Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS)

Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS)

The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS) was established in 1918 during the First World War in response to the RCN's recommendation that defensive air patrols be established off Canada's Atlantic coast to protect shipping from German U-boats.

Britain warned Canada that an attack by a new class of U-boat that could voyage across the Atlantic was possible.  Although U-boats were few in number and not yet capable of posing a major threat in open ocean where ships were difficult to locate, they could be a threat near ports, bays or channels where ships would be certain to be grouped together.  Aircraft had proven themselves in similar defensive situations such as convoys, where aircraft forced submarines to remain submerged.  The Americans already had aircraft and bases to defend its own shores, but it was concluded that additional stations in Canada would be needed.

The Americans supplied aircraft and personnel while Canada recruited and trained its own aircrew and support personnel who were intended to replace the Americans.  RCNAS aircrew were trained in the United States and in England.

The United States Naval Flying Corps flew convoy escort missions and reconnaissance patrols from two air stations which were established in Nova Scotia near convoy assembly ports:

Naval Air Station Halifax, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Naval Air Station Sydney, North Sydney, Nova Scotia

Escorts were provided to ships leaving and entering port.  No U-boats were ever located, however, although 110,000 tons of shipping were sunk in North American waters in the last two months of the war.

The war ended before the RCNAS aircrew had completed training and the RCNAS was disbanded.  The Air Board took control of both stations.  The Halifax station would remain in operation, while the North Sydney station was left inactive until the Second World War.  Greenhous, Brereton; Halliday, Hugh A. Canada's Air Forces, 1914–1999.  (Montreal: Editions Art Global and the Department of National Defence, 1999); and, Kealy, J.D.F., and Russell, E.C. A History of Canadian Naval Aviation, 1918-1962.  (Ottawa, Queen's Printer, 1965).

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, PL-135769)

The first group of cadets of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service being trained at the US Navy Ground School, Walker Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - circa Sept 1918.

(Photo courtesy of the Shearwater Aviation Museum)

Curtiss HS-2L (Serial No. 1876) being launched at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 1918.

The Curtiss HS-2L was a single-engined patrol flying boat built for the US Navy during the First World War.  Large numbers were built from 1917 to 1919, with the type being used to carry out anti-submarine patrols from bases in France from June 1918.  It remained in use with the US Navy until 1928, and was also widely used as a civil passenger and utility aircraft.  From August 1918, in order to compensate for Canada's lack of patrol aircraft, US Navy HS-2Ls operated from two bases in Nova Scotia.  Twelve HS-2Ls were donated to the Canadian Air Board at the end of the war, following the closure of Naval Air Station Halifax.  The RCAF acquired 30 HS-2Ls.  Many were used in Canada as the first bush plane.  One was recovered from a lake in Quebec and is now on display in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

Three HS-2Ls were modified in Canada by Canadian Vickers with different wings (Clark Y section), and designated HS-3L.


After the disbanding of the RCNAS, the RCN would not operate naval aircraft until the Second World War, when they manned the escort carriers HMS Nabob and HMS Puncher.  Several Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) pilots were loaned to the Royal Navy and flew from British aircraft carriers.  Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray RCNVR was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action when he died just five days before the war ended.  In 1975 the RCN ended their naval aviation role when the RCAF took over.  Greenhous, Brereton; Halliday, Hugh A. Canada's Air Forces, 1914–1999.  (Montreal: Editions Art Global and the Department of National Defence, 1999); and, Kealy, J.D.F., and Russell, E.C. A History of Canadian Naval Aviation, 1918-1962.  (Ottawa, Queen's Printer, 1965).

Royal Canadian Naval Air Service Officer’s Service Dress Cap badge in bronze.  This badge came in to use in 1918.

Royal Canadian Naval Air Service pilot wing 1918.  Multipart construction, silver overlays over bronze and original cloth backer.  Only 16 of these badges were released, intended for the remainder of the 1st class to graduate from MIT.  They were numbered and matched to numbered officer cap badges, also multi-part construction.

(DND Archives Photo, PMR71-405)

Redford Henry “Red” Mulock, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, commanded No. 3 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), which was temporarily placed at the disposal of the Royal Flying Squadron during the lead-up to the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

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