Official Lineages, Volume 4: Operational Flying Squadrons

Introduction to the history of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons and their heritage and lineages as of April 5, 2001.

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Except for the abortive Canadian Aviation Corps established at the beginning of the First World War Canadian airmen fought in that conflict as individual members of the British flying services. Two Canadian squadrons, perpetuated by 2 Squadron and 401 Squadron, were organized into a Canadian wing and authorized in 1918 as part of the newly-formed Canadian Air Force, but were not formed until after the Armistice and were disbanded just over a year later. The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, established near the end of the war to patrol the Atlantic Coast off Nova Scotia, never reached operational status.

The postwar Air Board, and its successor the Canadian Air Force, was initially visualized as a non permanent reserve of individual airmen. This idea proved ineffectual and although a few squadrons were formed in the mid-1920s, they were transferred to civil government air operations shortly thereafter in response to the latter's dominant demands. Strong military requirements did not emerge again until rearmament started in the mid-1930s. The squadrons slowly formed thereafter were designed primarily for home defence, and, with only one exception, squadrons numbered from 1 to 170 fought the Second World War from North American territory. (The one exception, 162 Squadron, was temporarily assigned to Royal Air Force (RAF) Coastal Command in Iceland and Scotland. A few other squadrons patrolled against the Japanese in Alaska, but this was considered part of the North American defence task.

Three squadrons were transferred to Great Britain in 1940, but most Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) overseas squadrons were created there as a result of Article XV of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Agreement. The British allocated the first fifty numbers in the "400-Block" (400-449) to these new Canadian units, and the RCAF renumbered its existing three overseas squadrons to conform. Six more Home War Establishment squadrons were transferred overseas in 1943-44, and these, too, were renumbered on arrival. An additional three squadrons were formed overseas as artillery air observation post squadrons to work with the army. These received numbers in the "600-Block" (664-666) along with their British companions. All home defence and overseas combatant squadrons were disbanded soon after the war.

In the late 1940s, existing squadrons, all of which were support units from the Home War Establishment, were renumbered to perpetuate the more well-known overseas squadrons. As new squadrons were formed they, too, were given "400-Block" numbers. In the process, home defence battle honours were "lost" from the active order of battle except for ALEUTIANS, which was borne by two of the squadrons transferred overseas in 1943-44. Squadron numbers also expanded slightly beyond the original wartime overseas block allocated to the RCAF. One squadron, 450, bears a number allotted to an Australian Article XV squadron during the Second World War. (There was considerable duplication among Commonwealth air force numbers during the war outside of the European theatre. For example, there was a '10 Squadron' in the RAF, Royal Australian Air Force, and RCAF. The first two were in England, though in different commands - the Australians did not renumber their squadron in Great Britain when Article XV units were created - and the latter in Canada. All were on their own country's order of battle, and each won different battle honours.) Also of interest, Air Force Routine Order 324/40, dated 7 June 1940, stated: "In order to avoid confusion in matters pertaining to similarly numbered units of the RAF and the RCAF, all units of the RCAF, after embarkation for overseas, are to be identified by use of the word "Canada" as a suffix immediately after the Squadron number, e.g., No. 110 Canadian (AC) Squadron." This routine order was cancelled on 4 June 1943 by Air Force Routine Order 1077/43. The word "Canadian" has not been included within the charts.

Canadian naval airmen fought in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War, and no Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) squadrons were formed until after that conflict. Canadian Army helicopter and light airct sub-units were also formed in the postwar period, and these, along with the RCN squadrons joined those of the RCAF in one functional structure when the Canadian Forces were unified in 1968.

Official titles

The most recent title for each flying squadron is given as the official title. Until the mid- to late- 1970s the official titles for flying squadrons were in English only. The authorization of French-language titles has been noted in the lineage section of the charts. In one case (430 Squadron), the squadron was reformed as a French-language unit and was later granted an English-language title. Some units never received French-language titles and, so, these charts reflect the official unilingual titles accorded those squadrons.

The official badge

A badge is a distinctive sign, symbol or emblem used to visually identify a military organization and foster the pride and cohesiveness necessary for operational effectiveness. All active squadrons established as a separate entity under a Ministerial Organization Order and a Canadian Forces Organization Order, may be granted one official, primary badge. These are recorded where approved.

Each badge is unique, yet enclosed in a common frame which indicates its an operational flying squadron. Air force flying squadron badges follow a special military custom. Prior to unification, these were all designed as if "hollow", with no field. Thus their distinctive devices are still painted on a white (blank) field to reflect that heritage, except for squadrons originally organized in the Royal Canadian Navy. (One exception - 448 Squadron's badge - was created in the period of administrative uncertainty after unification. The badge of the squadron, is now regarded as a special case.)

The English word "squadron" was originally translated poorly because of organizational differences among air forces. This problem was corrected after Unification, but the correction was not consistently applied. As a result, organizational orders used the term ' escadron,' while badge frames used 'escadrille.' The organizationally correct term is 'escadron' and all active and 400-Block badge frames were converted some years ago. The badge frames of the remainder of the squadrons reflect the frame authorized at the time of their disbandment. Older patterns may only be used as historical illustrations.

Each chart includes an heraldic description and the significance of the badge. With respect to the latter item, changes have only been made to correct the tense or outdated terminology within the description.


Mottoes are words, phrases or short sentences expressing a maxim, sentiment, or rule of conduct to rally sentiment or to mark matters of significance. Mottoes originated as battle cries or guiding principles. They were associated with the individuals or units who created them, and, thus, became part of family custom and identity.

A motto always forms part of an approved squadron badge, although a motto may be approved by itself without reference to other symbology.

Livery colours

Ex-naval squadrons have officially-authorized "livery" colours normally derived from the principal heraldic metal and colour in their badges.

Battle honours

Canadian airmen fought as part of the British flying services in the First World War. There were no official air force battle honours allocated until after the Second World War, when the RAF drew up a list of battles to be honoured up to that date. The RCAF subscribed to the British battle list, but modified one honour's designation and added three others to account for anti submarine and ground attack operations flown from Canada and Alaska by the Home War Establishment.

Air force battle honours include both major and subsidiary battle honours. Major battle honours are essentially theatre honours awarded for operations which extended over a protracted period. These are shown in orders by upper case type (e.g., FORTRESS EUROPE). Subsidiary honours apply to specific geographical locations for which accurate and restricted dates can be applied, and are printed in lower case type (e.g., Dieppe). All battle honours are considered equal and are listed in the order detailed in the Official List. A battle honour in bold type indicates one authorized to be emblazoned on a squadron's Standard (to a maximum of eight honours for the Second World War). All new Standards are now issued with bilingual battle honour scrolls.

For an explanation of the unique case of naval battle honours, see the note on the 880 Squadron lineage chart.


Full "unit" status as an independent entity - which includes the right to a badge, Standard, and battle honours - begins with an organization as an operational "squadron". Thus flights, detachments, schools and similar units are mentioned as predecessors where applicable in this volume, but the existence of these smaller organizations does not extend formal squadron lineage. All lineage dates shown are 'official' as they emanate from government orders. In some cases, squadrons were authorized to be formed long before they were actually established and in other instances squadrons ceased operations before official orders were issued. An example of this would be 450 Squadron which ceased operations in 1996 but was not officially disbanded until 1998.

In accordance with naval and air force tradition, disbandment does not end a squadron's life-line, which is considered to be the sum of all its previous incarnations.

As squadrons were formed and redesignated during and after the Second World War, little attention was paid to lineages. Uncertainty resulted later when issues such as qualifications for battle honours and squadron Standards were being determined. Practice and precedent, however, lead to the following squadron lineage rules:

  1. Normal perpetuation and family "life" is through the squadron number.
  2. Unit identity is continuous after a redesignation with no break in service, even if the number is changed; e.g., 400 Squadron was previously numbered as 10 Squadron and 110 Squadron, and counts that service as part of its own.
  3. If a number is re-used after such a redesignation, it indicates a new and separate unit that cannot claim the old number's honours or service time, which are considered redesignated along with the original unit. Four squadrons formed during the Second World War are affected in this way: Numbers 1, 2, 10, and 11. (Three other numbers re-used during the war - 12, 13, and 14 - are absorbed by de facto amalgamation as noted below.) A current example is 103 Search and Rescue Squadron which has no lineal connection with the 103 Rescue Unit of 1947-68 which was redesignated 413 Squadron.
  4. Two numbers which come together by the redesignation of a squadron with no break in service constitute a de facto amalgamation of the redesignated unit and the family "life-line" of the new number; e.g. 12 Squadron and 412 Squadron are amalgamated as a result of the redesignation of the former unit. In these cases the honours of both partners are maintained (less naval battle honours from the common Commonwealth list, which are lost in accordance with naval custom).

Within each lineage chart specific parameters have been established:

  1. The 'verb' terminology within each chart has been limited to the terms: authorize, disband, reform, redesignate and amalgamate. Terms such as form, activate, reactivate or convert have not been used as they are of an operational, as opposed to lineage, nature. For example, redesignation of a squadron's title often meant a conversion of its operational role or equipment.
  2. Entries (such as authorizations and redesignations) have been included in this section whether the squadron was operational at the time or not.
  3. The use of the prefix "No." (for number) has been used in an inconsistent manner historically. In general, the prefix was consistently used in squadron titles until the end of the Second World War. Since Unification the prefix has rarely been used. Within the charts the use of the prefix has been determined entirely by the text of the documentation cited in the footnote.

Operational history

The notes in the lineage charts give only a brief overview of the operational history of each squadron. For this purpose, "operational" is considered to apply to activity during war. Peacetime service is not summarized, including overseas service with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or continental defence as part of the North American Aerospace Defence Command. For further information on the operational history of a squadron please consult the relevant volume of the official RCAF history.

The battle honours noted on the charts serve as a record of a squadron's participation in campaigns, and it is not considered necessary to repeat this detail in each chart's history note.


On 10 April 1958, Her Majesty graciously approved the awarding of Standards to operational squadrons of the RCAF which have twenty-five years of cumulative service, or which have earned Her appreciation by virtue of specially outstanding operations. Her Majesty further approved that the Standard would be "a rectangular silk flag two feet eight inches on the staff and four feet in the fly. It shall be light blue in colour and have a border composed of the floral emblems of the ten provinces of Canada in coloured silks, and in the centre shall be the Squadron badge, with white scrolls as required on which the Battle Honours of the Squadron shall be inscribed in black".

Operational squadrons which have been amalgamated may not count service time twice when calculating their twenty-five years of cumulative service.


Within the footnotes of the lineage charts it should be noted the following abbreviations are used:

  1. AFGO – Air Force General Order
  2. AFHS – Air Force Historical Section
  3. AFRO – Air Force Routine Order
  4. AHR – Annual Historical Report
  5. CFOO – Canadian Forces Organization Order
  6. GO – General Order
  7. MOO – Ministerial Organization Order
  8. NAC – National Archives of Canada
  9. NDHQ – National Defence Headquarters
  10. NHS – Naval Historical Section
  11. PRF – Permanent Reference File
  12. RG – Record Group

All unpublished documentation has been taken from the collection of the Directorate of History and Heritage or the National Archives of Canada. The latter documentation is cited as being taken from a particular section of the NAC. All Directorate of History and Heritage documentation taken from Document Collection, Kardex or Permanent Reference files is cited as such. All other documentation is from the Heritage Section's own squadron files.

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