80 Years Later, Nighthawks Once More Patrol the Skies of Europe

News Article / December 6, 2021 / Project number: RCAF-20211206

It was a poignant moment as CF-18 Hornets from 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron flew over the United Kingdom in late August 2021, eighty years after the Squadron was formed in Digby, England. In June 1941 409 Squadron was created to as a night fighter squadron in the defence of England during the Second World War.

Dubbed “the Nighthawks”, 409 Squadron flew nightly sorties in Beaufighter and Mosquito aircraft, living up to their motto “Media nox meridies noster”, or ‘Midnight is our noon’. Going where needed, 409 Squadron moved from Digby, to Coleby Grange, to Acklington, back to Coleby Grange, then to Hunsdon. In August 1944, 409 Squadron moved to Carpiquet, France, before settling in the Lille area. They were the first night fighters to be based on the mainland, and the top scoring RAF/RCAF night fighter squadron from June 1944 to May 1945. By the time 409 Squadron was disbanded at the end of the war, they had claimed a total of 61 ½ victories.

As need arose again, the Nighthawks re-formed in 1954 as an All-Weather (Fighter) unit at Royal Canadian Air Force Station Comox, British Columbia. As part of the new North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) Command, the squadron flew missions in the CF-100 and the CF-101 providing air defence for Canada’s west coast until 1984, when the Nighthawks returned to their original roots in Europe. Responding to the needs of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 409 Squadron, now flying the CF-18 Hornet, moved to CFB Baden-Soellingen in Germany. They remained there until 1991, when, as the Cold War ended, the Canadian Forces withdrew from Europe, and 409 Squadron was once more disbanded.

As it is always hard to keep a Nighthawk from soaring, in July 2006, 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron, was once again re-formed, this time at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta. Flying the CF-18 Hornet, the Nighthawks remain committed to protecting North America as part of the NORAD mandate. Since 409 Squadron has never shied away from ‘spreading its wings’, they have deployed their tactical fighters overseas to meet Canadian and Allied needs abroad on multiple occasions. The Nighthawks have been deployed on many international expeditionary operations including Operation MOBILE in Libya, Operation IMPACT in Iraq, and Operation REASSURANCE in Central and Eastern Europe.

Demonstrating Canada’s continued commitment to NATO, the Nighthawks first deployed with Air Task Force – Romania in 2017, in support of Operation REASSURANCE, NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission. This September, they returned to Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base, Romania to continue their 80 year legacy of ensuring security in the region by once again patrolling European skies.

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