The Rivers Era 1964-1971
In early February the squadron is moved to Rivers, Manitoba, where it assumes the disparate roles of photo/recce (T-33 Flight), aerial photography (Dakota Flight) and paradrop/transport missions (C-119 Flight). W/C Orpen follows the squadron from Rockcliffe, continuing as CO.
In May, the C-119 aircraft are replaced by four C-130 (Hercules), which assume the former’s role. In August W/C Orpen is succeeded by S/L P. BISSKY, who is followed 8 months later by W/C H.A. McKAY, DFC.
Cpl Wilf TRUNCHON, a photo technician with an unequalled 17 years of service with 408, is officially commended for proposing changes in airborne camera maintenance procedures, which ultimately result in annual savings of over $3,600.
During February and March the C-119 Transport Flight takes part in the NATO exercise “Winter Express,” deploying men and equipment to Sola and Bardufoss in Norway.
In March, the squadron is transferred from Air Transport to Mobile Command.
15 April 1966
F/L John MOORE and his crew, in Hercules 10304, are cruising at 25,000’when the bolt securing the forward cargo door suddenly give way. The door comes open, is caught in the slipstream and is ripped upwards, taking out an inboard engine. With many of the aircraft’s systems destroyed or failing, Moore, in an excellent display of airmanship, maintains control long enough to land, wheels down, in a farmer’s field near Borden, Sask. In spite of a gaping hole in the fuselage, the explosive decompression, the lack of oxygen and the belly landing, miraculously none of the crew is injured.
T-33 Flight commander S/L H.A. MCKAY, promoted to Wing Commander, is appointed 408’s first fighter pilot Commanding Officer.
A dozen military exercises are supported by 408 during the year. One is the deployment to Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, in late January. John PRENDERGAST, S/L (Ret) remembers:
“Canada had a commitment under the ALCANUS (the defence of Alaska) agreement to provide an infantry battalion group and a tactical recce/support squadron. We were it, along with the Royal 22nd Battalion. The Americans had all sorts of National Guard Units, drawn from Alaska and down south, while our T-33s provided visual/photo recce information for the friendly forces. Enemy air opposition came from the National Guard F-84 Squadron.”
“The F-84 was quite superior to the T-33 and, on a number of occasions, our recce information was arbitrarily ruled inadmissible because it was taken for granted that our aircraft had been promptly shot down by an F-84!”
“Well on into the exercise one of our pilots (either F/L Bill NORN or Peter OLENICK), while returning from a recce, spotted a couple of F-84s cruising rater nonchalantly below him the opportunity could not be passed up. He dove on one of the F-84s, flicked on the nose oblique camera and, over a common exercise radio frequency imitated a sharp burst of gunfire and promptly raced off.”
“When we developed the film, an F-84 was beautifully framed on one of the negatives. At the end of the exercise there was a major debriefing for all the COs. At an appropriate moment, our CO, W/C “Bud” MCKAY, presented the CO of the F-84 Squadron with blown up copies of the negative, annotated with the date, time and approximate late and long, so that the ‘victim pilot’ could be pinned down.”
“Emblazoned across the top of the photo was a framed World War I phrase: “BEWARE THE HUN IN THE SUN.”
“Their CO assured us that this ‘trophy’ would be prominently displayed on the crew notice board back home.”
Exercise “Vacuum,” held in the fall, involved most units of the Canadian Army as well as elements from British and American forces. In addition to the usual recce and attack missions, 408 flew simulated chemical warfare sorties against live troops. Seven T-33s, in line abreast formation, overflew the ‘enemy’ front line, delivering a cloud of offensive gas over the massed infantry. Its effectiveness may be measure by the fact that no chemical exercise of similar scope has since been requested by the Army!
1 Oct 1968
LCol R.L. MORTIMER succeeds LCol McKay as CO. The squadron becomes part of 10 Tactical Air Group and is redesignated as “408 Tactical Fighter Squadron. The squadron reaches a milestone – 25 years’ service making it eligible to receive its Standard. The formal presentation is make in Rivers by the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba on 20 Mar 70.
1 April 1970
The squadron is disbanded. Nine months later it re-emerges at CFB Namao, Alberta, as “408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.”