Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller: A Civilian and Military Leader (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 3)

Raymond Stouffer

Reprint from Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Volume 1 - Historical Aspects of Air Force Leadership 2009

On Thursday, April 28, 1960, the Ottawa Citizen wrote that Frank Miller, the ex-Air Marshal and, more recently, the Deputy Minister (DM) of National Defence, had become the Diefenbaker’s Government choice as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), replacing General Charles Foulkes. Miller’s twenty-four years’ service in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) “[had] given him a valuable store of knowledge of all aspects of defence.”[1] As DM, Miller was “hailed as one of the keenest and most incisive minds in the Defence Department.”[2] In the same article, it was implied that changes were necessary in Canada’s military that demanded Miller’s experience, management skills and leadership. Miller was “believed one of the very few men suited to take Canada’s military element through the ultimate transformation to a unified force.”[3] Frank Miller’s return to uniform therefore came with solid credentials and high expectations. He was to become Canada’s highest ranking military officer. But few Canadians knew him at the time and fewer still today.

The purpose of this paper is, in part, to bring to light the public life of Frank Miller to better understand who he was and why he was chosen as Foulkes’s replacement. The reality that such an exercise has not been done previously says much about the lack of scholarly interest in the cold war RCAF generally and the dearth of biographies of senior Canadian airmen specifically. As remarkable as Miller’s career is the fact that it is today largely unknown and therefore unappreciated. Comprehending Miller’s military and civilian service not only tells us why he was selected as Chairman of the COSC, it also addresses the larger question of military leadership in peacetime. It is proposed that those responsible for Miller’s selection felt that he possessed the requisite leadership capabilities and understanding of the needs of a peacetime military better than his peers.

To support this argument, this paper focuses on two aspects of Frank Miller’s career. First, his ascendancy through the ranks and increasing senior appointments will be described in the context of the evolution of a peacetime and wartime RCAF. Second, Miller’s professional accomplishments will be compared to those of two other successful senior officers and contemporaries, Roy Slemon and Charles Foulkes. Slemon was four years older than Miller and joined the RCAF earlier. These two airmen shared similar flying and command postings for over three decades. Their mercurial rise in the wartime and postwar RCAF made them professional rivals. Slemon would get the nod and become Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) in 1953. Seven years later Miller would reach higher rank as Chairman of the COSC and Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS).

One historian has argued that Charles Foulkes understood better than his competitors that military leadership in the peacetime cold war required special skill sets. Foulkes was sensitive to the reality that the existence of expensive peacetime forces-in-being challenged Canadian governments that had to balance domestic and international political interests.[4] This paper will argue that Frank Miller was as good as, if not better than his predecessor in meeting the challenges of leading a Canadian peacetime military during the early cold war. Miller’s military and civilian careers not only distinguished him from his peers, but from Foulkes as well. Frank Miller, not Charles Foulkes, was deemed the best military leader to guide the Canadian military through the turbulent years of integration and unification.

One major challenge writing about Frank Miller is working with scarce sources. Mainly due to the fact that Miller did not keep a personal diary, there are few primary sources available describing Frank Miller’s professional career, and fewer still that mention his early life. Secondary sources are of little help. Fortunately, sufficient evidence exists from which a reasonable picture emerges.

Frank Miller was born in Kamloops, British Columbia, April 30, 1908. He attended Kamloops Public and High Schools. From 1925-31 he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering at the University of Alberta. During his university years in Edmonton, Miller was a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps.[5] Upon graduation Miller wanted to be a pilot. Like Roy Slemon a few years earlier, Miller was accepted into the RCAF because interwar air planners “considered an engineering degree an essential qualification to be a pilot.”[6] Further, they both had demonstrated their desire to be in the military as members of the Canadian Officer Training Corps.

Frank Miller was commissioned in the RCAF Regular Force on September 15, 1931. The following month Pilot Officer Miller was posted to No. 1 Squadron at Camp Borden, Ontario. By December 1931 he had obtained his pilot’s wings after completing a series of flying training courses. On December 16 he was promoted to flying officer.[7] Although Frank Miller joined the RCAF because he wanted to fly, he appreciated neither the national scope of the Service nor its nascent military capabilities. Prior to enlistment he had the impression that the RCAF was limited to carrying out non-military roles. He expected to be assisting other government departments in activities such as aerial mapping, fire-fighting as well as communication and transportation flights.[8] For the most part, Miller’s preconceptions about the interwar RCAF were correct. His own experiences would confirm that for much of the interwar period Canadian airmen were “bush pilots in uniform.” Miller was nevertheless impressed by the range of air power roles practiced by the RCAF in the early 1930s.

Unfortunately for Frank Miller and his Air Force contemporaries they joined the RCAF just when the Great Depression set in. Desperate to fund relief programmes, the Bennett Government slashed the military budget in 1932. The RCAF was forced to make drastic cuts in personnel. As Miller recalled: “The earth fell in … I was kicked out [of the RCAF]!”[9] Luckily for Miller his temporary “leave” from the Air Force was short-lived. In July 1932 he was employed at Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ) in Ottawa. In January 1933 he was back at Borden to continue his flying training. This time it was at the School of Army Cooperation.

Frank Miller was one of the lucky few to have had the opportunity to continue his training during these years of the “Big Cut.” In the period 1932-33, the RCAF saw its personnel strength drop from 906 officers and men to 694. The budget was cut by over a million dollars from the pre-Depression years to $1,405,000. As Miller himself experienced, airmen were released and pilot training was drastically curtailed. In some instances, flying training came to a complete stop. Further, RCAF expansion was impossible due to lack of funds for base construction, operational and training flights as well as new aircraft purchases.[10] Budget cuts also forced a reduction in professional development for the more experienced personnel. This training was expensive. The only staff courses available for senior Canadian airmen to learn the latest in air power theory as well as command and staff duties were taught overseas by the Royal Air Force.[11]

Although flying activity at Camp Borden was severely cut back at the time, Flying Officer Miller was able to complete his army cooperation course from February 1 to May 31, 1933. He logged thirty-four hours on the Avro 621 Tutor and a single hour on one the RCAF’s three Consolidated O-17 Courier aircraft. This course was clearly designed to train RCAF pilots how to operate with the army. He was taught aerial photography, map reading, air reconnaissance, artillery observation and Morse code.[12]

Devoting precious training time supporting the army was anathema to Canadian airmen who closely followed air power developments in Britain. Royal Air Force (RAF) doctrine was based on the primacy of strategic bombing. Support to surface forces was not a priority. Unfortunately for the RCAF, it was not in a position to put this theory into effect. Until 1938 it remained subordinate to the Chief of the Army General Staff (CGS). Senior army officers wanted aviation controlled at division and corps level as was the case in the First World War. The demands of the Canadian Army aside, the reality of the Depression RCAF was being content conducting any type of operational training given the limited number of aircraft and pilots on strength.

For the remainder of 1933, Flying Officer Miller continued his flying training at Borden and Ottawa, Ontario. He successfully completed his Instrument Flying Course at Borden during the month of June. Flying the de Havilland (D.H.) 60 Gipsy Moth, predecessor to the ubiquitous wartime trainer, D.H. 62 Tiger Moth, Miller was given an overall course rating of “very good” by his instructor, Squadron Leader R.S. Grandy. According to Grandy, Miller made excellent progress on the course and had no major faults. During the month of July Miller attended the Seaplane Conversion Course at RCAF Ottawa (Rockcliffe) where he flew the D.H. 60 Floatplane and the Vickers Vedette. From August 1 to December 22, 1933, Flying Officer Miller was back in Borden to take the Squadron Armament Officers’ Course at the Air Armament and Bomber School. This course allowed him to log more flying time on a variety of RCAF aircraft including the Fairchild 71, the Courier, the Armstrong Whitworth Siskin and the Gypsy Moth. Remarkably therefore, during a year in which most flying activities had come to a standstill in the RCAF, Frank Miller was somehow able to complete four full flying courses![13]

Within the financial restrictions of the Depression years, the RCAF Permanent Force maintained a tenuous national presence and semblance of flying activity. On the West Coast the RCAF operated out of RCAF Station Vancouver, home to No. 4 Flying Boat Squadron and two mobile detachments. Flying Officer Miller was posted there in January 1934 to begin his first operational tour. In addition to his primary duty as a squadron pilot, he was made unit adjutant.[14] In 1934 the “clouds of war” in Europe were still several years away. As such, No. 4 (Fighter Bomber) Squadron continued to perform non-military functions in support of other federal and provincial departments. Miller and his fellow squadron pilots flew Vedette, Vancouver and Fairchild flying boats on anti-smuggling and aerial photography missions.[15]

In 1935 the career paths of Frank Miller and Roy Slemon would meet for the first time. Between 1933 and 1938 Slemon was employed in Borden as a flight instructor and staff officer in RCAF Headquarters.[16] In April 1935 Flight Lieutenant Slemon was Miller’s instructor on the Air Pilotage Course. He rated Miller as “above average.” Later that June, Miller successfully completed the Flying Instructor Course. He was rated as an “excellent student” by no less than Squadron Leader G.E. Brookes, future Air Officer Commanding, No. 6 (RCAF) Group.[17]

Between 1935 and 1938 Frank Miller filled various billets as a flight and air navigation instructor. Miller was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant April 1, 1937 – presumably, no “April Fools Joke”! The next month he moved from the Flying Training School in Borden to the Air Navigation and Seaplane School at Trenton. In September 1938 his training took him to Britain. The RCAF posted Miller to the School of Air Navigation, RAF Manston, to attend the Specialist Air Navigation Course.[18] Prior to his departure, Frank Miller got married to Dorothy Virginia Minor on May 3, 1938. The wedding took place in Galveston, Texas.[19]

When Flight Lieutenant Miller went overseas in the fall of 1938 there were genuine fears of war. Although Prime Minister Mackenzie King privately accepted the reality that Canada would come to Britain’s side if war was declared against Nazi Germany, the Defence Department was limited to planning for continental defence. Politics aside, Canadian defence planners, including the RCAF, could not ignore the likelihood of another war in Europe. A major challenge was to bring the small peacetime Canadian military to a wartime footing. To do so, defence planners had to identify those sailors, soldiers and airmen that had demonstrated superior professional and leadership skills to lead such an expansion.[20] Frank Miller was one such airman.

If the Canadian military recognized the need to expand to a wartime military, it did not have the means with which to accomplish this goal during the immediate years preceding the Second World War. Lacking sufficient resources in Canada, the RCAF had to send selected airmen to Britain to receive specialist training from the RAF.[21] Flight Lieutenant Miller was sent to Britain because by this time his superior airmanship had come to the attention of his Air Force superiors. Miller had also proven leadership potential superior to that of his peers. On April 1, 1939, he was promoted to the senior officer rank of squadron leader.[22] Upon completion of the course, the RCAF expected Miller to return to Canada with advance knowledge of air navigation. More importantly, senior air force leaders counted on Miller commanding air navigation schools as part of an expanding air training programme.

When Canada declared war against Germany September 10, 1939, the RCAF recalled Squadron Leader Miller. The plan was indeed for Miller to lead a training school as part of the expected wartime expansion plan.[23] Little did the RCAF know that this plan was about to get much bigger. By the end of September, the King Government was deliberating the details of its immediate commitment to Britain and her Commonwealth allies. The British were shocked that King’s immediate offer was but one infantry division. Ottawa was then asked if Canada would support a Commonwealth air training programme as part of the British Empire Air Training Scheme.

After several months of acrimonious negotiations, the King Government agreed to commit significant financial, material and personnel resources to the creation of such a major national undertaking.[24] The understanding was that the organization and operation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was to be Canada’s main contribution to the development of Commonwealth air power. In fact King’s acceptance to run the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) was predicated on his belief that it would substitute for providing substantial military forces to the war effort. In any event, this would not prove the case. Whatever King’s motivation, to the miniscule RCAF this national responsibility represented “a challenge of great magnitude.”[25] Air Vice Marshal Croil, Chief of the Air Staff, equated establishing and operating the BCATP “equivalent of maintaining 50 squadrons in the field.”[26] Before the war the RCAF was hard pressed to train 125 pilots a year. It was now asked to train 540 pilots, 340 observers and 580 wireless operators / air gunners every four months! Fortunately for the RCAF, it had experience from the previous war in training allied aircrew. Equally important, it had seasoned and proven leaders like Frank Miller who would make this air training scheme work.

Even before the final details of the BCATP were signed on Mackenzie King’s birthday, December 17, 1939, sites for the training schools were being selected and surveyed. Further, contracts for flying training and logistical needs were let. By far the largest need was for civilian and military flying instructors. Many of the young RCAF pilots who had counted on going overseas to fly in combat were disappointed when they were told that they were to remain in Canada as instructors.[27] Squadron Leader Miller was too busy to be concerned about operational flying opportunities. Just as the Anglo-Canadian negotiations for the air training scheme began Miller was appointed Officer Commanding (OC) of the Air Navigation and Reconnaissance School located at Trenton.[28] This would be the first of several important postings in which he commanded specialist training schools within the BCATP. In all instances, Miller’s performance evaluations were consistently rated as outstanding. Moreover, he would be recommended by several prominent senior RCAF officers for accelerated promotion ahead of his peers.

While at the Air Navigation and Reconnaissance School, Miller’s superiors included the two future Air Officers Commanding of No. 6 (RCAF) Group, Group Captains G.E. Brookes and C.M. McEwen. In January 1940 McEwen wrote that Miller was reliable, tactful and energetic and that he demonstrated good judgement and common sense. He added that Miller was especially well qualified in his duties and an excellent leader. In September 1940 Brookes wrote that Miller was mature in judgement and had shown much initiative in meeting the many problems of his school during the early months of operation. Brookes added that Miller demonstrated exemplary conduct and was recommended for accelerated promotion.[29]

In November 1940, No.1 Air Navigation School (ANS) was relocated to Rivers, Manitoba. Within a month of moving to the school’s new location, Miller once more impressed his superiors. Group Captain Sully, future Air Member for Personnel in AFHQ, noted that Miller did splendid work under difficult conditions as OC of No.1 ANS. Sully recommended Miller for accelerated promotion to acting wing commander. This recommendation was strongly supported by Air Commodore Shearer. Frank Miller clearly proved himself a most capable officer leading No.1 ANS through the tough beginnings of the BCATP. Miller was indeed promoted to wing commander in December 1940 and six months later was posted as OC of No. 2 ANS located in Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick.[30]

Miller’s year at Pennfield Ridge proved as successful as his previous tours at Rivers and Trenton. Group Captain Costello wrote that with regards to both training and administration, Miller organized and commanded Pennfield Ridge in a very efficient manner. Costello’s recommendation for Miller’s accelerated promotion to group captain was endorsed by Air Vice Marshal A.A.L. Cuffe, Air Member for Training. In May 1942 Miller was posted back to Rivers as OC of No.1 Central Navigation School. He then paid the price for success once more as he was promoted to acting group captain two months later and was sent east to Summerside, P.E.I., as Commanding Officer of the newly created No.1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS).[31]

Although Miller would only spend six months at Summerside he was able to bring No.1 GRS to a high standard of training during this period. In January 1943 Air Vice Marshal Cuffe remarked in his assessment of Group Captain Miller that he was highly intelligent and possessed a pleasing personality. He added that Miller’s high standards of efficiency were reflected in the excellent condition of the training school. In their evaluation the following month, two more rising stars in the RCAF, Air Commodore Morfee and Air Vice Marshal G.O. Johnson, stated that Group Captain Miller had done an excellent job as Commanding Officer of No.1 GRS. They also wrote that Miller deserved credit for the high quality of training and efficient administration of the station.[32] In the spring of 1943 Miller’s superiors concluded that his excellent work to date in the BCATP had prepared him for duties in higher headquarters. Group Captain Miller was therefore posted to Air Force Headquarters in Ottawa as Director of Training Plans and Requirements.[33]

Miller was employed at AFHQ from January 1943 to April 1944. During this period he was promoted to Acting Air Commodore; he finished his headquarters tour as Director of Air Training and Deputy Member for Training. Reflecting back over the previous four years, Miller’s accomplishments as a leader of BCATP training establishments solidified his reputation as an outstanding air force officer. By the time he worked at AFHQ he was one of the most senior airmen overseeing the air training scheme at the height of its operation. However, by the early spring of 1944, the BCATP was about to wind down. Victory was in sight and the RCAF needed the talents of airmen like Frank Miller overseas to fill command positions. In April 1944, Miller was posted to No.6 (RCAF) Group Headquarters, located at Allerton Hall, Yorkshire. To do so, he relinquished his rank as Acting Air Commodore.[34]

Between April and June 1944, Group Captain Miller “learned the ropes” of the myriad of staff work associated with leading Canadian bomber operations. During this period Miller would once more work with Roy Slemon. The latter had served as the Senior Air Staff Officer in No. 6 (RCAF) Group Headquarters since its inception in January 1943. Having been the right hand man for Air Vice Marshals Brookes and McEwen, Air Commodore Slemon’s experience proved invaluable to his protégée Frank Miller.[35]

In the summer of 1944, Miller received his first command of an operational bomber unit, RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale.[36] For security reasons Miller’s rank and position “officially” barred him from flying combat missions. However, what little evidence there is detailing his tours in 6 Group suggests that he showed marked concern for his subordinates. His challenge was to lead and encourage his aircrews confronted with poor odds of surviving their bomber tours. He met his crews upon their return and was actively involved in their debriefing.[37] Further, a close review of the war diaries of 424 and 433 Squadrons reveals that Group Captain Miller “flew” on a mission over the Falaise area of Normandy on July 17, 1944. Tactical bombing from medium altitude was an uncommon and dangerous procedure for bomber crews,[38] but he wanted to get a first-hand look at how his crews were supporting the allied advance in France.

Miller’s first operational command impressed his superiors. Air Vice Marshal McEwen wrote in August 1944 that Miller was a good organizer and had a solid grasp of human nature. He added that Miller was untiring in his efforts with the operational functioning of his station.[39] On October 14, 1944 he was promoted, once again, to Air Commodore and appointed Commanding Officer of No.61 Base, located at Topcliffe.

By the spring of 1945 Frank Miller had become a respected and experienced wartime station commander in 6 Group. During this period he also commanded RCAF Base No. 63, Leeming, Yorkshire. Up to the challenge, Miller was able to maintain the Leeming squadrons’ sortie rates in the face of changing aircraft types, aircrew conversion training and personnel rotations. Noteworthy was his appointment as Roy Slemon’s deputy in command of the RCAF Tiger Force in July 1945. This unit was to be Canada’s commitment to a Commonwealth bomber force operating with the Americans against Imperial Japan. However, with the surrender of Japan later that summer, plans for the force were cancelled and Miller was repatriated to Canada in September 1945.[40]

Wartime demobilization was swift and dramatic. From a wartime peak of over one million men and women in uniform, the King Government slashed the size of its post-war military to less than fifty thousand all ranks. The prime minister and his closest advisors understood, however, that geostrategic realities prevented a return to a paltry peacetime force that existed before the war. The new threat to world peace was a belligerent Soviet Union. Armed with long-range bombers and, after September 1949, atomic weapons, the Soviets threatened continental North America. Ottawa could neither ignore this threat nor the reality that it had to move closer to the United States (US) to jointly defend the continent from strategic attack. Canada therefore joined the US in establishing the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Prior to this unprecedented peacetime commitment, Canada became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Soviet threat extended to all of Western Europe as well as North America. Again departing from tradition, the Canadian government created large regular forces-in-being. In the new nuclear age the Western alliance underpinned its offensive and defensive strategies on air power. By the early 1950s the RCAF would therefore become the fastest growing and most important of the three Services.[41]

Remarkably, Air Commodore Miller’s career never slowed down during this transitory period. He was clearly being groomed as a leader in the post-war RCAF. With flying mostly limited to aerial mapping and communications during the period 1945–48, Miller was posted to Air Materiel Command; first as Chief Staff Officer, and then in June 1946, as the Air Officer Commanding. Between August 1948 and September 1949, he attended the US National War College.[42] The friendships and contacts Miller made with fellow American and NATO students were most opportune and greatly benefitted the RCAF in its future relations with alliance members. In the fall of 1949 Miller was posted to AFHQ as Air Member Operations and Training. Two years later he was promoted to the rank of Air Vice Marshal and became Air Marshal Curtis’s Vice Chief of the Air Staff. An important role was serving as the Canadian Air Representative on the Canada-US Permanent Joint Board on Defence. In this regard, the CAS credited Miller as having made an outstanding contribution in the field of Canadian-US military relations.[43] At a time when cooperation between the RCAF and the United States Air Force (USAF) was increasing rapidly, Miller was the most senior RCAF contact with the USAF in terms of both discussing common doctrine and equipment purchases and planning for the air defence of North America.

It is not clear if Miller expected to replace Curtis as Chief of the Air Staff. Existing records suggest that the CAS had been grooming Roy Slemon, who indeed replaced him in January 1953; this conclusion is supported by the fact that Curtis had been in the job since 1947. The implication is that Defence Minister Claxton allowed Curtis the extra time as CAS so that Slemon could get more experience.[44] Frank Miller had to concede this coveted appointment to his old friend and competitor. Yet the following year, Air Marshal Slemon provided Miller a great career opportunity. He arranged with General Foulkes to have Miller posted to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe as General Lauris Norstad’s Vice Deputy Air.[45] The RCAF insisted that allocating such a prestigious air staff position was appropriate given Canada’s contribution of an air division of twelve fighter squadrons in NATO’s central area. Frank Miller did not become CAS, but he became Canada’s highest ranking airman in NATO.

On June 14, 1954, Defence Minister Claxton used the occasion of the visit to Ottawa of General Gruenther, Supreme Allied Commander Central Europe (SACEUR), to announce Miller’s new appointment. Although there was an embarrassing moment when Claxton erroneously announced that Miller was to be immediately promoted to Air Marshal, the occasion was an important one for the RCAF generally and for Miller personally. In part General Gruenther had come to Ottawa to convince defence officials of the importance of collective defence in the West and the need for Canada to continue its support. SACEUR emphasized that air power had become the dominant factor in defence planning and he thanked his Canadian hosts for its increasing participation in this field. It was therefore most appropriate to have a highly recommended airman like Frank Miller join NATO’s senior staff.[46]

A year after his appointment was announced, Frank Miller was promoted to Air Marshal. He therefore joined Roy Slemon as the most senior airmen during a period that became the “Golden Years” of the RCAF. In addition to the twelve Sabre-equipped fighter squadrons in Europe, the RCAF had nine regular force air defence squadrons at home equipped with the Canadian made, all-weather CF100. By 1955 the RCAF was allocated more of the defence budget than the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Army combined. That same year the RCAF’s strength of 51,000 exceeded that of the Canadian Army. 1955 would also be a momentous one for Frank Miller. While attending a NATO meeting in Paris that year, Prime Minister St Laurent, accompanied by the Deputy Minister of National Defence, Bud Drury, paid Air Marshal Miller a visit. To an astonished Miller, the Prime Minister wanted him to return to Canada and replace Drury as DM.[47]

So how did it come about that the Prime Minister wanted an active serving airman to be DM of the Defence Department? Miller recalled years later he sent a message to the Prime Minister asking him to reconsider. Miller stated that as far as he knew, the job was for a civilian, not a military man because the DM represented the civilian employees of the Department. Drury, unhappy being replaced, agreed with him. But Drury’s superiors made it clear that Miller was not being “invited, but told to be his replacement.”[48] Prior to taking the job six years earlier, Drury came from a similar background as Miller. He was a graduate of the Royal Military College and had risen to the rank of brigadier during the war. So there was no negative reaction by senior public servants to Miller’s appointment as DM. The ex-Brigadier Drury had already set the precedent and had been well received in the Department. He reluctantly relinquished the job to Miller, and then only because of personal family reasons.[49]

As Deputy Minister, Frank Miller’s responsibilities changed dramatically in scope and kind. Although primarily responsible for managing departmental civilians and coordinating the Defence Department budget, his influence in the pre-integration and unification Canadian military was pervasive. The power structure was the myriad of senior committees.[50] Miller sat on all of them. He was a member of the Defence Council, the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Defence Research Board. In the absence of the Defence Minister, Miller sat in on meetings of the Cabinet Defence Committee, and on occasion, in Cabinet. He rarely saw St Laurent and Diefenbaker, but he had extensive contacts with his immediate bosses, Ralph Campney and George Pearkes. He also recalled getting along well with Charles Foulkes.[51]

The evidence suggests that Miller faced two major challenges. One was his desire to better integrate the civilian and military chains of command. The other was the need to change the overall structure of the Defence Department. He made some headway towards solving the first problem. Although civilian employees were guided by separate regulations, they became better integrated into the military operational chain. Little progress was made in the matter of defence structure. Here, to some extent, Miller shared the frustrations of Foulkes. From their experiences in the COSC, they understood that until such time as the right of the Service Chiefs to see the Minister directly was removed, there would continue to be inefficiency in the management of the Department. Having spent five unsuccessful years trying to get the Service Chiefs to better coordinate and rationalize their programme demands, Miller knew that change was necessary if the Department was to meet its assigned defence tasks. However, internal changes were not the only answer. Miller indeed faced inter-Service animosity. He also had to deal with a parsimonious Treasury Board insensitive to the reality that a steadily decreasing defence budget was a larger concern than departmental inefficiency.[52]

If Miller recollected that he got along well with General Foulkes, minutes to COSC meetings suggest that they did not always agree. Interesting is their differences were not limited to the subjects of defence estimates and civilian personnel, traditional responsibilities of the DM. They also disagreed on operational questions. Miller held strong views on a range of strategic policy matters. He made recommendations regarding the use and storage of nuclear weapons, promoted disarmament talks and commented on strategic military intelligence assessments. It is understandable therefore that Miller and Foulkes did not have the same opinion on such a range of subjects. That said, Miller deferred to the Chairman’s authority at these meetings.[53] Moreover, on a private basis and in other committees like Defence Council, Miller and Foulkes “had a very good relationship [and] worked closely with [each other].”[54]

Miller’s frustrations with the Service Chiefs notwithstanding, for the most part he had a good professional relationship with them. This included working with his old friend and rival, Roy Slemon. They cooperated well and were united in their defence of the ill-fated CF105 Arrow programme and the need for a joint Canada-US air defence command.[55] With the creation of NORAD in 1957 Slemon was appointed Deputy Commander; another prestigious career assignment. More importantly as far as the Diefenbaker government was concerned, Frank Miller’s close ties with the US defence establishment facilitated the successful signing of the Development and Defence Production Sharing agreement with the Americans. To the Conservatives, NORAD meant integrated defence production as well as integrated continental air defence.[56]

Miller’s extensive contacts with the USAF also benefitted Canada’s major equipment purchases and systems upgrades, including CF104 Starfighters, BOMARC Missiles and CF101 Voodoos. Miller also oversaw the funding and contracting of such high cost weapons platforms. It was therefore not surprising that Miller often commented on RCAF operational policy during meetings of the COSC.[57] This may not have pleased Hugh Campbell, the CAS; however, the associated infrastructure, logistics and personnel costs were Miller’s concern as DM. Moreover, Miller more often than not supported the interests of the RCAF.[58] Finally, as DM, he was in a better position than CAS to appreciate the need to rationalize RCAF demands with those of the other Services.

Frank Miller may not have wanted the job as Deputy Minister, but once committed, he performed his duties as exceptionally as was the case in his previous service career. This is not to say that he could do the job alone. To assist him in the civilian side of the Department, he leaned heavily on Elgin Armstrong. This had two positive outcomes. First, Armstrong’s extensive background in civilian personnel and financial matters greatly assisted Miller in that important area of his work. Second, and more importantly for the future of the Defence Department, Miller prepared Armstrong as his replacement.[59] Frank Miller was therefore able to combine a firm grasp of civilian matters in National Defence with what he already understood to be the real issues facing the military side.

When it became public knowledge in early 1960 that Diefenbaker wanted Foulkes replaced, those knowledgeable about the Defence Department surprisingly suggested that Frank Miller was a serious candidate. The logical choice was one of the Service chiefs. The Chief of Naval Services, Vice Admiral Dewolf, appeared to have the inside track if the government decided to set precedent and rotate the chairmanship among the three Services. But the Chief of Naval Services was too old. Further, the RCN was also the smallest of the three Services from the point of view of manpower and expenditure. Reflecting the diminished importance of the Canadian army in the cold war, the Chief of the Army General Staff, Lieutenant-General Clark, was not seen as a serious choice. The government wanted neither a sailor nor a soldier as Foulkes’s replacement. Yet surprisingly, the ranking airman was equally unacceptable. At this time Ottawa faced several critical defence policy issues associated with air power and nuclear weapons. But Hugh Campbell was not chosen.[60] Defence Minister Pearkes informed Frank Miller that he was being brought back into uniform as the next Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

In April 1960 Miller dusted off his Air Marshal uniform and started his second career in the RCAF as its “oldest recruit.” On June 2, he chaired his first COSC meeting. On September 1, 1961, Frank Miller was promoted to Air Chief Marshal; the only active Canadian airman to hold that rank.[61] When the Liberals returned to power in 1963 Miller worked with Defence Minister Hellyer towards the integration and unification of the Canadian military. In August the following year, Miller became Canada’s first Chief of the Defence Staff. Noteworthy is that Hellyer retained Miller as CDS for another two years knowing that his senior military officer supported the military’s integration but not unification. Charles Foulkes tried to convince Prime Minister Pearson and Hellyer to permit him to return as CDS because of his unequivocal support for the Defence Minister’s proposed structural changes to the country’s military. Yet Hellyer stayed with Miller, writing later that his CDS had “the right qualities.”[62]

In 1966 Frank Miller retired and left the future of the Canadian Forces in the hands of his boss. Under Miller’s direction most of the hard work was done to prepare the military for change. Loyal to the end, his retirement allowed Hellyer to choose a CDS completely committed to leading a unified Canadian military. Miller and his wife spent their retirement years in Charlottesville, Virginia. Frank Miller passed away October 20, 1997. Sadly like his public life, few Canadians took note.

By describing the career of Frank Miller this paper has accomplished two things. First, more is known about this remarkable man whose thirty-five years of service gives an insight into the maturation of the RCAF through four distinct periods: the Depression, the Second World War, the postwar and the cold war. He became an accomplished airman and leader. His operational tours and professional training in Britain and the United States prepared him for the challenges confronting Canada’s Air Force as it recovered from post-war retrenchment and expanded once more during the cold war. By the mid-1950s Frank Miller’s brilliant career had not only been noticed by senior officers, but by politicians and senior public servants as well. He was “ordered” by Prime Minister St. Laurent to become the Deputy Minister of National Defence. This unprecedented event was followed by another five years later when George Pearkes brought Miller back in uniform as the military’s most senior officer.

This paper’s second accomplishment therefore follows from the first. Describing Frank Miller’s career answers the question as to why he rose to the highest military rank to lead a peacetime military. His consistent outstanding performance and experience gained as a senior officer and public servant placed him at the top of the competition. No doubt his air force background and experience working with Canada’s allies made him a preferable candidate to his navy and army peers. As an airman, he also benefitted from the reality that cold war nuclear strategy relied heavily on air power. More money was spent on the RCAF than the Canadian Army and RCN combined. Yet the government did not choose Miller the airman. There was more. Lauded for his work as DM, Miller’s civilian experience was as important in leading a peacetime military as was his military background. Miller had a proven career record of excellence, dedication and loyalty.

These were the “right qualities” to which Hellyer referred. They set Miller apart as a leader from other ranking officers. These personal and professional attributes also distinguished Miller from Roy Slemon and Charles Foulkes. These two contemporaries of Miller were themselves outstanding leaders and enjoyed successful military careers. Fortunately for them, their professional accomplishments overshadowed those of Frank Miller because of previous published work and in the case of Foulkes, an extensive legacy written by the man himself. This work has evened the scholarly playing field. It has provided the reader with an understanding and appreciation of the remarkable public life of Frank Miller. By doing so it not only establishes him as an outstanding leader of the cold war military, but as one of the best.

Major Raymond William Stouffer was born April 21, 1956 at Baden-Soellingen, West Germany. He is the only child of Chief Warrant Officer (retired) Norman Hollis Stouffer and Gertrud Waltraud Stouffer (nee Schneider).

Major Stouffer joined the Canadian Armed Forces on August 10, 1975 and attended the Royal Military College of Canada. He graduated in May 1979 with a Bachelor’s Degree (Honours) in History. Major Stouffer was employed in the military as an Air Force Transportation Officer and specialized in tactical and strategic air lift operations. He is a qualified C130 Hercules Loadmaster. Over the course of his career, Major Stouffer filled a number of command and staff positions within Air Command and National Defence Headquarters. His last tour in Ottawa was as a member of the ill-fated Strategic Airlift Project Office that was to select a new strategic transport aircraft for the Canadian Forces.

In May 2000, Major Stouffer received his Master’s Degree in War Studies from the Royal Military College (RMC). In September 2002 he enrolled as a full-time PhD student in the same programme at RMC. His three areas of academic study include air power, Canadian defence policy and Canadian history. Major Stouffer successfully defended his PhD Thesis on January 28, 2005 and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy (War Studies) at the spring Convocation on May 20, 2005. He is currently employed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at RMC.

AFHQ―Air Force Headquarters
ANS―Air Navigation School
BCATP―British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
CAS―Chief of the Air Staff
CDS―Chief of the Defence Staff
COSC―Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee
DHH―Directorate of History and Heritage
DM―Deputy Minister
GRS―General Reconnaissance School
NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NORAD―North American Air Defense Command
OC―Officer Commanding
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
RCN―Royal Canadian Navy
RMC―Royal Military College
SACEUR―Supreme Allied Commander Central Europe
US―United States
USAF―United States Air Force

[1]. “Airman Heads Chiefs,” The Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1960. Miller File, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). (return)

[2]. “Airman Heads Chiefs,” The Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1960. Miller File, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). (return)

[3]. “Airman Heads Chiefs,” The Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1960. Miller File, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). (return)

[4]. Sean M. Maloney, “General Charles Foulkes: A Primer on How to be CDS,” in Warrior Chiefs: Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leaders, ed. Bernd Horne and Stephen Harris (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001), 219. (return)

[5].  Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Record Group 2, RCAF Record of Service, 139 Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Canadian Forces Decoration. Record signed by Paul Hellyer, Minister of National Defence, August 1966. Subsequent references quoted as “Miller Service Record.” (return)

[6]. Sandy Babcock, “Air Marshal Roy Slemon: The RCAF’s Original,” in Warrior Chiefs: Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leaders, ed. Bernd Horne and Stephen Harris (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001), 258. (return)

[7]. Career summary for Air Member for Personnel (AMP), August 28, 1946, Miller Service Record. (return)

[8]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. Subsequent references will be quoted as “Bland Interview.” (return)

[9]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[10]. Larry Milberry, Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-84 (Toronto: CANAV Books, 1984), 47. (return)

[11]. W.A.B. Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume II (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 120. (return)

[12]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[13]. Career summary written for Paul Hellyer, August, 1966, Miller Service Record. (return)

[14]. Career summary written for Paul Hellyer, August, 1966, Miller Service Record. (return)

[15]. Milberry, 53. During the depression years the RCAF would consume half their civil flying time conducting anti-smuggling patrols for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). See W.A.B. Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume II (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 117. (return)

[16]. Sandy Babcock, “Air Marshal Roy Slemon: The RCAF’s Original,” in Warrior Chiefs: Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leaders, ed. Bernd Horne and Stephen Harris (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001), 264. (return)

[17]. Career summary, August, 1966. (return)

[18]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[19]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[20]. Brereton Greenhous, Stephen J. Harris, William C. Johnston and William G.P. Rawling, The Crucible of War 1939-1945: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume III (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 13. (return)

[21]. W.A.B. Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume II (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 145. (return)

[22]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[23]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[24]. Brereton Greenhous, Stephen J. Harris, William C. Johnston and William G.P. Rawling, The Crucible of War 1939-1945: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume III (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 20-23. (return)

[25]. Unknown author, “The Canadian Overseas Air Force Policy,” undated DHH summary, File 83/698, 1. (return)

[26]. Unknown author, “The Canadian Overseas Air Force Policy,” undated DHH summary, File 83/698, 1. (return)

[27]. Unknown author, “The Canadian Overseas Air Force Policy,” undated DHH summary, File 83/698, 1. (return)

[28]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[29]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[30]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[31]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[32]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[33]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[34]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[35]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[36]. For reasons unknown, official records omit Miller’s posting to RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale. The exact date he arrived there is also not clear. This author has determined that Miller left No.6 Group Headquarters (HQ) sometime in June or early July 1944 – well before the official record which has him leaving HQ for Topcliffe in September 1944. Greenhous et al., 915. See also Miller Service Record. (return)

[37]. Ibid., see photo, 495. (return)

[38]. Historical Reports, RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale, July 17, 1944, DHH. (return)

[39]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[40]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[41]. Major Stouffer, “An Expression of Canadian Nationalism: The History of No.1 Air Division and RCAF Cold War Air Power Choices” (PhD Thesis, Royal Military College of Canada, January 2005), Chapters 1 and 2. (return)

[42]. Undated note by Air Marshal Curtis. Miller Service Record. (return)

[43]. Career summary, August 28, 1946. (return)

[44]. Sandy Babcock, “Air Marshal Roy Slemon: The RCAF’s Original,” in Warrior Chiefs: Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leaders, ed. Bernd Horne and Stephen Harris (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001), 264. (return)

[45]. Letter from Air Marshal Slemon to General Norstad, June 5, 1954, Miller Record of Service, DHH. (return)

[46]. Claxton message to General Norstad, June 12, 1954, Miller Service Record, DHH. (return)

[47]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[48]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[49]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[50]. Douglas L. Bland, Chiefs of Defence: Government and the Unified Command of the Canadian Armed Forces (Toronto: Brown Book Company Limited, 1995), 154-8. (return)

[51]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[52]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[53]. Various Minutes to Meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH. (return)

[54]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[55]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[56]. Jon B. McLin, Canada’s Changing Defense Policy, 1957-1963: The Problems of A Middle Power in Alliance (Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1967), 178-81. (return)

[57]. Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Meeting, paragraph 27, December 4, 1957, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH. (return)

[58]. As an example see Minutes to the 608th Meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, paragraph 17, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH. (return)

[59]. Air Chief Marshal Miller (Retired) interview by Douglas Bland, September 22, 1992, DHH. (return)

[60]. “Civilian may be successor to Foulkes,” The Province, January 23, 1960. Miller File, DHH. (return)

[61]. Lloyd Breadner was promoted to Air Chief Marshal upon retirement in 1945. (return)

[62]. Paul Hellyer, Damn the Torpedoes: My Fight To Unify Canada’s Armed Forces (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990), 85. (return)

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