Yanks In Canada

by Edward Churchill

What is the status of United States pilots in the RCAF? How many are there? How are they treated? These and many other questions are answered here.

At this writing, approximately 400 United States pilots are serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Of this number, approximately 260 are instructing Canadian cadet pilots, towing targets and ferrying planes in Canada. Nearly 50 are engaged in ferrying bombers across the Atlantic. About 90 are working as ferry pilots in England.

"It is estimated," says an official spokesman, "that of the pilots in the RCAF, one-seventh are citizens of the United States and the number is growing steadily."

At the air field at Jarvis, 45 of the 47 flying officers are Americans. This is rated as the top bombing and gunnery school. Canadians admit that this particular school couldn't have been opened without the American flyers. Further reports state that over 20,000 flights have been made from the field without injury. The RCAF plans to open six more bombing and gunnery schools, and expects to draw heavily on the Jarvis personnel.

Present plans of the Commonwealth Air Training project call for 83 schools in operation by September 1, 1941. At present there are 51. When the war started, they had but 15.

Most of the information which has led to Americans joining the RCAF has been released by the Clayton Knight Committee, with headquarters in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, with branch offices in Hollywood, Oakland, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas and Miami.

The latest development in the service is the use of civilian instructors. Under the present plan, those wishing to fly as such join the Dominion Aeronautical Association, a civilian company at Ottawa, ON, for refresher courses, followed by assignments as instructors.

Anecdotes already are beginning to come back from Canada. There's the one about the lads about to fly a group of bombers from the western hemisphere to England.

"Let's go!" ordered the Bight commander, waving a meteorological report to his men. "The weather's fine."

"Yeah," replied an American, "and the last one over buys the drinks."

Another report shows that a marked tendency exists toward a desire to get mixed up in the fray on the other side. Thirty-four Americans have banded together and waived the clause in their service agreement which states that they do not have to leave North America.

"We'll go anywhere, any time," was the gist of the pilots' statement to their superiors.

In numerous letters which are filtering back to the United States from Canada and from England, the story of Canadian service is told. Here is a detailed letter written to a friend by Don Annibal, late of Los Angeles, who has been stationed near Maidenhead, Berks, England:

"… You will remember we left Los Angeles on the American Airlines plane the first week of October. After going to New York, where we spent one day, we found ourselves crossing the border into Canada on October 12. We reported to the flying field near Rockcliffe, near Ottawa, by mid-afternoon and had a 30-minute check flight in a North American Yale.

"The same night we were hurried off by airline to Toronto. On arrival there we were put up at the Royal York Hotel and, for the next 10 days, were kept busy flying Lockheed Electras at nearby Malton Airport. We were under the excellent tutelage of several captains of Trans-Canada Airlines, under whom I received 11 hours on the Lockheed. About half this time was under the hood.

"When finally okayed, several of us Americans were sent to Montreal to await orders for departure. We hoped we'd be sent over on the Clare, one of the fly-boats in which several of the pilots were transported. However, we embarked on the Duchess of Athol November 3rd. After a rough but uneventful crossing we landed at Liverpool, were sent on to London by train, where we experienced our first air raid. It really wasn't so bad but very noisy. We all were just as satisfied to leave the morning of the 13th, however.

"Since our arrival here we have been occupied at the school, doing our best to assimilate differences between USA and British engine design and operation. Also a week or 10 days on navigation and check flight work on Blenheims, Oxfords, Battles and Harvards. You see, there are more than 70 types being ferried about here and we are supposed to be able to fly them all. The four I have named are more or less representative types.

"Navigation here is difficult. A combination of high speed, foggy weather and necessary camouflaging of all aerodromes sort of complicates our work. There are quite a number of balloon groups about, the so-called 'balloon barrage,' and they are the No 1 hazard, which makes it unhealthy to get lost.

"Honestly, these boys have real aircraft in service. Spitfires, 400 mph, land at 80 or less; Hurricanes, ditto; automatic carburetors, engines running at plus 15 boost (60 lbs manifold pressure).

"Some of the Americans here are Vencill, Dramer, Gregg, Bovd, Bender, Stewart, Smith, Alsop, Jacquest, Trumbull and Cole. We also have English, French, Polish and Czech pilots in ATA service. The job is pretty darned good."

Bill Deming, now flying in Canada, writes:

"Upon arrival in New York, reservations were available at the Waldorf-Astoria and nothing for our comfort and convenience was spared. We were welcomed by Clayton Knight and Homer Smith, who quickly cleared our accounts, advanced our expense money and made train reservations for Ottawa. In Ottawa, we found reservations awaiting us at the luxurious Chateau Laurier. I can't overemphasize the courtesy and consideration with which we have been treated by all concerned …

"Yesterday this writer, walking, crawling and trembling, passed from one end of the most severe example of physical scrutiny ever conceived … to the opposite terminal, marked 'satisfactory.'

"Before acceptance and assignment to preliminary training and duty, all hotel charges are paid and we receive each day our 'pilot's pin money' in the amount of $5. Living expenses, meals, etc, are surprisingly low, so each night finds the treasury with a comfortable balance.

"The commissions offered are in the rank of flying officer, which equals first lieutenant in the US Army. The pay in this rank is based on $7 per day, or approximately $210 per month for flying officers, and if married the allowance is $45 and $12 for each child. On this basis, a single pilot receives $210 per month, a married pilot with one child $267. Considering the low cost of living, I think these payments are expanded by 20 per cent.

"In closing I might add a caution to prospective Canadian flyers. It is imperative that they bring with them proof of age, birth of children, separation from any US service, marriage and birth certificates, flying time and other pertinent data concerning personal and professional qualifications, including two letters of recommendation …"

Richard Carey, writing from No 2 Manning Depot, Brandon, MB, states:

"At the hotel I met several other US men from 25 to 40 years of age, all with from 600 to 4,000 hours. They were swell guys. I took a flight test in a North American BT-14 Yale which, incidentally, is a sweet ship. The instructor who gave us the flight test sure was a smooth pilot on top of being a regular guy …

"When I was introduced as Pi1ot-Officer Carey I just about dropped because I came up expecting to be a sergeant-pilot. The boys that received flying-officer commissions were sent to Manning Depot No 1 at Toronto to learn the ways of an officer and from there to Trenton for the refresher course. The two other men beside myself were sent here and from here to Edmonton, AB, for our refresher course. I think we will have an advantage here because we will get the advantage of a complete training course and get to fly many more different types of ships … "

From Central Flying School, Upavon Marlborough, Wilts, England, Pilot-Officer C B Whitehead writes to his wife:

"England needs and wants all the help America can give her. That newspaper story you sent me really boiled me over, as the RAF has never done anything to discredit any pilot from the US or anywhere else … I lived in London for weeks and saw sights that if I could write you, nobody at home would believe me. Not only London, but many other places in England have nightly seen the way the Huns do things. No one over there has the slightest conception of what a screaming bomb from high overhead means. They seem to come straight at you … "

From L A Hood, in Canada:

"We get all the flying we want and then some on Harvards, Yales, Fleets, Northrops and Fairey bombers. Everything is 'de luxe', the officer's quarters are fine and it's pretty nice to have a valet, or 'batman' as they call them here. The food is swell, too. Our uniforms are blue-grey and good-looking. Tunics, or coats, and trousers ….

"Bowman and Limpp are both doing fine, too. Bowman just left for Jarvis where he'll be stationed for a while. I know some fellows already at Trenton and commissioned as flying officers — men from the States — who came up here with less than 100 hours, one fellow with but 40 hours. I don't know how in the world they've made it, but they're pushing them on through."

From Joe James, former barnstormer:

"Everything in the RCAF is on the up and up, and we've all been treated royally … Homer Berry (former Airacobra test pilot), Dick Bryan, Knickerbocker, George Campbell of New Orleans, and myself are in the first American group to arrive here …."

Norman ——— has been having his troubles, what with the cold weather and all. He writes:

"I flew a Yale yesterday and it was a job to taxi in the snow. It has been snowing all day today and as a result we are grounded. To facilitate flying they roll the snow, but with a bad wind and deep snow there isn't much they can do because the snow tends to drift. It is easy to fly off snow. The plane will stay down once it hits the ground due to the snow killing the speed.

"The reactions of a student are entirely different in these planes up here. The average pilot will find himself in a Yale or Harvard with a huge array of instruments and gadgets which are unfamiliar to him, but, before he can take off, the meaning of every instrument is vital and the time to use the different gadgets, is a study in itself.

"The first thing to be learned is the cockpit drill, which is termed H T M P F C G, which is as follows: hydraulics, trim, mixture, pitch, flaps, carb heat and gas. If you remember this rule you won't overlook anything. On learning this we practice circuits around the field, which is rectangular. On every side of the rectangle there is a specific altitude to be maintained and certain things to do in various positions on the circuit, such as lowering the wheels, changing pitch, etc. Getting this down, we then practice forced landings … every phase of flying being done by pattern, and it works very well."

Writes Lloyd Rauch from No 1 Manning Depot, Toronto, to a friend:

"I've been drafted to write for all the boys. Schmitz, Westphal, Root, Morrella, say hello …. I took a check hop in a Yale. A more beautiful airplane to fly I've never seen. Schmitz did a beautiful job of it, but I messed up the procedure somewhat. The RAF check pilot said my air work was good, however. Mr S— suggested that I accept a pilot-officer commission for a couple of weeks and then, after a few hours' more refresher, qualify as flying officer. I accepted his suggestion … It certainly is fun and we are treated like conquering heroes from the States … More than once they have expressed their appreciation of our helping them in their time of need up here ….

"I understand we next go to Trenton and receive 25 hours in Fleets, Yales, Harvards and Fairey Battles. After Trenton, where we go seems a problem."

Fred Heward, at No 1A Manning Depot, Picton, ON, writing late in January, reports a little horseplay:

"Well, here I am yet at Picton. It looks as if I shall be here until April or May. I have been posted here as an advance instructor. They've also made me a 'bloody' school teacher. I have to give lectures, exams and grade papers. I am also a meteorologist. I take a Harvard every morning and go up hunting for the ceiling … just like a guinea pig, that's me.

"Yesterday, down at the hangar, a fellow who was lugging a very large pail of heavy grease came up to me, dropped the pail on his toes and pantingly asked — 'Sir, where shall I leave this propeller pitch?'

"We kept the propeller pitch and sent him back to the station sergeant-major for a barrel of 'prop wash.' We haven't seen the lad since … I'll have a snap taken of me in a Fairey Battle. It's sure a far cry from the Stinson 105 … Gene Moraga is a staff pilot here now and sends his regards …."

From Flying Officer W Westphal at Picton:

"Picton is a new field built for the RAF and the RCAF is using it until about April. Then the RAF will take it over. Picton itself is a town of about 3,000 and it is a mile and a half from the field. I like it very much. The people in town are just swell to us fellows — can't do enough for us. I have been flying Yales and Harvards and will be on Fairey Battles next week. The Yales and Harvards sure are swell to fly. The ones we have here all are brand new."

Shortly after this letter was written, Westphal was to marry a California girl who joined him in Canada.

And more from Joe James, now at Trenton:

"Arrived here last Wednesday and started flying the same day. This is a fine post and we are very much satisfied here. So far I've had over five hours on Fleets. We are to stay on this type for the next 20 hours and then go on to Harvards, Battles and Lockheeds. I have never met a finer bunch of fellows anywhere. Every day someone turns up here whom we have known for years back in the states and we renew old friendships.

"They have worked out a simple and almost foolproof course for the instructors. [Note: James now is instructing.] It is very practical and effective. The instructors take real personal interest in us and this makes us exert ourselves to the utmost.

"Homer Berry (now a group captain) is my roommate. He checked out on Harvards yesterday. Jack Bryan and Knickerbocker and Haddon will commence flying tomorrow. They will discover that the vacation at the hotel and playing soldier in Toronto is over and that the real work begins here and now. I myself enjoy every bit of it and feel that I'm benefiting by it immensely …."

Evidence that it gets cold in Canada from Frank Buchanan, stationed at Picton:

"It is 15 below zero here today. We are out in the country all by ourselves. They have erected a little city here. The hangars are the latest thing and no expense is being spared anywhere … These Americans are like a bunch of school children. They have snow fights, water fights with fire extinguishers, gang up on one another and throw each other into the snow with no clothes on … The big ship here is a Fairey Battle with a 1,200-hp Rolls-Royce engine. It weighs six tons and is really big …."

From D H Bradley, at Windsor, Ontario:

"The ground course here covers quite a bit and in a very short time, including engines, theory of flight, airplanes, airframes, navigation, armament and wireless A person who had not been familiar with any of the subjects would have to dig in hard to assimilate everything.

"I was graduated from No 1 Initial Training School in Toronto with 92½%. Radion Rathbone (son of Basil Rathbone, motion-picture player) was highest in the class with 93%. That course included RCAF Administration, organization, accounts, armament, wireless, sanitation, mathematics and drill."

From Flying Officer Walter Hale, Toronto:

"… Some of the other boys who are here from Oakland and who received commissions are Andy Castalotti, 'Doc' Penland, 'Skipper' Henderson, Cap Foster, Darrel Shekel, Johnny Howell, Hamilton and Don Sales, from Red Bluff. About 85 per cent of the boys here from the states are from the coast. The majority are from Los Angeles and vicinity … "

This article was originally published in the June, 1941, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 28, no 6, pp 43. 64, 67, 76.
The original article includes 2 photos and the image of the letterhead, above.
Photos credited to International, Acme.