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Aerodrome Defence Companies, Canada 1942-1944

November 11, 2013

by Bill Alexander

Early in the Second World War, the importance of airpower was quickly and forcefully demonstrated.  The German blitzkrieg and the lightning fast expansion of the Imperial Japanese Empire were based upon new applications of the role of aircraft in warfare. But, airpower, however impressive in tactical and strategic deployments, had a significant vulnerability. As the Germans had forcefully shown on Crete and in other campaigns, and the Japanese in the Far East, aircraft required landing strips.  Defending aircraft and their air fields became a significant component of military planning and deployments.

Canada, with her vast size and immense distances, had early on embraced aircraft as a means of communication and transportation. With the need for home defence, and the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan early in the Second World War, airpower became a central component in the Canadian war effort.  It also became apparent, that though the majority of fighting was overseas, Canada was vulnerable.  U-boats were active along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of St Lawrence.  Threats, real or perceived, of German intrusions on Canadian territory troubled NDHQ.  With Pearl Harbour, and Japanese aggression in the Pacific, threats to Canadian security were imminent on two coasts.  The possibility of saboteurs, armed landing parties, armed incursions, or even a full scale invasion made attacks on Canadian airfields a real possibility. Denying airfields to the enemy and protecting them from incursions and sabotage became a military necessity. Canada’s home defence divisions were tasked with protecting these essential military assets. (C.P.Stacey 177)

Airfield defence required that several potential threats be addressed. Anti-aircraft defence and flight line security were the respective responsibility of the RCA and RCAF. For defence from enemy ground attack or incursions, active and reserve units of the Canadian army, including some Veterans’ Guard Companies were initially detailed to protect the perimeter of the airfields. (Tonner and Stacey)

Even with these steps, there was an appreciation that the airfields were still vulnerable to incursions or assaults by organized ground or airborne forces:

The rapid development of technique shown by the enemy in the seizure of airfields in the European and Asiatic theatres of war stressed the need for providing as a counter-measure a more specialized type of defence unit than the regular infantry battalion. In CANADA this requirement was first met by the mobilization, in May 1942, of twelve Aerodrome Defence Platoons, five of which were slated for employment in Pacific Command. Each platoon was raised on an establishment of 1 officer and 43 other ranks, and comprised a headquarters, two sections each mounting three 2-pdr A/Tk guns on carriers, and a section of two carriers with 3inch mortars. Two Ronson flame-throwers were added to establishment on reorganization of the platoons (into) Aerodrome Defence Companies in October.

The addition of the new platoons to existing forces at RCAF aerodromes or advanced air bases provided for a mobile defence force at each station, consisting of the aerodrome defence platoon, carrier platoons and lorry-borne infantry, whose special role was that of breaking up and destroying any enemy attack before it reached the inner perimeter, manned by RCAF personnel. (Report No.3 Para 76)

Defence of Canadian airfields became a specialized tasking, with dedicated units of the Active Army in Canada trained to respond to threats to the airfields. The organization of the airfield defence units evolved over the period of their existence.  The Aerodrome Defence Platoons were the first manifestation of the force, but due to the inordinate amount of administrative work placed upon the platoon officer, the establishment was changed to company strength in November of 1942.

General Order No. 495/1942, Dated: 31st December, 1942, Effective Date: 23rd November, 1942.

G.O. 495/42 – CONVERSION AND REDESIGNATION – ACTIVE UNITS

1. The Conversion and Redesignation of the under mentioned Active Units of The Canadian Army is hereby authorized:

Present                                                                     Conversion and

Serial        Designation                                  Serial        Redesignation  Authorized                  

1301         1st Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1301         1st Aerodrome Defence Company

1302         2nd Aerodrome Defence Platoon                   1302         2nd Aerodrome Defence Company

1303         3rd Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1302         3rd Aerodrome Defence Company

1304         4th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1304         4th Aerodrome Defence Company

1305         5th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1305         5th Aerodrome Defence Company

1306         6th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1306         6th Aerodrome Defence Company

1307         7th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1307         7th Aerodrome Defence Company

1308         8th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1308         8th Aerodrome Defence Company

1309         9th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                    1309         9th Aerodrome Defence Company

1310         10th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                  1310         10th Aerodrome Defence Company

1311         11th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                  1311         11th Aerodrome Defence Company

1312         12th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                  1312         12th Aerodrome Defence Company

1313         13th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                  1313         13th Aerodrome Defence Company

1314         14th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                  1314         14th Aerodrome Defence Company

1315         15th Aerodrome Defence Platoon                   1315         15th Aerodrome Defence Company

Even with this reorganization, the management and control of the air defence companies continued to be an administrative headache, and the companies were allocated to two Air Defence Battalions, effective 19th July, 1943. These new air field defence battalions were formed by converting two existing Canadian regiments, the 1st Battalion, Le Regiment de Chateauguay,  to the 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (Mit.), C.I.C. and the 3rd Battalion, The Regina Rifle Regiment, C.I.C. to the 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion(The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.  All existing Aerodrome Defence Companies were put under their command, with the 1st Airfield Defence Battalion under Atlantic Command, and the 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion under Pacific Command.

General Order No. 439/1943, Dated: 1st November, 1943, Effective Date: 19th July, 1943.

G.O. 439/43 – SERIAL NUMBERS – ALLOTMENT OF – The following Serial Numbers are hereby alloted to the various Sub-Units of Serial 1071 – 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C. and Serial 1073 – 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C., as indicated hereunder:

Serial        Unit

1071A       Battalion Headquarters, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.), C.I.C.

1071B       No. 1 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1071C       No. 2 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1071D       No. 3 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1071E       No. 4 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1071F       No. 5 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1071G       No. 6 Company, 1st Airfield Defence Battalion (Le Regiment de Chateauguay (M.G.)), C.I.C.

1073A       Battalion Headquarters, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073B       No. 1 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073C       No. 2 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073D       No. 3 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073E       No. 4 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073F       No. 5 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073G       No. 6 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073H       No. 7 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073J        No. 8 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

1073K       No. 9 Company, 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion (The Regina Rifle Regiment), C.I.C.

This reorganization was short lived. The need for air field defence quickly diminished, and many companies were disbanded. The 1st Airfield Defence Battalion was re-converted and re-designated the Regiment de Chateauguay effective September 1, 1944, and then disbanded effective January 18, 1945. ( Le Regt de Chateauguay had been sent to the UK and was disbanded upon arrival there.) The 2nd Airfield Defence Battalion had been disbanded effective November 15, 1943.

An officer and Sgt of the Régiment de Chateauguay at Goose Bay air field. Circa 1944.

An officer and Sgt of the Régiment de Chateauguay at Goose Bay air field. Circa 1944.

Aerodrome Defence Company Insignia.

No distinctive metal cap or collar badges were approved for the Air Field Defence Battalions or their predecessors. Initially, the intention was that the Aerodrome Defence Companies were to wear the Infantry Corps badges. These were not available until 1943, but there is no evidence that they were worn by the Aerodrome units.

In 1942, the Canadian Army had approved the wearing of coloured embroidered shoulder titles for units on active service in Canada. A unique shoulder title was made for the Aerodrome Defence Companies. The title reads AERODROME DEFENCE COMPANY on one arched up line, in red embroidered thread on “French blue grey” melton material. At least 5,000 Aerodrome titles were ordered in June, 1943. Additionally, there exist numerals, worn sub-nominally to identify the various companies. An example of the   “4th”, denoting the 4th Company is illustrated below. There have been suggestions that sub-nominals were produced for all companies, but this has not been substantiated. To date, no authorization for the sub-nominal numerals has been located, and no comprehensive list has been compiled, but examples of the following are confirmed in collections: 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. It is likely that examples were made for 1, 2, 3, and 5.  (G.W.Cavey , Memo July 1, 1943.)

The Air Field Defence Battalions adopted the coloured embroidered titles of the parent regiments when they were reorganized in late 1943.

Aerodrome Defence Company title.

Aerodrome Defence Company title.

Shoulder title to the 4th Aerodrome Defence Company

Shoulder title to the 4th Aerodrome Defence Company

The Régiment de Chateauguay (Mitrailleuses) Second World War era embroidered shoulder title.

The Régiment de Chateauguay (Mitrailleuses) Second World War era embroidered shoulder title.

The Regina Rifle Regiment Second World War era shoulder title. The same pattern was worn by the 1st and 3rd Battalions.

The Regina Rifle Regiment Second World War era shoulder title. The same pattern was worn by the 1st and 3rd Battalions.

Bibliography

C.P.Stacey. Six Years of War. Ottawa: Minister of National Defence, 1955.

Directorate of History. AHQ REPORT NO. 3, THE EMPLOYMENT OF INFANTRY IN THE PACIFIC COAST DEFENCES, Aug 39 – Dec 43. Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 1986.

G.W.Cavey, Colonel, D.O.S. (G.S.). “Memo Badges Embroidrered Coloured, to Dept of Munitions & Supply.” LAC RG 24, Volume 2186, File HQ S4-27-60-13 Volume 3., 1 July 1943.

Tonner, Mark. On Active Service. Ottawa, Ontario: Service Publications, 2006.

From → Cloth insignia

One Comment
  1. Mark W, Tonner permalink

    Great article Bill!

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