Article by Rich Thistle ©
On January 1,1943, after much political wrangling, a unique Canadian bomber force was formed. It was not an easy birth, nor would it be a smooth adolescence. But by the time it came to maturity, No. 6 (RCAF) Group of Bomber Command was a well-oiled machine which had earned a reputation as “among the very best”, a thoroughly professional team focusing all its efforts on the ultimate goal, the defeat of Nazi Germany.
As a sovereign nation, Canada had long been demanding an RCAF group within Bomber Command, but British High Command, including RAF Air Chief Marshal “Bomber” Harris had resisted with vigor. He and his chiefs first regarded such an undertaking as a “colonial” venture doomed to failure. But Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King wouldn’t let go. The establishment of 6 Group would serve as an important symbol of a newly independent Canada. But, the high price which would be demanded of 6 Group would not be simply symbolic.
No. 6 (RCAF) Group under Canadian Air Vice Marshal G.E. Brooks eventually consisted of fifteen squadrons, flying mostly Wellingtons, Lancasters and Halifaxes from bases at Linton, East Moor, Tholthorpe, Leeming, Skipton, Middleton St.George and Croft.
If the birth of 6 Group was politically painful, its infancy was a nightmare. Thrust into battle before they were ready, unseasoned squadron leaders and air crew paid dearly for the right to fly in an all-Canadian bomber group. Then, when 6 Group expanded into fifteen squadrons, the new squadrons siphoned off what experience there was in the original units, thus diluting the battle knowledge which was dangerously thin already.
This Group quickly acquired a sorry reputation with the highest losses and aborted-mission rates of any other group in Bomber Command. But gradually, through sheer determination and guts, the tide began to turn. By 1944, 6 Group had become an efficient and deadly war machine, surviving the acid-test in the skies over Germany.
By VE Day this Canadian bomber group had flown more than 40,000 operational sorties dropping 126,122 tons of bombs and mines, encountered 1,312 enemy aircraft, claiming 116 destroyed and 24 “probables”. No fewer than 814 aircraft had failed to return from ops, and of the 5,700 airmen aboard those aircraft, 4,277, or almost 75% of them, had lost their lives. Hundreds more had died in non-operational accidents. From my perspective, fifty years later, these statistics are still powerful. I cannot imagine the unfaltering courage summoned up by these young Canadians each time they entered their aircraft, knowing the daunting odds against survival, especially in the early days of 6 Group.
Recently, Bomber Command’s role in the war has become a very hot topic in Canada. The historical “spin-doctors” are having a heyday at the expense of all those who served in Bomber Command including 6 (RCAF) Group. The latest Canadian TV documentaries and books take a decidedly dim view of the methods of the bombing campaign, even to the extreme of questioning the motivation and morality of Bomber Command, endeavoring to lay the ultimate guilt trip on all the Allied participants.
Somehow it all seems typically Canadian - the Americans would never do it - to go well out of our way to sully a fine record of valor and accomplishment achieved under unbelievable conditions by young Canadians who found themselves suddenly thrust into the fiercest aerial war in history. They did what had to be done, and did it with honor. I, for one, am thankful they did. The bombing campaign was arguably the straw that broke the back of Nazi Germany.
As an aviation artist I feel compelled to celebrate the lives and great accomplishments of these young Canadians. I feel compelled to create my interpretation of these accomplishments in paint, to make a new record of the history which they helped make, the history of their finest hours. And, of course, the fact that I love to paint airplanes is merely the icing on the cake.
For years now I have been listening to those who served in 6 (RCAF) Group talk about their aircraft, usually fondly, one might even say lovingly. Of the three aircraft which most flew,Wellington, Lancaster and Halifax, I have rarely heard anything negative. However, there has always been a rather obvious but good-natured rivalry between those who flew Lancasters and those who flew the Halifax. Of the two types, it is the Lancaster which has acquired the greatest reputation. But, in fact it was the Halifax which achieved the greatest deeds in 6 (RCAF) Group.
Statistically, in 6 (RCAF)Group, the Halifax flew well over three times more sorties than the fabled Lancaster. It was for this reason alone I decided that my first limited-edition saluting Canadian bombers would be a Halifax. In addition, I was very fortunate to make the acquaintance of a recognized Halifax expert, Jack Dundas, whose enthusiasm for the Halifax knows no bounds. F/L Jack Dundas earned his ops wings and a Distinguished Flying Cross in “B” Bambi, a Mk.III Halifax, in No. 424 “City of Hamilton” Squadron. After the war he worked for more than 37 years at G.M.C. and retired with his wife to Ridgeville, Ontario.
My painting, THE QUEEN RETURNS celebrates 6 Group and all Canadians who served in it, especially those Halifax boys. It was through the encouragement of Jack and others like him, many from my home town of Stratford and surrounding area, that I decided to publish this work as a limited-edition print. They somehow convinced me that there were enough Lancaster prints out there already. The rivalry continues. THE QUEEN RETURNS
- original painting available
- limited-edition fine-art print available in catalog