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409 Squadron RCAF: The Nighthawks

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A SQUADRON IS BORN

Following the decisive defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the German High Command were forced to revise their tactics. Day raids were superseded by large scale night raids. The need for specially trained fighters to cope with this new menace was early appreciated and Squadrons were quickly formed and trained to deal with this latest threat to the Mother Country.

In the Battle of Britain days, Canadians had already proven their courage and ability as day fighters - here was an opportunity to prove their versatility and on the 17th June. 1941. the Squadron was officially formed as a Canadian Nightfighter Unit.

Early in July the Squadron began to equip with Defiants and within a month were declared fully operational by Group Headquarters. The days of the Defiant were numbered however. Advances in technology had already outmoded it.

Nightfighting had stepped out of the "catseye" stage and had become a specialized held in which technical equipment designed to locate raiders at distances far beyond the range of the human eye was used. Late in August the Squadron began to re-equip with Beaufighters equipped with radar.

At the outset all Navigator-Operators were RAF personnel but gradually as they became tour-expired they were replaced by Canadians until the Squadron became almost 100 % Canadianized.

The Squadron's first 'kill" was obtained on 1st November 1941 when a Do. 217 was shot down in flames over the sea by W/C P. Y. Davoud (Pilot) and Sqt. T Carpenter (Navigator).

From there on until shortly before "D" Day the Sauadron's activities were limited to important but relatively inactive sectors and, although patrolling the skies of Great Britain nightly, few combats with the Hun were experienced. During this time the Squadron not only kept their Sector free from enemy activity but assisted materially in the saving of hundreds of lives.

Bombers lost over the North Sea were "homed". Fortresses and Liberators, who flying from North American bases sometimes "overshot" Great Britain during inclement weather, were interceded. Crashed aircraft in the North Sea were located and launches directed to survivors.

Despite the importance of their work, the crews used to chafe at times at the long uneventful patrols, especially when activity could be seen outside their sector and sister Squadrons were destroying Huns. To offset this, detachments were sent to sectors where the Hun was reported active. Immediately the Nighthawks moved in, it became axiomatic that enemy activity would practically cease. So often did this occur that the Squadron began to believe it was more than coincidence and plans were made to hunt the foe in his lair. "Ranger" trips were organized over occupied France during which a number of locomotives and trucks were either destroyed or damaged. Other flights were made at the crack of dawn to intercept heavily armed German reconnaissance aircraft flying out from the French Coast to take meteorological observations near the Scilly Islands. On many a morning the Hun was deprived of weather lore.

This experience stood the Squadron in good stead and shortly before "D" Day it re-equipped with Mosquitos and moved to the South of England preparatory to being called upon to play a prominent part in the forthcoming invasion of the Continent. Honoured by being chosen as the first Nightfighter Unit to land on the Continent, the Squadron was operating from Carpiquet aerodrome in August. As the Allied Armies rolled relentlessly forward the Squadron followed closely behind until the winter months set in, when it moved back to winter quarters in Lille Vendeville.

With the crossing of the Rhine by the Allied Armies in the Spring of 1945, the Squadron was called upon to make the most momentous move in its history. Orders were received to proceed to Rheine aerodrome in Germany, a base located 60 miles North North East of the Rhur. Within 4 hours the first convoy was under way; within 3 days the whole Squadron had completed the 300 mile journey to the new base, flying being carried on uninterruptedly throughout the move. On the nights of 23/24th and 24/25th April, the climax of the Squadron's activities was reached when 9 German aircraft were shot down and destroyed. With the cessation of hostilities on VE-Day the Squadron emerged as the Top Scoring Nightfighter Unit since "D" Day, an honour well merited by the Squadron selected in pre-invasion plans as the first Nightfighter Unit to land on the Continent.