The nature of armed conflict changed dramatically with the advent of aircraft in the First World War. The intricate warfare ushered in unfolded dramatically as the men, machines and accompanying knowledge available for aerial warfare had grown substantially by the outbreak of the Second World War. Between 1939 and 1945 the use of aircraft developed the modern notion of aerial warfare utilizing first rate aircraft with skilled pilots and aircrew to engage the enemy. The skills displayed by these men were developed through demanding training regimes, synthesized across the British Commonwealth in an arrangement termed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Devised amid political tensions, the BCATP produced thousands of highly trained men and women in Canada to carry out the air war over Europe. Recognized among the greatest feats of the war, the BCATP pooled resources to plan, create and carry out the immense task of transforming raw recruits to trained aircrew in the shortest possible time. Its measure of success is reflected in the details of its existence.
Canadian involvement in air combat soared during the First World War, and served as a foundation for future involvement. More than 21 000 men had served in various capacities of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the war, but that number dwindled in the interwar period. Throughout the 1920s, only two men received permanent commissions to the RAF per year. The fledgling Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) also recruited very few men, and then only those with wartime experience. 1 The RAF launched an expansion plan in 1934 but it continued to recruit Canadians haphazardly. 2 In 1935, the British made a direct plea to the Canadian government to increase the annual quota of Canadian applicants to the RAF to twenty-five. The expansion of the RAF led 40 Canadians to apply over the following two years, which was how long it took the Mackenzie King government to approve the quota increase as King followed his policy to “appeal to moderate opinion,” while slowly expanding his own RCAF. 3 Immediately following this decision, the British government called for an increase to 120 applicants per year, and this was approved in March of 1938. 4 Throughout those four years, the two governments also negotiated training issues. The British government searched for an