Role Northern development, sovereignty/home defence, civil air operations, military training and operations,
search and rescue, peacekeeping support.
Part of Department of National Defence
Headquarters Ottawa, Ontario
Motto "Per Ardua Ad Astra"—"Through Adversity to the Stars"
March "RCAF March Past"
Engagements Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic, European Bombing Campaigns, Battle of Normandy
and subsequent land campaigns
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was the air force of Canada from 1924 until 1968 when the
three branches of the Canadian military were merged into the Canadian Forces.
The Second World War
The outbreak of the Second World War saw the RCAF fielding eight of its eleven permanent operational squadrons,
but by October 1939 15 squadrons were available (12 for homeland defence, three for overseas service). There were over 20
different types of aircraft at this point, over half being for training or transport, and the RCAF started the war with only
29 front-line fighter and bomber aircraft. By the end of the war, the RCAF would be the fourth largest allied air force.
On 15 August 1940, during the Battle of Britain, No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron became the first RCAF unit to see action.
During the war, the RCAF had the following three key responsibilities:
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), Canada's massive contribution to training military aviators
would see the RCAF expand to a ubiquitous presence across the country.
Home War Establishment (HWE), fielding 37 squadrons for coastal defence, protection of shipping, air defence and
other duties in Canada
Overseas War Establishment (OWE), headquartered in London, fielding 48 squadrons serving with the
Royal Air Force in Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East.
Bomber Command Lancaster over HamburgThe
RCAF played key roles in the Battle of Britain, antisubmarine warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic, the bombing campaigns
against German industries (particularly with No. 6 Group, RAF Bomber Command), and close support of Allied forces during the
Battle of Normandy and subsequent land campaigns in northwest Europe.
The RCAF reached peak strength of 215,000 (all ranks) in January 1944 (including 15,000 women). Of that
total, 100,000 were training air and ground personnel in the BCATP, 65,000 with HWE, and 46,000 with OWE. At that time there
were 78 squadrons, 43 at home, 35 overseas. Approximately 13,000 RCAF personnel were either killed or died as prisoners of
war, and another 4000 died during training or from other causes.
Women of the RCAF Women's Division ("WD"s) took over many wartime responsibilities from men, who were made
available for combat and other operational duties and to instruct in British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools across
Canada. Many WDs also served overseas. Thirty WDs would die during the Second World War.
On the homefront, the RCAF developed a volunteer organization called the Aircraft Identity Corps to assist
in the early detection of enemy aircraft.
The Royal Canadian Air Force used a rank structure similar to that of the Royal Air Force, with the exceptions
of the RCAF having the rank of Warrant Officer 2 and not having the rank of Senior Aircraftsman. Ranks are listed with the
most senior rank at the top.
Air Chief Marshal / maréchal en chef de l'Air
Air Marshal / maréchal de l'Air
Air Vice-Marshal / vice-maréchal
Air Commodore / commodore de l'Air
Group Captain / colonel d'aviation
Wing Commander / lieutenant-colonel
Squadron Leader / commandant d'aviation
Flight Lieutenant / capitaine d'aviation
Flying Officer / lieutenant
Pilot Officer / sous-lieutenant d'aviation
Officer Cadet / élève-officier
Warrant Officer, class 1
/ adjudant de 1re classe
Warrant Officer, class 2 / adjudant de 2e classe
Flight Sergeant / sergent de section
Corporal / caporal
Leading Aircraftman / aviateur-chef
Aircraftman / aviateur
In 1964 the Canadian government decided to merge the RCAF with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army
to form the unified Canadian Forces. The aim of the merger was to reduce costs and increase operating efficiency. The
Minister of National Defence, Paul Hellyer stated on 4 November 1966 that "the amalgamation...will provide the flexibility
to enable Canada to meet in the most effective manner the military requirements of the future. It will also establish Canada
as an unquestionable leader in the field of military organization." On 1 February 1968, unification was completed and
the RCAF ceased to exist.
Initially air force and naval aviation personnel were scattered among five commands of the new force, but
in 1975, Canadian Forces Air Command (AIRCOM) was created, and most aviation units were placed under it. AIRCOM preserves
many traditions of the RCAF, such as the RCAF tartan and the command march, "RCAF March Past." In 1988, Canadian air force
personnel returned to the traditional blue uniform colour used by the RCAF, and in 1993 air force formations called wings
were reintroduced within AIRCOM, echoing the similar structure of the RCAF thirty years previously. The army-style ranks which
were instituted upon unification, however, were retained and the RAF-derived RCAF ranks and insignia were not re-adopted.
Second World War Recruiting poster
Photo of F.G."Jerry" Fellows signing document during his post war career with the R.C.A.F.
F.G. Fellows mid 1960's.
Photo of a R.C.A.F. gathering. F.G. Fellows is seated in the back with wife Aileen beside him, closest to
the wall. Notice the different squadron crests in background.
RCAF badge (version with St. Edward's or Queen's crown)