RCAF Station Dunnville
|RCAF Station Dunnville|
Near Dunnville, Ontario in Canada
No. 6 SFTS in the 1940s, with Dunnville in the background
|Owner||Department of National Defence|
|Operator||Royal Canadian Air Force|
|Controlled by||No. 1 Training Command|
|G/C Alan H. Hull - 1940|
|Garrison||No. 6 Service Flying Training School|
|Identifiers||IATA: none, ICAO: none|
|Elevation||605 ft (184 m) AMSL|
Royal Canadian Air Force Station Dunnville was a Second World War British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) station located near Dunnville, Ontario. The station was home to No. 6 Service Flying Training School and is usually known by that name.[note 1] Service Flying Training schools trained Pilots, either single engine or multi-engine, and 6 SFTS was a single engine school. After graduation the new pilots were assigned various duties, which might be overseas in the Royal Air Force or an RCAF squadron; or in Canada as instructors or staff pilots in the BCATP, or for duty in RCAF Home Defence squadrons.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a temporary wartime measure that ended on 29 March 1945. No. 6 SFTS opened 25 November 1940 and closed on 1 December 1944, and during this time 2,436 airmen received their wings at Dunnville.
Construction and operation of the school
Like most of the BCATP airfields, No. 6 SFTS was located in a sparsely populated rural area close to rail lines, highways, and a town. The 400 acre site for No. 6 was three kilometers south of Dunnville near the mouth of the Grand River in Lake Erie. It had a primary relief field, or R1, at RCAF Welland just five or six minutes flying time away, and within twenty four minutes flying time there were more RCAF airfields - Brantford, Burtch, Cayuga, Dufferin, Hagersville, Jarvis, Mount Hope, St. Catharines, Tillsonburg, and Willoughby. The site lay on the air route from Buffalo, New York to Detroit, Michigan, used by American Airlines and Bell Aircraft, and the Fleet Aircraft factory was close by in Fort Erie, Ontario. This gave the pilots and trainees at Dunnville many places to land if they got lost or had a mechanical problem, but it also meant there was a lot of air traffic in the area.
The airfield used the standard Canadian equilateral triangle layout with double runways, five hangars, and a fifty-acre camp. The sports and recreation fields were on the east side of Port Maitland Road, across from the main entrance. No. 6 was one of the earliest training airfields and its hangars were constructed of steel columns and roof trusses covered by a rough wooden frame, diagonal planking, and wooden shingles; whereas hangars built later in the program used laminated wooden columns and roof trusses. There was a bombing target eight kilometres northwest on the Grand River, and a triangular bombing and gunnery range near Mohawk Island in Lake Erie.
A Service Flying Training School like Dunnville was the intermediate step in a Commonwealth pilot's training program. Trainees had already learned to fly during the fifty hours they spent at an Elementary Flying Training School. At the SFTS they studied advanced techniques like formation flying, low flying, bombing and gunnery, night flying, instrument flying, and radio work, and became familiar with the administration and procedures associated with operating and maintaining military aircraft. At the end of their SFTS course they were presented with their RCAF "wings", and those selected for operations moved on to an Operational Training Unit for advanced training.
When the school opened in 1940 trainees stayed there for nine weeks, and by 1943 the length of the course increased to sixteen weeks. At the peak of activity in 1943 roughly 1,500 people were stationed at Dunnville, and sixty four Harvard Mk. IIs, thirty six Harvard Mk. IIBs, eight Mk. II Ansons were in use, with a further six Harvards in storage.
In approximately 1942 the aerodrome was listed as RCAF Aerodrome - Dunnville, Ontario at with a variation of 7 degrees west and elevation of 605 ft (184 m). The aerodrome was listed with six runways as follows:
|5/23||2,750 ft (840 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
|5/23||2,500 ft (760 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
|10/28||3,500 ft (1,100 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
|10/28||3,000 ft (910 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
|15/33||2,600 ft (790 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
|15/33||2,400 ft (730 m)||100 ft (30 m)||Hard Surfaced|
Honours and awards
Flying Officer (F/O) Ross P. McLean, an instructor at No. 6 SFTS, was Commended for Valuable Services in the Air on 26 October 1943.
Five months later, on 12 March 1944, McLean was taxiing his aircraft when he saw a Harvard crash on another runway and catch fire. He taxied over to the burning Harvard and with the assistance of Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Norman F. Wolgast, pulled the pilot out of the flames just before the burning aircraft was completely destroyed. McLean was made a Member, Order of the British Empire, and Wolgast, from the Royal Australian Air Force, received the British Empire Medal.
Some of the more noteworthy pilots who trained at this station include:
- Sir David Evans, RAF, Commander, Order of the British Empire; who rose to Air Chief Marshal after the war
- Clarke Walter "Wally" Floody, RCAF, Mention in Despatches; Member, Order of the British Empire; who was the principal engineer of the tunnels used in the Great Escape
- John Alexander "Jack", Spence, RCAF, DFC and Bar; who rescued seven downed airmen with his Supermarine Walrus[note 2]
- William Herbert "Bill" Swetman, RCAF, DSO, DFC; who was the youngest commanding officer in the RCAF in World War II.
Most of the BCATP stations suffered casualties, many in flying accidents, and the toll at Dunnville was particularly high. Forty seven lives were lost at the station; twenty five trainees, eighteen instructors, and four others. These men are remembered by the memorial at the public library in Dunnville, and, at the old airport, the plaque on Port Maitland Road near the entrance, and the magnificent memorial in front of the hangars. These memorials are maintained by the No. 6 RCAF Dunnville Museum, located in Hangar 1.
The Royal Canadian Air Force retained the airfield after No. 6 SFTS closed and it became a detachment of No. 6 Repair Depot in Trenton. Harvards, Chipmunks, and Lancasters were stored at the field until the RCAF disposed of the property in 1964. One of the last aircraft stored at Dunnville, RCAF Lancaster FM212, was moved to Windsor, Ontario by barge and in 2016 is being restored by the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association.
The Cold Springs Turkey Farm took over the property in 1964, and many years later it became the Dunnville Airport.
In 2003 the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering designated the Dunnville Airport property as a National Historic Civil Engineering site.
- the standard short form is No. 6 S.F.T.S.. also shortened as No. 6 SFTS or 6 SFTS.
- the Guelph Civic Museum has Spence's meticulously documented scrapbooks, which include photographs and notes from his time at Dunnvville, as well as medals and other items related to his wartime service.
- Hatch, F. J. (1983). The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939–1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Department of National Defence. ISBN 0660114437.
- Air Navigation Edition Toronto-Windsor (Map) (1944 ed.). Cartography by Hydrographic and Map Service. Canada Department of Mines and Resources, Surveys and Engineering Branch.
- Schweyer, Robert (2004). "RCAF Dunnville - No. 6 SFTS". Roar of the Harvard. Tillsonburg, Ontario: Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association.
- Staff writer (c. 1942). Pilots Handbook of Aerodromes and Seaplane Bases Vol. 1. Royal Canadian Air Force. p. 105.
- Anon. "Honours & Awards - RCAF Personnel 1939–1945". Air Force Association of Canada. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
- Anon. "Honours & Awards - RAF, RAAF, and RNZAF personnel serving in Canada". Air Force Association of Canada. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
- GPS: 42.90705, -79.63456; https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/49147/dunnville-(riverside)-cemetery/
- GPS: 42.91786 -79.63126; https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/49148/dunnville-(st.-michael's)-roman-catholic-cemetery/
- Battagello, David (January 14, 2013). "Saving Lancaster bomber a slow-going 'Labour of love'". Windsor, Ontario: Windsor Star.