World War I, Canadian Air Force personnel were integrated
into units of the Royal Air Force (RAF). One part of the
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) agreement
signed in 1939 allowed for the existence of Royal Canadian
Air Force (RCAF) units overseas. The terms of the agreement
were vague, and allowed for broad interpretation on the
part of both the British and the Canadian governments. The
Canadians understood it to mean that, eventually, all Canadian
graduates of the BCATP would serve in RCAF units overseas.
The British took it to mean that a limited number of RCAF
squadrons would be formed, with the remainder of graduates
serving in RAF units. The tension between these two
positions would persist throughout the war.
Founded in 1924, the RCAF prior to 1938 was not much of
a military service. Faced with no immediate military threat,
it spent its first 14 years engaged in forest patrolling,
aerial photography and as a police liaison in the service
of other government departments. In 1939 it consisted of
4,061 members, all ranks inclusive. By 1940 Canada managed
to muster enough airmen for three overseas squadrons. This
grew to 47 squadrons by the war’s end in 1945.