The WW2 ‘Allied Rift on Strategic Bombing’, Halifaxes and RCAF-Americans

A No. 405 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, early-Mark Halifax. Photo: Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

28th February 2021. John T. Correll’s latest article ‘The Allied Rift on Strategic Bombing’, which appears within the December 2020 issue of Air Force Magazine, is an informative overview. In the piece Mr. Correll delves into the differing ‘night area’ and ‘daylight precision’ bombardment strategies implemented during the Anglo-Canadian-American Second World War ‘Combined Bomber Offensive’; the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) adopted the former and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) the latter.

As supplements to the aforementioned Correll essay, readers may find several supplementary tidbits of history also of interest. Firstly, American (RCAF-Americans [‘Yanks’ who enlisted in the RCAF] and USAAF) airmen carried out both ‘night area’ and ‘daylight precision’ bombardment strategies during the ‘Combined Bomber Offensive’.

Secondly, although the Avro Lancaster is undeniably iconic and certainly deserving of accolades, its less publicized Handley Page Halifax contemporary contributed greatly to RAF Bomber Command. Notably, the latter marks of Halifaxes, powered by Bristol Hercules radials, were roughly equal in performance to the vaunted ‘Lanc’. Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC), an organisation which possesses a Lancaster and is seeking to piece together a Halifax to exhibit, states the following on its ‘Halifax’ webpage: “The Halifax . . . operated successfully in Bomber Command operations until the end of the war and was clearly superior to the Lancaster in its multi-role capability.” BCMC further notes that “the Halifax was a sturdy and reliable aircraft and was generally well liked by its crews, very few of whom expressed any desire to swap their aircraft for the ‘superior’ Lancaster.”

A wartime image of a late-Mark of Handley Page Halifax. Photo: Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada).

Perhaps more importantly, the Halifax is worthy of special mention in all Second World War histories due to aircrew casualty and operational statistics. Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)‘s records indicate that more than 60% of the 10,659 RCAF bomber airmen killed-in-action (KIA) perished in Halifaxes. Additionally, over 60% of the 1,592 RAF airmen who were KIA while posted to ‘6 Group’ heavy bombers were members of Halifax crews. Furthermore, some 60% of the 840 RCAF-Americans KIA died while aboard Halifaxes. Additionally, 28,000 of the 40,000 (70%) bomber combat sorties undertaken by ‘6 Group’ (RCAF squadrons) were flown from the United Kingdom utilising Halifaxes.

Considering the above, and as Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) contends, if one were to select a single make and model of aeroplane that was on strength with Bomber Command and that symbolizes the sacrifices of bomber airmen and simultaneously “ties together the nations of Canada, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom with a common bond” the most appropriate of the flying machines would be “the Handley Page Halifax”.

A late-Mark of Handley Page Halifax. Photo: BCMC.

In his offering Mr. Correll references the ‘Dam Busters’ (formally designated as ‘Operation Chastise’) sortie when writing about Bomber Command effectiveness. Yet too few recall that one of the surviving Lancaster pilots (Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles McCarthy) was an RCAF-American.

RCAF-American Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy (left) with King George VI (centre) and Wing Commander Guy Gibson after ‘Operation Chastise’. IWM image CH9925.
BCMC Dambuster special event modification to Lancaster ED925. Photo: BCMC.

Speaking of RCAF-Americans, it is known that 8,864 Americans joined the RCAF alone during the period between 1940 and Imperial Japan’s 7 December 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbour and other military installations on Oahu. With regard to the sagas of these valiant male and female American volunteers, their achievements and sacrifices have been but mere footnotes in official histories despite the facts that they risked their lives and citizenships and unhesitatingly went to aid the ‘Mother’ country and to liberate democracies.

Almost forgotten is that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Hollywood filmmakers in essence encouraged America’s young adults to journey north to Canada. BCMC, on the ‘The Clayton Knight Committee’ webpage points out that, “In June 1941, President Roosevelt spoke to Americans and advised the Neutrality Act did not prevent US nationals from going to Canada to enlist in the RCAF.” As a result of Americans’ continuing exodus and the president’s words and actions, film studios responded by producing influential and trend-promoting films such as ‘International Squadron‘ (released on 13 August 1941 by Warner Brothers), ‘Dive Bomber‘ (released on 30 August 1941 by Warner Brothers), ‘A Yank in the R.A.F.‘ (released on 26 September 1941 by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation), and ‘Captains of the Clouds‘ (released on 12 February 1942 by Warner Brothers).

In the aftermath of the conflict, on 10 January 1946 (a date now 75 years past), then-General of the Army, Army of the United States, and future President of the United States Dwight David Eisenhower referenced the U.S. volunteers who served as members of the Canadian military in a speech delivered at the Canadian Club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Within his address Eisenhower stated the following: “During the two years when you were at war and we were not, some twelve thousand American citizens crossed your border to enter the armed forces of your country.”

General of the U.S. Army Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo.

Sadly, despite this historic, albeit little known, public acknowledgement the U.S. and Canadian governments have neglected to formally recognise the laudable Americans. (One isolated example of remembrance within the United States is the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s display that is dedicated to the memory of RCAF-American John Gillespie Magee, Jr., the composer of the famous sonnet High Flight.)

DAYTON, Ohio – ‘High Flight‘ exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. U.S. Air Force photo.

Continuing joint endeavours by a group of concerned Canadians and Americans to redress the historical oversight finally achieved a small success a few months ago when Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio submitted a prepared statement, which in part references Americans who volunteered with the RCAF, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This text was published within the Congressional Record (Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 169, Page E893 [Extensions of Remarks]) on Tuesday, the 29th of September 2020, under the heading ‘Saluting American Patriots of WWII for Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces’.

Congressman Tim Ryan. Photo: U.S. House of Representatives Office of Representative Tim Ryan. Photo Date: 1 January 2010.

It should be known that the legislator had previously and unsuccessfully sought a related presidential proclamation on 27 November 2017. Meanwhile, efforts to provide higher honours in the form of Congressional Gold Medal legislation (115th Congress: H.R. 1553 – ‘American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2017‘ and 116th Congress: H.R. 980 – ‘American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2019‘) did not meet with success as these bills languished in a House committee. The core document is expected to be reintroduced during the 117th Congress. There is now guarded hope that with the new Congress progress will finally be achieved.

BCMC’s Avro Lancaster & Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial at Nanton, Alberta. Photo: BCMC.

While the few remaining RCAF-Americans and their families anxiously wait for politicians to finally take action, it is at least comforting to know that the names of the more than 400 RCAF-Americans who died while posted to Bomber Command are included and inscribed upon Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial Wall. This monolith stands on the grounds of Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta, Canada.


The above points represent the thoughts of MAC Editor John T. Stemple and Canadian historians Karl Kjarsgaard of Nanton, Alberta and Jeff Robinson of British Columbia.

Sources & Suggested Readings & Viewings

December 2020

A Yank in the R.A.F.

Captains of the Clouds

Dive Bomber

International Squadron