Clayton Knight Committee
The Clayton Knight Committee, was founded by William Avery "Billy" Bishop, and Clayton Knight in 1940. Homer Smith and several German émigrés, who wanted America to join the war against the axis powers, provided funding for the secret and unlawful commissioning agency. Its mission was to bring Americans to Canada in order to prepare and battle for the Allies amid the time of U.S. neutrality. By Canada allowing the training to happen on their soil, it is considered the most important contribution it made to the Allied air war. This was before the U.S. declared war on Japan and Germany. The committee was forced to defend itself from opposing forces such as,"pacifists and isolationists, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt."
The Clayton Knight Committee (CKC) was founded when Hitler was enforcing the expansionist policy on Europe. Britain, along with her Commonwealth countries recognized that in order to halt him, they had to establish a dominant air force. Canada, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand created the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). It also went by the 'Empire Air Training Scheme'." Each country had responsibility for varying aspects of the overall plan, such as aircraft engines (Britain), trainers (Britain), cost of elementary trainers (Canada), etc. It had plans to prepare and instruct 150,000 potential airmen.
The advancements of the BCATP would fall on the shoulders of well-known Canadian WWI ace Billy Bishop. His plan was to gain access to the quickly advancing U.S. aviation industry for BCATP. There was a major impasse: “American Neutrality”. This resulted in Bishop contacting his friend, Clayton Knight. Knight had many connections to United States aviation circles. The committee was responsible for 10,000+ American enlistments in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) before December 7, 1941, the date most known for the Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
The CKC's requirements for pilots were considered lenient by established RAF pilots. Some American pilots exaggerated their flying hours to gain acceptance by the CKC. However, the CKC rejected 86% of the pilots who applied.
Bishop also reached out to Canadian Homer Smith, an ex-pilot. A WWI veteran of the British Royal Naval Air Service, Smith was the successor to an oil fortune. Bishop was able to attain support from him financially. Smith also was a source of connections to airline presidents, flying school owners, and Civil Aeronautics Authority officials. He was considered the committee's director. WWI flyer C.R. Fowler also played a role in the committee.
Knight and Bishop revealed to the Air Council in Ottawa that they acquired 36 pilot trainers for the whole BCATP, which had started recruitment in Manhattan. One of their biggest obstacles was the possibility of abandonment of American citizenship for those who pledged loyalty to the British monarch when entering the RCAF. The State Department was briefed by Canada on the issue and requested that an oath to obey superior officers be substituted for the oath of allegiance. This matter was eventually abolished when the Canadian government enacted an Order in Council that put in place a momentary agreement to adhere to RCAF rules for the length of their time.
Bishop spent a portion of 1940 in London, working with Winston Churchill. This meant Clayton Knight was forced to search for new associates to establish their headquarters. The original headquarters was founded in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Later it expanded to nine cities in America, such as San Francisco, Dallas, and Kansas City. There were offices in Canada as well, to assist those returning to the US after rejection or for those looking for accommodations. Committee expenses were funded through a rotating bank account, which was created in Smith’s name.
In May 1940, the committee discussed their plans with Major General Henry H. Arnold and Rear Admiral John Henry Towers. These American military leaders felt that there were plenty of good candidates for pilots available. Arnold even offered to provide the Committee with a list of failed candidates from American training efforts.
CKC had to remain semi visible to evade the always-possible obstruction by German agents and the hovering F.B.I. They had to find a way to obtain help from the President even though his goal was to prevent America from going into war. Because of the constant hiding, Clayton Knight had to cover up his covert occupation. He used his art and journalistic contacts to work as a "special correspondent for the Associated Press," which posed as a guise from his family. Knight maintained his aviation artwork contributions to publications like The Saturday Evening Post.
CKC were required to ensure that the American pilots crossing the border to Canada had all the proper documents. They also had to fill in civilian instructor and staff pilot positions in the BCATP's Air Observer Schools and Elementary Flying Training Schools. Those who ended up in contact with the CKC were offered positions in the RCAF or RAF, or with civilian jobs as elementary training instructors, staff pilots, or RAF ferry pilots.
Attempts to End the Committee's Operations
Many times during 1940, the American State Department and the F.B.I. ceased committee's activity. The committee was encouraged to keep as few records as possible and cease lending travel money to potential recruits. In order to further distance itself from the committee, the Dominion Aeronautical Association was founded in January 1941 to create a buffer between the RCAF and the committee. The committee would now seek personnel for civilian positions. The committee's charge was expanded, after consultations with American leaders in Washington, to find personnel for aircrews in 1941.
The United States State Department alerted the Canada Department of External affairs to not shut CKC down, as long as the committee remained within American laws.
The financial conduct of the committee and Homer Smith's status on the RCAF reserve list caused major problems. Travel loans were not repaid by potential candidates, which meant they were technically gifts. "Providing funds for an American to join a foreign armed service was a violation of the law against recruiting U.S. nationals." Because Smith was on the RCAF reserve list, he was violating the law which required the registration of agents working for foreign governments. The State Department did not wish to prosecute or close down the committee. They only warned Knight and Smith to "slow down and pull in their horns."
President Roosevelt helped Billy Bishop's work and he ensured that the committee's efforts did not fall foul of the public policy. It was his aim to thwart the Nazi Abwehr spy network which had infiltrated America. The committee was thought to have prevented the success of the German spy rings in New York city.
Transfer of Americans Back to U.S. Service Branches
In 1941, after the US proclaimed war, a “Recruiting Train” traveled to Canada. Americans who wanted to return to the United States Armed Services were able to through the deal Roosevelt had established with the CKC.
In total, 2,000 of the 10,000+ Americans serving with the RCAF decided to return to the United States services. The rest continued service in the RCAF during the remainder of the war.
- Heide, Rachel Lea (2004). "Allies in Complicity: The United States, Canada, and the Clayton Knight Committee's Clandestine Recruiting of Americans for the Royal Canadian Air Force". Journal of the Canadian Historical Association. 15 (1): 207–230.
- Guinn, Gilbert Sumter. The Arnold Scheme: British Flyboys, the American South and the Allies' Daring Plan. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007, ISBN 9781596290426, pages 36-40.
- "Clayton Knight". Meadowlark Gallery. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- Hillmer, Norman, ed. (1986). The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of The Royal Canadian Air Force. 2. Canada: University of Toronto Press. pp. 220–221. ISBN 0-8020-2584-6.
- Guinn, pages 36-40.
- Hillmer, Norman, ed. (1986). The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of The Royal Canadian Air Force. 2. Canada: University of Toronto Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-8020-2584-6.
- Gaffen, Fred. Cross-Border Warriors Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces: from the Civil War to the Gulf. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995, page 47.
- Johnson, David Alan (2015). Yanks in the RAF: the Story of the Maverick Pilots and American Volunteers who joined Britain's fight in Britain. Prometheus Books. p. 65. ISBN 9781633880221.
- Johnson, David Alan (2015). Yanks in the RAF: the Story of the Maverick Pilots and American Volunteers who joined Britain's fight in Britain. Prometheus Books. p. 92. ISBN 9781633880221.
- Gaffen, page 47.
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart. Transnationalism Canada-United States History into the Twenty-First Century. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010, ISBN 9780773581333, page 225.
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart, page 226.
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart, page 227.
- "Clayton Knight". askart.com. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart, page 231.
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart, pages 232-233.
- biography. Annex Galleries. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- Gaffen, pages 49-50.
- Aleman, Bruce. "The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan: 1939-1945." (2006).
- Behiels, Michael D., and Reginald C. Stuart. Transnationalism Canada-United States History into the Twenty-First Century. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780773581333
- Douglas, W.A.B.; The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force (1986) ISBN 0802025846 OCLC 15101791
- Finch, Boyd. "The Clayton Knight Committee and the Transfer Train: Two Air Forces Courted Logue Mitchell." Journal of America's Military Past 30, no. 3 (2004): 71.
- Gaffen, Fred. Cross-Border Warriors Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces: from the Civil War to the Gulf. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995. ISBN 9781554881390
- Guinn, Gilbert Sumter. The Arnold Scheme: British Flyboys, the American South and the Allies' Daring Plan. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007. ISBN 9781596290426
- Greenhous Brereton [et al], The Crucible of War, 1939-1945 (1994) V. 3 of the Official history of the Royal Canadian Air Force. ISBN 0802005748
- Heide, Rachel Lea. "Allies in Complicity: The United States, Canada, and the Clayton Knight Committee’s Clandestine Recruiting of Americans for the Royal Canadian Air Force, 1940-1942." Journal of the Canadian Historical Association/Revue de la Société historique du Canada 15, no. 1 (2004): 207-230.
- Gordon Symons; The Boys of Spring: An autobiography from World War II (2006) ISBN 9780980889000 OCLC 182040257
- Johnson, David Alan (2015). Yanks in the RAF: the Story of the Maverick Pilots and American Volunteers who Joined Britain's Fight in Britain. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781633880221.