Gallery for No.120 Squadron

Gallery for No.120 Squadron

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Many thanks to Peter Claydon for sending us these pictures, which belonged to his uncle, C.W.J. Claydon, who spent much of the war serving as a medical officer with No.120 Squadron at Ballykelly, Northern Ireland.

Canadian Military Aviation Chronology 1939-1947

A detachment from No. 1 (F) Squadron at Calgary went to Sea Island to take delivery of the first Hawker Hurricane fighters issued to replace the long-obsolete Siskins. On 1 June S/L EG Fullerton ferried the first Hurricane from Vancouver to the squadron base at Calgary.

During the visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen, the RCAF provided aerial escorts and guards of honour. Three Stranraers escorted the Royal Yacht up the St. Lawrence on its arrival at Quebec, escorted RCN ships conveying the Royal Party to Prince Edward Island, and again escorted the Royal Yacht on its departure from Halifax. At Trenton five Wapiti and three Atlas aircraft flew on escort, and at Vancouver three Stranraers and five Hurricanes escorted Their Majesties on the trip to Victoria and back. While the King and Queen were in residence at Ottawa the RCAF provided the Royal Household Guard.

RCAF squadrons began moving to war stations. No .. 3 (B) Squadron’s Wapitis left Calgary en route to Halifax, followed five days later by No. 1 (F) Squadron en route to St Hubert. No. 2 (AC) Squadron began to move from Trenton to Halifax and thence to Saint John. No. 8 (GP) Squadron, after recalling its aircraft from detached photographic operations, left Ottawa for Sydney.

On the eve of the war the RCAF total strength was 4,061 officers and airmen (Permanent – 298 officers, 2,750 airmen Auxiliary – 112 officers, 901 airmen). It had 270 aircraft of 28 different types “service” types included twenty-two Wapitis, twenty Oxfords, nineteen Hurricanes, thirteen Atlas, twelve Deltas, eleven Sharks, ten Battles, nine Stranraers, five Siskins, four Norsemen and four Vancouvers.

The organization of the Force was:

  • Headquarters and Record Office, Ottawa
  • Western Air Command, Vancouver
  • Eastern Air Command, Halifax
  • Air Training Command, Toronto
  • Vancouver
  • Dartmouth
  • Ottawa (Photo Establishment, Test & Development Flight, Communication Flight)
  • Camp Borden (Intermediate Training Wing Headquarters, Intermediate Training Squadron, Intermediate Ground Instructional School No. 2 Technical Training School)
  • Trenton (Advanced Training Wing Headquarters, Advanced Training Squadron, Advanced Ground Instructional School No. 1 Technical Training, Air Armament, Equipment Training, Air Navigation and Seaplane, and Wireless Schools).
  • No. 1 (F) – Hurricane en route St. Hubert
  • No. 2 (AC) – Atlas Saint John, NB
  • No. 3 (B) – Wapiti, en route Halifax
  • No. 4 (GR) – Vancouver and Stranraer Vancouver
  • No. 5 (GR) – Stranraer Dartmouth
  • No. 6 (TB) – Shark Vancouver
  • No. 7 (GP) – Fairchild and Norseman Ottawa
  • No. 8 (GP) – Delta Sydney
  • Nos. 9, 10 and 11 Squadrons had also been authorized, but not formed prior to 1 September.
  • No. 1 Aircraft, Ottawa
  • No. 2 Equipment, Winnipeg
  • No. 3 Repair, Vancouver
  • No. 4 Repair, Dartmouth
  • No. 5 Equipment, Moncton
  • No. 11 (Technical), Montreal
  • No. 12 (Technical), Toronto
  • No. 13 (Technical), Vancouver
  • No. 21 (Magazine), Kamloops
  • No. 22 (Magazine), Debert

Auxiliary Active Air Force

  • No. 110 (AC), Toronto
  • No. 111 (CAC), Vancouver
  • No. 112 (AC), Winnipeg
  • No. 113 (F), Calgary
  • No. 114 (B), London
  • No. 115 (F), Montreal
  • No. 116 (F), Halifax
  • No. 117 (CAC), Saint John
  • No. 118 (B), Montreal
  • No. 119 (B), Hamilton
  • No. 120 (B), Regina
  • No. 121 (F), Quebec City

Each of the 12 Auxiliary squadrons had a PF Detachment. Five squadrons (Nos. ·113, 114, 116, 117 and 121) were still in preliminary stages of organization and were disbanded after the outbreak of hostilities.

Prior to the declaration of war considerable progress was made in the establishment or improvement of bases on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. An Equipment Depot was opened at Moncton and a magazine at Debert. The meteorological service of the Department of Transport was extended to the east coast, and plans were made for a complete service for all Air Force establishments. Improvement of Service armament was actively pursued a Directorate of Armament was formed at Headquarters, the Air Armament School at Trenton was expanded, and the armament on all service aircraft was modernized. An Intelligence Section was ·also organized.

Service flying training for the period 1 April to 31 August totalled 11,924.15 hours (7,104.20 by Permanent units and 4,819.55 by Auxiliary squadrons, including
a fortnight in annual summer camp). As arranged the previous year, elementary training was carried out at civil flying clubs intermediate training was given at Camp Borden and advanced at Trenton. To train civil elementary instructors a Flying Instructors’ School was opened at Camp Borden early in the year.

Civil Government air operations consisted of aerial photography and survey for the Dominion Forest Service and the Bureau of Geology and Topography. One detachment of three aircraft was assigned in July to make a detailed reconnaissance of the Labrador coast. The work was interrupted, however, when the aircraft had to be sent on a search for a civil machine lost in Labrador. All photographic work was suspended on 25 August. By that date 424.35 hours’ flying had been recorded and 25,100 square miles photographed.

Germany attacked Poland. The RCAF was placed on active service.

Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.

P/O Selby R Henderson, a Canadian in No. 206 Squadron, RAF, was the lead navigator in a bomber force attacking German warships. He thus became the first Canadian to participate on an operational sortie in the Second World War.

Canada declared war on Germany.

By Order-in-Council the RCAF Special Reserve was created and placed on active service.

En route from Megantic, PQ to Sydney, NS to take up wartime duties, a Delta Mk II serial no. 673 (formerly a Northrop Gamma) reconnaissance aircraft disappeared. The wreckage of the machine was located in New Brunswick in 1958, nineteen years after crashing, but there was no sign of its crew, FS JE Doan and LAC DA Rennie. (Mr. Joseph Nelles authored a two-page story titled “First Lost…Last Found” published in Airforce magazine Volume 19, No 4, pp 3-4, – January 1996 – that tells the full story of Canada’s first casualties of the Second World War. If you would like a copy of the story write to director at by e-mail).

The Directorate of Air Force Manning was formed at Headquarters to direct the rapid expansion of the Force and 20 recruiting centres were opened across the Dominion. By the end of the fiscal year (31 March, 1940), 102,777 applications had been received.

RCAF Manning Pool (later No. 1 Manning Depot) was formed at Toronto.

S/L William Isaac Clements, attached to No. 53 (Blenheim) Squadron, RAF, made a long distance night reconnaissance from Metz, France, to the Hamm-Hanover area of Germany – the first member of the RCAF to fly over enemy territory.

Formation of the Organization and Training Division at Headquarters was authorized, to carry out the proposed training plan. (Headquarters now constituted four Divisions – Air Staff, Personnel, Aeronautical Engineering and Supply, and Organization and Training – each under an Air Member. The new “Air Member” titles were introduced 21 October).

The governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed, at Ottawa, an agreement to set up a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan organized and administered-by the RCAF (acting for the Canadian Government). The initial plan proposed the establishment of three Initial Training Schools, thirteen Elementary Flying Training Schools, sixteen Service Flying Training Schools, ten Air Observer Schools, ten Bombing and Gunnery Schools, two Air Navigation Schools and four Wireless Schools, plus the necessary ancillary schools and depots, a total of 74 units in all.

Training was to begin on 29 April 1940 and all schools were to be in operation by 30 April 1942. When fully developed the Plan was to produce 520 pilots with elementary training, 544 pilots with service training, 340 observers and 580 wireless operator-air gunners every four weeks.

The strength of the RCAF_at the end of the year totalled 8,287 officers and airmen, an increase of more than 100 per cent in four month. There were 280 Permanent, 195 Auxiliary and 454 Special Reserve Officers and 7,358 airmen.

The operational strength was fourteen squadrons, all stationed in Canada: No. 1 (F) Dartmouth, No. 4 (BR) Vancouver, No. 5 (BR) Dartmouth, No. 6 (BR) Vancouver, No. 8 (BR) North Sydney, No. 10 (BR), formed from No. 3 on 5 September, Halifax, No. 11 (BR) Dartmouth, No. 110 (AC) Ottawa, No. 111 (CAC) Vancouver, No. 112 (AC) Ottawa, No. 115 (F) St. Hubert, No. 118 (B) Dartmouth, No. 119 (B) Hamilton and
No. 120 (BR) Vancouver.

RCAF Overseas Headquarters, London, England, was formed under W/C FV Heakes who had been RCAF Liaison Officer. On 7 March G/C MV Walsh, MBE, assumed command.

The London Gazette announced that P/O SR Henderson and W/C JF Griffiths, two Canadians in the RAF, had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for air operations against the enemy, the first Canadians to be decorated during the war. P/O Henderson’s award was for attacking German flying boats on 8 November 1939. W/C Griffiths was decorated for attacks on German warships on 14 December 1939.

No. 110 (AC) Squadron, augmented by personnel of No. 2 (AC) Squadron, sailed from Halifax, under the command of S/L WB Van Vliet. It disembarked at Liverpool on 25 February, the first of 48 RCAF squadrons which served overseas during the war.

The prewar Wireless School was transferred from Trenton to Montreal and re-named No. 1 Wireless School, the first of four such schools operated within the BCATP.

In the fiscal year, 1 April 1939-31 March 1940, the RCAF flew 69,472.50 hours, including 5,022.10 hours on service operations and 60,316.30 hours on training at civil flying clubs, service schools and units. The balance (4,134.10 hours) covered testing, transfer of aircraft, transportation, Civil Government operations (prior to 25 August 1939), co-operation with the Militia and miscellaneous duties.

To implement the BCATP four Training Commands were organized. Air Training Command (Toronto) was re-designated No. 1 TC on 1 January No. 2 TC formed at Winnipeg on 15 April, No. 3 TC at Montreal on 18 March and No. 4 TC at Regina on 29 April.

No. 1 Initial Training School was officially opened in the Eglinton Hunt Club, Toronto, absorbing the Ground Training School previously located at Trenton. The first intake of BCATP trainees, 164 AC2s, arrived on 29 April.

No. 1 Air Navigation School was formed at Trenton, providing specialized training in this field for BCATP students.

An advance party of No. 112 (AC) City of Winnipeg Squadron sailed from Montreal, and disembarked at Liverpool eight days later.

Hon CG Power, KC, MC, was appointed Minister of National Defence for Air.

On 23 May S/L FM Gobeil, an RCAF exchange officer commanding No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron of the RAF, engaged a Bf.109 near Berek, France. Two days later this officer, in another combat near Menin, Belgium, shot down a Me. 110.

No. 1 Air Observer School was officially opened at Malton with the first intake of BCATP trainees. All AOSs were operated by civilian firms under RCAF supervision.

No. 1 (F) squadron, augmented by personnel of No. 115 (F) Squadron, under the command of S/L EA McNab, and the rear party of No. 112 (AC) Squadron, commanded by S/L WF Hanna, sailed from Halifax and arrived at Liverpool on 20 June.

No. 10 (BR) Squadron at Dartmouth sent a detachment of five Douglas Digbys, under the connnand of S/L HM Carscallen, to operate from Newfoundland Airport

An Air Council was constituted to advise the Minister of National Defence for Air.

The first four Elementary Flying Training Schools (No. 1 at Malton, No. 2 at Fort William, No. 3 at London and No. 4 at Windsor Mills, PQ) were officially
opened with intakes of 24 BCATP pupil-pilots. The EFTSs were operated mainly by civilian companies with RCAF supervisory staffs. An exception was the EFTS at Cap de la Madeleine, operated by Quebec Airways.

The RCAF ensign was approved by HM the King. It was adapted from the RAF ensign with the substitution of a red maple leaf for the red circle in the centre of the roundel.

The first intake of BCATP pupils for service flying training reported to No. 1 Service Flying Training School at Camp Borden. The school had been formed earlier in the year from the training units operating there.

S/L EA McNab, while flying with No. 111 Squadron, RAF, destroyed a Do. 215 and won the RCAF’s first victory in the Battle of Britain.

No. 1 (F) Squadron (later No. 401) became operational on its Hurricane aircraft and began patrols and scrambles over its base at Northolt.

No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School was formed at Jarvis, Ontario, the first of eleven such schools formed within the BCATP to train bomb aimers and air gunners for the RCAF and Commonwealth Air Forces.

By Order in Council the Permanent Joint Board of Defence was formed to co-ordinate Canadian and American activities relating to the defence of North America. Composed of civilians and personnel from all services of both countries, the Board held its first meeting on 26 August. Many of its subsequent meetings dealt with air force matters, including the Northwest Staging Route, anti-submarine operations, and supplies of aircraft. The first RCAF representative on the Board was A/C Albert Abraham Lawson Cuffe (pictured above). To learn more about Air Commodore Cuffe, consult this link here.

Intercepting a raid by 25 or 30 Dornier bombers, No. 1 Squadron destroyed three and damaged four. F/0 RL Edwards was killed in the engagement – the RCAF’s first battle casualty. No. 1 remained in the Battle of Britain until 9 October when it was withdrawn for a rest. In the 53-day period, 17 August to 9 October, it was credited with destroying 30 enemy aircraft and damaging 43 more. Three pilots were killed in action and ten wounded or injured.

S/L EA McNab, commanding officer of No. 1 (F) Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services in the Battle of Britian. Three days later F/L Gordon Roy McGregor (pictured) and F/O BD Russel of the same squadron also received the DFC. (To learn more about McGregor, visit this link, here).

Training and Supply were detached from AMOT and AMAES respectively and became separate divisions under Air Members. An Order in Council authorized the formation of the Air Cadet League of Canada, a civilian organization to train boys of 12 to 18 years of age for possible future enlistment in the RCAF.

The first draft of BCATP graduates, 12 officers and 25 sergeant observers, arrived at Liverpool. The course of 37 had graduated from No. 1 Air Navigation School at Trenton on 24 October.

There were three RCAF squadrons overseas: No. 1 (F), No. 110 (AC) and No. 2 (F) which had just been formed from No. 112 (AC) Squadron. At home there were eleven squadrons: in EAC – Nos. 5, 10 and 11 (BR) at Darmouth, No. 8 (BR) at North Sydney and No. 119 (BR) at Yarmouth in WAC – No. 4 (BR) at Ucluelet, No. 6 (BR) at Coal Harbour, and Nos. 111 (F), 120 (BR) and 13 (Operational Training) at Patricia Bay No. 12 (Communication) Squadron was stationed at Rockcliffe.

Article 15 of the Agreement of 17 December, 1939, provided that “pupils of Canada, Australia and New Zealand shall, after training is completed, be identified with their respective Dominions, either by the method of organizing Dominion units and formations or in some other way.” By the supplementary Sinclair-Ralston agreement signed in London on 7 January, 1941, it was arranged that 25 RCAF squadrons would be formed in the UK in the next 18 months (exclusive of the original three sent over from Canada).

To obviate confusion with RAF units, squadrons of the RCAF overseas were re-numbered in the 400 series. Thus No. 110 became No. 400 No. 1 became No. 401, and No. 112 which had been reorganized as No. 2 (F) Squadron, became No. 402. On the same date No. 402 was passed as operational, the second RCAF fighter squadron to go into action overseas. No. 403 (F) Squadron, the first of the “Article 15” units, was formed at Baginton, England. It was followed by 17 more in the next ten months, these being:

  • No. 404 (Coastal Fighter) 15 April
  • No. 405 (Bomber) 23 April
  • No. 407 (Coastal) 8 May
  • No. 406 (Night Fighter) 10 May
  • No. 411 (Fighter) 16 June
  • No. 409 (Night Fighter) 17 June
  • No. 408 (Bomber) 24 June
  • No. 410 (Night Fighter) 30 June
  • No. 412 (Fighter) 30 June
  • No. 413 (Coastal) 1 July
  • No. 414 (Army Co-operation) 12 August
  • No. 415 (Coastal) 20 August
  • No. 418 (Intruder) 15 November
  • No. 416 (Fighter) 18 November
  • No. 417 (Fighter) 27 November
  • No. 419 (Bomber) 7 December
  • No. 420 (Bomber) 19 December

Of these, Nos. 403 to 413 inclusive had started operations by the end of the year.

No. 10 (BR) Squadron, which had had a flight at Gander since June, 1940, moved to the Newfoundland airport.

Twelve pilots of No. 402 Squadron, led by W/C GR McGregor, DFC, took part in an offensive patrol over the Boulogne sector of the French coast. This was the first offensive operation carried out by an RCAF unit over enemy-held territory.

Operational training in Canada commenced with the opening of No. 31 Operational Training Unit at Debert, NS. Equipped with Hudson and Bolingbroke aircraft, the unit was the first of ten OTUs to be located in Canada under RAF and RCAF control.

Three Vickers Wellington bombers of No. 405 Squadron carried out the RCAF’s first attack on Germany, bombing the freight yards at Schwerte, southeast of Dortmund, with a total of 9,000 lbs of high explosives and 2,160 lbs of incendiaries for the three aircraft.

The formation of a Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was authorized by Order in Council, to recruit women for training in various ground trades so that men could be released for combat duties. By the end of the war it had enrolled 17,038 women, of whom over 1,500 saw service overseas. The first female officer was Kathleen Walker, appointed Flight Officer, 2 July the first airwoman was Jane Bennett.

PL-6819 23 February 1942
Sgt. Joseph Laurent Guillaume Robillard (DFC)

While flying a Spitfire with No. 145 Squadron (RAF) FS JGL Robillard was shot down over France. Making contact with French civilians, he evaded capture and reached Gibraltar by the end of October. He subsequently returned to operational duties. FS Robillard was the first RCAF airman to become a successful “evader”. (Learn more here at this link).

A Catalina of No. 116 Squadron, captained by F/L NE Small, attacked a U-boat, but the bombs did not explode.

F/O RC Fumerton and Sgt LPS Bing, flying a Beaufighter of No. 406 Squadron, won the RCAF’s first night fighter victory by destroying a Ju. 88 over Bedlington, Northumberland.

Formation of University Air Training Squadrons was proposed and approved.

The Manning Depot for womn personnel opened at Havegal College, Toronto, with 150 airwomen taking administrative courses. The depot was subsquently redesignated No. 6 Manning Depot.

Despite serious injuries, which proved fatal, LAC KM Gravell, a wireless operator-air gunner under training at No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, gallantly
endeavoured to rescue his pilot from the blazing wreckage of their crashed Tiger Moth aircraft. His gallantry and self-sacrifice were recognized by the posthumous award of the George Cross.

Canada declared war on Japan, and immediate steps were taken to strengthen our Pacific defences. The formation of new squadrons was instituted and others were shifted from EAC to WAC.

No. 404 (Blenheim) Squadron helped to provide long­range fighter cover for Commando forces attacking enemy positions at Vaagso (Norway).

There were 21 RCAF squadrons in the United Kingdom and 16 at home. Of the overseas squadrons, 14 were operational (five fighter, three night fighter, one army co-operation, two bomber and three coastal). In EAC there were Nos. 5 (BR), 11 (BR), 116 (BR), (formed 28 June) and 118 (F) at Dartmouth, No. 8 (BR) at North Sydney, No. 119 (BR) at Yarmouth, and No. 10 (BR) at Gander, Nfld. In WAC Nos. 13 (Operational Training), 111 (F), and 115 (F), (formed 1 August) were at Patricia Bay No. 4 (BR) was at Ucluelet, No. 6 (BR) at Alliford Bay, No. 120 (BR) at Coal Harbour, No. 7 (BR), (formed 8 December) at Prince Rupert, and No. 9 (BR), (formed 8 December) at Bella Bella. No. 12 (Comm) Squadron was still at Rockcliffe.

Trained members of the CWAAF began reporting to units in Canada. No. 2 SFTS, Uplands, was the first station to receive such personnel, who were initially posted to BCATP stations.

The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was renamed Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division).

The Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen escaped from Brest, where they had been frequently attacked by RCAF units of Bomber Command, and fled up the Channel and through the Strait of Dover under attack by aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal, Bomber and Fighter Commands of the RAF. Nine Canadian squadrons (four bomber, four fighter and one coastal) took part in the day’s action seven aircraft were lost and three enemy fighters were destroyed and three damaged.


The AH-64D Apache Longbows of the squadron, armed with its varied payload of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, Hydra 70 rockets and a single 30 mm M230 Chain Gun, can be called upon in support of the SAF in any operations that requires it. Provisions has also been made to integrate the helicopters into the SAF's Integrated Knowledge-based Command and Control network, a concept similar to the United States Department of Defense's network-centric warfare doctrine. This locally developed Combat Management System integrates all the sensors and weapon systems on board, increases battlespace awareness and allows little time for the enemy to react due to the short sensor-to-shooter loops as it effectively shares information between its army and navy counterparts.

When the British decided in 1967 to withdraw their forces from the Far East, Singapore saw the need to build up its own armed forces. The Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC) was formed as part of the initial set-up. The Alouette Squadron, established in September 1969, thus lay the foundation for RSAF's helicopter force. [2]

Alouette Squadron Edit

The Alouette Squadron was initially based at the Seletar Airfield, occupying the Lockheed (now ST Aerospace) hangar. In January 1971, the Squadron became the first SADC unit to be deployed overseas when four of her aircraft participated in the Kuantan flood relief operation in Malaysia. Shortly thereafter, the Alouette Squadron gained operational status becoming the first operational unit in the SADC. Relocated to Changi Air Base shortly after New Year's Day 1972, the Squadron's main roles included search-and-rescue, air recce, internal security, rappelling, trooplift and logistics support.

New Designation Edit

On 16 December 1973, the squadron's designation was changed to 120 Squadron (120 SQN). The squadron continued to operate the Alouette IIIs until 1977, when the aircraft were no longer able to meet the SAF's growing needs. In 1977, three Bell 212s and seventeen UH-1Hs were acquired, and the helicopters joined the squadron in February and August respectively. [2]

120 SQN initiated the RSAF's first permanent overseas detachment in September 1978, when three UH-1Hs were deployed to Brunei for the first time. Their role was primarily to support the SAF's jungle training conducted there.

Tasked with the duty of airborne Search and rescue around Singapore and parts of South China Sea, the Bell 212s operated from 1977 to 1985 when Super Puma helicopters of the 125 Squadron took over the duty.

In 1983, the squadron relocated for the last time and settled down at Sembawang Air Base as the helicopters had vacated Changi and settled in Kangaw Camp. Kangaw was then used as an artillery base, although it was previously a British airfield – RAF Sembawang or better known as HMS Simbang. When the Singapore Artillery shifted to Khatib Camp in 1983, Kangaw Camp was handed over to the RSAF and renamed as Sembawang Air Base (SBAB). Since then, SBAB became the focal point of helicopter operations and one of the five formations in the RSAF. [2]

Notable Deployments Edit

In the 1980s, three dramatic events thrust 120 SQN into the headlines. In October 1980, the squadron starred in a high-rise rescue drama at the unfinished Raffles Tower in Battery Road. A Bell 212 was sent to rescue a crane operator from the roof of the building after a fire on the 18th floor had trapped him. [2]

Then, in January 1983, three people had to be winched to safety from the Singapore Cable Car by a Bell 212 after a drill-ship accidentally ploughed into and severed the cables off the waters of World Trade Centre, Singapore. [3]

The third occasion was the Hotel New World disaster in March 1986. After the hotel collapsed, 120 SQN deployed three UH-1Hs to the disaster site to provide round-the-clock casualty evacuation. [2]

Other Recognitions Edit

As recent as October 2002, 120 SQN deployed a detachment of four UH-1H to East Timor in support of the UN peace keeping mission there. [4]

Also amongst its achievements, the 120 SQN won several ASEAN Helicopter championships and has been winning the best tactical support SQN for the years 88/89, 91/92, 94/95, 95/96 and 99/00.

  1. 8× SA316B Alouette III (1968–1978, subsequently transferred to Royal Malaysian Air Force)
  2. 3× Bell 212 (1978–1985, subsequently sold to Sri Lanka Air Force)
  3. 24× UH-1H (1978–2005) 17× UH-1H delivered in 1978 with another 2× UH-1D (later modernised to UH-1H standard) and 5× UH-1H supplied in 1984. In 2003, 7 airframes was modernised and sold to Philippine Air Force in a US$12 million deal.
  4. 20× AH-64D (2006–present) [1]

The old 120Sqn shoulder patch with the Skylark (Alouette in French) as the centerpiece.

RSAF 1st helicopter in service - the Aérospatiale Alouette III (phased out of service in 1978) with 1st generation RAF styled roundels.

Static display of RSAF AH-64D Longbow Apache during open house.

Two of 120 Sqn's AH-64D Apaches escorting a 127 Sqn's CH-47SD Chinook helicopter during the rehearsal for NDP 2006.

Ballykelly airfield memorial unveiled

CURATOR and custodian of the Shackleton and Aviation Museum Norman Thorpe has unvield a permanent memorial to the instrumental part the Ballykelly airbase played in World War Two.

After years of campaigning Norman, along with Kenneth Bannerman, Director General of ABCT revealed a new memorial stone at Tamlaghfinlagan Parish Church, remembering the RAF presence in the village from 1941 to 1971.

Mr Thorpe wished to thank Claire Sugden MLA, Kenneth Bannerman Director General Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust, Ellen Harper Head Girl Ballykelly Integrated Primary School And Caileam Gallagher Head Boy of Ballykelly Integrated Primary School giving their time to support the RAF Memorial unveiled at Tamlaghfinlagan Parish Church.

Ballykelly airbase was built as a satellite for nearby Limavady, opening on 1 June 1941.

As construction of the three runways and support buildings had not been completed, the airfield was initially quiet until a detachment of night fighters from Ballyhalbert arrived in the autumn.

The Coastal Command Development Unit (CCDU) followed in December 1941 and flew a variety of types until moving to Tain in June 1942.

Boeing Fortresses of No 220 Squadron and Consolidated Liberators of No 120 Squadron carried out maritime patrol sorties from the summer of 1942 until early 1943 when they transferred to Aldergrove.

Various Fleet Air Arm squadrons spent short periods at Ballykelly while disembarked, mostly involving Fairey Swordfish units. Nos 59 and 86 Squadrons arrived from Aldergrove in September 1943 for two years and six months respectively, and No 120 Squadron came back in the spring of 1944 until it disbanded in June 1945.

The Joint Anti-Submarine School (JASS) formed in November 1945, and remained until the start of the 1970s for anti-submarine tactics.

Shackletons were based at Ballykelly during this period from 1952, with No 204 Squadron in residence between 1954 when it reformed and 1971.

Nos 203, 240 and 269 became other Shackleton units that spent significant periods at this busy airfield, which was revamped to quite a degree during the early 1950s.

Various Fleet Air Arm squadrons would also join from time to time but Ballykelly began to wind down in a flying sense from late on in the next decade.

The final unit to depart was No 204 Squadron in the spring of 1971 and the airfield was closed in early June that year.

Becoming Shackleton Barracks in the hands of the Army that month, the site was used as such until 2008.

A significant amount of the airfield site remains, including the three runways, one of which most unusually crossed a railway line.

Some buildings also survive, including a post-war cantilever hangar specially created in the 1960s for the Shackletons that became one of the biggest in the United Kingdom, and the control tower.

The site is now either owned or managed by MJM Group - bought airfield 2016, Shackleton and Aviation Museum, and Tamlaghtfinlagan Church of Ireland Ballykelly.

Remembering Don O'Hearne

It was a big day for the kids in Donald O’Hearne’s school class in Edmonton: they were getting a chance to see some of these newfangled motion pictures, taken right in their own city.

The subject was aircraft at the local aerodrome -- and there in the midst of the intrepid aviators was the visage of classmate Donald himself, at a time when he was supposed to be in school.

Don was born in Edmonton in 1916, oldest of four children. “I guess I’ve always been interested in airplanes, from building models driven by rubber bands, to jets.”

His father had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s 202nd Battalion with a young man named Wilfred “Wop” May, who later joined the Royal Flying Corps, survived an attack by “the Red Baron” and went on to make many kinds of aviation history in Canada.

Don is just old enough to recall seeing the Canadian-built Curtiss Jenny “City of Edmonton” hanging in the rafters of the Albert capital’s “horsebarns”. When Don took ill in the spring of 1927, a buddy brought him a crystal radio set with which Don followed the progress of Charles Lindbergh’s epic flight across the Atlantic. He still has an aviation book that his parents brought him around that time. He found his way out to Cooking Lake, the floatplane base near Edmonton, where he saw Bellancas and Fokkers. Much nearer was Blatchford Field (now the Edmonton City Centre Airport), where he had his “butt kicked” by pioneering bush pilot Matt Berry for hanging around when he should have been in school -- hence the film incident mentioned above.

Of course, Edmonton was not immune to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Don’s father lost his job and moved to take another in Saskatoon.

Don was enrolled in 1931 in The Bridge City’s King Edward School, where another of the students was a lad named Ray Crone -- by coincidence, another buff of Canada’s aviation history.

Sadly, the second job of Don’s father disappeared, too, so the age of 16 saw Don out working to support his family. He was a delivery boy and also worked in an abattoir, then a meat market. He eventually joined the local militia (army reserve) unit, the Saskatoon Light Infantry, where the attractions included pay of 75 cents for each day training. When he became aware that the RCAF had a new auxiliary (reserve) unit at Regina, No. 120 Squadron, he wangled a transfer to it -- even though he was too far away to join other members for their weekly training sessions. He also joined the Saskatoon Flying Club, taking flying lessons under Dave Dyck and even parachuting lessons under George Bennett, who offered not only instructions, but three jumps, for $10 Don still has the crest he received for completing the course.

“As far as the parachuting goes, they [the students] were scared -- but you couldn’t back out because the others were all doing it!” he chuckled. “You HAD to go along. They said. ‘You’ll get used to it, but after the third jump, it was still pretty scary!”

Some of the other members of the Saskatoon Flying Club joined Britain’s prewar Royal Air Force, which even then was building up its strength for the looming war in Europe. When it finally arrived in the late summer of 1939, members of the SLI and No. 120 Squadron were told to report for duty. Don’s membership in these units now became important, for he was considered to be an experienced recruit.

Don, as a new member of the RCAF, soon found himself at what became the air force’s manning depot at Toronto, in the “showplace for animals” at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

For such an early intake of men, preparations were crude. Food was poor and “there were literally hundreds of beds, but very little else,” he recalled. Soon, though, he was transferred to the RCAF Station at Camp Borden, then to the RCAF’s new technical training school at St. Thomas, Ont. He was to train as an instructor in airframe mechanics.

St. Thomas was one of those little-known, but vital, military training facilities that made an impression on all those who passed through it. “Anyone who’s ever been there will never forget it,” he said. “We were in a former mental home -- the windows still had bars on them!”

It was also huge: 25 buildings over 487 acres -- big enough that it took 10 minutes to walk across above ground and much longer in the underground tunnel system. “Honestly, you really didn’t know where you were,” he said. “We got smart after a while and stayed out of them.”

As a future instructor, Don got pretty good treatment at St. Thomas. The quarters were “elegant” and there were extra meals and passes. “Quite a change from Toronto!” There was also considerable flexibility in passes, which explains how he was able to use a three-day leave to take a train back to Saskatoon, marry his girlfriend Frances and get back. It actually took more than three days to do all this, but strings were pulled in the right places.

Before he could instruct, Don needed some practical experience, so he was assigned as a crewman to the RCAF’s No. 4 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron at Uculet, B.C., located on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. It flew Blackburn Sharks, a couple of Northrop Deltas and several examples of magnificent old Stranraer flying boats, a huge biplane with two 875 Bristol Pegasus radial engines and an 85-foot wingspan. So many wires braced it that, “you could hear it coming for miles, screaming because of the wire,” he said.

On Don’s first shift on guard duty aboard a moored flying boat, he fell asleep. What woke him up was the sound of a small boat bringing a junior officer out. “The office cautioned me -- and didn’t do anything!”

The Stranraer was not amphibious, but a true flying boat. Beaching it -- pulling it onto shore -- meant attaching heavy beaching gear to the fuselage, which in turn required two swimmers and one more airman to guide the process. “It was very tricky with a running sea,” Don remembered. “You had to be a very good swimmer.”

The Blackburn Shark, a large single-engine biplane used for coastal patrol, was easier just a large dolly was used.

The work that these aircraft did was of patrolling “and checking on fishing boats -- time-consuming and monotonous with the continuous watching.”

“We never did see very much and I don’t know what we would have done if anyone had taken a shot at us,” he added. “One of the other crews claimed they did see a sub . we had to believe them, although it wasn’t confirmed.”

Don’s next postings was the brand new RCAF station at Coal Harbour, B.C., on the northern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands near the site of the present-day CFS Holberg electronic eavesdropping post. Coal Harbour was on a coastal inlet about 12 miles inland from Port Hardy. “It was isolated as hell,” Don said.

“Almost nothing there, just seagulls and bears.” Getting there meant sailing to Port Hardy, then driving (or more likely walking) along the logging road to the station, which, “didn’t look that good at night -- and in the morning, it didn’t look any better.”

It was cold and muddy, with wooden “duck walks” connecting buildings. Two Stranraers sat on the inlet. Duties, initially, were mainly guard duty (“with Lewis guns -- with no ammunition”) plus “a lot of foot drill and exercise and not much else. Coal Harbour consisted of a house, a store and not much else . we really didn’t know why we were there, because nothing was ready.”

Power came from two Caterpillar tractor generators and heat from two boilers. Thus, one duty was shoveling coal and another was working in the station’s kitchen. “Every now and then, there’d be a [RCAF] Delta or Goose. We were glad when the navy came in because they had a lot of booze on board!”

Because wives and families were expected, some of the airmen decided to build a “condo” for them. They secured the services of a bulldozer and its operator and some of the construction workers on the station helped, too. Doors and windows were a problem, but the big day came when a squadron leader came to see their work. His suggestion: “To turn the plywood around so that the “GOVERNMENT” stamp couldn’t be seen!”

Finally, with Christmas 1940 approaching, an expedition was mounted to find suitable trees. Don remembers trekking through the area around the base and eventually finding a fine specimen that was cut and brought back to the apartments. Decorated, it was proudly shown to the owner of the local store and his wife they mildly commented that they’d had an identical tree growing in their backyard -- until somebody had recently cut it down!

Was there a sense of foreboding about a war with Japan during 1940 and 1941? ”I can’t honestly answer that question because we didn’t give it that much thought. We knew we were there for a reason. But as far as anything happening, I’d have to be honest and say that we didn’t really think about it.”

Don and his new wife, Frances, had left the West Coast and were at the BCATP station at Fort MacLeod, Alberta, when history intervened.

“’Where’s Pearl Harbour?” she said.

“I said, ‘I don’t know where the hell Pearl Harbour is. “

“Something happened there,” Frances continued. “The Japanese bombed it.”

“Well,” said Don, “Then we were glued to the radio.”

Even bases quiet inland stations like Fort MacLeod were put on alert, though, “we were sitting there, at Fort MacLeod, with just a bunch of Ansons.”

When the Japanese rampaged throughout the Pacific and even shelled the lighthouse at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island, “we knew damned well that something was happening -- though we didn’t give it that much thought.”

But by the spring 1945, Western Canada was under actual attack. That spring saw him seconded to No. 11 SFTS at Yorkton, to which the RCAF’s 135 (Fighter) Squadron had sent three Hurricane fighters and their pilots to search for, and hopefully, shoot down Japanese balloon bombs that were then being launched over western Canada. The detachment had only about a dozen airmen, but “we used to pride ourselves on the time that we could get them off the ground. There were times when it took an hour there were other times when it took 10 minutes. It depended on when we got the call. They (whoever spotted the balloon) had to telephone and we’d have to find the pilots.”

The men operated from a “blister” or a small room on the side of one of the hangars. The Hurricanes -– one of which survives today in the collection of Gatineau’s Vintage Wings of Canada flying museum -– were kept fully armed and fuelled their pilots were supposed to sit in readiness, playing cards drinking coffee. As for the Hurricanes, “they were always armed and fueled and ready to go.”

If a call came in, “a fitter would usually start it up and have it running then the pilot would get in there -- and away they’d go. We could see the odd one (balloon) flying over, but they (the Hurricanes) could never get up there in time.”

“We had a little hut we called them blisters. Usually, the pilots would sit in there and drink coffee and play cards.” There were only about a dozen groundcrew, but they “did a helluva job”, he said.

When a balloon was spotted, a call was made to 11 SFTS, then put through to the mini-dispersal area, a klaxon would go off. “We used to make sure that we had a fitter available to start the engines.”

He heard a rumour that a Yorkton-area farmer brought in a suspicious device, supposedly from a balloon bomb. Part of the hangar was immediately blocked off. The security surrounding the entire balloon bomb operation was “so tight that a mouse couldn’t even have got there.

He recalls that 11 SFTS at Yorkton flew Mark 5 Ansons and had recently taken over all of the Cornell trainers that had been operating from the EFTS at Davidson, plus some Mark 2 or 3 Ansons.

Don remembers being at Yorkton on VE Day – the cessation of hostilities in Europe. I asked him if there was a party. “There sure as hell was! He said.

“The mayor of Yorkton wasn’t very impressed. The guys had strung toilet paper all over the town and the restaurants and hotels were just booming.”

What would be next? “We were all set we’d had our shots and had our tropical gear and we were ready to go east when they (the American armed forces) dropped the atomic bomb and, of course, they (RCAF brass) cancelled everything.”

Don remained in the postwar RCAF and, at one point just after the war headed a reserve equipment maintenance unit (REMU) team with a truck, about 15 men and a “Queen Mary”, a long, specially built trailer that could carry the fuselage of an aircraft needing repair or salvage. They went from closed BCATP base to closed base, preparing aircraft for storage or sale. He remembers presenting the team at the guardhouse of what had been Moose Jaw’s 32 SFTS, where a fiercely mustachioed British service policeman barked, “Where you going?”

Where the ground instruction building is now located, there were barracks. They were “absolutely filthy” and the men initially were billeted in the downtown Grant Hall Inn before suitable quarters were found in what had been the station’s chapel. He recalls Moose Jaw as being a collection point for RCAF Cansos, Ansons and Oxfords. For the record, he remembers Mossbank was a storage site for Cornells and Hurricanes, while Swift Current had Cranes, Ansons and Cornells, all lined up”. Some aircraft –- like those that had to be returned to the U.S. or were needed by the postwar RCAF –- were ferried away by the RCAF’s No 170 Squadron, which specialized in such work. But as for the rest, “they’d bring in the accounting people and the supply people and you could buy whatever you wanted.”

By 1951, Don was stationed at the RCAF training base at Centralia, near London, Ont., when a W/C Miles, a senior engineering officer, asked him, “How would you like to go to Moose Jaw with me?”

“He said, ‘They’re going to open up Moose Jaw for a training school.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to do some evaluation, to see what’s required.”

Thus it came to pass that Don, W/C Miles and a few others were bundled into an RCAF Expeditor and went to the site of the wartime 32 SFTS south of Moose Jaw. It was, as he recalls, November or December of 1951 and “it was cold, cold.”

Don’s impression of the state of the base was blunt: “It was a mess.”

The wartime barracks, for example, were so shabby that the evaluation team could not stay in them, so they once again headed to the Friendly City’s Grant Hall Inn.

Their work eventually done, Don and the rest of the team returned to Centralia. But in February or March of 1952, the same wing commander appeared again and told Don he was returning to Moose Jaw –- permanently. “My exact words were, ’What the hell did I do to you?’” Don remembered.

Renovations to the old 32 SFTS to convert it into RCAF Station Moose Jaw (and ready it for a new generation of pilot trainees) were by the spring of 1952 well under way -– though there were no training aircraft at the base yet. “First of all, we had to set up maintenance.“

Access to the station was via Highway 2, which went south from the east side of downtown Moose Jaw the new highway that went from the city’s west side to the base was still under construction.

No. 7 hangar (now home to the Snowbirds air demonstration team) was then occupied by civilians: specifically, charter pilot Don Walz and his family, which was living in the northern part of the hangar, while the southern half of the hangar was used to marshal passengers for a civilian flight. Don thinks it was Pacific Western Airlines, but this firm did not yet exist. But Canadian Pacific Airlines flew from Moose Jaw to Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford, eventually adding Edmonton to this route. In this period, Don’s own family remained in Centralia, while he lived in a barracks at Moose Jaw.

The mess hall was in Hangar 4 while a permanent one was being built. Hangar 5 housed supplies and CPR staff handled landline telecommunications until the RCAF’s own personnel arrived. Don’s impression of the reopened base during this perioid was, “an awful lot of mud … it was an awful mess.”

“It was just mud. Everything was under construction. When we moved into the married quarters in 1953, we had to have a bulldozer pull the moving truck down the street. It was all mud!”

The main fleet of Harvard training aircraft arrived from RCAF Station Gimli, Manitoba, in Operation GIMJAW, which spanned May and June of 1953. The station had its own small fleet of Expeditors for transport duties, such as flying the commanding officer to RCAF Training Command headquarters in Winnipeg. “They were more of communications aircraft than anything else. The CO had to go to Winnipeg? He’d go on an Expeditor. He had his own we kept it pretty well polished.”

Don stayed at RCAF Station Moose Jaw until the summer of 1957, when his family’s vacation of Waskesiu was cut short by another airman’s news: Don was being posted overseas – specifically, to the RCAF’s 2 (Fighter) Wing at Grostenquin, France. He would be working on the CF-100 all-weather fighter. Don was surprised. Putting his fingers together he said, “I knew THAT MUCH about jets”

But orders are orders, and the family soon got into action. After packing their goods, they took a train east to Toronto, where they visited Don’s parents in Toronto, then preceded to Montreal, where they boarded the ocean liner SS Hibernia. It took them and a number of other families across the Atlantic to Le Havre, where an RCAF officer met them and got them onto a train to Paris, from which they caught another train to the northern city of St. Evaux and then the base at Grostenquin.

Don’s posting was to 423 Squadron, which flew grey/green/light grey camoflauged CF-100s alongside two squadrons of Sabres. “We were armed all the time,” Don said. “We were on 24 hours readiness and the pilots slept in the hangars. When we’d get an alert – what they called a ‘yellowjacket’, and when it was yellow, they’d sit on the cockpit right in the hangar.”

Don took particular pride in the ability of RCAF personnel to work minor miracles while on deployments to other NATO bases to -– a tribute to the RCAF system of cross-training personnel in each other’s groundcrew specialties.

As for the CF-100s themselves, Don said, “we called them ‘the Clunk’ and a lot of other bad names, but they were a good airplane.”

The ‘Clunks’ were not without quirks, though. Fuel normally was carried in two places –- fuselage tanks and wing tanks -– with wingtip tanks replacing rocket pods when long flights were planned. The price of the complicated fuel system was that when maintenance personnel would pull down the CF-100’s internal gun pack of eight .50-calibre machine guns, “there would be a fuel leak”. Overall, though, “it was an easy plane to work on it wasn’t difficult. Canadians built it and it was built for ease of maintenance.”

One weak point was the CF-100's radar, which wasn’t “all that reliable –- at least that’s what the radar people would tell us.”

And aircrew had to make sure that they’d drained the fuselage tanks before emptying the wing tanks. There were, sadly, quite a few casualties, including one spectacular accident that saw two aircraft collide right over RCAF Station Grostenquin and crash into the station’s hospital, with several fatalities. There were frequent rotations to the NATO air gunnery range at Decimomannu (nicknamed “Decchi”) in Sardinia, where a deal had been struck with local fishermen: aircraft would have to be airborne by 0400h, then finish early, giving the fishermen time to work. There was a benefit, though: the Canadian airmen thus had each afternoon off and were free to go to the local beach –- which Don recalls as being superb.

Back at Grostenquin, Don recalls the dispersal for the station’s two Sabre squadrons, Nos. 421 and 430, was close to the station, while 423’s was “way out in the boondocks, as we called it.” This, and the long road to the dispersal area – which even had traffic lights controlling the passage of cars over a runway -- set the stage for an unusual incident involving Don’s wife, Frances. Two things happened on the same day: Frances needed the family car for an errand and heavy fog was blanketing the area around the station, so flying was temporarily suspended. Frances and Don drove to dispersal, whereupon Don got out and Frances departed, secure in the belief that no aircraft would be flying that day when she headed for the road that crossed the runway.

Alas, “one guy decided he’d go out and check the weather,” Don recalled. “She said the wheels rolled over the roof of the car.” I said he wasn’t THAT low, but she said it WAS – and she remembered that.”

In 1962, Don and his family were posted back to Canada. Initially, he was told he’d be going to RCAF Station Saskatoon, home of 1 Advanced Flying School. But the station was soon to close, and Don received word he’d be going back to Moose Jaw. “I went right back to Moose Jaw – and back to the same office that I’d left.”

Sources: Will Chabun's Aug. 27, 2008 interview with Don O’Hearne, plus follow-up e-mails as well as the author's notes of Don's talk on his career to the Regina Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS) in 1994.

Here is the second article I wrote in 2007 after interviewing Don about his work with the Vintage Aircraft Restorers group at the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw:

The story of the Vintage Aircraft Restorers volunteer group that has operated from the Moose Jaw branch of the Western Development Museum starts only a few years after the museum itself opened in 1976.

Inside the large, new, pyramid-shaped museum building on the northern edge of Moose Jaw there was clearly display room for additional aircraft to supplement the Norseman and Swallow biplane that entered the museum right after it opened. Asked to help secure and restore additional aircraft was RCAF veteran Don O’Hearne, who had served in the RCAF as a maintenance NCO from 1939 until 1965, then joined what used to be called Canada Manpower. His team’s first project, around 1980, was overseeing the restoration of a Cessna Crane twin-engine trainer for the museum. “I took on the job and gradually took on some people and we restored the Crane,” he said 28 years later.

That led to the restoration of two Canadian-built trainers of the Second World War: an Avro Anson and a Cornell. A Stinson 108 was restored in the markings of the Saskatchewan Flying Farmers -- by the Flying Farmers themselves), a Tiger Moth, a Funk high-wing monoplane and a Piper J-3 Cub.

Also constructed by VAR members were the front section of a Tutor and Airspeed Oxford (as children’s’ hands-on displays, a scale-model dioramas of a Snowbirds formation display and the wartime No. 5 Bombing & Gunnery School at Dafoe, replica (overhead in Snowbird Gallery) and a pair of Link Trainers, the state-of-the-art air training simulators of 1940.

Being restored by the VAR in 2008 were a complete Airspeed Oxford (for Saskatchewan aircraft historian/collector Frank Thompson) and a Canadian-built Vickers Vedette used by the RCAF in the late 1920s and then by the fledgling air service of the Saskatchewan Government in the mid-1930s.

France, 1940: 1 Squadron

In October 1939, the squadron moved to Vassincourt, where it became a part of the AASF, ready for operations over the front line. This force included ten squadrons of Fairey Battle light bombers, together with the Hurricanes of 1 and 73 squadrons, which were to escort them and to provide protection.

On 30 October 1939, the squadron's Pilot Officer PWO 'Boy' Mould shot down a Luftwaffe reconnaissance Dornier 17, which was the first RAF fighter claim over France. However, opposition in the air was rare during this 'phoney war' period, and by the end of the year only four victories had been claimed.

During the spring of 1940, clashes with the Luftwaffe became more frequent as the weather improved, and by 20 April the squadron 'bag' had risen to 23, for the loss of five Hurricanes and one pilot killed.

On 10 May 1940, the great German offensive in the west (which rapidly became known as the blitzkrieg, or 'lightning war') began. Wehrmacht airborne troops landed in Holland and Belgium, as German tank columns and infantry crossed the frontiers into these neutral countries. At once elements of the French northern armies and the BEF moved forward into Belgium to intercept these invasions.

Meanwhile strong formations of Luftwaffe bombers and fighters launched a series of surprise attacks on Allied airfields, catching many units on the ground. 1 Squadron was fortunate not to be one of those caught, but was swiftly in action, flying many patrols and engaging in frequent fights with opposing formations.

Although almost always outnumbered, the squadron's well trained and experienced pilots did well from the start, and by the close of 13 May had claimed some 40 German aircraft shot down, for the loss in action of nine Hurricanes, but of only one pilot - young Pilot Officer Billy Drake, who was shot down and wounded by a Messerschmitt Bf 110. He baled out of his burning Hurricane, but did not rejoin the squadron until after its return to England.

On 14 May it became clear that German forces had made their way through the Ardennnes forest - thought by the French to be virtually impassable to armoured units - and were in the Sedan area, threatening to outflank the massive fixed defences of the Maginot Line, and to tear a great hole in the Allied lines. French and RAF bombers were thrown in here in a desperate attempt to stop the rot, but huge losses were suffered to Luftwaffe fighters and flak (anti-aircraft fire).

Early life and education

George Johnson (known within the family as Leonard) was the sixth and last child born to Charles and Ellen Johnson. He was born in the village of Hameringham in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. His mother died when he was three, leaving his father, a farm foreman, to bring up the family in somewhat poor conditions. The family lived in a tied cottage, his oldest sister Lena largely being responsible for his early upbringing.

Johnson attended school in the village of Winthorpe until the age of 11. Through a bursary scheme set up for the children of agricultural workers, he was sent as a boarder to the Lord Wandsworth Agricultural College in Long Sutton, Hampshire. He was active in sport, playing football, cricket and participating in athletics, winning several events. He passed his School Certificate, leaving school in December 1939.

  • Based at RAF Lossiemouth, 120 Squadron is the RAF&rsquos first operator of the Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA)
  • 120 Squadron began its long association with anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol when it began operating the Liberator GR.Mk I from RAF Nutt&rsquos Corner, County Antrim, in 1941
  • 120 Squadron was RAF Coastal Command&rsquos highest-scoring anti-submarine warfare squadron in World War II
  • Became the first Avro Shackleton operator
  • Flew the Nimrod from 1970

1918 &ndash 120 Squadron stood up 1 January as a Royal Flying Corps unit at RAF Cramlington, Northumberland. It disbanded in October 1919

1941 &ndash Also known as CXX Squadron, the unit began flying the Consolidated Liberator in the Battle of the Atlantic

1942 &ndash Deployed detachments to Reykjavik, Iceland and the Middle East, before relocating to Iceland in 1943

1944 &ndash Returned to Ireland, stationed at Ballykelly

1946 &ndash Re-equipped with the Avro Lancaster

1951 &ndash First squadron to operate the Avro Shackleton MPA

1970 &ndash Began operating the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod jet MPA. Disbanded, still on the Nimrod, in 2010

2017 &ndash Announced as the first Poseidon MRA1 squadron, receiving the UK's initial example in 2019

2020 &ndash Flew the first UK-based Poseidon to Kinloss Barracks while upgrade work at RAF Lossiemouth was completed

Closing the 'air gap'

Northern Ireland’s primary role in relation to the air-war was to come through its port and airfield bases, mainly as Coastal Command due to Ireland’s geographical position to the North Atlantic, with a later role being extended to facilitate United States Army Air Force Combat Crew Replacement Centres (USAAF CCRCs).

By late 1940, the Allies were in a dangerously critical position in the Battle of the Atlantic. The German U-boats were going through the ‘happy time’ with Britain’s merchant fleet suffering a casualty rate of frightening proportions. In these early days there were little signs of the forthcoming tactics of joint Naval/Coastal Command co-operation, but signs began to appear to close the gap where no air-cover from east to west existed, and that meant building airfields as far west as possible to Britain.

For this reason an airfield building programme was commenced in Northern Ireland. Convoy protection and anti-U-boat patrols were already underway with No.502 Squadron from Aldergrove, an established pre-war airfield, whilst airfields built early in the war were Limavady, for aircraft engaged in convoy escort and reconnaissance patrols, and Ballyhalbert, for fighter protection of the Belfast area deemed urgent after the German raids of April/May 1941.

There was also a need for flying boat bases which had the advantage of no runway construction. Earmarked for one such base was Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh and despite an unfavourable report of the area in December 1940, the war situation dictated otherwise and work began around the Castle Archdale estate in January 1941. Lough Erne would provide an extra 100 miles of air-cover over the squadrons currently sited at Loch Ryan in SW Scotland.

However, there was one major problem that needed to be overcome for the base to fulfill its intended use – the aircraft needing to fly straight out into the Atlantic over Donegal Bay and hence over Free State territory. Sir John Maffey, the British representative to Eire, began a series of delicate negotiations with the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, to ask that aircraft be allowed to fly that route. On January 21, 1941, he received permission with limited conditions. Flights were to be at good height and were not to fly over the Irish Army camp at Finner, near Ballyshannon. Later, many more concessions were granted to the Allies as de Valera’s government engaged in a policy of benevolent neutrality.

The scope of arrangements were later widened. By February 5, 1941, No 240 Squadron RAF began to use Lough Erne. No 240 Squadron had converted to Catalinas and in those early days these aircraft would leave Lough Erne at dawn, patrol the Atlantic as far as Newfoundland and return to Wig Bay at Stranraer in Scotland usually around 04:30 hours, as it was a 21-hour patrol.

Upon arrival at Wig Bay, they would rest until later that morning, then fly over to Lough Erne and fuel up for another patrol the following morning. The reason for this diversion was that landings on Lough Erne at night were, in those early days, considered unsafe owing to the mountainous nature of the district.

May of 1941 was to prove eventful for No 240 Squadron when firstly on the 16th, a Catalina depth-charged an Italian submarine. The escorting naval corvettes confirmed the kill. However it was the sighting of the battleship Bismark on the morning of May 26 by Catalina ‘Z’ flown by Flying Officer Briggs and carrying an American co-pilot, Ensign Leonard Smith, that brought Castle Archdale into the history books within months of its opening. Ensign Smith was one of a group of US Naval personnel familiarising RAF pilots with the Catalina, whilst at the same time gaining operational experience. Their presence, as the United States was still neutral, was kept a secret, as was their intention to establish a flying boat base at nearby Killideas to accommodate four Catalina squadrons. A pressing need for US Catalinas in the Pacific put that plan on ice and Killideas became an RAF Operational Training base with No.131 OTU flying Catalinas.

In February 1942, the slipway at Lough Erne was used for the first time to beach a Sunderland.

Also significant for February was that the ‘happy time’ for the U-boats was ending. With the establishment of a Western Approaches command centre in Liverpool, new convoy escorts and an intensification of coastal command patrols, a significant turning point emerged.

March 1941 saw the German U-boat command lose four boats, commanded by ‘aces’.

No 221 Squadron RAF moved to Limavady in May 1941 from Bircham Newton in Norfolk England with their ASV equipped Wellingtons, whilst No.254 Squadron whose Beaufighters had come from Sumbridge at the end of May, took over patrols from Aldergrove until December when it left for Dyce in Scotland.

No 245 Squadron, who had been at Aldergrove with Hurricanes, left on July 15 as Fighter Sector HQ was transferred to Ballyhalbert on June 28, 1941. Aldergrove was then allocated to Coastal Command and No 233 Squadron, who were also stationed there with Hudsons, shot down a long range Condor which was attacking a convoy on July 23.

Further runway construction at Aldergrove began in September 1941, but the airfield remained operational with No 206 Squadron also flying Hudsons based there. Aldergrove was one of three airfields being upgraded in terms of runway length and layout, the others being Ballykelly and Ballyhalbert.

The creation of Ballykelly was clear from the start – to base long range reconnaissance aircraft to operate out into the Atlantic to cover ‘the Mid Atlantic Gap’ - ‘The Black Gap’ – where no air-cover could be provided allowing the U-boats to track the convoys with impunity.

The answer was the American built B24 Liberator bomber! No 120 Squadron, RAF was already forming up at Nutts Corner, ten miles North of Belfast with the Mk 1, but the specialised maritime equipment needed for the conversion of this ‘bomber’ to a maritime role was still in short supply, so for the next year, until August 1942, the squadron would remain the only Liberator squadron. Two further squadrons, Nos 59 and 86 would also later operate from Aldergrove and Ballykelly flying Mk V Liberators. Ballykelly’s first operational Coastal squadron was No.220 Squadron, flying B17 flying fortresses.

The following year, in July 1942, No 120 Squadron joined No 220 at Ballykelly, as No 120 Squadron had occasionally used Ballykelly as a landing ground during their time at Nutts Corner after sweeps out into the Atlantic. (Ballykelly aircraft used Bishopscourt in Co Down in a similar way.) During the summer of 1942, later versions of the Liberator, the Mk II and Mk III were joining No 120 Squadron and they were now able to patrol out to 30 degrees west and beyond with an endurance of over 16 hours. This now ensured that the squadron would be able to encounter U-boats in the notorious ‘air gap’.

All Liberators up to the Mk III standard were equipped with ASV Mk II radar, with a range of some ten miles. Transmitter aerials were located obliquely at the front on the outer wing and looking out sideways on the rear fuselage. When a contact was picked up, the aircraft would turn on to the relevant bearing and home in with an aerial on the nose.

The Mk III aircraft retained the two .50 calibre machine guns in the rear ‘Glen Martin Turret,’ instead of the four .303 machine guns and the ‘Bolton Paul’ turret of the more extensively modified aircraft. A more important feature was the American H2X centimetric radar whose scanner was housed in the ventral ball turret position, the first Coastal Command aircraft to use the new radar operationally.

Construction standards at airfields were modified as the war developed. The largest and best equipped airfields were Cluntoe, Toome, Greencastle (all three later passing to the USAAF as CCRCs) and Bishopscourt, which were all built to 1942 Class A Bomber Standard which stipulated optimum runway length and gradients enabling operation of the heaviest aircraft then in service.

After a spell at the Dumlambert Hotel in Belfast, No 82 Group Fighter Command set up HQ in the Senate Chamber in Northern Ireland’s one-time seat of Government, Stormont Castle, with an ‘emergency’ underground HQ bunker sited at Kircubbin in Co Down. Three fighter stations were set up at Ballyhalbert, Eglinton and Kirkistown, with a fourth station Maydown earmarked for USAAF use.

Many famous Battle of Britain squadrons were to find themselves at these bases over the years, such as No 152, who whilst based at Eglinton in 1941 lost two DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) holders in crashes, Flying Officer Williams, DFC, and Squadron Leader Bodie, DFC. They were buried in St Canin’s Church, Eglinton.

Several Polish squadrons of the RAF such as No 303 and No 315 saw service at Ballyhalbert, as did No 504 squadron, who shot down a Ju88D which was on a return leg from a photographic reconnaissance patrol on August 23, 1942. They shared the ‘downing’ with No 315 Squadron (RAF Valley) and No 152 Squadron (RAF Angle) both in Wales. At this stage of the war, German aircraft were running the gauntlet through British airspace and such flights were becoming very hazardous. The Ju88D crash-landed near Tramore, Co Waterford, and the crew survived.

By March 1943, despite the U-boats still marking up the successful sinking of British and Allied merchant shipping, there were signs of the Allies taking the upper hand in the North Atlantic. Long range aircraft had closed the gap across the Atlantic.

In May 1943, U-boat command suffered its worst setbacks of the war and would lead them to contemplate defeat. They lost 41 boats, sank in that ‘one month’. Their total loss for 1943 had totalled 237, of which 148 were credited to joint Royal Navy/RAF Coastal Command operations. The tide had turned and the hunters had now become the hunted.

Further reading:
Down in a Free State – Wartime Air Crashes and Forced Landings in Eire 1939 – 1945 (1999) by John Quinn

120 Squadron RAAF

No. 120 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron was formed at RAAF Station Fairbairn in Canberra on 10 December 1943. As a joint Australian-Dutch unit, the Dutch authorities provided all the squadron's aircrew and aircraft while the RAAF provided its ground crew. This arrangement had been previously used for No. 18 (NEI) Squadron and the short-lived No. 119 (NEI) Squadron. It was originally intended that once formed, No. 120 (NEI) Squadron would be deployed to northern Australia and operate alongside No. 18 (NEI) Squadron. However, it was later decided to deploy the unit to Merauke, on the south coast of New Guinea, which formed part of the pre-war Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

The Squadron completed its training in early 1944. During December 1943, the No. 120 (NEI) Squadron pilots who had been trained in the United States received training at No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit to familiarise them with RAAF procedures. The squadron acquired its full complement of P-40 Kittyhawk fighters by 22 January 1944 at this time it was manned by 28 Dutch pilots and 213 RAAF personnel. In mid-March 1944 No. 120 (NEI) Squadron made an emergency deployment to 'Potshot' airfield in Western Australia in response to a feared Japanese attack on the Perth area. The squadron's aircraft began to depart Fairbairn on 9 March and returned on the 28th of the month after the crisis had passed.

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