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Thread: Commonwealth Aircrew Compliments

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    Default Commonwealth Aircrew Compliments

    Hi everyone,

    I'm not sure if the following questions have arisen before within this new forum or on the old RAF Commands forum. But here goes!

    1. Many Commonwealth squadron sorties contained six out of seven aircrewmen of say Canada, Austrailia or New Zealand and one RAF aircrewman in each crew to make up the full compliment. Is there or was there a reason for this. Thinking that and Australian squadron would use all Australian aircrew? Obviously, there were all Commonwealth aircrew in each aircraft too.

    2. Also, although not unusual - as mentioned in Bomber Command Losses - was it strange to have three Commonwealth airforce representatives in one aircraft.

    Just curiosity getting the better of me I'm afraid.

    Regards.

    Steve.

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    Steve: On many Canadian Squadrons in 6-group, flight engineers were often from the RAF, often ex-ground crew who were familiar with the aircraft's engines. I read somewhere that there was a shortage of Non-RAF types (Middlebrook perhaps?) who were trained as flight engineers. My father's flight engineer was RAF, and I know of one other flight engineer on dad's squadron (419) who was also RAF and there were probably others. 419 also had at least one American pilot (Lieutenant Joe Hartshorn), formerly with RCAF training command but who had been claimed by the USAAF. He flew on the squadron with American uniform and rank but was awarded the DFC. From 1944, onwards, there was no shortage of Canadian pilots and I believe most pilots with 6-Group squadrons were Canadian.

    There were a lot of Canadians who flew in other Groups and squadrons in Bomber Command. An estimated 25% of aircrew in Bomber Command were Canadian.

    Jim

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    Hi Steve

    The seventh member was usually the Flight Engineer as these were not trained in other countries until late on in the war.

    In other Squadrons the selection at OTU determined who would form the crew, again with the flight engineer joining at HCU stage. If three Aussies for example had known each other previously it was natural for them to form the nucleus of a crew and then decide who they wanted to join them

    Cheers

    Eddie

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    Hi Taff,
    I only have knowledge of one commoinwealth crew. My mother's cousin, an Aussie, was a pilot on 463 Squadron. Of his crew there were five Aussies and two RAF.

    Best Wishes.
    Robert.

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    My father was RCAF but in an RAF Squadron, No.214 His crew had 3 RCAF and 4 RAF . Keep in mind that they were formed into crews by being brought into a large room with equal numbers of Pilots, Navigators, gunners etc. and told to mingle and sort themselves into crews. Naturally this ended up with clusters of nationalities depending on who they ran across in the crewing up process.
    Dave Wallace

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    Part of the reason for a shortage of non-RAF flight Engineers is that the original BCATP planning, in the fall of 1939, expected a very small need for this trade. Initially, only three trades were planned for: pilot, observer and WOP/AG. The intention was that that the existing RAF schools could handle the other needs, so most trained F/Es throughout the war were RAF. The Observer's Schools quickly specialized in several sub-trades, and at least 2 Navigation Schools were operational by the fall of 1940, but the only Canadian Flight Engineer School didn't open until July 1944. RAF pilot training in Canada predated the formal BCATP agreement, going back 5 years before this, to mid 1939.

    Another result of this mismatch in planned crew needs and actual crew needs was a surplus of pilots later in the war, especially after Bomber Command decided to go with a single pilot in four engined aircraft. As a result, some pilots that had already reached wings standard at an SFTS were convinced to switch trades, usually becoming navigators. This was in addition to the common practice of encouraging "marginal" students in EFTS to re-muster to another aircrew trade before washing out.

    An interesting breakdown from "RCAF Squadrons and Aircraft" by Kostenuk and Griffin, on the total of 131,552 BCATP graduates within Canada, of all nationalities:

    Pilots: 49,707
    Navigators: 29,963 (including Navigator, Navigator B, and Navigator W)
    Air Bomber: 15,673
    WOP/AG: 1,896
    Air Gunners: 15,700
    Flight Engineers: 1,913

    (Numbers are approximate, and subject to round off. Your mileage may vary, some settling may occur, etc.)

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    Default Commonwealth Aircrew Compliments

    Hi Gentlemen,

    Thanks for the replies to my thread, very interesting indeed and a lot clearer too, and it was quite revealing how they came to attain crew members just by mingling in a room and choosing the right mix of characters and skills.

    Cheers.

    Steve.

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    My RAAF F/O father was in a RAF 104 squadron in Italy, with Australians & British crew, then seconded to a South African sqdn, 31 SAAF ,also in Italy as the Leading Squadron Bombaimer .

    He flew with SAAF men ,a Belgian in the SAAF & RAF men.
    There were a few other Australians in the sqdn.Three that I know of were F/O & Flt.Sgt Pilots. There may have been RCAF men ?

    It seems that in 31 SAAF the SAAF men were always officers. Lt. Capt. Major or Colonel & the British were often Sgts or Flt/Sgt pilots but also F/O or Flt/Lt second or first pilots .The sqdn numbers were depleted by the Warsaw supply drop fatalities in August 1944 -as were the RAF sqdns 178 & 148.

    On my father's last flight , in which his Liberator disappeared , he flew with a SAAF pilot & SAAF crew officers ,an RAF co-pilot & RAF rear gunner .

    My father's RAAF cousin was a Pilot in a RAAF sqdn in England .His crew were RAAF, RAF & RCAF.

    Anne
    Last edited by aestorm; 10th July 2008 at 08:17. Reason: Adding

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    Fellow Forumites,
    Have just finished banging out the following ramshackle article on mu thoughts on the problems of getting "pure" Dominion crews in heavy bombers in particular, but also a few insights into problems with other aircrew categories.


    British Dominion national composition in crews of large aircraft.

    Some of the reasons why aircrew from the self-governing Dominions of the old British Empire (already being referred to as the British Commonwealth during WW2) became very mixed up in crews of larger aircraft with personnel from other Dominions or Colonies (or Allies) have already been explained on this Board, but not all. There was a large difference in the positions of Australia and New Zealand on the one hand, and Canada on the other, for instance, after the possible implications of Japan’s entry into the war in December 1941 became apparent. During all of 1940 and much of 1941 the two smaller Pacific Dominions had both been getting their respective aircrew training programmes up to their designed outputs (as also had Canada) and the RNZAF’s schools were considered to be at full output by May of 1941. However when both Australia and New Zealand were faced with the strong possibility that they themselves could soon be strategically isolated and under possible threat of invasion by a hostile Asian power during the early months of 1942, everything changed. It had been anticipated by both Australia and New Zealand that as soon as their flying training schools had attained full strength and maximum output, then resources could be diverted to increasing the flow of trained technical (ground) staff to the United Kingdom, where, like the existing flow of aircrew, they would serve on attachment to the RAF. These hopes were communicated to the British government. The flow of technical staff from New Zealand had in fact started as early as late-July 1940, with Fitter Armourers, Armourers, Wireless Operators (Ground), Radio Mechanics (for “Radio” read “Radar”), and Instrument Repairers proceeding in batches by sea every month or so in the case of New Zealand. It is believed that the Australians were also sending similar groups of technical tradesmen to the United Kingdom, although in substantially larger numbers then New Zealand (then as now, Australia had about five times New Zealand’s population). However it was not possible at this time to send any airframe or Aero engine technical staff to the United Kingdom as all those available were required for service in New Zealand, firstly to man all the burgeoning flying training schools, and then increasingly to provide groundstaff for the additional operational units which were being formed from late 1940 onwards to counter the actual incursions of German surface raiders, and later in 1941 to build up additional forces in Fiji in the face of possible Japanese incursions towards the South Pacific. Additionally the groundstaff of a new Fighter Squadron (No.488) had to be found at short notice from within these resources to assist in the defence of Singapore and Malaya in the July/August 1941 period which further delayed the building up of a surplus of skilled tradesmen. However by late 1941 these new units were all pretty well up to full strength and it was expected that contingents of Flight Riggers and Flight Mechanics, as well as some Fitter IIEs and IIAs would shortly be on their way around the world to the northern hemisphere. The Australians had been placed under similar stresses and strains during 1941, but all seemed to be slowly coming under control again when Japan struck at multiple points throughout the Pacific and Asia very early on the morning of 8th December 1941.
    Once again all the plans of the British Commonwealth military strategists were thrown into disarray, and new plans were hastily made in Australia and New Zealand to meet the threat of possible invasion in the very near future. All flying training programmes came under review, new operational squadrons were hastily formed from whatever local resources were available, and urgent requests were made to the British government for additional aircraft, military advisors, and even for fully formed squadrons of aircraft and crews ready for operations on arrival. However contingents of trained pilots continued to depart regularly for service with the RAF, and the flow of trainees to Canada for advanced training continued unabated. Nevertheless no trained technical personnel departed New Zealand for service with the RAF after April 1942, apart from nine Fitter Armourers/Armourers in June 1943, and a group of 47 surplus radar personnel in early August 1944. Thus no qualified Airframe or Aero engine technical personnel were ever sent to the UK from New Zealand (and probably very few from Australia for precisely the same reasons), so no RNZAF personnel available to draw on when applications from such personnel were called for from serving personnel within the RAF when volunteers were required for Flight Engineer duties in the late 1942 and early 1943 period, or later for that matter.
    Another problem faced by the RAAF and RNZAF particularly (because of their smaller size in comparison with the RAF, and their complete lack of control over postings of their nationals attached to the RAF) was that many of the specialised new aircrew trades created during the period of WW2 were drawn from experienced members of existing trades volunteering for the new duties. One such new trade was that of Observer (Radio), which provided “the second man” in the crews of such aircraft as Beaufighter and Mosquito night fighters. Because the numbers of men required for these new trades were often comparatively small, and most applicants had to be recommended by their previous Commanding Officers in their original trade, very few RNZAF members were posted to the special conversion courses. This was not a problem for the RAF as a whole, as the required numbers for training were always forthcoming, but when the RNZAF was advised that a new RNZAF Article 15 Night Fighter squadron had already been formed in the United Kingdom (which just goes to show just how little control, or even knowledge, the nominal “owner” of these squadrons had of “their” operational units) it meant that no such trained RNZAF personnel had been available for posting to the new unit on formation day. So the unit was fully manned and working up to operational efficiency, but only a small proportion of the pilots, and none of the Observers (Radio) were RNZAF members. This seemed to cut right across undertakings given by the Air Ministry that all efforts would be made to post Dominion personnel to their nominal Article 15 squadrons, but the practical difficulties of national discrimination in this way were seemingly just too great when there was still a war to fight and win. It was pointed out at the time that the conversion course required to be undertaken by an experienced Air Observer to qualify him as an Observer (Radio) was of six weeks duration, whereas to train one from scratch (ab initio) would entail about seven months.
    Compared to Australia and New Zealand, only a small proportion of the Dominion of Canada’s very much larger “Home” air force was diverted to its west coast to face the possible attentions of Japanese naval forces, with the main operational effort going into the build up of the major part dedicated to the war in the North Atlantic or the large and later semi-autonomous part serving in the United Kingdom and elsewhere under general RAF control. The Canadian involvement in the North Pacific was never very large, and later became all but non-existent. Conversely, New Zealand and Australia became increasingly involved in operations against Japanese forces in the South and South West Pacific theatres respectively, with the RAAF working predominantly with the USAAF, and the much smaller RNZAF serving alongside and under the control of the predominantly US Navy (and later USMC) command in the South Pacific (and later SWP) Area.
    David Duxbury

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    David;

    Thank you for this insight into Australian and New Zealand participation in the BCATP and the war in Europe. I can only add a few quick observations about what was happening in Canada at the same time.

    Canadian graduates of the BCATP were subject to many of the same conflicting factors (the UK's need for efficent use of aircrew and groundcrew, the additional war in the Pacifc, etc.) but two major political issues within Canada were added.

    The political leaders in Canada at the time had very strong memories of the slaughter (pardon the strong language) of Canadian volunteers under British military command in the previous war. Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in particular, felt it was his duty to prevent this from being repeated in the current war. Without any grounding or experience in military strategy, he automatically fought every attempt by the British to take command of the Canadian war effort, including recruiting, training, and assignment of personnel overseas. He was not always successful, but he fought strongly to the end of the war.

    Secondly, the Canadian Federal Government throughout the war tried to respond to public demands and pressures. This is both a strength and weakness of a true democracy (getting way off topic here, will leave discussion of this to others). Today, with access to actual records of German and Japanese efforts and intents, it is easy to dismiss many Canadian home defence efforts as unneeded. However, my reading of newspaper records and other documents from the time show that during the war the average Canadian, and the Canadian political leaders, felt much differently. From September 1939 newspaper reports had daily reports of German military actions against Eastern Canada (mostly false), and demands of the Government to know what was being done. From December 1941 the reports were all of sightings of Japanese aircraft, subs, etc. Again, most were false, but the people demanded action and the Government responded as best it could. The very limited German and Japanese efforts against Canada were, in my opinion, extremely effective in diverting an immensely disproportionate amount of war effort to Canadian defence.

    I agree with your comments about relatively little being done by Canada to reinforce the west coast or the war in the Pacifc from late 1941, but the Canadian papers and public of the day were demanding more of the government. The Federal Government, limited in many ways by previous commitments to the war in Europe, was doing all they could, but the public cried for more and the Government struggled to balance all the demands on Canada. The quick Canadian Government acceptance of the Tiger Force proposal and of the RCN carrier proposals in early 1945 was, in part, a reaction to their previous lack of effort in the Pacific.

    These two issues had a major influence on Canadian policy decisions throughout the war, rightly or wrongly. Somewhat off the original question, I know, but this is a topic of personal interest. Hope I haven't bored anybody.

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