British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
|Part of the Second World War|
|Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, United States|
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP; "The Plan"), known in some countries as the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), was a massive, joint military aircrew training program created by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, during the Second World War. BCATP/EATS remains as one of the single largest aviation training programs in history and was responsible for training nearly half the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners, wireless operators and flight engineers who served with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the war.
Under a parallel agreement, the Joint Air Training Scheme, South Africa trained 33,347 aircrew for the South African Air Force and other Allied air forces. This number was exceeded only by Canada, which trained 131,500 personnel.
Southern Rhodesia at the time was a British Crown Colony (rather than a Dominion) and was not involved in the negotiation or signing of the BCATP; the Southern Rhodesia Air Force was subsumed by the RAF in 1940. However, Rhodesia provided significant EATS facilities and contributed personnel to British units.
Students from many other countries attended schools under these plans, including Argentina, Belgium, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United States, where the similar Civilian Pilot Training Program was already underway by the end of 1938.
The United Kingdom was considered an unsuitable location for air training, due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields and the unpredictable climate, so the plan called for the facilities in the Dominions to train British and each other's aircrews.
Negotiations regarding joint training, between the four governments concerned, took place in Ottawa during the first few months of the war. On 17 December 1939, they signed the Air Training Agreement – often referred to as the "Riverdale Agreement", after the UK representative at the negotiations, Lord Riverdale.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was viewed as an incredibly ambitious programme. The 1939 agreement stated that the training was to be similar to that of the RAF: three initial training schools, thirteen elementary flying training schools, sixteen service flying training schools, ten air observer schools, ten bombing and gunnery schools, two air navigation schools and four wireless schools were to be created.
The agreement called for the training of nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. Training costs were to be divided between the four governments.
Article XV of the agreement stipulated that graduates belonging to Dominion air forces, where they were assigned to service with the RAF, should be placed in new squadrons identified with the RAAF, RCAF and RNZAF. These units later became known as "Article XV squadrons". Articles XVI and XVII stipulated that the UK government would be wholly responsible for the pay and entitlements of graduates, once they were placed with RAF or Article XV units. Some pre-war/regular RAAF and RCAF squadrons also served under RAF operational control, while New Zealand and Rhodesian personnel were frequently assigned to RAF squadrons with the honorifics of "(NEW ZEALAND)" and "(RHODESIA)" in their names. However, in practice – and technically in contravention of Article XV – most personnel from other Commonwealth countries, while they were under RAF operational control, were assigned to British units.
On 29 April 1940, the first Canadian training course officially commenced, with 221 recruits, at No. 1 Initial Training School RCAF, located initially at the Eglinton Hunt Club, Toronto. From this intake, 39 received their wings as aircrew on 30 September 1940. All of these graduates, however, were retained by the BCATP in Canada, as instructors, staff pilots or in similar flying assignments. The first BCATP personnel sent to the UK were 37 Canadian observers, who received their wings at RCAF Trenton, near Trenton, Ontario, on 27 October 1940. The first BCATP-trained pilots posted to Europe as a group were 37 RAAF personnel who graduated in November 1941, from No. 2 Service Flying Training School, RCAF Uplands, Ottawa.
Prior to the inception of the Empire Air Training Scheme (as it was commonly known in Australia), the RAAF trained only about 50 pilots per year. Under the Air Training Agreement, Australia undertook to provide 28,000 aircrew over three years, representing 36% of the total number trained by the BCATP. [N 1] By 1945, more than 37,500 Australian aircrew had been trained in Australia; a majority of these, over 27,300, had also graduated from schools in Australia.
During 1940, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) schools were established across Australia to support EATS in Initial Training, Elementary Flying Training, Service Flying Training, Air Navigation, Air Observer, Bombing and Gunnery and Wireless Air Gunnery. The first flying course started on 29 April 1940. Keith Chisholm (who later became an ace and served with No. 452 Squadron RAAF over Europe and the Pacific) was the first Australian to be trained under EATS.
For a period, most RAAF aircrews received advanced training in Canada. During mid-1940, however, some RAAF trainees began to receive advanced training at RAF facilities in Southern Rhodesia.
On 14 November 1940, the first contingent to graduate from advanced training in Canada embarked for the UK.
Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, a majority of RAAF aircrews completed their training in Australia and served with RAAF units in the South West Pacific Theatre. In addition, an increasing number of Australian personnel were transferred from Europe and the Mediterranean to RAF squadrons in the South East Asian Theatre. Some Article XV squadrons were also transferred to RAAF or RAF formations involved in the Pacific War. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of RAAF personnel remained in Europe and RAAF Article XV squadrons continued to be formed there.
By early 1944, the flow of RAAF replacement personnel to Europe had begun to outstrip demand and – following a request by the UK government – was wound back significantly. Australian involvement was effectively terminated in October 1944, although it was not formally suspended until 31 March 1945.
Canada was chosen as the primary location for "The Plan" due to ideal weather and open spaces for large-scale flying training, ample supplies of fuel, wide open spaces suitable for flight and navigation training, industrial facilities for the production of trainer aircraft, parts and supplies, the lack of any threat from either the Luftwaffe or Japanese fighter aircraft and its relative proximity to both the European and Pacific theatres. For initial training biplanes, as one example of the wide range of American and British aircraft designs used for Canadian-based training facilities, pilots might have started their initial flight training on the Tiger Moth, the Boeing Stearman from the nearby United States, or even the indigenously designed and produced Fleet Finch biplane.
The government agreed in December 1939 to join the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, operate its bases in Canada, and pick up a large proportion of the costs. Events turned the scheme into a huge operation, one that cost Canada $1.6 billion of a total cost of $2.2 billion, and employed 104,000 Canadians in airbases across the land.
The W.L.M. King government saw involvement in the BCATP as a means of keeping Canadians at home, but more importantly, it eased demands for a large expeditionary force and buried the politically divisive issue of overseas conscription. Negotiating the agreement and agreeing upon aspects of involvement was notably difficult. Canada agreed to accept most of the costs of the plan but in return insisted British pronouncement that air training would be Canada's primary war effort. Yet another negotiation point was the British expectation that the RAF would absorb Canadian air training graduates without restrictions, as in World War One, and distribute them across the RAF. W.L.M. King demanded that Canadian airmen be identified as member of the RCAF with distinct uniforms and shoulder badges.
The RCAF would run the plan in Canada, but to satisfy RAF concerns, Robert Leckie, a senior RAF commander (at the time in charge of RAF squadrons in Malta) and a Canadian, was posted to Ottawa as Director of Training. From 1940 he directed BCATP training.[N 2]
At its height of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 131,533 Allied pilots and aircrew were trained in Canada, 72,835 of which were Canadian. At the plan's high point in late 1943, an organisation of over 100,000 administrative personnel operated 107 schools and 184 other supporting units at 231 locations all across Canada.
Infrastructure development including erecting "some 8,300 buildings of which 700 were hangars or of hangar-type construction." Fuel storage totalling more than 26 million US gallons (98,000 m3) was installed along with 300 miles of water mains and a similar length of sewer mains laid, involving 2,000,000 cubic yards of excavation. A total of 100 sewage treatment and disposal plants and 120 water pumping stations were completed; and more than 2,000 miles of main power lines and 535 miles of underground electrical cable placed, servicing a total connected electrical power load of over 80,700 horsepower.
In late 1944, the Air Ministry announced the winding-up of the plan, since the Commonwealth air forces had long had a surplus of air crews. At the conclusion of the war, over 167,000 students, including over 50,000 pilots, had trained in Canada under the program from May 1940 to March 1945. While the majority of those who successfully completed the program went on to serve in the RAF, over half (72,835) of the 131,553 graduates were Canadians.
During the war, the RNZAF contributed 2,743 fully trained pilots to serve with the RAF in Europe, the Middle East, and Far East. Another 1,521 pilots who completed their training in New Zealand were retained in country; either as instructors, staff pilots, or manning operational squadrons formed during the latter half of the war. In 1940, before the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was fully developed, New Zealand also trained 183 observers and 395 air gunners for the RAF. From 1943 onwards, the training of wireless operator/air gunners, and navigators was carried on in New Zealand for Pacific operations. In addition, some 2,910 pilots were trained to elementary standards and sent to Canada to continue their training. More than 2,700 wireless operator/air-gunners, 1,800 navigators, and 500 bombardiers passed through the Initial Training Wing before proceeding to Canada. Of the 131,000 trainees who graduated in Canada under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, New Zealanders formed 5.3%.
Despite the prewar South African Air Force (SAAF) expansion plans, the start of the Second World War in 1939 caught the SAAF unprepared. New flying schools had been established at Pretoria, Germiston, Bloemfontein and Baragwanath, while a training command under Lieutenant Colonel W.T.B. Tasker would oversee the SAAF's overall training programme. With the establishment of the Joint Air Training Scheme (JATS) 38 South African–based air schools would be employed to train Royal Air Force, SAAF and other allied air and ground crews. Aircraft and other equipment required for the training was provided to South Africa free of charge by the United Kingdom. Under this scheme, the SAAF, by September 1941, increased the total number of military aircraft to 1,709 while the personnel strength had grown to 31,204, including 956 pilots. During its five year existence, the JATS was ultimately to turn out a total of 33,347 aircrew, including 12,221 SAAF personnel.
On the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Government of Southern Rhodesia made an offer to the British Air Ministry to run a flying school and train personnel to man three squadrons (44, 237 and 266 (Rhodesia) Squadrons), which was duly accepted. The Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG), operating 1940–1945, was set up as part of the overall Commonwealth Air Training Plan. In January 1940 the Government announced the creation of a Department of Air, completely separate from that of Defence and appointed Ernest Lucas Guest as Minister of Air. Guest inaugurated and administered what became the second largest Empire Air Training Scheme, beginning with the establishment of three units at Salisbury, Bulawayo and Gwelo, each consisting of a preliminary and an advanced training school.
Rhodesia was the last of the Commonwealth countries to enter the Empire Air Training Scheme and the first to turn out fully qualified pilots. No. 25 Elementary Flying Training School at Belvedere, Salisbury opened on 24 May 1940. The original programme of an initial training wing and six schools was increased to 10 flying training schools and bombing, navigation and gunnery school and a school for the training of flying instructors as well as additional schools for bomb aimers, navigators and air gunners, including stations at Cranbourne (Salisbury), Norton, Gwelo and Heany (near Bulawayo). To relieve congestion at the air stations, six relief landing grounds for landing and takeoff instruction and two air firing and bombing ranges were established. Two aircraft and engine repair and overhaul depots were set up as well as the Central Maintenance Unit to deal with bulk stores for the whole group.
The trainees came mainly from Great Britain but also from Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Yugoslavia, Greece, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Fiji and Malta. There were also pupils from the Royal Hellenic Air Force in training. Over 7,600 pilots and 2,300 navigators were trained by the RATG during the war.
By mid-1940, Canadian flying instructors were primarily employed in the BCATP and to increase the numbers of flying instructors, the RCAF began a campaign to recruit American pilots.Air Marshal W.A. ("Billy") Bishop was instrumental in setting up a clandestine recruiting organisation in the United States. In response to the campaign, Americans began crossing the border, appearing at the nearest recruiting centres "in such numbers that they caused some embarrassment to Canadian authorities. Occasionally they were followed by worried parents who, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, pleaded with them to forget about foreign wars and go back to school." President Roosevelt, when confronted with this mass exodus, ordered that Americans going to Canada to join the RCAF or RAF would be granted exemption by the US draft board. Prior to Pearl Harbor, training centres were made available for the RAF; by war's end, 16,000 RAF aircrew were trained in the United States. After Pearl Harbor, 1,759 American members of the RCAF transferred to the armed forces of the United States, another 2,000 transferred later on, and about 5,000 completed their service with the RCAF.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan illustrated that the Commonwealth still had some military meaning during the Second World War and was one of Canada's major contributions to the early war effort. The BCATP was an impressive and uniting national achievement. Canada became, during the Second World War, one of the great air training centres contributing more than 130,000 trained aircrew to the Allied Cause. The federal government paid three-quarters of the total bill, an amount in excess of two and a quarter billion dollars.
On the third anniversary of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, in a message ghost written by Lester B. Pearson, serving at the Canadian legation in Washington, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt enthused that the BCATP had transformed Canada into the "aerodrome of democracy", a play on his earlier description of the United States as "the Arsenal of Democracy."
As Canada was the main participant, the legacy of the plan there included a strong postwar aviation sector and many new or improved airports across the country, the majority of which are still in use. The classic BCATP airport consisted of three runways, each typically 2,500 ft (760 m) in length, arranged in a triangle so that aircraft could always land (more-or-less) into the wind – that was critically important at a time when most light training aircraft (such as the North American Harvard) were taildraggers, which are difficult to land in strong cross-winds.
That triangular runway outline is perfectly preserved at Gananoque Airport, but is still easily visible under later runway extensions at most Canadian BCATP airports, such as Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport, Boundary Bay Airport and Pendelton, Ontario airport. Later modifications have often resulted in one runway being lengthened to handle larger aircraft such as jets, and in less-used runways being closed or converted to taxiways.
The BCATP provided an enormous and continuing economic boost, particularly in the Western provinces that were still recovering from the decade long depression.The final report of the BCATP Supervisory Board calculated that “more than 3,750 members of the RAF, RAAF, RNZAF and Allied nationals under RAF quotas married Canadian girls,” many of whom remained in Canada to raise families.
In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled The Ottawa Memorial, a monument erected to "(commemorate) by name, some 800 men and women who lost their lives while serving or training with the Air Forces of the Commonwealth in Canada, the West Indies and the United States and who have no known grave."
The Commonwealth Air Training Plan (CATP) Museum is a non-profit, charitable organisation in Brandon, Manitoba, founded and operated by volunteers. The museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and serves as a unique memorial to those airmen who trained and served, and especially those who died, while serving their country in the air war of 1939–1945. This is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to this goal, located in Manitoba where so much of the training was carried out. The collection includes 14 aircraft on display with the museum's Auster, Harvard, Cornell and Stinson HW-75 airworthy.
The Commonwealth Air Training Plan may also be regarded as the precursor of post-war international air training schemes in Canada, many of them involving personnel from other NATO powers. These include the NATO Air Training Plan (1950–1957) that graduated 4,600 pilots and navigators from 10 countries. Later bilateral arrangements with individual NATO powers (1959–1983), the Military Training Assistance Plan, which has trained aircrews from developing countries since 1964 and NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC), since 1998, a partnership of the Canadian Forces, Bombardier Aerospace Corporation and participating air forces. In 2005, the Canadian Department of National Defence awarded a 22-year, $1.77-billion contract to an Allied Wings team led by Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd. of Kelowna, British Columbia, to provide flying training and support services to the Canadian Forces and international allies. These services are provided out of the Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre in the Southport Aerospace Centre near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
The "Scheme" cost Australia about £100,000,000 for her commitments. In addition to the Empire Air Training Scheme, wartime demands had led to training for home requirements. The RAAF built air training and ground training schools, airfields and specialised schools that served the country well in wartime as well as postwar. All the service flying training schools were disbanded, except Uranquinty. The Uranquinty Base continued to provide refresher courses for qualified pilots and even briefly became a migrant centre in the late 1940s until it reopened as No 1 Basic Flying Training School between 1951 and 1959 when it finally closed. The Wireless Air Gunners' School at Ballarat remained as the RAAF Radio School until 1961.
A memorial was dedicated to 5 Service Flying Training School RAAF, within the Empire Air Training Scheme at Uranquinty, 19 September 1999.
EATS pilot training schools at Evans Head, New South Wales, Cunderdin, Western Australia, Point Cook, Victoria, Essendon, Victoria and Laverton, Victoria are on state or national heritage lists. Wireless operator/air gunners' schools at Maryborough, Queensland, and Ballarat, Victoria, are currently recommended for state heritage listing.
- Article XV squadrons
- British Flying Training School Program
- Civilian Pilot Training Program of the United States
- List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facilities in Australia
- List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facilities in Canada
- List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facilities in South Africa
- List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facilities in Southern Rhodesia
- Category:Airports of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
- While its Canadian counterpart, at its peak strength (in 1944) was the larger of the two air forces, the RAAF overtook the RCAF towards the war's end, becoming the world's fourth largest air force.
- Captains of the Clouds, a 1942 Warner Bros. war film starring James Cagney, the first feature length Hollywood production filmed entirely in Canada, proved to be an effective propaganda tool for both Canada and the United States as well as a playing a part in recruiting. The title of the film came from a phrase uttered at a BCATP Wings Parade by Air Marshall Bishop, the First World War fighter ace, a prime mover of the BCATP, who played himself in the film.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.|
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- "Wings for an Empire" (Time magazine, 13 November 1939)
- "British Commonwealth Air Training Plan" in official history of RNZAF in WWII