Canadian Wings :: The History & Heritage of the Royal Canadian Air Force

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks of the RCAF

In the middle of May 1940 Canada had its first look at the Curtiss P-40. At that time a party of American officers flew to Uplands Airport near Ottawa where they saw the XP-40 and a Spitfire I had flown in comparative tests. Wing Commander F.V. Beamish (RAF) and Squadron Leader E.A. McNab were critical of the XP-40, feeling that although it had its merits; it was not as good a fighter as the Spitfire, an opinion which the wartime use of the two types proved. Nevertheless, in 1941-42 there were not enough Spitfires for everyone, and both overseas and in Canada, RCAF squadrons found themselves flying Tomahawks and Kittyhawks, aircraft which proved quite equal to the tasks assigned to them.

Four RCAF squadrons flew P-40 Tomahawks overseas - Nos. 400, 403, 414 and 430.

No. 403 Squadron

Formed at Baginton, England, in March 1941, and began to receive Tomahawks on 13 March. These were Mark Is, and were used mainly for training. The squadron became operational on 11 May 1941, and that day Squadron Leader B.0. Morris and Pilot Officer K.H. Anthony carried out a patrol at 25,000 feet. The same day three Tomahawks on a firing practice flight were diverted to intercept a raider, but without success. During the month only 29 operational sorties were flown, chiefly scrambles, but without incident. During the month a Lt. Zemke, U.S. Army Air Corps, was attached to the squadron as an observer. Late in May, however, the squadron began to receive Spitfire Is. The Tomahawks were finally traded for Spits on 11 June 1941.

No. 403 flew the following Tomahawks:
AH751 AH812 AH878 AH89l
AH758 AH854 AH879* AH893
AH7S9 AH862 AH883 AH895
AH796 AH865 AH887 AH896
*crashed 9 May 1941

No. 400 Squadron

Received Tomahawks in April 1941, replacing Lysanders. The type was soon replaced by Mustangs, which arrived in June. The Tomahawks were called upon for army exercises only. While flying the type they were based at Odiham, commanded by Wing Commander R.N. McKay.

No. 414 Squadron

Formed at Croydon in August 1941, received its first Tomahawks on 24 August. These were flown in conjunction with Lysander until May 1942. In June the squadron began to receive Mustangs, and at the end of June only four Tomahawk II were left versus ten Mustang Is. The last one left the squadron in September. No.operational sorties were undertaken by No. 414 Squadron using the Tomahawks. Some of the aircraft used were as follows:

AH902 (15 Sep 41)**
AH903 (16 Sep 41)
AH906 ( 7 Sep 41)
AH907 (16 Sep 41)
AH935 (24 Sep 41)
AH998 (24 Aug 41)
AKl19 (15 Sep 41)
AKl28 (15 Sep 41)
AK161 (15 Sep 41)
AK163 (12 Sep 41)
AK186 (24 Aug 41)
AK194 (24 Aug 41)
AK276 (21 Sep 4L)

** crashed 21 Nov 41 - P/O G.M. Dunaway killed.

No. 430 squadron

Formed at Hartford Bridge on 1 January 1943, received its first aircraft Tomahawk AK189 on 2 January. By the end of the month, No. 430 had five Tomahawks six Mustangs, a Tiger Moth and a Miles Master. AK189 was heavily damaged on l8 January when a tire blew on take-off, but Pilot Officer I.M. Duff was uninjured. Other Tomahawks mentioned by serial were AH909 and AH905. The latter was destroyed by fire following an engine failure and forced landing on 21 January 1943.

AH910 also suffered engine failure on February 1943 and was written off in the forced landing. By the end of February No 430 had only one Tomahawk, but in May the squadron tally sheet showed two Tomahawk IIBs on strength. Both left the squadron sometime in July 1943. At no time did the Tomahawks fly operational sorties.

In Canada the RCAF flew 154 Kittyhawks. These were used by the following squadrons:

No. 14 Squadron

This unit was formed at Rockcliffe, Ontario, on 2 January 1942. It was commanded by Squadron Leader B.D. Russell, DFC, until November 1942, when Squadron Leader B.R. Walker, DFC, took over. From March 1942 until February 1943 it was based at Sea Island (Vancouver), but, from 3 March to 15 September 1943, it was based at Umnak in the Aleutians. Detachments at Amchitka were established 17 April to 15 May and again from 9 July to 29 August. In the first of these the squadron took part in 14 missions (88 sorties) and in the second 16 missions (102 sorties), chiefly dive-bombing Japanese positions on Kiska. During this campaign eight members of the squadron were awarded the U.S. Air Medal and two were Mentioned in Despatches. From 24 September to 23 December 1943, No. 14 was based at Boundary Bay, B.C. It was then sent oversees, renumbered No. 442; and became a Spitfire Squadron.

No. 111 Squadron

A former Lysander squadron which had disbanded at the end of January 1941, was reformed at Rockcliffe on 1 November 1941, under Squadron Leader A.D. Nesbitt, DFC, and received its first Kittyhawks on 3 November. In December the squadron moved to Patricia Bay, and in June 1942 they moved to Alaska. On 13 June, Nesbitt was promoted to command the RCAF Wing at Annette Island, and Flight Lieutenant J.W. Kerwin took over No. 111 until 22 August, when Squadron Leader K.A. Boomer took command.

In July 1942, No. 111 sent a detachment to Umnak. Four pilots from this detachment took part in an attack on Kiska on 25 September 1942 along with 37 U.S. air craft. The Canadians straffed ground targets and Squadron Leader Boomer destroyed a "Rufe" seaplane fighter. The U.S. Air Medal was awarded to Boomer and to Flying Officers J.O. Gohl, H .0. Gooding, and R. Lynch, and Boomer was later awarded the Commonwealth DFC.

Boomer was replaced as C.O. by Squadron Leader D.L. Ramsey on 31 May 1943. On 11 August 1943, No. 111 left Kodiak by sea, and on 19 August reached Victoria, B.C. The squadron was based at Patricia Bay, near Victoria, until the end of November, when it waa sent to England, renumberee No. 440 and equipped with Typhoons.

No. 118 Squadron

Converted from Grumman Goblins to Kittyhawks late in 1941. The conversion was carried out at Rockcliffe, after which the unit returned to Dartmouth, N.S. Early in 1942 the Kittyhawks were called upon to carry out short-range, anti-submarine patrols, and on 16 January Flying Officer W.P. Roberts and Sgt. J.W. Halloway attacked what may or may not have been a U-Boat near Halifax harbour. In June the squadron was moved to British Columbia, though based for some time at Annette Island, it saw no action against the Japanese. In October 1943, No. 118 was transferred to Britain, where it was redesignated No. 438 and flew Typhoons.

No. 132 Squadron

Formed at Rockcliffe on 10 April 1942 and received three Kittyhawks that month. By the end of May there were 14 on strength. Of these original aircraft the only one identified in squadron records is ET856 (726) which crashed on 25 May 1942, and ET866 which crashed on 5 June. That month (June) the squadron moved to Sea Island, B.C. The squadron served throughout the war at B.C. bases, before disbandment on 30 September 1944.

No. 133 Squadron

Based at Sea Island, B.C., it converted from Hurricanes to Kittyhawks in March 1944,receiving 13 of them from No. 163 Squadron, which was disbanding on 11 March. Aircraft used included RCAF 73l, 832, 836, 845, 1029, 1034, 1035, 1074, 1087, and l098. The squadron was relocated at Patricia Bay in August 1944. The squadron flew Mark Is and IVa until July 1945, when the Kittyhawks were finally retired in favour of Mosquito XXVI fighter-bombers.

While at Patricia Bay, No. 133 twice destroyed Japanese fire balloons. On 21 February 1945 Pilot Officer E.E. Maxwell, flying RCAF 866, was scrambled to 25,000 feet, when he attacked a paper balloon carrying explosives and shot it down. The infernal machine landed on the eastern slope of Sumas Mountain. On 10 March, Pilot Officer J.0. Patten on RCAF 858 intercepted another at 13,500 feet, near Saltspring Island, and shot it down in flames.

No. 135 Squadron

Based at Patricia Bay, converted Hurricanes to Kittyhawks (P-4ONs). The first two were RCAF 848 and 855, which arrived in the first week of May 1944. The squadron disbanded on 10 September 1945.

No. 163 Squadron

Based at Sea Island, converted from Hurricanes and Bolingbrokes to Kittyhawks in October 1943, but disbanded on 15 March 1944.

In all, the RCAF carried 154 Kittyhawks on its strength, with serials allotted in the following blocks 720 to 731, 531 to 550, and 1025 to 1099. One is now held in the National Aeronautical Collection at Rockcliffe - 1076 (AL135) - which served in No. 132 Squadron.


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