BY WING COMMANDER F. H. HITCHINS
(reference: The Roundel, Vol. 4, No. 6, June 1952)
THE WAR HISTORY of No. 443 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force covers a period of almost four years. It began at Dartmouth, N.S., in the last days of June 1942 and ended at Uetersen, Germany, in March 1946. For the first eighteen months of its career the squadron was engaged on uneventful defensive patrols over Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Then it went overseas and flew with the Second Tactical Air Force from the beginning of the aerial preparation for “Overlord”, in the spring of 1944, until the final defeat of the enemy in May 1945. By V-E Day, No. 443’s tally of enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground had risen to 45, with 31 more counted as probably destroyed or damaged, while its total of enemy trains, vehicles, and vessels, had passed the 1200-mark. After hostilities ended, the squadron served with an R.C.A.F. wing in the British Air Force of Occupation in Germany until it was disbanded early in 1946.
No. 443 was originally known as No. 127 (F.) Squadron, one of several new fighter units formed in Canada as a result of Japan’s entrance into the war and the extension of German U-boat operations to the western shores of the Atlantic. It was originally planned to form No. 127 in April 1942, but the unit did not actually come into existence until the end of June, when Flt. Lt. W. P. Roberts was named commanding officer. Equipped with Hurricanes and Harvards, the squadron carried out training at Dartmouth until the middle of August. Then it moved to its “war station” at Gander, Nfld., where it completed a one-year tour of routine patrols on fighter defence of the great air base. As enemy raiders never appeared, most of the time was devoted to operational training varied with occasional searches for missing aircraft.
While at Gander the squadron was re-equipped with Hurricane II’s (or XII’s) in lieu of the well-worn Mark I’s which it had been flying. The change meant a great improvement in serviceability. Late in November 1942, Flt. Lt. (later Sqn. Ldr.) P. A. Gilbertson succeeded Roberts in Command of No.127.
In July 1943 the squadron returned to Dartmouth, exchanging places with No. 126, and spent the next five months on another round of patrols and scrambles, much practice flying, and some fighter affiliation for Ventura crews in training at Pennfield Ridge. No. 127’s only fatal accident occurred during this period, when Flt. Sgt. M. R. Sabourin crashed while making a dusk patrol over the base.
A blizzard put a stop to flying on December 14th and the squadron began active preparations for a move overseas as one of six units which the R.C.A.F. despatched to Britain in the winter of 1943-44.
Originally No. 127’s move had been scheduled for late March 1944, but the date was advanced to the third week in January to ensure that the squadron would be ready to participate in the invasion of Normandy. Just before leaving Canada, Sqn. Ldr. H. W. McLeod, D.F.C. and Bar, took over command of No. 127. A veteran of the Battle of Malta, Wally McLeod was one of the R.C.A.F.’s outstanding fighter pilots, with thirteen destroyed and many damaged to his credit.
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Good day. My father F/L John R Irwin flew with 443 Squadron during WWII. He passed away 20 years ago of complications from cardio-vascular disease.
I’m curious and wonder if there’s some way to determine something I’ve been unable to clarify. That is…who was flying wing to S/L Wally McLeod the day he didn’t return.
Many thanks for any assistance you may be able to offer