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It is with great pride that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on Sept. 20 with a ceremony held at the Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, Ont.
The Battle of Britain was waged over the skies of England from July 10 to Oct. 31, 1940; it was the first commitment of a formed Royal Canadian Air Force unit to combat in the Second World War and the first major battle fought almost entirely between opposing air forces.
More than one hundred Canadians flew in the Battle of Britain from July to October 1940. Twenty-three Canadian pilots lost their lives in the battle, while hundreds of Canadian ground crew also served valiantly supporting from air bases.
This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the RCAF conducted a wreath laying and small ceremony to commemorate Canadian and Allied sacrifices made during the pivotal air battle of the Second World War. The ceremony featured a fly-past of vintage Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, in honour of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice throughout the summer and fall of 1940.
“Today we honour the air and the ground crew of Canadian and Allied air forces who turned the tide of the Second World War during the Battle of Britain,” said LGen Al D. Meinzinger, Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force.
“Our lives might be very different today, if they had not answered the call and fought against oppressive forces. Winston Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ speech characterized the demands and hardships of the Battle of Britain, reflecting on his hope and aspirations for freedom and the amazing dedication and sacrifices of the allied effort. The exemplary values of dedication, professionalism and courage that Churchill noted live on in our aviators of today.”
- The Battle of Britain marked the first time that a formed RCAF squadron (No. 1 Fighter Squadron, later renamed 401 Squadron) entered combat in the Second World War. Individual Canadians had flown with Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons during the First World War and earlier in the Second World War. Canadian pilots also flew during the Battle of Britain with the RAF’s 242 “Canadian” Squadron and other RAF squadrons.
- The most intense fighting took place on Sept. 15, with the Allies being victorious. Two days later, Hitler postponed the planned invasion. As a result, Battle of Britain Day is celebrated on the Sunday after Sept. 15.
- A key technology to Allied success during the Battle of Britain was radar, along with command and control facilities to get airpower to the right place, at the right time and in the right proportion to meet the threat. Although significantly more advanced, these principles and technologies are still used in the Royal Canadian Air Force today.
- Historians have described the battle, involving almost 3,000 allied aircrew, as the turning point of the Second World War. Sir Winston Churchill, in praising the valiant efforts of the aircrew, said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”