 1941-1945. -- Ottawa : Supply and Services Canada, 1976. -- xi, 180 p. -- (Department of National Defence Directorate of History occasional paper no.1). -- Also published in French under the title: Les opérations aériennes du Canada dans le Sud-Est asiatique, 1941-1945

Rodney, W. -- Deadly mission : Canadian airmen over Nuremberg, March 30th/31st 1944. -- Ottawa : CEF Books, 2001. -- [42] p. -- (Access to history, no. 8)

  • An introductory account of the most deadly night of the war for bomber aircrew

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