The Merlin Engine

The development of what was to become the Merlin was inspired by a prestigious marine aviation competition commonly known as the Schneider Trophy. In 1913, French businessman Jacques Schneider offered a 1000-pound prize to the fastest plane to fly a closed circuit with two loops and two returns over 400 kilometers. The first nation to win three consecutive races would keep the trophy in perpetuity. England had some success in these competitions, winning the 1914 and 1922 events, but was upset in 1923 and 1925 by American entries using Curtiss biplanes and engines. England would return to glory, spurred on by the efforts of a new young British aeronautical engineer, R.J. Mitchell. He was working for Supermarine Aviation Works, a relatively small company until acquired by Vickers in 1928. The United Kingdom took the 1927 Schneider Trophy flying a Mitchell-designed Supermarine S.5 powered by the Napier Lion engine. Keith stated the Wblock engine produced 890 horsepower, and was likely in production longer than any other aero engine, from 1917 right up until the 1930s.  [ More info … ]

The contents of this article were originally presented to the CAHS Toronto Chapter at a meeting on October 22, 2011. All material has been edited and adapted for this website.

Meet the 97-year-old Second World War veteran who’s helping a new video game take off

Bob Middleton, who flew on Lancaster bombers, helped with a new project from MicroProse Canada

[ Read the Full Article ]

RAF Second Tactical Air Force

The wide-ranging operations of the RAF 2TAF ranged from the routine, to some that were rather hair-raising, to others that were tragic. Many young men had to endure hours of routine punctuated by sudden and unforgettable terror. Friends could be lost in a split second of flash and flame. Others became prisoners of war. More were grounded due to nervous exhaustion, which the RAF rather brutally and also controversially termed “lack of moral fibre”.  [ More info … ]

The contents of this article were originally presented to the CAHS Toronto Chapter at a meeting on December 1, 2018. All material has been edited and adapted for this website.

The B-25 History Project

The B-25 History Project is dedicated to honor and preserve the history of the B-25 and the men and women who built, flew, and maintain them; past, present, and future. In addition to thousands of digital documents, the project maintains both 2D and 3D physical archives containing hundreds of B-25 related artifacts. With well over 100 years of combined research experience, our resources give us a unique and comprehensive understanding of B-25 history. Our goal is to honor that history by utilizing it to inspire younger generations. [ More info … ]

Women’s Division, Royal Canadian Air Force

First In, Last Out, Glad Bryce – The Royal Canadian Air Force was the first service to allow women into its ranks, and women remained in the war effort longer than their counterparts in the army and navy. Glad recounted that when she meets with WDs, they often say, “we were first in, last out,” which became the inspiration for the book’s title. [ Read the whole story … ]

WWII Military Aviation Gallery

German Fighters

The legendary Messerschmitt Me 109 was the definitive German fighter plane that comes to mind for most of us when thinking of WWII.

This rival to the Spitfire and Hurricane in the Battle of Britain served in almost every theatre of war in WWII. First flown in September 1935, the Messerschmitt Me 109 was built in larger numbers than any other fighter in history. Although records are incomplete it is estimated that approximately 35,000 were built with a few thousand extra rebuilt from wrecks. It was designed by Willy Messerschmitt and was Germany’s first successful modern, low wing monoplane fighter and originally known as the Bf 109 after the Bavarian Flying Works (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke) factory that built it. The Bf 109B-1 model was sent to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and was flown by German Legion Condor Volunteers in support of Dictator Franco. The Bf 109 quickly gained air superiority over the Republican Forces (Communist) who were flying Russian- built and supplied I-15 biplanes and I-16 monoplanes. All of these early Bf 109s were powered by the Junkers Jumo 12-cylinder liquid-cooled engine of approximately 700 hp.  [ More info … ]

Battle of the Atlantic

Submarine captains would dare not surface their vessels in the presence of Allied Aircraft which could alert nearby naval vessels or attack the U-boat with air-launched weapons. Maritime air power is not specifically naval, nor does it focus on the traditional air force history of fighters and bombers. As a result, Richard said, the subject has often been overlooked or even ignored by naval historians and aviation enthusiasts. The Mid-Atlantic Air Gap, also known as “the Black Pit,” consisted of a giant hole in the air cover over the main trade routes between Britain and North America. It stretched 300 miles across from east to west, and 600 miles north to south from Greenland to the Azores Islands. In 1942 and 1943, Germany focused most of its U-boat fleet against Allied convoys in this area. Free from aerial attack, U-boats were easily able to move on the surface at night and target poorly protected convoys.

In fact, the U-boats were deadliest operating on the surface at night. They took a devastating toll, playing a major role in the sinking of more than six million tons of Allied shipping during 1942-43. The need to provide enough aircraft to close the air gap and ensure complete protection of the convoys became one of the greatest issues for the Allies. Although the British recognized the problem by 1941, the gap wasn’t closed until the spring of 1943. The reasons are complex. Canadian naval historian Marc Milner has said the failure to close the gap earlier remains one of the great historical problems of the war. [ More info … ]

Battle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

The battle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from 1942 to 1944 is described as “Canada’s unknown war.” It is only in the past 10 years that the story has received extensive coverage. Many Canadians don’t realize that the war came to Canada. Twenty-three merchant ships, and four warships, were lost in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to U-boats. More than 360 lives were lost. Thirteen German submarines were involved. Many Canadians are unaware that U-boats advanced to within 300 kilometers of Quebec City. Peter maintained it can be said that when considering all of the casualties, Canada lost the war in the Gulf despite the ultimate victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.  [ More info … ]

German Military Planning Pre-WWII – Battle of the Atlantic

The following is an edited excerpt from the book, “Shorty, An Aviation Pioneer”, Author James Glassco Henderson. Courtesy – Trafford Publishing

At the end of December, 1936, famous bush pilot, Babe Woollett, arrived in Rimouski, Quebec in a Fairchild 82 with a load of passengers, their equipment and a fantastic story. He had been engaged for about a month surveying Anticosti Island on a special contract arranged by a Dutch company which had explained that they were interested in the forestry industry and were looking into the possibility of buying the whole island. When the company experts arrived, it became obvious that they were not Dutch and not one of them had any noticeable skills in the pulpwood business. Two were officers in the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, one was in the Wehrmacht, the German Army and the fourth was a German Naval Captain. After completing the survey, they had thrown a huge Christmas party, complete with a tree covered in German decorations, at Port Menier,

located on the western tip of the island. During it they made sure that every local citizen received an elaborate gift from their apparently inexhaustible supply of Scotch and engraved wrist watches. All of which was accomplished with the strains of “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” playing quietly on a gramophone in the background.

On their arrival back at Rimouski in bad weather they hastily loaded their newly marked maps and aerial photos onto the train and departed, leaving Woollett and his mechanic to wait out the weather in the St. Laurent Hotel. Woollett was able to fly to Montreal the following day where he reported to the authorities his clients, unusual activities, but until their real significance did not become fully apparent until several years later when, during World War II, Nazi submarines frequently operated quite comfortably in the waters surrounding Anticosti Island.

David Hornell’s Victoria Cross

Hornell’s crew abandoned the Canso and launched two dinghies. When one of the dinghies exploded like a pricked balloon, (Apparently from over-inflation) the eight crew members were left with just one dinghy —- designed to hold four men —-in the cold North Atlantic with 30– foot swells. After eight hours had passed, the crew managed to signal a Catalina, a Norwegian aircraft from 333 Squadron, as it flew over. F/O Graham Campbell had three flares. Nothing happened when he tried to fire the first two but fortunately the third one went off and the Catalina crew saw it. In the meantime, the RAF had become aware of a Canso down, and sent out Air Sea Rescue Launch HSL 2507, equipped with long range fuel tanks, from the Shetland islands in 12 foot waves and deteriorating weather. After one engine failed the crew continued on for 17 hours and completed the rescue mission of the survivors.

The RAF rescue Launch was Captained by FL/Lt William Wakelin Garrett 50636 RAFR. He was later awarded the MBE for him and his crew’s valiant effort to reach the downed fliers. However, the rescue effort proved to be a harrowing ordeal which lasted for 21 hours in all. Three crew members died, including Hornell, who was the last to perish. When a Sunderland flying boat from the Norwegian Air Force was finally able to drop a dinghy close enough to the crew, the rescue came too late for the gallant Hornell. He died in the RAF rescue launch, blinded and exhausted, in spite of four hours of artificial respiration. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism in the attack and afterward. His was the first RCAF VC of the war. Many other richly deserved decorations were awarded for the events of June 24-25 1944. FO Campbell, for example, was awarded the DFC and Syd Cole was awarded a DFM. [ More info … ]

Air Battles of WWII Malta

The Allison Engine Story

In modern history Malta became a British Protectorate in 1813 and this was later confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Malta then developed as an important naval base for Britain and as headquarters for the Mediterranean fleet. Malta’s geographic position in the “Straits of Sicily” gave Britain control of almost all east-west sea traffic from Gibraltar to the Suez Canal, creating a major military advantage. This British asset was a detriment to Italy’s ambitious nationalistic plan to expand its southern national boundary to North Africa by expansion of its existing colonies in Libya. This massive plan included the annexation of Egyptian lands all the way to Suez. As an obstacle to Italy’s plans, Malta, therefore became a prime target. Italy then asked its Axis partner, Germany, to help in the removal of Malta as a threat to the completion of Italy’s ill advised bold annexation attack on other nations. Germany saw the advantage of the plan as a partner to Italy, since German participation would divert scarce British war resources from the European Theatre. After many centuries of domination and being ruled by others, Malta finally became an independent republic in 1974. [  Read the whole story …  ]

Double Threat - Ellin Bessner

In 1945, the Second World War came to an end. For the Jews of Canada, this war was what the Prime Minister of the day, Mackenzie King, called a “Double Threat”: he said Hitler was not only dangerous to freedom and democracy, but was a threat to the very survival of the Jewish people as a race. In spite of this backdrop, or maybe because of it, more nearly 17,000 Jewish Canadians enlisted in every branch of the service, and in the merchant marine. They fought and died in every major battle including Hong Kong, Dieppe, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, North Africa, Ortona, D-Day, Falaise, the Scheldt, and throughout Northwest Europe, and in the Pacific.

Over 190 received military honours for bravery. Nearly 450 did not come home. You can find Canadian Jewish military graves from WWll, in all corners of the world, including the large cemeteries of Normandy, as well as in Germany, England, and Holland…plus in far-flung places such as Iceland, Ghana, Libya, and Crete.

[More info …]

An Ordinary Hero

The movie industry has portrayed WWII fighter pilots as “tough as nails”, totally fearless men who were hungering for the next kill. On the big screen, the scene is one of unbroken action, the sound of machine gun fire and the sight of exploding enemy aircraft. Hollywood likes heroes, but is Hollywood’s depiction true? What was myth? What was reality? What was it like to face death? How did men survive years of war? How did it feel to kill another man, who had a mother and a father, brothers and sisters, perhaps a wife and children? How did a military serviceman adjust to civilian life after the war? “Surviving a war day after day made heroic demands upon an individual,” David quoted from the preface of his book. “Brief moments of frantic action highlighted a steady diet of tension, poor living conditions, and routine patrols. The constant psychic shocks, the crushing physical and psychological burdens, cannot be described in terms which relate to normal peacetime experience.”
[More info …]

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain, July to October 1940, took place 75 years ago last summer and fall. While the struggle is often described as “a damn close run thing!,” that phrase originated with British general Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. As Tim noted, the description is equally appropriate to the Battle of Britain. Tim played a broadcast by Winston Churchill when he rallied Britain after the fall of France: “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British [ More info … ]

Little Norway

Hitler attacked Norway on April 9, 1940. Norway’s armed forces were poorly equipped, partly due to a pacifist attitude common across Europe after World War I. Norway lacked a separate air force. Instead, the army and navy each had an airborne division called an air service. Most of the aircraft were antiques by the standards of the day, such as 45 Fokker C.V biplanes flown by the Army Air Service. One fighter squadron had 10 Gloster Gladiator biplanes. A handful of these aircraft battled German aircraft in dogfights, but they were no match for the Luftwaffe. As a German flotilla approached Oslofjord, the fortress’s guns and torpedoes sank the brand-new German heavy cruiser Blucher. The sinking delayed the capture of Oslo, allowing the king, government members and protectors of the treasury to escape before all of the targeted Norwegian cities were in German hands. [ More info … ]

Exile Air - Andrea Baston

After Germany invaded Norway during World War II, the Royal Norwegian Air Force took refuge in Canada to rebuild. Young Norwegian exiles came to the “Little Norway” training camps in Toronto and Muskoka, keen to learn flight skills and return to battle the Germans overseas.

This is the true story of the Royal Norwegian Air Force training camps located in Canada during World War II. It’s a tale of the courageous young Norwegians who endured dangerous escapes from their homeland to come to “Little Norway” in Toronto and Muskoka, Ontario. There, they learned flight skills and returned overseas to battle Nazi fighter planes and enemy submarines— and excelled. In 1943, one of the Norwegian squadrons was named the top-scoring Allied fighter squadron in all of Britain’s Royal Air Force.

“Exile Air tells a true, inspiring story from Norway’s and Canada’s history, more significant than ever during Canada’s 150th anniversary year. This 240 page book ($28.95) is available at www.oldstonebooks.comwww.amazon.ca and selected bookstores.

Air Cadets

By May 1942, the movement had grown to more than 10,000 Cadets in 135 squadrons. It peaked in September 1944, encompassing 29,000 Cadets in 374 squadrons, 1,750 officers and instructors, and another 200 civilians who supplied financial and other support. Air Cadets contributed to the war effort, and enjoyed opportunities to see, up close, the work of the RCAF at home. Training and instruction followed air force lines: drill (not too much) and discipline, instruction on aero engines, airframes, theory of flight, navigation, wireless and meteorology. Flying Schools offered summer camps for these young men from 15 to 18. The camps familiarized Air Cadets with most aspects of RCAF training, including drill, airmanship, navigation, wireless, aero engines, armaments, aircraft recognition and theory of flight. Cadets really enjoyed the camp activities and flights within the air force system. [ More info … ]

USAAF Air Crew Recruiting Program WWII

The requirements for new pilots resulted in a massive expansion of the Aviation Cadet Program, which eventually had so many volunteers that the USAAF had to establish a reserve pool to hold qualified pilot candidates until they could be called to active duty. The need for airbases, bombing and gunnery ranges, to handle all of this expansion resulted in the accelerated building of new permanent bases and the use of municipal and private airfields, college and factory sites. At the beginning of 1941 the Air Corps had 156 airfields, but by December 1943, the wartime peak was reached with 783 airfields in the Continental United States.
These airfields had a combined land area of 20 million acres. The need for aircraft was met by American industry which produced nearly 300,000 aircraft of all types from trainers to transport, bombers and fighters in WWII.[ More info … ]

Masters of the Air

The First World War, fought just over one hundred years ago, saw men fully engaged in a war in the air, shooting each other down at the first opportunity. It had been only a half a dozen years prior that the first known flight in Canada of a heavier-than-air machine, called the Silver Dart, flew across Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, under the watchful eye of Alexander Graham Bell. The famous inventor of the telephone spent his summers in Nova Scotia and took an interest in the creation of a flying machine. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the coming of the First World War advanced the technology of flying a thousandfold.

[More info …]