RCAF No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron in the Battle of Britain

Seventy-one years ago today, No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force departed Montréal, Québec for the United Kingdom.  There were destined to be part of the few to whom so much was owed by so many, in PM Churchill’s famous phrasing.

The RCAF’s No 1 (Fighter) Squadron is the only Canadian squadron that took part in the Battle of Britain. Transferred overseas in June 1940, the pilots went through intensive training to be up to the level of their RAF counterparts before being sent to the front. In their Hurricanes, the pilots of No 1 Squadron had their first encounter with the enemy on August 23rd, 1940, and took part in the action until October 8th. Three pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC): Squadron Leader E.A. McNab, Flight Lieutenant G.R. McGregor and Flight Officer B.D. Russel.

— “RCAF Fighter Squadrons Overseas.”  Juno Beach Centre.  n.d.  Web.  08 June 2010.

Groundcrew servicing Hawker Hurricane aircraft 315 of No.1 (F) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Rockcliffe, Ontario. September 5th, 1939—a mere four days before the start of the Second World War. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-063512)

Groundcrew removing the chocks from Flight Lieutenant E.A. McNab's Hawker Hurricane aircraft 315 of No.1 (F) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Rockcliffe, Ontario. September 6th, 1939. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-063510)

S/L E.A. McNab, Commanding Officer, with a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No.1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, England. September 12th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176200)

S/L E.A. McNab (centre) and pilots of No.1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, Surrey. September 12th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / MIKAN #3643021)

An unidentified airman refuelling a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No. 1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, England. October 6th, 1940. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176201)

Pilots at readiness with a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No. 1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Digby, England. January 22nd, 1941. (Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176202)

In 1941, No. 1 (F) Squadron was renamed No. 401 Squadron and transitioned to new aircraft (later-model Hurricanes and early Spitfires).  The squadron ended the war as the top-scoring unit within the RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force, with 186 ½ kills—29 of which were from 1940 under the old No. 1 Sqn moniker.

In more contemporary times, 401 Squadron transitioned to rotary wing craft and was most recently known as 401 Tactical Helicopter and Training Squadron, flying the CH-136 Kiowa.  When the Kiowas were retired, the squadron’s days were numbered; it was disestablished on June 23rd, 1996.

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