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About Bomber Command

When Canada entered the conflict on September 10, 1939, the RCAF was our country's smallest military service. By the end of the war, we had the fourth-largest air force of the Allied powers. Approximately 250,000 brave men and women served in the RCAF, many of them with Bomber Command.

In the early years of the Second World War, Germany had invaded much of continental Europe. The Allies needed time to build the massive resources that would be required to liberate the conquered countries but that didn't mean the fighting there had stopped. They turned to an air campaign, bombing tactical and strategic targets in Germany and occupied Europe to reduce the enemy's military and industrial capacity. The bomber campaign caused considerable damage to German resources and was an important contribution to the final push for victory in the Second World War.

The men who served in Bomber Command faced some of the most difficult odds of anyone fighting in the war. For much of the conflict, the regular duration for a tour of duty was 30 combat sorties. The risks were so high, however, that almost half of all aircrew never made it to the end of their tour. Despite the heavy losses, Bomber Command was able to maintain a steady stream of aircraft flying over U-boat bases, docks, railways and industrial cities in Germany, as well as enemy targets in occupied Europe from Norway to France.

Life as a bomber aircrew member was difficult. Usually seven men flew in a typical four-engined bomber like the Halifax and the Lancaster. These men worked together under great pressure on their night sorties. Take-offs were often tense, with a roaring aircraft loaded with tons of bombs and more than 6,000 litres of highly-flammable aviation gasoline racing down the runway. At high altitudes, the aircrew shivered in sub-zero temperatures, their oxygen masks sometimes freezing up. German fighters waited for them in the night skies over Europe and powerful searchlights and flak batteries guarded their targets, turning the skies into a hail of shrapnel. Evading the enemy defenses made for challenging flying that sometimes caused aircraft to go into a spin, while the pilot fought for control. Escape from a damaged plane was difficult and many of the Canadians who survived being shot down over enemy territory would become prisoners of war.

Women also played a role in Bomber Command. Members of the RCAF Women's Division (WD) were stationed in England during the war years. While women did not serve in combat roles, they did perform important support work on the ground like being coding technicians, operating radios and plotting aircraft positions.

By the end of the Second World War, No. 6 Bomber Group had carried out more than 40,000 sorties. Approximately 8,000 decorations for bravery were awarded to its members. There were exceptional acts of courage that would earn two Canadian airmen – Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski and Squadron Leader Ian Bazalgette – the Victoria Cross, our highest honour for military valour.

During the Second World War, Canada had a population of only about 11 million people. Yet, from that relatively small population, more than one million men and women would join the military to fight for peace and freedom. There were many roles in which a Canadian could serve in uniform during the Second World War but few held as much risk as the Air Force's Bomber Command. All told, some 55,000 of its Allied airmen, including approximately 10,000 Canadians, would lose their lives in training accidents, in the skies over Europe or in prisoners of war camps.

Information on Canada's fallen heroes can be found on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

To learn more about the sacrifices and achievements made by Canada's Veterans during times of war, conflict and peace, please visit the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site.

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