Military Origins: US and Canadian Navy Avengers

Grumman TBFs and General Motors (Eastern Aircraft Division) TBMs

The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air and naval arms around the world.

The Avenger was the first US Navy type to have a powered gun turret and was the first to carry the 22 inch torpedo, which it held internally in the bomb bay. It was versatile and could carry bombs, rockets and depth charges, and was operated as a dive bomber, day bomber and night bomber. The TBM’s first operational mission with the US Navy was June 4, 1942, from Midway Island in the Battle of Midway. Former US President George Bush Sr. flew an Avenger during his service in the Pacific during WWII.

US Navy Bureau Number Series [Joe Baugher] for the TBM/TBF Avengers that sprayed in New Brunswick, including their origin as RCN aircraft.
Manufacturer & Model BuNo Series Construction Numbers NB Spray Program RCN Origin
Grumman TBF-1C 47638 – 48123 5404-5889 1 0
General Motors TBM-3 53050 – 53949 3112-4011 42 22
General Motors TBM-3 68062 – 69538 801-2277 8 3
General Motors TBM-3E 85459 – 86296 2278-3111 26 13
General Motors TBM-3E 91107 – 92006 4102-4657 11 1

US Navy Avengers Used in Spraying

TBM-1sprayingGuadacanal

An Official Navy photo of a TBM-1 spraying for malaria control near Henderson Field off Guadalcanal on November 27, 1944. This is an important reminder that TBM sprayers were not a post-war civilian invention.” [William T. Larkins]

Naval Aviation News-1Jul46-pg20

These two pages from Naval Aviation News (Restricted), July 1946, shows that the US Navy and Marine Corps used TBMs to spray in Panama and the South Pacific in the mid-1940s.

Naval Aviation News-1Jul46-pg21RCN TBM_1955_1035408M

This is RCN TBM 53732 / #316, 1955, location unknown. [TomPharo/www.abpic.co.uk/Air Britain]. It eventually became Conair TBM #617, FKCN.

TBM Specifications

ENGINE: Wright R-2600-20 Cyclone 1,950 hp
WING SPAN: 54 feet, 2 inches
LENGTH: 40 feet, 9 inches
HEIGHT: 13 feet, 9 inches
MAX TAKEOFF WEIGHT: 17,600 lbs.
TANK CAPACITY: 625 US gallons (2350 litres)
CREW: 1
MANUFACTURED BY: Eastern Aircraft (General Motors)
TOTAL TBF/TBMs BUILT: 9,839
TOTAL IN EXISTENCE TODAY: 145
FIRST TBF/TBM BUILT: 1941
MAXIMUM SPEED: 276 mph
RANGE: 1,130 miles
SERVICE CEILING: 23,400 feet

TBM Models

TBM-1: similar to TBF-1:         total 550
TBM-1C: similar to TBF-1C:     total 2,336
TBM-1D/E/J/L/P: similar to corresponding TBFs
TBM-3: major production model with R-2600-20 engine and outer wing drop tanks or rockets: total 4,657
TBM-3D: conversion with APS-4 radar on right
TBM-3E: conversions with strengthened structure and RT-5/APS-4 radar in pod under right wing
TBM-3E2: updated TBM-3E with extra avionics
TBM-3H: conversions with surface-search radar
TBM-3J: conversions as TBF-1J
TBM-3L: conversions as TBF-1L
TBM-3P: photo reconnaissance conversions, differing from TBF-1P
TBM-3U: conversions for utility and target towing

US Navy Post-War TBM Variants

TBM-3M: conversions for missile launching
TBM-3M2: updates with extra equipment
TBM-3N: conversions (1945/46) for special night attack missions
TBM-3Q: various rebuilds for post-war ECM and EW research and combat duty with prominent additions on belly, cockpit, fin and in some cases wings for reception and/or jamming
TBM-3R: conversions for seven passenger or cargo transport in at least three configurations, all without guns and with door on right
TBM-3S: major post-war conversion program for Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) strike, most being further updated as TBM-3S2 with TBM 3E2 avionics
TBM-3W: major post-war conversion program for AEW (radar picket) duty with APS-20 radar, no armament and extra fins; most updated as TBM-3W2 with upgraded displays for two rear operators and other changes

The TBM-3E was the last production variant of the Avenger; production was finally shut down after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. Eastern had built three prototypes of the “XTBM-4”, with a number of improvements and manufacturing changes, but with the end of the conflict, TBM-4 production contracts were canceled. Eastern had delivered 7,546 Avengers to that time.

The Royal Canadian Navy TBMs

The above info on squadrons is from R. Walker (Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers) and L. Pettipas.

One of the primary postwar users of the Avenger was the Royal Canadian Navy, which obtained 125 former US Navy TBM-3E Avengers in two batches: 75 in the spring to fall of 1950 and the remainder in the spring to fall of 1952, making the Avenger the most numerous aircraft to serve in the RCN. The aircraft arrived at a rate of eight or nine per week.

The RCN selected the Avenger to replace the venerable Fairey Fireflies for the expansion of its prime training and operational weapons delivery system. The Avenger had a longer range, heavier load carrying capability and rugged construction, however, the biggest advantage of the change in policy was easy procurement of spare parts.

By the time the Avengers were delivered, the RCN was shifting its primary focus to anti-submarine warfare (ASW) (i.e., to search for and destroy submarines), and the aircraft was becoming obsolete as an attack platform. When the RCN took delivery of their TBM-3E Avengers they were painted overall in US Navy Dark Blue with Canadian markings and featured a ball turret at the rear of the glass canopy. The Avengers in their original Dark Blue colour scheme were flown from the air station HMCS Shearwater and the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent by the two existing anti-submarine squadrons, 825 and 826.

After March 1951, the Avengers were painted Gloss Dark Grey on the upper third of the fuselage, on the upper wings, and on the tailplanes and elevators, and Gloss Sky below. After mid-1952, a third colour scheme appeared and stayed until the surviving Avengers were retired. This was Gloss Dark Grey as above but Gloss Light Grey below. Some of the Avengers converted by Fairey Aviation and eventually received by Skyway Air Services retailed this colour scheme for a few years.

RCN tug #85460

This is an AS 3 target-tug, BuNo 85460, which can be seen on the tail. It sports alternating black-and-yellow bands. This Avenger ended up at FPL, flying as C-GFPS #3. [Leo Pettipas, 1988]

 The RCN Variants

AS 3 (i.e., Mk 1). Ninety-eight of the RCN Avengers were fitted at Fairey Aviation with many novel ASW modifications, including radar, electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment, and sonobuoys, and the upper ball turret was replaced with a sloping glass canopy that was better suited for observation duties. The modified Avengers were designated AS 3, which constituted the most numerous variant and which differed little from the TBM-3E. In addition to the Pilot, the AS 3’s were crewed by an Observer and an Observer’s Mate.

AS 3M. The AS 3M was an “uprated version” of the AS 3, and were later fitted with electronic countermeasure (ECM) equipment and a large magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) boom on the rear left side of the fuselage. This was the RCN’s premium ASW aircraft in the mid-1950s, entering squadron service in 1955. At least 21 were produced.

AS 3M2 (i.e., Mk 2) Two Avengers with “camel back” glasshouse canopies and which were superficially like a 3M were produced and designated AS 3M2. They were BuNo 86175, which became FJJB, and BuNo 53078, which became FJJC and later FBEF. They were taken on charge 29 May 1952 and underwent conversion in July 1953. The AS 3M2 was supposed to be the direct successor of the AS 3, but the RCN went with the AS 3M until the Tracker became available. In May of 1954 the two 3M2s were used in torpedo cold weather trials out of Torbay, Newfoundland. Later the 3M2s were used for target towing.

The evidence for the serial numbers for these two variants comes from Griffin (1969), who lists them on pages 601-02 with their correct civil registrations, but also from collaborator Barrie MacLeod, who has examined a binder of Avenger photos at the Shearwater Aviation Museum. The double image on p. 62 of Leo Pettipas’ book of RCN Avenger #421 and #386 reveal only the BuNo of #386, which is readable as 53078. He checked the Civil Aviation Register for 1961, and BuNo #53078 was was listed as CF-JJC for Richel Air Ltd. of Quebec.

In the photo of #421, the BuNo is not readable, however, the BuNo 86175 in aircraft record cards is listed as CF-JJC, also of Richel Air.

TBM-3W2 (AEW “Guppy”). These eight variants were not modified by Fairey Aviation but were purchased as airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft from the US and ferried to Shearwater from Norfolk, Virginia, in September and October 1952. They were among the last Avengers to be acquired by the RCN. They were notable for their large bellies that housed the AEW equipment for detecting aircraft and submarines. Most of the AEWs were struck off charge on 19 March 1959, one year before the other Avengers were retired.

RCN leaders soon realized the Avenger’s shortcomings as an ASW aircraft, and in 1954 they elected to replace the AS 3 with the Grumman S-2 Tracker, which offered longer range, greater load-carrying capacity for electronics and armament, and a second engine, a great safety benefit when flying long-range ASW patrols over frigid North Atlantic waters. As delivery of the new license-built CS2F Trackers began in 1957, the Avengers were shifted to training duties, and as an aircraft type were officially retired in July 1960.

Hightop Avengers - Pettipas pg 62

Page 62 from “The Grumman Avenger in the Royal Canadian Navy” by Leo Pettipas (1988) showing Avengers with RCN numbers 421 and 386. The Bureau # of 386 is clearly readable as 53078, which is CF-JJC. The bureau # of 421 is not visible, but since FJJB and FJJC were the only “high top” Avengers, #421 must be FJJB. [Barrie MacLeod]

RCN Squadrons with Avengers – Operational Anti-submarine

825: Avenger carried 3-digit pennant numbers in 300 range; Grumman Avenger, from early 1951. Renamed as 880 in May 1951.

826: Avenger – “AB”; Grumman Avenger, from early 1950. Renamed as 881 in May 1951.

880: Avenger carried 3-digit pennant numbers in 300 range; Grumman Avenger, from May 1951 to November 1952. In January 1954, two Avengers were sent to Pat Bay on Vancouver Island to form a West Coast Detachment of VS 880.

881: Avenger – “AB”, later carried 3-digit pennant numbers in 300 range; Grumman Avenger from May 1951 to November 1952.

VC 920: Downsview, Ontario; August 1955 – nine pilots became carrier qualified on Avengers; Grumman Avenger, from 1955 (or earlier?).

VS 880: Avenger carried 3-digit pennant numbers in 300 range; Grumman Avenger, from November 1952 to about 1958 (last carrier operation 10 October 1956). Home base was HMCS Shearwater.

VS 881: Avenger carried 3-digit pennant numbers in 300 range; AEW Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 400 range; Grumman Avenger from November 1952 to about 1959; AEW Avenger from March 1955. Home base was HMCS Magnificent. Merged with VS 880 in July 1959.

RCN Squadrons with Avengers – Training

VT 40: Probably used Avengers.
VU 32: Grumman Avenger from about 1953 to 1960.
VU 33: Grumman Avenger, from November 1954.
VX 10: AEW Avengers.

A Note About Identifying RCN Avengers

The “side numbers” or “call numbers” of RCN Aircraft are often prominently displayed. Barrie MacLeod, my early contributor for the Web site, has advised caution when attempting to identify an Avenger or any RCN aircraft from the side number. For example, there have been three different Avengers numbered “386”. The small, five-digit US Navy Bureau Number (BuNo) on the lower aft fuselage stayed with the aircraft, including in the RCN and on most US and Canadian civil registration cards. Each TBM also had a serial that was for Grumman’s or Eastern’s records and which also shows up on some civil registration cards.

Barrie confirms the identity of each Avenger only by the BuNo visible on his photographs and also with the photos in a binder of Avenger images at the Shearwater Aviation Museum.”If I cannot see the bureau #”, he writes, “then it’s just another pretty picture [and] I do not use it for anything.”

Retirement

In the summer of 1956, on the eve of its replacement by the Tracker, a total of 53 TBMs were on squadron strength: VS 880 – 12, VS 881 – 16, VT 40 – 4, VX 10 – 4, VU 32 – 12, VU 33 – 2, VC 920 – 3. The following lists the dates of release of the remaining RCN Avengers (Pettipas 1988):

Date Released Number Released Model Notes
Jan. 1956 6 all AS 3’s Not allocated to squadrons, no call numbers
Nov. 1956 10 all AS 3’s
Jan. 1957 3 all AS 3’s
Jan. 1958 19 all AS 3’s 10 were “converted instructional” for ground instruction
May 1958 2 AS 3M2’s
Mar. 1959 5 TBM 3W2’s
Jul. 1960 16 7 AS 3’s, 1 target tug, 8 AS 3M’s The AS 3Ms belonged to VU 32, VU 33 and VC 920

Leo Pettipas described the events surrounding last fixed-wing aircraft in the air to land operationally on board the HMCS Magnificent on a flight that took place on 10 October 1956. This was an AS 3 Avenger, BuNo 53759, call number 308, and later to fly as CF-IMS for Wheeler Airlines.

The last official flight of an RCN Avenger was flown by Commander (Air) in a target-tug, BuNo 53559, on 12 June 1960 (it became FKCJ with Skyway/Conair). The Avenger as an aircraft type was finally retired on 5 July 1960, but many had been released between 1956 and 1960. The “systematic, long-term phasing out of the Avenger” thus took place over four years.

I have been able to determine that 39 of the original 125 RCN Avengers survived to enter commercial service as sprayers in Canada. Only 12 have survived to the present (2013), either as flyable aircraft or as restored museum exhibits. According to Pettipas, many of the RCN Avengers were cannibalized or burnt at the fire dump during fire fighting training.

Much of the RCN info comes from Griffin 1969, who must have obtained a list of Bureau Numbers and Squadons from somewhere in the RCN. These lists may only represent a snapshot in time, however, but the data they contain is perpetuated to this day, correct or not.

Royal Canadian Navy Avengers that survived (Fate) to enter commercial service as sprayers in
Canada (= 39), including 19 to Skyway and 8 to Wheeler. Of the fifteen that were purchased by US companies, seven returned to Canada (italics) and eight emained in the US. See the table below for the latter Avengers.

Numbers associated with the civilian registration indicate that the Avenger was one of FPL’s. An “x” under Pennant # or Squadron indicates that the aircraft may not have been assigned a pennant # or to a squadron. SOC = Struck off Charge. j = junked [sources include Griffin 1969]
Civilian Regn. First Owner BuNo Model Call No. Squadron Year SOC Year Crashed Fate
FBEG Simsbury 85983 AS 3 374 VC 920, VS 880 1958 x Yes
FIMI #1 Skyway 53337 AS 3 390 VS 880, 881 1958 x Yes
FIMJ Skyway 85870 AS 3 372 VS 880, VC 920 1958 1958 x
FIMK #2 Skyway 85597 AS 3 381 VS 881, VS 880 1958 x Yes
FIML Skyway 53507 AS 3 368 VU 32 1958 1961 x
FIMM Skyway 53241 AS 3 307 VS 881, VC 920 1958 1973 x
FIMN #5 Skyway 53139 AS 3 361 VU 32 1958 x Yes
FIMO JD Irving 85833 AS 3 364 VS 880 1958 1970 x
FIMQ Wheeler 53558 AS 3 365 x 1958 1958 x
FIMR #23 Wheeler 53610 AS 3 303 x 1958 x Yes
FIMS Wheeler 53759 AS 3 391 x 1958 1960 x
FIMT Wheeler 69347 AS 3 380 x 1958 1960 x
FIMU Wheeler 69354 AS 3 367/347 x 1958 1958 j x
FIMV #26 Wheeler 85665 AS 3 322 x 1958 1977 x
FIMW Wheeler 85928 AS 3 338 x 1958 1975 x
FIMX Wheeler 86098 AS 3 366 x 1958 1974 x
FJJB Richel 86175 AS 3M2 421/386 VX 10, VU 33 1958 1967 x
FJJC (FBEF) Richel 53078 AS 3M2 420/386 x 1958 1975 x
FKCF Skyway 53554 AS 3M x VU 32 1960 1971 x
FKCG Skyway 69327 AS 3 326 VS 880 1960 1976 Yes
FKCH Skyway 53072 AS 3M x VS 880, VU 32 1960 1974 x
FKCJ Skyway 53559 AS 3 387 VC 920, VT 40 1960 1969 x
FKCK Skyway 53392 AS 3 306 VS 881, VU 32 1960 1969 x
FKCL #9 Skyway 53638 AS 3 x VS 880, VU 32 1960 x Yes
FKCM #16 Skyway 53420 AS 3M 343 VS 880, VX 10, VU 32 1960 x Yes
FKCN Skyway 53732 AS 3 316 VS 881, VC 920 1960 1972 x
FKPJ (GLEG) Airspray 53334 AS 3 349 VS 880, VU 33 1958 1975 x
FKYA Airspray 85652 AS 3 383 VS 880, VU 33 1957 1960 x
FMSX Skyway 53496 AS 3 339 VS 881, VU 32 1960 1961 x
FMSY Skyway 53670 AS 3 306 VS 880 1960 1964/65 x
FMUD #12 Skyway 86180 AS 3 324 VC 920 1960 x Yes
FMUE #18 Skyway 91426 AS 3M 908 VC 920 1960 x Yes
FMXN Skyway 53632 AS 3M 309/307 VS 880, 881 1960 1973 x
FXON Simsbury 85829 AS 3 369 VU 32, VS 880 1958 1974 x
FXOO Simsbury 53488 AS 3 312 VS 881, VU 32 1958 1969 x
GFPL #22 Goodman 86020 AS 3 327 VU 33 1958 2010 x
GFPS #3 ? US 85460 AS 3 346 target-tug 1960 x Yes
GLEH ? US 53697 AS 3M 908 VC 920 1960 1987 x
GLEL #13 Hillcrest 53200 AS 3 377 VC 920, VS 881 1958 x Yes
Royal Canadian Navy Avengers that were purchased directly by US buyers and did not return to Canada. s – stripped [sources include Griffin 1969]
BuNo US Reg. First Owner Model Call No. Squadron Year SOC Year Crashed Fate
53119 N33BM Simsbury AS Mk 3M 378 VU 32 1958 x Yes
53489 N6580D Simsbury AS Mk 3 304 VS 881 1958 1960s No
53503 N6583D Simsbury AS Mk 3 315 VS 881, VC 920 1958 x Yes
53760 N6581D Simsbury AS Mk 3 392 VS 880 1958 1986 No
53804 N9710Z Columbia FS (CA) AS Mk 3M x VC 920 1960 x Yes
53818 N9187Z Columbia FS (CA) AS Mk 3 386 VS 881, VC 920 1958 x Yes
53828 N9014C V.S. Buraas (ND) AS Mk 3 388 VS 880, VS 881 1958 x Yes
85506 N6582D Simsbury AS Mk 3 385 VC 920 1958 x Yes

The story of RCN Avenger 85861

The story of RCN Avenger 85861 is told on the Shearwater Aviation Museum site. The text is quoted below. The accompanying images are provided by Barrie MacLeod.

Grumman Avenger 85861 at the Shearwater Aviation Museum’s is one of 4,657 Avenger TBM-3’s built for the U.S. Navy late in the Second World War. Avenger 85861 was manufactured at the Trenton, New Jersey Eastern Aircraft Division plant of General Motors Corporation. Built as a TBM-3E, Avenger 85861could be distinguished from the basic TBM-3 by the AN/APS-4 radar pod fitted to the underside of the starboard wing.  The “dash 3E” was the last Avenger model to be produced in quantity during the Second World War.

Avenger 85861 was among the initial batch of 74 Avengers purchased from the U.S. Navy and taken on strength by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in July 1950.  Nine months later it was turned over to the Fairey Aviation Company of Canada Ltd plant at Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia where it was converted to the AS 3 Mark 1 version for the RCN’s anti-submarine role.  The modification to the AS 3 included the installation of sonobuoy equipment and reconfiguring the centre cockpit and gunner’s position to accommodate an Observer and an Observer’s Mate.  In early May 1952, 85861 was taken on strength by Fleet Requirements Unit 743 (FRU 743) of the No. 1 Training Air Group based at HMCS Shearwater.  The aircraft was among the first Avengers to be allocated to the unit and was marked with the identification letters “TF-D”; the “TF” identifying the squadron and the “D”, the individual aircraft within the squadron.

Six months after 85861 came on board, FRU 743 was elevated to squadron status and redesignated VU 32.  One of the squadron’s many tasks was training Observer’s Mates (OMs), who were responsible for communications and some of the anti-submarine duties (dropping sonobuoys, smoke floats or marine markers as directed by the Observer, and operating the radar).
When targets of reconnaissance interest were encountered, the OM was responsible for aerial photography.  The Avenger was ideal for training Observer’s Mates, since the operational squadrons (VS 880 and VS 881) to which the OM’s were assigned after graduation used the same type of aircraft.

Avenger 85861 was destined for a short career in the RCN.  On 6 August 1953, it was scheduled to take part in a practice flypast for the upcoming Halifax naval day celebrations.  While climbing to rendezvous with the other participating aircraft, it suffered a throttle linkage failure and was forced to ditch in Bedford Basin.  It was officially struck off charge on 16 September 1953 and lay submerged on the Basin floor until June 1972, when it was raised by the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic as a training exercise.  It was subsequently restored by a team of technicians from VT 406 Squadron at CFB Shearwater, and in October 1975 was presented to the base for display as a gate guardian along Bonaventure Boulevard.

As an outdoor gate guardian, Avenger 85861 unfortunately suffered severe deterioration from the corrosive maritime weather. To preserve the aircraft permission was granted in 1999 to move 85861 to unused space in one of the 12 Wing hangars where it could be protected from the elements. In March 2005, when hangar space was no longer available Avenger 85861 was moved into the museum where it is displayed as a work in progress while being restored.

avenger_magnificnet

Avenger #85861 from HMCS Magnificent circa 1950-1952, flying as AB*P, with a radar pod under the starboard wing. This Avenger crashed in Halifax Harbour in 1953, was recovered in 1972 and is now on display in the CFB Shearwater museum. [Photo DND/RCN / Wikimedia Commons]

85861 TF-D recovery_HalifaxNS_Jun72_BMacLeod

RCN 85861 is raised from the waters of Halifax Harbour, June 1972.

[Posted by Barrie MacLeod’s in TBM’s – Mil & Civil (fb), 20Nov14.]

Glen McBride’s photos of A23 [CF-ZTS] reminded me that the engine cowl from the wreck of A23 is on one of the Avengers at the Shearwater Aviation Museum.
Royal Canadian Navy Avenger Bu. 85861 TF-D was flying over Halifax on 6 August 1953 as there was to be a flight of 24 Avengers over the city for Natal Day.

The aircraft experienced engine problems and ditched in Bedford Basin. The pilot went on to fly for Air Canada. 85861 remained submerged in the salt water until June 1972 when it was recovered by the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic. It was taken back to Shearwater and cosmetically repaired. The biggest missing piece was the engine cowl and one from the wreck of A23 was obtained in New Brunswick. There is a snapshot of the nose but I cannot find my copy at the moment. 85861 was placed on display by the main gate on 9 October 1975 and remained there in the salt spray off the Atlantic for many years. By 2007 she was inside the museum building and had another overhaul.

Here she is being worked on, 21 September 1973. The metal rail is part of the turntable for the RCN crash boats in the 1940s & 1950s. Barrie MacLeod's post in TBM's - Mil & Civil, 20Nov14.

Here she is being worked on, 21 September 1973. The metal rail is part of the turntable for the RCN crash boats in the 1940s & 1950s. [Barrie MacLeod’s post in TBM’s – Mil & Civil, 20Nov14]

85861 as a gate guard, 6 May 1977. [Barrie MacLeod’s post in TBM’s – Mil & Civil, 20 Nov 2014]

Barrie MacLeod's post in TBM's - Mil & Civil, 20Nov14.

85861 TF-D as an inside display at Shearwater Aviation Museum. [Barrie MacLeod’s post in TBM’s – Mil & Civil, 20Nov14]

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships

HMCS Magnificent, a Majestic Class Light Fleet Carrier, was commissioned 7 April 1948. Along with Sea Furies (803 squadron) and Sikorsky HO4S3G Helicopters (HS 50 Squadron), it also carried Avengers (825 squadron). It was paid off 14 June 1957.

HMCS Shearwater (Royal Canadian Naval Air Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 1948-1968)
[from “The Fleet Air Arm”, Bruce Forsyth]
The RCN acquired the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Dartmouth in September 1948. The RCN followed the Royal Navy tradition of naming air stations after seabirds and thus commissioned the air station HMCS Shearwater.

Shearwater became the new home for 803 and 883 Squadrons, equipped with Seafire aircraft, and 825 and 826 squadrons, flying Firefly aircraft. The purpose of Shearwater was to provide a shore base to support flying operations aboard the RCN’s aircraft carriers. Also, No. 1 Training Air Group comprising 743 Fleet Requirements Unit and an Operational Flying Training School provided trained aircrew for the operational squadrons. Similarly, a Naval Stores Depot and the School of Naval Aircraft Maintenance provided spares and trained aircraft technicians.

HMCS Magnificent-Avengers_HalifaxNS_1951

HMCS Magnificent steaming into Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her deck crowded with Avengers, mid-1950s. [Launching The Service, January 1, 2010, by Marc Milner, Legion Magazine Archives]

In March 1948, HMCS Warrior was paid off and replaced by HMCS Magnificent, which arrived with the first batch of Hawker Sea Fury aircraft to replace the obsolete Seafires on 803 and 883 Squadrons. In 1950, the Firefly aircraft on 825 and 826 Squadrons proved to be unsuitable for the anti-submarine role that Canada agreed would be the RCN’s specialty after becoming a signatory to the 1949 NATO agreement. Consequently, the Fireflies were replaced by Avenger aircraft purchased from the United States Navy. In 1955, the acquisition of eight Airborne Early Warning Avengers (the “Guppies”) brought the total number of Avengers to 125, the most numerous type of aircraft in the RCN’s history.

In 1951, the squadrons were renumbered to better identify Canadian formations within the Commonwealth numbering system. Accordingly, the fighter squadrons, 803 and 883 were renumbered 870 and 871, respectively, while the anti-submarine squadrons, 825 and 826, became 880 and 881, respectively. As Canadian naval aviation became more closely entwined with the US Navy in continental defense, the Air Arm adopted the US Navy letter prefixes to squadron numbers in November 1952. Hence 870 and 871 Squadrons became VF 870 and VF 871, with “VF” indicating a fixed-wing fighter squadron while 880 and 881 Squadrons were redesignated VS 880 and VS 881, with “VS” identifying fixed wing anti-submarine squadrons.

Fairey Aviation of Canada

Formed in 1948, the Fairey Aviation Company of Canada Limited grew from a six-man operation to a major enterprise employing around a thousand people. It was located in Eastern Passage (southeast of Halifax/Dartmouth and near HMCS Shearwater, a three-minute drive from the Fairey plant.
In March 1949, the company undertook repair and overhaul work for the Royal Canadian Navy on the Supermarine Seafire, the Fairey Firefly and later the Hawker Sea Fury, and also undertook modification work on the Avenger. TBMs were also converted at smaller Fairey facilities at Patricia Bay Airport, Sidney, British Columbia, for certain RCN units on the west coast. It was at this west coast location that the Avengers purchased by Art Seller of Skyway Air Services were converted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s