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Historical Articles from Larry Ruickbie
RCAF Squadron during WWII

416 Lynx Squadron 1942-1945 with my father’s reminiscences

The 416 Squadron of the RCAF was formed in November of 1941 in Aberdeen, Scotland. This “City of Oshawa” squadron used the images of a leaping lynx superimposed upon a maple leaf as its emblem. Its motto “AD SALTIUM PARATUS” translates as “Ready to Leap”. Throughout the Second World War its primary aircraft was the Spitfire. Although disbanded after WWII in 1946, the squadron was re-activated in 1952 surviving to this day and now piloting CF-18 Hornet Tactical fighter jets as they did during the Gulf War in 1991.

This wee piece contains a brief description of the squadron in the war years, the Spitfire aircraft, and stories gleaned from a RCAF Spitfire mechanic’s experiences; from volunteering in Ontario and during service in Scotland, England, Normandy, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.

Please excuse the quality of the pictures within the collages but they have weathered the course of over 60 years and have endured much along the way.

The RCAF 416 Squadron during WWII was made up predominantly of individuals trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP) which was initiated in 1939, and launched in 1940. Under this program pilots, aircraft mechanics, navigators, radio men, logistic personnel, ground crew members and more, were to be trained for service in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – all of these sites being far from the hostilities. During the following five year period 360 schools were established at well over 200 sites across Canada. 131,533 graduated from this program, and I believe that Canada’s share in this program was set and achieved at near 80%. Both men and women participated in this program with many persons from countries other than Canada, including the United States, being accepted and trained here.

My father, George Ruickbie, volunteered for RCAF service after completing his high school education. Being already a half decent mechanic he was placed in the BCATP program to become an aircraft engine mechanic. He eventually made his way to Scotland where he became one of the early members of the 416 Squadron. Prior to starting the program he acquired a camera to “take a few pictures” along his way. He carried this camera to Germany and home again. While not a “pro” some of the pictures taken by him that have survived basement floods and attic heat I think are worth sharing.

An interesting aside: in the early years of the war the Muskoka Airport in Bracebridge, Ontario was called “Little Norway”, where 4,000 Norwegian airmen trained. These men, in addition to their billets in the immediate Bracebridge area, stayed and trained in many surrounding area locations. In fact, a number of these Norwegian airmen built a large log cabin structure, and small out-buildings on Limberlost Road which is located between Huntsville and Dwight (about 30 miles north of Bracebridge). This location we currently know as “Camp Olympia”, a kids’ summer camp on Oxbow Lake. Further, one unlucky Norwegian pilot crashed his Cornell PT-19 Fairchild in Lake Muskoka, and recently a piece was dragged up to the surface –much to the amazement of many.

In the southern Ontario region one of the larger “initial” training sites used during the BCATP was in Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge). This school, originally opened in February of 1852, still exists as Galt Collegiate Institute. This was where my father began his training. Many RCAF and RCN volunteers went through the programs here.


From here the pupils (and more than a few of the teachers) scattered across the country to participate in the secondary training of various disciplines. In the fall of 1941 my father proceeded to the “St Thomas No. 1 Technical Training School” in south western, Ontario where he learned how to properly maintain, repair and service aircraft engines. This school now is the “St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital”. A historical plaque currently mounted at this site reads: “RCAF TECHNICAL TRAINING SCHOOL - The only facility of its kind in Ontario during the Second World War, No. 1 Technical Training School, St. Thomas was established by the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 to produce skilled ground crews for active wartime service. It was housed here in this hospital complex and was operated in compliance with Canada's commitment to establish air training facilities in sites removed from the theatre of war. Equipped to handle more than 2000 students at a time, the school offered six month courses for aircraft electricians and aero-engine, airframe and instrument mechanics in addition to specialized training for fabric and sheet metal workers. When the war ended in 1945 the school was closed and the complex was returned to the Ontario Department of Health.”

From St. Thomas many of the graduates went on to further “hands-on” training while also acting as service crews on the planes used to train pilots at flight schools set up a many locations across Ontario. My father went to No. 5 Service Training Flying School near Brantford, Ontario. This school, also part of the BCATP program, was opened on 11 November 1940 to primarily train bomber and transport plane pilots. No. 5 SFTS was closed in November of 1944 -three of the hangars still stand and are part of the complex that now houses the Blue Bird Coach Lines terminal operation.

The “bible” for RCAF Aircraft Engine Mechanics

The relating pictures1 of this period are from this Ontario training period. Shown are a few of the training craft, a marching drill in Galt, and my father’s mechanics group at Brantford SFTS (he’s George). The picture in the bottom right corner is that of a twin engine trainer of theirs that was forced to do an emergency landing, because of a mechanical problem, on a farmer’s wheat field just outside Waterdown, Ontario.

From such training locations these RCAF volunteers were disbursed to their various assigned locations, with most making their way via ships sailing out of Nova Scotia to the United Kingdom for active duty. Upon arrival at their final destinations they were (“finally”) assigned to their squadrons or unit locations.

Prior to the war the RCAF forces numbered less than 5,000. By D-Day this number had grown to near a quarter million. In 1944 the RCAF had 78 squadrons, 46 being on active duty.

In the UK the fresh men from BCATP-RCAF training were given additional instruction and experience in more relative areas of their posts. Pilots trained on the specific models of aircraft they would fly, and ground crews became more acquainted with the engines and systems. Plus all were physically and mentally hardened for what was ahead, being trained more thoroughly in the use of weapons, and ways of war.

The 416 initially stationed in Scotland, began in the summer of 1942 to move steadily south. Within this period the 416, 403, and 421 Squadrons were brought together as the 2nd Tactical Air Force, No. 127 Wing. The missions began in the defense of Britain.

During this period the 127 Wing practiced moving the squadrons from place to place, over and over, in preparation for what was coming. The day before a move, every member of the squadron received a precise list of what they were responsible for, and orders that they must ensure that all items made it to the far end of the relocation (failure was not an option that should be explored). The move would start at dawn and all had to be completed and fully set up for operation within that day.

Initially there was a small group of United States citizens in the 416 Squadron. These men had volunteered for military service in Canada prior to the USA Declarations of War. After the USAF arrived and was operational in England the men were transferred to serve with their countrymen. Also in the 416 was a group of six French airmen who are seen in the photos7 sitting together in a group.

In the late spring of 1944 the 127 Wing was operating out of RAF Station Tangmere near Chichester, Sussex, England in preparation for the invasion.

Within the period2 before the invasion most men did get the chance to acquaint themselves with the United Kingdom through their regular passes. While on leave they did manage to tour or visit never seen before relatives in England and Scotland. But, as the invasion date became closer such jaunts became rarer. Everyone knew an invasion may be coming, and it came without much warning -the invasion of Europe by Allied Forces began in Normandy on June 6th.

On D-Day and until June 10th the entire 127 Wing, flying from Tangmere, served to provide low altitude beach head support and patrols over Normandy from dawn till twilight. In this period the sorties numbered about 100 per day.

The Royal Engineers landed at Normandy late in the day on June 6th and within four and a half days, working around the clock, cleared and constructed air base “ALG B2” near Bazenville. This was no easy task considering the new airfield itself was to be almost a mile long and well over 200 feet wide. A good portion of one end had to be backfilled substantially to make the surface level. After leveling, the entire central portion of the surface was covered with a heavy woven wire mesh that was metal staked to the ground. Rolls of this steel mesh are seen in one of the photos7 –behind the six 416 Frenchmen. This mesh provided a stable surface in all weather conditions while minimizing erosion, rutting and pot-holing.  But this mesh did sometimes present problems when there might be a bombing attack or landing mishap – it would get badly torn up and lay twisted on the airfield stopping all runway use for many hours while the damaged mesh was removed, the runway surface repaired, and new mesh installed.

June 11th through June 13th mixed two squadron low level armed patrol missions were operated rather than three, with sorties making temporary use of “B2” runway in Normandy throughout the day on June 11th.

The weather through this period was not the best. Low ceilings, low visibility and rain may have been the reason for the fact that on June 13th aircraft flown by 127 Wing Commander L. V. Chadburn (who was leading the 416 Squadron at the time) and F. Clark (a pilot from 421), collided in midair – both Canadian men perished and now rest in peace in different graveyards only miles from the crash site near Caen.

My father advises that when the entire 127 Wing flew together in this time, that 403 Squadron was the lead, with 416 second, and 421 as the tail. This particular order apparently established by the experience levels of the pilots within each squadron.

On June 16th the127 Wing was relocated3 to Normandy. The pilots flew their planes to their newly constructed bases, while the ground crew made the crossing in Dakota transport planes or on the water in troop carriers, with their trucks and gear. My father’s group went by sea -“It was a rough ride”.

Within a month of D-Day the 443 Squadron joined the 127 Wing increasing its size, depth, and strength. You may recognize the 443 Squadron as that which currently flies the “Sea King” helicopters. Today the 403 Squadron is a Helicopter Training force. The 421 Squadron has now been disbanded. The markings used by 403 Wolf, 416 Lynx, 421 Red Indian, and 443 Wasp units were KH, DN, AU, and 2I respectively.

Here are the 127 Wing Squadron emblems at its peak level: 

The Spitfire9 aircraft is sometimes called the pinnacle of evolution of prop driven fighter planes preceding the advent of jets. It is the single most recognizable classic fighter plane. Over 22,000 were flown during the era of the war in all parts of the globe.

Really a small fighter by today’s standard the plane measured approximately 31 feet long, a bit over 12 feet tall at its highest point (prop tip), with a wingspan of about 37 feet. It was a single engine; single seat fighter outfitted with wing mounted machine guns and small caliber cannons. The weight of the plane was at a trim 7,500+ pounds.

Manufactured by Supermarine, and boasting up to a 1700 horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engine (or Packard in later years), the Spitfire was capable of a comfortable cruising speed of 280 mph, with a top speed on the flat of over 400 mph and maximum ceiling of 8 miles. Range with standard fuel load was just over 400 miles in the true fighter models. Use of an auxiliary “drop” tank could extend this flying range up to 200 miles. This flight range may appear great, but do remember the speed – even with drop tanks a return to a base for refueling would be required within several hours of takeoff. The engine burned fuel at an average rate of about one gallon per minute.

Initially the Spitfire fighter models were armed with four .303 machine guns, and two 20mm Hispano cannons (120 rounds each). By D-Day these lower caliber machine guns had been replaced by two high powered .50 Browning machine guns (250 rounds each) which had armour piercing capabilities. Most had the capability of carrying a 250 pound bomb on each wing, plus a 500 pound bomb on its belly. The Mark II Gyro Gun-sight used through the European campaign gave good targeting accuracy.

With a possible flying height of 40,000 feet, the planes were equipped with oxygen breathing apparatus and storage tanks.

It was small, quick, and maneuverable with a sting –a deadly combination in those times. Imagine a hornets’ nest of these coming after you –coming down out of the clouds at almost 400 miles per hour with quite accurate armaments capable of permanently disabling a locomotive or armoured vehicle traveling at full speed. All through the war the Spitfire was constantly redesigned to improve its speed, fire power, and suitability to the many tasks it handled over land, sea, and in the air. All of this being necessary to keep pace with similar programs by the foe. Dozens of different models were produced, each improving to meet the needs of the time.

All of these planes were built light to maximize speed. Very little armour plating was present. The pilot’s seat did have a curved bullet proof plate in its backrest which did provide some protection.

One must consider that the technology was not as advanced, in those times, as we enjoy (or deplore sometimes) today. There was no on-board radar, or tracking systems, or “smart” weapons. Just point it, get there, find a target, attempt hitting it, and then get out as quick as possible – all the while being watchful of those attempting to make you the target. Jet aircraft was not available to the RCAF squadrons at this time – but the Germans used them near the end of the war – a picture7 of a captured Heinkel jet fighter is in the collages.

In Europe the day-fighter models of the Spitfire served to be much more than a suitable choice in its role to protect ground convoys, as a bomber escort, as an armed scout aircraft, and for use in direct daylight attacks on the enemy or to scramble to defend against incoming threats. In all, a high contribution was made by the Spitfire, its pilots and crews, in hastening eventual victory while minimizing losses.

The 416 Squadron flew the Spitfire Mark VB or VC early in its days, but used mostly Mark IXC and Mark XVI models within 1944 and 1945.

The days in Normandy were long with non stop “right-now” activity. On dry days the dust generated on the airfield was horrendous “You couldn’t see 20 feet in front of you” – it rose in thick clouds on every takeoff or landing, and got into, and onto, everything, everybody, everywhere, and was a major problem at times with the air intake systems of the aircraft engines. (After all, the airfields were on dirt.) My father complains that the mosquitoes were at times unbearable. The food was acceptable. There were no showers or baths and one would have to try and make the best of it using a bucket of water, soap and cloth.

For the 416 ground crew these days always beginning with their group leader waking them by pounding on an empty jerry can while shouting repeatedly “Wakey, Wakey, Wakey – Its daylight in the swamp – Time to get on the palms of your feet – Everybody up….” Early morning was the time that most attacks on the 416 base camps came, with the enemy hoping to catch a few planes still sitting on the ground.  But bombs did sometimes fall in darkness, and a few times without warning in the day.

Planes were in the air within one hour of rising. Each squadron within the 127 wing typically had a dozen aircraft. Not all left immediately, but were staged out quickly and selectively through the day with replacements always being readied to take off just prior to those incoming. This activity would be further complicated by planes from other than the 127 Wing dropping in to refuel, rearm or repair. On top of this would be steady regular traffic of new arrivals, supply flights, squadron planes coming home early due to problems or out of ammo, and flights bringing in and taking out the wounded. Then to really spice things up, in the midst of all this, the occasional “incoming attack” warning signal would be sounded which would send the field into a real frenzy with planes scrambling to take off and the ground forces heading for arms and cover in the slit trenches.

Slit trenches were located near the planes, near the men’s tents, and at other strategic locations about the air base. These trenches being quite narrow were deep enough to stand in while still offering protection from enemy attacks and the shrapnel from bombs. All men slept in “sleeping trenches” dug4 within their tents – a “very wet” situation when it rained. But these trenches were very important at times in the early days, saving many lives.

These airfields would rarely remain in any one place too long. When the movement of the Allied front accelerated towards Germany a stay of only two weeks in one location was not unusual.

Interestingly, my father has stated that one of the most important items, always of great concern in a move, were the Spitfire battery chargers. Apparently, in the cold mornings of the fall and winter of 1944, little flew without their constant use.

The allies did eventually have air superiority due to the efficiency of the allied pilot efforts, and by the sheer overwhelming numbers of aircraft that the Allies had available in comparison to the Luftwaffe. It is estimated that in June of 1944 that the number of Allied bombers and fighters available totaled well over 8000, while the Germany numbers were well less than 400. This did, well after D-Day as more and more planes endlessly joined the battle, leave the 127 Wing squadrons to concentrate upon their tasks with targets supplied by command, located by scout planes, or spotted by ground forces seeking assistance. In the initial period what there was of the Luftwaffe did offer great resistance with many air battles occurring in close proximity or right over the 416 air base. Even though German planes were being shot down the German war machine was still quite capable of pumping out thousands of new planes a year. One of the pictures10, taken at Grave October 12 1944, shows a cloud of smoke within a short distance of the airfield – this smoke rises from a plane that had been shot down, on the back of this picture my father’s handwritten note indicates this place, date, and that 5 were killed, 3 wounded upon that day.

The air battles and operations could get quite complex and confused as is indicated by a note upon another picture6 which shows a group of four pilots. In this shot one pilot is using his hands seemingly to describe an encounter in the sky – the note states, that shortly after this was taken, that the pilot was mistakenly shot down by “friendly fire”.

With the air bases being behind the front the airfield personnel could watch the constant daily traffic of more men, machines, and supplies streaming into the country. Starting out with over 100,000 landing at Normandy on June 6th the numbers quickly grew to a million in Europe within a month, and two million by mid August.

Within the time period from Normandy to VE the number of 127 wing sorties averaged about 80 per day. Maximum daily number was over 250.

My father took hundreds of pictures all through this period. The locations hand written on the backs of some photos include: Normandy, Grave, Brussels, Fassberg, Hamburg, B90 (Petit Brogel), and Reinsehelen, many simply state the country or persons’ names. In all, the 416 relocated a dozen times prior to victory in May of 1945. Some airfields were setup in farmer’s fields with wire fencing and mesh being staked to the ground right over the crops, while others were set up at recently captured facilities.

Most men had been issued and carried .303 rifles, pilots wielded a side arm. A few were outfitted with a Sten guns. My father occasionally was issued a Bren gun when an “attack” warning came or during a base move. The Bren gun, he says, was very reliable and unbelievably accurate. He has commented that the Sten gun, although much lighter, was not much more than a “bunch of pipe” badly assembled that would jam all the time. My father is seen holding a Sten gun in a picture2 taken during his commando training.

Much of the information in books and on the internet concerning the RCAF fighter squadrons concentrates in both photographs and description upon the pilot groups. One must realize that the head of a spear is useless without the staff. In addition to the men flying the planes the 127 wing did have separate ground crews for each squadron plus air traffic control, medical staff, cooking staff, supply groups, communications, base maintenance, a ground transportation group, administration, and the command group. Plus, there were at times, civilian media reporters upon the bases who sometimes traveled with the men. Briefly a “war artist” was with the 127 Wing who sat each day painting pictures of various scenes of the war and towns along the way. One of the collages includes a photo7 of one of his paintings of a ghastly scene where all had been leveled with only a churches steeple left standing amongst rubble.

The moves from location to location were not a simple casual effort, being larger and much more complex than that practiced in England (same “list” rules).  These bases generally were the quarters of well over 800 people. The resident fleet of trucks on hand for such moves numbered approximately 200.

An amusing story – a month or so after being in Europe a few members of the 416 ground crew somehow managed to set up a large caliber machine gun on a home-made tripod stand and began taking pot shot bursts at an unarmed enemy reconnaissance plane that was at a fair altitude overhead. Upon hearing all the shooting their “alarm clock” superior came running across the field waving his arms and said “Listen boys, we really do appreciate your efforts, but you’ll never hit him with that from here, besides we really don’t want him to get too interested in us – he may go home and send a few of his nastier friends back here tonight.” –The gun was dismantled.

Two events stand firm in my father’s memory. The first being the attack by German fighters on January 1st 1945 upon the Allied air bases in Brussels. This attack, known as “Operation Bodenplatte” saw the Luftwaffe throw every fighter it had still flying at the Allies. Some 800 planes attacked at dawn at multiple locations and caught vast numbers of RCAF, RAF and USA planes on the ground. Over 300 planes were destroyed or damaged. 85 German fighters attacked the 127 Wing. “They dove in -wave after wave just after light -shooting and bombing everything”. Every plane of the 416, then stationed at Evere, was destroyed, including one that had made a forced landing the previous day at the Eindhoven base (also attacked at dawn on New Years). “It was horrible -the whole airport was torn up and in flames”. Luckily my father witnesses that loss of life was low (he says only a few died, and not many were wounded). This was the last major offensive that the Luftwaffe launched; they too took similar heavy losses. Many German planes ended up being shot down- many by their own anti aircraft guns since the operation was so secret that Luftwaffe Command neglected to inform their own people – who mistakenly took their own planes as enemy, and proceeded to blast them. The 416 recovered very quickly, the pilots were sent out immediately and returned with 12 new Spitfires a day or two later. While the pilots were off collecting the new planes, bulldozers pushed the wreckages into piles at the perimeter of the field. “We were back in business real quick.”

His second sad memory is that of a RCAF pilot, whose name he has now forgotten, that served just as long as my father had (the whole tour) without getting a scratch while still being one of the top rated pilots. The day after Germany surrendered this man died in a plane crash.

Other tales of lighter note: in Germany the 416 was for a time billeted at a former Luftwaffe Headquarters, the bullet riddled front of this structure is seen in the photos5.  My father has commented that this building was quite impressive on the inside and that he did not miss the tents and his “sleeping trench” at all. Not long after this - somehow my father and friends were allowed a “test drive” of Reichmarshall Hermann Goering’s car5 that had been captured by the Allied forces. “It needed oil.”

Once the war had been won the 416 performed the duties of an occupation force for six months. When these duties were completed the men were sent back to England via sea (few flew) where they rested only 4 or 5 days, and then returned home. Most of the 416 traveled from a northern Belgium port to England. Those going to Canada sailed back to Nova Scotia. My father and many others stopped briefly in Toronto where they were presented their medals, and honourable discharge.

When my father’s ship was approaching its Canadian port a ship’s officer announced “Lads, we know many of you are bringing home firearms acquired overseas. When we dock, anyone found with an un-issued gun will be arrested.” –In the next half hour my father witnessed hundreds of various weapons being tossed into the ocean. –By the way, they were not searched at the pier.

Three of the collages include pictures from various locations across Europe. Another is a collection of pictures taken in Brussels8 where my father was present the day the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) took control. In this collection are pictures of an effigy of Hitler and Nazi “papers” being burned.

Another collage contains group pictures11 of the 416 air crew and ground crew in 1944, and a March 1944 party of the 416 Squadron members.

The photograph below is a group shot of the entire 416 Squadron in 1945.

I know that while my foregoing essay is not by any means a treasure of greatly detailed historical significance, I do hope that Dad’s personal accounts and the photographs from his collection do educate, amuse, and enlighten a few in all that did occur. Very few of the 416 who saw the entire tour from Normandy to VE day live to share their stories. This is my attempt at making such available to all.

Today, near a cemetery, in Bazenville, France there stands a memorial fashioned from stone and painted to resemble the upright wing of a Spitfire. A plaque7 on the memorial lists the Squadrons of the ALG B2 airbase during the Normandy air campaign that helped to bring local freedom. It simply states “Nous nous souvenons”, or (in English) “We Remember”.

Do you?

The Collages:

1)     Commonwealth Training in Ontario

2)     Scotland and England

3)     Crossing to Normandy

4)     France

5)     Europe 1

6)     Europe 2

7)     Europe 3

8)     Liberation of Brussels

9)     416 Squadron Spitfires

10)  Lest We Forget

11)  416 Squadron Group Shots 1944

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