24 October 2016 | Nanton, Alberta, Canada. This past August Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) in Nanton, Alberta celebrated 30 years of existence. One of the organization’s ongoing initiatives is remembering and honouring Americans who volunteered and served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War.
Notably, Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial resides on the lawn outside the BCMC facility, and a significant number of the names inscribed on the monolith belong to Americans who died during RCAF service.
The RCAF played an important role in staffing the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which also supplied a sizeable number of personnel to RCAF and RAF (Royal Air Force) combat squadrons, and, notably, in excess of 25 percent of the pilots comprising the legendary RAF Eagle Squadrons were trained by Canada and wore RCAF wings.
The American component of the RCAF totalled over 8,800 and the number of “Yanks” serving in the RAF was more than 750. Combined then, the two aerial combat services possessed some 9,550 personnel, both male and female, from the United States.
The databases of Americans, who hailed from all of the 48 states in the union at the time and also from what was then the Territory of Hawaii, in the RCAF and RAF who were killed-in-action now totals 829 airmen. This tally is being revised upwards as overlooked or lost records are discovered and examined.
To date a review of documentation reveals that during the period May – June 1942, which was after the attack on Pearl Harbour, in excess of 1,750 RCAF-Americans transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). By November 1943 an additional group, which numbered just over 2,700, of RCAF and RAF-Americans had also completed reassignment to USAAF. In totality, transfers to USAAF exceeded 4,450.
Importantly, many of these highly trained and experienced individuals were combat veterans. A fact not to be forgotten is that more than 5,100 RCAF-Americans remained in the RCAF until their terms of service were fulfilled.
The lack of remembrance and recognition is a result of several factors. One is that many Americans in the RCAF that were killed-in-action (KIA) are listed in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as “Canadian citizens.” Also, there were over 110 RCAF-Americans who were KIA (while flying in Canadian combat aircraft) that had already transferred to the USAAF but had not yet been mobilized by the USAAF in England. (This particular group of RCAF-Americans represents true unknown heroes both in the USA and in Canada.) As a result of the foregoing, RCAF histories and Rolls of Honour do not list these 110 American airmen and, unfortunately, RAF documents also reflect this oversight.
In July of this year, legislation was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives which would authorize a Congressional Gold Medal for over 9,200 valiant Americans who were members of the RCAF or RAF during World War II. The bill at long last recognizes their service, and during August retired Lt Gen (Ret) Charles Cleveland, President of the American Fighter Aces Association, sent a letter pledging support for the legislative initiative to Congressman Tim Ryan’s office. It is currently believed that the “Congressional Gold Medal for Americans Who Served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force in WWII” act will pass with bipartisan support in January 2017 or soon thereafter.
Related to those U.S. citizens who were killed, it is important to note that Canadians and RCAF-Americans were primarily posted to RCAF Bomber Command squadrons which were equipped with various marks of British-built Handley Page Halifaxes. (Later models of these warplanes arguably became the most versatile bombers in the Bomber Command inventory.)
It has been found that the greatest numbers of RCAF-Americans killed-in-action (within bombers) were flying aboard the Halifax aircraft. This percentage is not surprising when one takes into account that approximately 70% of all RCAF bomber-related combats between 1942 and 1945 involved Handley Page Halifaxes. Essentially then, the foregoing research, which was conducted by Bomber Command Museum of Canada and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada),indicates that the Halifax is to be credited with the fourth-highest tally of American casualties in bombers.
Intact Halifaxes are very rare birds indeed. An example nests at the National Air Force Museum of Canada at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, and the other roosts inside the Yorkshire Air Museum at the former RAF Elvington.
Fortunately, Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) has located at least two submerged Halifaxes. One was being piloted by an American off the coast of Ireland before being forced to ditch due to fuel supply issues and the second went down into shallow Swedish waters. If adequate funding can be secured, the remains of both airplanes will be recovered.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (NMUSAF) exhibits an exquisite Hawker Hurricane Mk IIa and Supermarine SpitfireMk Vc, fighter types flown by American RAF Eagle Squadron pilots. Patrons may also see an immaculate Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and Boeing B-29 Superfortress. This trio, being the primary strategic aerial bombing platforms utilized by the U.S. Army Air Forces during the Second World War, recorded the highest U.S. crew casualty rates for heavy bombers. Additionally, the research referenced in previous paragraphs, which was conducted by Bomber Command Museum of Canada and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), indicates that the Halifax is to be credited with the fourth-highest tally of American casualties.
Considering the number of Americans who died in Halifaxes, it would be fitting if NMUSAF possessed an example to place with the U.S.-built heavies. With luck additional wrecks await discovery and at some point a Halifax will be obtained and restored by NMUSAF for the benefit of future generations of American aviation aficionados.
The author (John Stemple) thanks Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard and Bomber Command Museum of Canada for supplying the statistical information above and the organization’s efforts to honour the American volunteers.
To date BCMC has assisted with ceremonies at the Virginia War Memorial, and Clearwater and Winter Haven, Florida. The Colorado Aviation Historical Society and Hickory Aviation Museum (North Carolina) plan related events in 2017. Note: An edited (brief) version of the above is to appear in a future issue of the Air Force Museum Foundation‘s Friends Journal periodical.