British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

In 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King had a dream which he believed was a sign of "the power of the airplane in determining ultimate victory" for the war effort. That dream became a reality in the form of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

Across the country, Canadians mobilized to take part inStamp of the BCATP this gigantic undertaking an army of experts had to be assembled, airfields developed and equipment, including airplanes, had to be obtained. Between 1940 and 1945, some 151 schools had been established across Canada with a ground organization of 104,113 men and women.

By the end of the Second World War, the BCATP had produced 131,553 aircrew, including pilots, wireless operators, air gunners, and navigators for the Air Forces of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The challenge was formidable. But when the free world needed a champion, Canada answered the call.

How Canada's Contribution to the Second World War Affects Us Today
By Rachel Lea Heide, BA (Honours), MA

Described by historian J. L. Granatstein (former CEO of the Canadian War Museum) as "the major Canadian military contribution to the Allied [Second World] War effort,"1 the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was an ambitious program to train air crew members in Canada for the Allied war effort. When the plan wrapped up with the end of the war, more than 130,000 air crew members had been trained, and more than 100 aerodromes and landing fields had been built in Canada.

At the start of the Second World War, the British Government looked to the Dominions for air training help because the United Kingdom did not have the space to accommodate training and operational facilities, and because aerodromes in the United Kingdom were vulnerable to enemy attack. In comparison with Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, Canada offered particular advantages: its proximity to Britain allowed for easier transportation of men and equipment; Canada had a larger capacity to manufacture aircraft; and Canadian industries had easy access to the U.S. market for aircraft parts.

Upon considering the United Kingdom's September 1939 proposal, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King believed the training plan would be "the most essential military action that Canada could undertake."2 It was an opportunity for the Canadian government to make a significant commitment to the Allied war effort without repeating the dark legacies of the First World War: stalemated trench warfare, unprecedented casualties, and conscription to replace the depleted troops. According to King's initial conception of the BCATP, volunteers for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) would remain in Canada, training recruits from other parts of the Commonwealth (namely the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand). King could keep his no conscription promise and still help the Allies.

The Agreement

The final agreement signed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand on 17 December 1939 listed the percentage of trainees each country would send, the percentage of costs each would take on, the training schedule, and the aerodrome opening schedule. To accommodate its shortage of foreign currency, the United Kingdom paid its portion by supplying and transporting necessary materials that Canada could not provide, such as aircraft, spare parts, airframes, and engines. When the BCATP came to a close on 31 March 1945, the four participating governments had spent $2.2 billion on the training plan, $1.6 billion of which was Canada's share. After the war, the Canadian government calculated that the United Kingdom owed Canada over $425 million for running British schools transferred to Canada and for purchasing aircraft and other equipment when Britain could not provide the necessary numbers. By March 1946, the Canadian government canceled Britain's debt, absorbing the cost itself.

Nationality of BCATP Graduates (1940-1945)

Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
------------------------------------------
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
------------------------------------------
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
------------------------------------------
Royal Air Force (RAF), which included
448 Poles
677 Norwegians
800 Belgian and Dutch
900 Czechs
2,600 Free French
Naval Fleet Air Arm also trained at BCATP schools
72,835
----------
9,606
----------
7,002
----------
42,110





5,296
Source: Douglas, W.A.B. The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Volume II: The Creation of a National Air Force (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), p. 293.

Photo - Training Base When the BCATP came to a close on 31 March 1945, the four participating governments had spent $2.2 billion on the training plan, $1.6 billion of which was Canada's share. After the war, the Canadian government calculated that the United Kingdom owed Canada over $425 million for running British schools transferred to Canada and for purchasing aircraft and other equipment when Britain could not provide the necessary numbers. By March 1946, the Canadian government canceled Britain's debt, absorbing the cost itself.



Categories of 131,553 Air Crew Graduates (October 1940 - March 1945)

Pilot
Nav. B
Nav. W
Nav.
AB
WO/AG
AG
Naval AG
FE
RCAF
25,747
5,154
421
7,280
6,659
12,744
12,917
0
1,913
RAF
17,796
3,113
3,847
6,922
7,581
755
1,392
704
0
RAAF
4,045
699
0
944
799
2,875
244
0
0
RNZAF
2,220
829
30
724
634
2,122
443
0
0
Total
49,808
9,795
4,298
15,870
15,673
18,496
14,996
704
1,913
Legend:
Nav B: Navigator Bomber
Nav W: Navigator Wireless
Nav : Navigator
AB: Air Bomber
WO/AG: Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
AG: Air Gunner Naval
Naval AG: Naval Air Gunner
FE: Flight Engineer

SOURCE: Veterans Affairs Canada website.

References

1. Granatstein, J.L. Canada's War: The Politics of the Mackenzie King Government 1939-1945 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 43.

2. Telegram dated November 28, 1939, from Secretary of State for External Affairs to Dominions Secretary, RG 25, Volume 1858, File 72-T-38C (National Archives of Canada).

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