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Northwest Europe

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Fighters

The first action seen by a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron was in the Battle of Britain, which took place over the summer and early fall of 1940. This was No. 1 Squadron RCAF (later changed to 401), a fighter unit formed at Northalt in August, which flew for two months until the battle ended in October. Although 28 men from No. 1 Squadron received the Battle of Britain clasp, most RCAF airmen to serve in the Battle of Britain served in Royal Air Force (RAF) units. RCAF crewmen had been serving in the RAF since the beginning of the war, and significant numbers would continue to do so throughout.

419 Moose SquadronAfter the Battle of Britain was over, fighter operations shifted to Europe in a strategy called "leaning forwards into France". Fighters accompanied bombers in limited bombing runs. The strategy was weak, however, accomplishing little while the costs were high. Commonwealth fighters, including four new RCAF squadrons created in 1941, took up to four losses for every one the German Luftwaffe shot down. Gradually, however, air superiority became established. The Dieppe Raid of 1942, while disastrous for the Commonwealth ground forces, was something of a turning point, with the loss ratio dropping to approximately two losses for every one German plane destroyed.

By the middle of 1944, fortunes had turned around, as Canadian fighters supported the D-Day invasion and the subsequent Operation Overlord. The quality of fighters in the Luftwaffe had deteriorated and losses for the RCAF became a fraction of those of their adversaries. The goal of some pilots, which many achieved, became that of a "hat trick", shooting down three enemy aircraft in one sortie. While the Luftwaffe posed less of a threat, flak from anti-aircraft guns on the ground was still a danger.

While the Germans had sustained a fatal blow with the success of D-Day, they came up with a new technology in 1944: the flying bomb. These were the first missiles, and were sent from mainland Europe to crash into London. Fighter squadrons, including three RCAF squadrons, were dispatched to down the missiles before they arrived. The RCAF squadrons were credited with shooting down 97 flying bombs out of a total of 1,771 destroyed. More than 2,300 of the bombs hit London.

Night Fighting

After sustaining heavy casualties during daytime bombing raids early in the war, Germany switched to night raids. Britain dispatched fighter squadrons to defend against these attacks, including three RCAF squadrons: 409, 406 and 410. Aided by superior radar technology, the latter two helped defend London against the Little Blitz, with the 406 Squadron claiming 12 downed enemy aircraft, and the 410 Squadron,10. This defensive role lasted until 1944, when more offensive operations accompanied the Allied push into Germany.

RCAF Squadron 418 was involved in night flying of a different sort—intruding. This involved flying to German bomber bases and attacking enemy aircraft as they took off. The aim of intruding was to keep German crews on edge, forcing them to stay alert and to keep their airfields blacked out for longer periods of time.

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