By the end of the Battle of Britain, in late October 1940, changing German tactics highlighted the need for a new capability for the Royal Air Force. German bombers were increasingly using the night to make many small raids. This decreased their chances of detection and reduced the need for fighter escort. The RAF quickly realized that it was not adequately prepared to meet the new threat, and hastened the formation of dedicated night fighter units.
406 (RCAF) ‘Lynx’ Squadron was formed at RAF Acklington on May 10, 1941, to help meet this new threat. Night fighting was a completely different game from day operations. Formations of fighters at night were out of the question. Airborne radio detection and ranging (radar) would be required, and in the early stages of the war, was simply too big, too heavy, and too operator-intensive for a single-seat fighter and its pilot. When 406 Squadron came into being, the only suitable aircraft at that time was the Bristol Beaufighter. This radial twin-engine aircraft was a hastily developed variant of the Beaufort light bomber. Normally, such an ad-hoc creation would be of limited use, but the Beaufighter was ideally suited for its twin roles of night-fighter and anti-shipping strike aircraft.
Armed with four 20-millimetre cannons and up to six .303 machine guns, at a time when fighters were armed with only four to eight .303 calibre machine guns, it had devastating firepower. Twin-engine reliability ensured many a crew returned home safely that otherwise would have been lost. Two crewmen meant a dedicated radar operator who handled navigation and interception, leaving the pilot to focus solely on flying the aircraft and engaging the enemy once visually sighted. It was a deadly combination. The squadron expanded its role as attacks on England diminished, and they took the fight to Europe, conducting Night Ranger missions, essentially flying up and down the French coast, looking for trouble.
In 1944, just before D-Day, 406 Squadron started re-equipping with the ultimate twin-engine fighter: the de Havilland Mosquito. Superbly armed with four 20-millimetre cannon, and four .303 machine guns, and flying at almost 100 miles per hour (161 kilometres) faster than the Beaufighters, the squadron changed over to the night interdiction (intruder) role. They excelled at stopping not only enemy bombers, but also enemy night fighters. By war’s end, 406 Squadron had destroyed 64 enemy aircraft, with 7 probably destroyed and 47 damaged. Dozens of locomotive trains and other vehicles were destroyed. Most importantly, countless British civilians were saved by the squadron’s efforts to keep the German night bombers at bay.
On September 1, 1945, the squadron was disbanded, and the gallant airmen returned home.
World peace was fleeting, however, and soon new threats emerged. The RCAF re-formed many of the Second World War squadrons to serve as reserve units, and 406 was re-formed in Saskatoon on July 9, 1947. The squadron’s role was as a tactical/light bomber squadron, equipped at various times with the B-25 Mitchell, Harvard, and T-33 Silver Star. This role was changed in March 1958 to that of light transport/utility, and the squadron swapped over to C-45 Expeditors and CSR-123 Otters. Once again, the needs of the RCAF changed, and the squadron was stood down on March 31, 1964.
With the military amalgamations of the late ’60s combining all elements into the Canadian Armed Forces, once again changes dictated the need to re-form 406, but this time as 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron, located in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. It stood up on July 12, 1972. The squadron was tasked with training all aircrew and groundcrew for both the CH-124 Sea King helicopter and the CP-121 Tracker anti-submarine warfare aircraft. In mid-1981, the Tracker role was removed from 406’s responsibilities.
As 406 nears the 75th anniversary of its formation, an exciting new airframe, the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter is being introduced, ensuring the squadron’s future for decades to come. In honour of all who served, and continue to serve the squadron, and for all those maritime aviators and technicians who learned their craft at 406 Squadron, we will be holding our 75th Anniversary Gala on May 13 and14, 2016.
Squadron alumni from all generations, including famed wartime commanding officer Wing Commander Russ Bannock, DFC and Bar, will assemble for a meet and greet at the Shearwater Aviation Museum, at 6 p.m. on May 13. The next day, a parade will be held at the Archdale Hangar at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the Maritime Helicopter Training Centre cafeteria. The afternoon will be reserved for tours of the new centre and the Shearwater Aviation Museum, and Sea King and Cyclone displays in the Archdale Hangar. On the evening of May 14, the mixed dining-in will begin at 6 p.m. at Casino Nova Scotia. The weekend promises to be a great reunion for those invited to attend, and a fitting tribute to 75 years of aviation heritage.
For more information, visit our anniversary website at http://rcafassociation.ca/406lynxsqn75th/, or the event’s facebook page, titled “406 Lynx Squadron 75th Anniversary”.