28th July 2016 | Lakeland, Florida. Occasionally, an event takes place that pulls back the shroud of time and presents one with a glimpse into the personal lives of those long departed. A Commemorative Air Force colonel was a participant in such an occurrence in December 2015, and next month he will participate in a related donation ceremony whereby he will be return a small piece of Canadian military history to Canada. The aviator agreed to detail to 20th Century Aviation Magazine how this all came about, his interest in Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) history and to discuss two CAF connections to the RCAF.
On 19th August 2016 CAF Col. John Stemple will donate and thereby repatriate an inscribed Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) New Testament (aka “Pocket Bible”) to Bomber Command Museum of Canada. The CAF member unexpectedly and surprisingly located the Pocket Bible, which was being sold to the highest bidder, online while searching in the days immediately preceding scheduled memorial ceremonies. These January 2016 events honored Floridians who volunteered and served with the RCAF and RAF during the Second World War. One took place in Clearwater and the second at Winter Haven Municipal Airport (designated “KGIF” by the Federal Aviation Administration).
Those who are nonreligious attribute a series of occurrences and strange timings to be mere coincidence and a result of randomness. However, the more spiritually inclined do not believe in coincidences but sometimes rather ascribe inexplicable and converging incidents to the work of the Almighty.
For Col. Stemple the recent events and future ceremony have multiple and special meanings because he possesses Alaskan Inuit Native American and British Columbia Coast Salish First Nations ancestry. He also flies an airplane, a make and model of which saw service as late as 2012 with the Alaska State Defense Force/Alaska National Guard, that bears an Inuit nickname and Coast Salish-inspired nose art. When discovered the RCAF New Testament was located in British Columbia.
RCAF Pilot Officer George Kenneth Renaud’s mother (Ann) obtained, inscribed and presented the RCAF New Testament to her navigator son, who would serve in a squadron flying Handley-Page Halifax bombers, with the book in 1943.
The publication contains an introductory message from King George VI, and on the inside back cover she proudly and lovingly wrote the following comforting words: “To my son Kenneth. From Mother. July 6 – 1943. Lord lead you to the task that lies ahead of you, to the labour of reuniting the nations of the earth, to the peace founded not on force but on the respect of free men. Amen.”
George Renaud soon found himself in England with 415 Squadron.
On 12th July 1944, Swordfish Squadron (No. 415) was officially transferred from 16 Group Coastal Command to 6 Group Bomber Command and based at East Moor, Yorkshire. The unit re-equipped with the Handley Page Halifax Mk. III heavy bomber, and Renaud was a member of and the crew assigned to aircraft serial LW595. This mammoth British-built flying machine was identified by the designation 6U-Q on the sides of the fuselage.
The Bomber Command War Diaries An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945‘s entry states (page 552) that on this fateful night of 28/29 July 1944 Bomber Command, and therefore Renaud (who was now holding the rank “Flying Officer” [F/O]) and his mates, were tasked with missions to Hamburg, Germany. A total of 307 aircraft (187 Halifaxes, 106 Avro Lancasters and 14 de Havilland Mosquitoes) from 1, 6 and 8 Groups comprised the attacking force. It was the first heavy raid on the city in a year and 415 Squadron’s initial combat employment of their new Halifaxes.
Defending Luftwaffe night fighters intercepted the intrepid raiders when most were homeward bound. The casualty rate among the Halifaxes was 9.6%, and LW595 was one of the 18 Halifaxes shot down. F/O Renaud’s mortally wounded Halifax crashed near Stotel at or around 2229 hours (10:29 p.m.) on 28 July.
George Kenneth Renaud had given his life in the defense of freedom and Democracy. He was 27 years of age at the time of his death. Eventually his remains were interred in Germany at Sage War Cemetery, which is located 24 kilometers south of Oldenburg.
Col. Stemple concluded by stating the following: “The volume possesses both historical and religious significance. Flying Officer George Kenneth Renaud was one of the men who fought and died to preserve that right. I salute him and his RCAF mates.” The religious book belongs in Canada, and I am privileged to have located and purchased it. Now I have the honor of giving it to an organization dedicated to maintaining and promulgating the history of the RCAF-Americans.”
The donation of the New Testament is appropriate and timely because legislation (House Bill 5887) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month to authorize a Congressional Medal of Honor in recognition of the services and sacrifices of these valiant men and women who early-on took the initiative and helped to defend the Mother Country (England) and democracy.
As Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada has pointed out, more than 8,000 American citizens joined the RCAF. Recently he emphasized to 20th Century Aviation Magazine that a majority of the American men posted with RAF squadrons, including the famous RAF Eagle Squadrons, had first joined and processed through the RCAF. To provide a better perspective for readers, Mr. Kjarsgaard stressed the following facts: “The majority of Americans who flew in the RCAF and RAF were trained and flew for the Canadian air force wearing Canadian aircrew wings. Only 10-20% (700+) of Americans flying out of England for the RAF were actually trained by the Brits. The Canadians did the lion’s share of the training (8,000+) so it is a 10 to 1 ratio.”
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) has been collecting aircraft for nearly 50 years and according to the organization’s website “now ranks as one of the largest air forces in the world.” Currently, the CAF has approximately 13,000 members worldwide and maintains a fleet of more than 165 aircraft that represent in excess 60 different types, including aeroplanes from several foreign countries and other military conflicts since the Second World War.
Two CAF affiliated RCAF aircraft are worth noting: A Fleet Finch and Harvard, the Canadian version of the North American AT-6 (U.S. Army Air Forces designation) Texan or SNJ (U.S. Navy designation). Both airplanes are very significant to American and Canadian aviation legacies.
The CAF’s Rio Grande Valley Wing’s Fleet Finch 16B (FAA Registration N16BR, Serial Number CN 383) was constructed in 1940. It is powered by a Kinner B5 Series engine. Before the United States officially entered the conflict, thousands of Americans crossed the northern national border and enlisted in the RCAF. One of the primary trainers employed by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada was the Fleet Finch.
Future RCAF airmen, including the American volunteers, were required to first master the Finch before progressing eventually to the more powerful Harvard, a post-war (1952) production example (N421QB) which is maintained and operated by CAF’s Alaska Wing. It is a Harvard Mk IV (S/N CCF-4-212) that was manufactured by Canadian Car & Foundry.
This aesthetically stunning plane is powered by a Pratt and Whitney single-row R-1340 radial engine rated at 600 horsepower. Pilots advanced to this (Harvard or AT-6) advanced trainer in both RCAF and US. Army Air Force training programs, before transitioning to fighters or bombers.
Harvards were still an RCAF mainstay during the early 1950s, and during the Korean War Canadian pilots flew combat missions as Sabre Jet exchange pilots with the U.S. Air Force.
Sadly, the CAF fleet is missing an important 4-engine behemoth that was often crewed by RCAF-Americans: the Handley-Page Halifax heavy bomber.
Karl Kjarsgaard found that many of the American casualties were incurred by aircrews assigned to Halifax squadrons. In fact, statistically, the Halifax is the fourth most significant heavy bomber type in terms of Americans wounded or killed in action.
CAF members have over the decades actively supported one or more of the classic military aircraft operated by the organization. Considering the symbolic importance of the Fleet Finch, Harvard and Halifax to American military aviation history, CAF colonels and others may wish to sponsor in some way the Finch and Harvard.
They may also as well as being of financial assistance to the Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) Halifax recovery fundraising campaign.
Note: Interested individuals will soon be able to learn more about this topic via Nanton Aviation Station.
Contributing writer Susan Gale thanks to Ms. Leah Block of CAF Headquarters, Ms. Denise Chinchilla of CAF’s Alaska Wing, Mr. Tom Santos and Mr. Chris Hughston of the Rio Grande Valley Wing, and Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada for their cooperation and assistance during the preparation of this article. She is also thankful to Mr. Mike Green for permitting the usage of his Fleet Finch photo.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Middlebrook, Martin and Chris Everitt. The Bomber Command War Diaries. An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945. Penguin Books: London, 1990.
CAF Alaska Wing
Commemorative Air Force History
Halifax Rescue 57 (Canada)