RCAF No 401 Squadron

Motto: Mors celerrima hostibus (Very swift death for the enemy)

No. 401 Squadron RCAF was a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighter squadron that flew alongside the Royal Air Force during World War II and is notable for having fought in the Battle of Britain. Postwar, the squadron operated in Canada as an auxiliary squadron, reserve squadron and a helicopter and training squadron.

Formation

No. 401 Squadron was originally formed in 1931 equipped with Siskins as No. 1 Squadron RCAF. The unit began its existence as a permanent peacetime unit which, augmented by personnel from No. 115 Squadron RAF arrived at its first base in the UK, Middle Wallop, on 21 June 1940. It had brought its own Hurricanes from Canada, and as these were not fully up to UK standard, the squadron was non-operational until mid-August when it moved to RAF Northolt.

Fighter Command

On its second patrol on 26 August 1940 it met with 25-30 Dorniers and was credited with three destroyed and three damaged in the fight. However, three of the Squadron's aircraft were shot down and one pilot (Fg Off R L Edwards) killed. The squadron experienced a fairly high aircraft loss rate during the end of August and into September as the squadron battled against the German formations over South London. By 11 October the depleted squadron had moved to RAF Prestwick in Scotland and its only operational activity was coastal patrol work in the Clyde approaches.

The squadron operated from RAF Northolt until October 1940 when it moved to RAF Prestwick in Scotland, moving south again in stages until February 1941 when it arrived at RAF Digby. It was here in 1 March that No 1 Squadron RCAF was re-numbered to No. 401 Squadron. Operating from Digby until October 1941, it saw little action, but it then moved south to RAF Biggin Hill and remained in 11 Group carrying out offensive operations until January 1943.

Coastal Command

Moving to RAF Catterick the squadron was mainly involved in training as well as coastal patrols for four months before returning to action. The squadron had replaced its Hurricanes with Spitfires in September 1941, first Mk IIs and then Mk Vs and later Mk IXs. Returning south in May 1943 the squadron joined No 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in June, still equipped with Spitfire Vbs. In October it received Spitfire IXs again and began escorting attacks against V-1 sites, as well as training for and conducting sweeps in preparation for Operation Overlord.

End of the War and disbandment

From 18 June 1944, the squadron was operating from France, conducting ground attack missions and armed recces. On 5 October, a squadron patrol met a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet and shot it down, the first victory over this type credited to either the RAF or RCAF. Operations were restricted in the early part of 1945 due to bad weather, but from the end of February it was heavily involved in the offensive until the end of the war. The squadron received a few Spitfire XIVs in May 1945 but Mk XVIs became standard equipment until the squadron disbanded at Faßberg in Germany on 3 July 1945.

Postwar

The squadron was reactivated as an auxiliary fighter unit on 15 April, 1946 at RCAF Station St. Hubert and in 1968 became an air reserve squadron based in Montreal. In the 1980s, the squadron was renamed 401 Tactical Helicopter and Training Squadron.
401 Squadron was disbanded on 23 June 1996.
Stations

No 401 Squadron was based at the following RAF Stations and locations:
Station From To

RAF Middle Wallop 21 June 1940 July 1940
RAF Croydon July 1940 Mid-August 1940
RAF Northolt Mid-August 1940 10 October 1940
RAF Prestwick 11 October 1940 February 1941
RAF Digby February 1941 October 1941
RAF Biggin Hill October 1941 January 1943
RAF Catterick January 1943 May 1943
RAF Biggin Hill (?) May 1943 18 June 1944
France 18 June 1944
Faßberg  3 July 1945 (disbanded)

Battle Honours

Battle of Britain 1940, Defence of Britain 1940-41, English Channel and North Sea 1942, Dieppe Arnhem Fortress Europe 1941-44, France and Germany 1944-45, Normandy 1944 Arnhem, Rhine

Squadron Codes used:

YO Mar 1941 - May 1945

Book References:

  • Canadian Wings: http://www.canadianwings.com/Squadrons/
  • History of RAF Organisation: http://www.rafweb.org/
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  • Kostenuk, S. and J. Griffin. RCAF Squadron Histories and Aircraft: 1924–1968. Toronto: Samuel Stevens, Hakkert & Company, 1977. ISBN 0-88866-577-6.

 

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This webpage was updated 25th January 2019