On 1 April 1924 the Canadian Air Force became the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The RCAF operated from the Air Board's six original stations; Air Board Station Dartmouth became RCAF Station Dartmouth, which was the main operating base in Eastern Canada for RCAF detachments which deployed to remote locations throughout the Maritime Provinces. Vickers Varuna and Curtiss HS-2L flying boat detachments from RCAF Dartmouth photographed vast areas of the Maritimes, transported officials to inaccessible regions, patrolled forests and fishing grounds, assisted in the suppression of smuggling and illegal immigration and flew sick and injured traders, trappers, farmers and Indians from remote outposts to places where medical attention was available.
On 1 April 1925 the RCAF inaugurated its first four operational squadrons with No. 4 (Operations) Squadron being formed at Dartmouth to conduct the RCAF's tasking in the Maritime Provinces. On 1 July 1927 the RCAF's four squadrons were disbanded and all flying came under control of the Directorate of Civil Government Air Operations which was commanded, administered and staffed by RCAF officers. The worldwide depression in the early 1930's drastically reduced all flying at Dartmouth to the point where the base was administered by the local militia commander.
Regularly organized flying did not return to Dartmouth until 1932 when the RCAF formed a detachment at Dartmouth to provide aerial patrols to assist the RCMP in detecting illegal rum runners. In 1933, as Canada recovered from the depression RCAF squadrons began to reappear. No.5 (Flying Boat) Squadron, the RCAF's second post-depression squadron, formed at Dartmouth on 16 April 1934 by consolidating the five RCAF detachments in the Maritimes, which were previously controlled from Ottawa. Commencing in 1935, No 5 Squadron was under command of the Station Commander of RCAF Dartmouth, which again became a fully active air station.
As Eastern Air Command's most important base during the Second World War RCAF Station Dartmouth played a pivotal role in the Battle of the Atlantic protecting convoys of merchant ships from German U-boat "Wolf Packs". Being the largest seaplane and landplane base in eastern Canada, Dartmouth was home at one time or another to nine RCAF long-range Bomber-Reconnaissance squadrons, whose Stranraer, Digby, Hudson, Catalina, Canso and Liberator aircraft flew thousands of hours on anti-submarine and convoy escort patrols over the north west Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact, the RCAF's first mission of the Second World War was flown from RCAF Station Dartmouth on 10 September 1939 by a 5 Squadron Stranraer flying boat tasked to conduct a search for enemy ships off Halifax harbour. In January 1944, 162 Squadron transferred from RCAF Station Dartmouth to Reykjavik, Iceland where it became the RCAF's most successful anti-submarine squadron during WW II, sinking six U-boats.
Similarly, a total of six RCAF Fighter (F) squadrons equipped with Goblin, Kittyhawk and Hurricane aircraft were based at RCAF Station Dartmouth to protect Canada's Atlantic approaches and Halifax's strategic harbour from air attack. In 1940 Dartmouth's 127 (F) Squadron was transferred to England and renumbered to 401 (F) Squadron where it became the RCAF's highest scoring fighter squadron in WW II. In May 1941, the RCAF built the first radar station in North America at Preston NS, about ten kilometers north of Dartmouth, to detect enemy aircraft and direct the Dartmouth based fighters to their targets.
RCAF Station Dartmouth also formed its own Marine Squadron to service the flying boats at their anchorages in Eastern Passage. The Marine Squadron soon expanded to provide detachments at other seaplane bases in Nova Scotia, Gaspé and Newfoundland. The Marine Squadron also provided search and rescue for downed aircraft or torpedoed ships and had its own fleet of supply ships to build and deliver supplies to the RCAF's radar sites along the remote coasts of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Marine Squadron also had a diving section to recover sunken aircraft and assist the Navy in searching the hulls of ships in harbour for sabotage explosives.
The museum has a fully-restored Fairey Swordfish in its collection.
This diving suit is one used by 102 RCAF Marine Squadron stationed at then RCAF Dartmouth. The Air Force had a Marine Squadron to carry out any sub-surface repairs and salvage.
Royal Naval Air Section
Since Halifax was the western terminus for most Atlantic convoys, the British established HMS Seaborn, a Royal Naval Air Section (RNAS) lodger unit, at RCAF Station Dartmouth in September 1940. The RNAS was under the full jurisdiction of the Royal Navy, however, the RCAF provided a hanger and administrative buildings. The initial role for HMS Seaborn was to provide a shore base for Swordfish and Walrus aircraft assigned to ships of the Royal Navy's Third Battle Squadron. However, as the convoy system gained momentum HMS Seaborn's prime role was reassembling replacement Swordfish aircraft for the Merchant Aircraft Carriers. The RNAS also provided maintenance and shelter for Fleet Air Arm aircraft while disembarked from their parent Escort Aircraft Carriers and Merchant Aircraft Carriers docked in Halifax harbour. After the end of the Second World War HMS Seaborn was disbanded in January 1946.
Royal Canadian Naval Air Section Dartmouth
Formation of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Arm was approved on 19 December 1945. On 31 March 1946, the first cadre of Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Seafire and Firefly aircraft disembarked from the RCN's first aircraft carrier, HMCS Warrior , and first landed on Canadian soil at RCAF Station Dartmouth. Through a joint RCAF-RCN agreement the RCN aircraft and personnel were accommodated in RCAF post-war surplus hangers and buildings that constituted the Royal Canadian Naval Air Section (RCNAS). The RCNAS provided a shore base for RCN 803, 825, 826 and 883 Squadron aircraft when not embarked on the aircraft carrier. The RCAF-RCN landlord-tenant arrangement was terminated in December 1948.