No. 1 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War

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No.1 Squadron, RCAF, was part of Canada's pre-war Permanant Force, and moved to Britain early in the Second World War, where it fought in the Battle of Britain, before being renumbered as No.401 Squadron in March 1941.

The squadron was formed at Trenton, Ontario, in June 1937 as No.1 (Fighter) Squadron, part of the RCAF's small Permanent Force. Before moving to the UK it was reinforced by men from No.115 (Fighter) Squadron of Montreal. It was commandered by Squadron Leader E A. McNab.

The squadron departed for the United Kingdom on 9 June, and arrived on 19 June, making it the third Canadian squadron to arrive (after Nos.110 and 112). It's first base was Middle Wallop, where it was equipped with the Hawker Hurricane.

In July 1940 the squadron moved to Croydon, where it began six weeks of intensive training, spending the days at Northolt. This came to the end just after the start of the Battle of Britain in August 1940, but at this point only the squadron leader and F/L G.R. McGregor had any operational experience, having spent some of the period operating with No.3 Squadron, RAF.

McNab's first combat experience came on 15 August, when he was part of a force from No.3 Squadron that was sent up to intercept a force of Do 215s and Bf 109s. McNab was credited with one of the Do 215s. On the following day the Luftwaffe actually bombed Croydon, but the Canadains were away training at Northholt, so missed the action.

On 17 August the squadron moved to Northolt and became officially operational within Fighter Command, making it one of only five new squadrons to join Fighter Command during the battle. However over the next nine days they had no encounters with the Germans, despite being scrambled on several occasions.

Their blank slate finally ended on 26 August, when they were ordered to North Weald to relieve an exhausted RAF unit. Their second sortie of the day saw them intercept a force of Do 215s and Bf 109s. A Spitfire squadron intercepted the fighter escort, allowing the Canadians to attack the bombers. In this first clash for the squadron they claimed three Do 215s destroyed and four damaged, but at the cost of one dead (F/O R. L. Edwards). The squadron saw combat again on 31 August, 1 September and 4 September. The Germans then moved to the attack on London. On the first day the Canadians remained over their base, but during the second large scale raid, on 9 September, they joined the large force that attacked the raiders. The squadron took part in a series of battles against the day attacks, including the massive battle on 15 September (later to become Battle of Britain Day). The next ten days were quiet for No.1 Squadron, but it did include the squadron's first operation as part of a fighter wing, when it operated alongside No.229 Squadron and No.303 (Polish) Squadron on 21 September. The squadron was involved in the heavy fighting on 27 September, seen at the time as being as important as that of the 15th. However the day came at a heavy cost to the Canadians, who were only able to put six men into the air for their third scramble of the day. The squadron's last sortie of the battle came on 5 October, against a formation of Bf 109s and Bf 110s near Maidstone.

On 7 October the squadron was relieved, and the survivors moved north to Prestwick, Scotland, for a rest. This came after 53 days in the front line in which the squadron claimed 31 enemy aircraft destroyed, in return for 16 Hurricanes lost, three pilots killed and 10 wounded or injured - a high casualty raid. Before they moved north the King visited the squadron and issued the DFC to McNab, McGregor and F/O B.D Russel.

The squadron remained in Scotland until February 1941, when it moved south to Driffield in Yorkshire. This meant it was close to No.2 Squadron, RCAF, a little to the south at Digby in Lincolnshire, and the two units spent several months flying patrols to protect convoys along the east coast.

On 1 March 1941 the squadron was renumbered as No.401 Squadron, as part of a general scheme to put Commonwealth squadrons together in the 400s.

Aircraft
June 1940-March 1941: Hawker Hurricane I

Location
June-July 1940: Middle Wallop
July-August 1940: Croydon
August-October 1940: Northolt
October-December 1940: Prestwick
December 1940-February 1941: Castletown
February-March 1941: Driffield

Squadron Codes: YO

Duty
RAF Fighter Command

Books

 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 April 2021), No. 1 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RCAF/1_wwII.html

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