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Royal Canadian Navy
1945 to 1968
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the RCN carriers
The RCN squadrons Pennant Numbers
Serial Number Table
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SPECIAL NOTE FOR RCN AIRCRAFT ENTHUSIASTS

The information on these pages was largely based on the thin published literature available to me up until January 2007.  It is far from complete, and, I now realize, contains several errors.  Fortunately, Patrick Martin has published an extremely detailed and well researched book on the aircraft of the RCN, that covers the topic in far more detail than I ever did.  Rather than repeat Pat's efforts here, I will leave these pages as they are, in order to concentrate on the many other gaps in my web site.  The interested reader should get a copy of Pat's book as soon as possible!

When viewing photographs of Royal Canadian Navy aircraft from this period, it is easy to mistake the large, 3 digit code displayed by many aircraft for a serial number, or, in RCAF fashion, at least the "last three" of the serial number.  In fact, this prominently marked number is usually a pennant number, and may or may not be based on the  the aircraft serial number.  To help you understand how this came about, and the two distinct types of markings used by the RCN, here is a very brief history of the postwar RCN and its aircraft marking practices.  I have to admit to a less than perfect understanding of this topic.  If anyone out there can expand upon, or correct, my ramblings, please contact me.
The Beginnings

The post war RCN flying service had its beginning in a December 1942 plan, advanced by the Royal Navy, and accepted by the Canadian government.  Canada was recruiting and training large numbers of sailors for the RCN, but lacked the experience and equipment to operate anything beyond  small escort vessels.  The British offered to provide aircraft, senior officers, and experienced ratings, to start up enough squadrons for 4 light carriers.  Canada would provide new officers and ratings, with RCN uniforms and Canadian paycheques, who would receive "on the job" training escorting Atlantic convoys.  As the Canadians gained experience, they would move up in the squadron companies, and the air units would eventually become part of the RCN.  The scheme was, in some ways, similar to the proposed RCNAS of 1918, but this 1942 version would actually lead to operational units, and a Canadian naval air arm.

As the details were worked out in early 1943, the plan expanded to include training the ship's crews for the four carriers, which would also be transferred to the RCN at a later stage.  The plan also included dispatching RCN staff to the USA for training on helicopters and airships.  One detail worked out would prove to be fairly unpopular with both the RCN and the RCAF for several years to come - all land air stations of the RCN were to be run run by the RCAF.  The first 2 carriers in the plan were to be US built small escort carriers, then under construction in Seattle, Washington.  H.M.S. Nabob was accepted at Seattle by an RN crew on 7 September 1943.  H.M.S. Puncher was accepted, by a joint RCN and RN crew, on 5 February 1944. 

Both carriers underwent a brief fitting out at Esquimalt, BC, before transiting the Panama Canal for the Atlantic.  H.M.S. Nabob would transfer land based aircraft to Europe and take part in strikes against occupied Norway, while H.M.S. Puncher ferried aircraft to Europe and North Africa, and escorted convoys across the North Atlantic.  VE Day, in May 1945, found H.M.S. Nabob laid up in Scotland, after barely surviving a torpedo attack off the Norwegian coast on 22 August 1944.  H.M.S. Puncher, by now largely manned by the RCN, was temporarily converted to a troop ship at the end of the war in Europe.  It carried Canadian military personnel home to Canada, and ferried the Canadian ship's company and aircrew to Northern Ireland for the third carrier in the plan, the first RCN carrier.

The third and forth carriers in the original plan were to be larger, British built, light fleet carriers.  Originally, H.M.S. Warrior and H.M.S. Ocean were assigned to the program, while under construction in Northern Ireland.  Ocean, launched on 8 July 1944, would be finished before sufficient trained Canadians were available, so it was commissioned as a regular RN ship.  Planning now switched to Warrior and its sister ship, Magnificent.  They were to form the heart of an RCN task force in the war in the Pacific.  VJ Day,  in August 1945,  changed all these plans.  The Canadian government decided that the post war RCN would operate one aircraft carrier, based in the Atlantic.  With the assistance of the British government in the post war period, Canada borrowed two carriers, and then purchased one, to develop a uniquely Canadian naval air arm.

The RCN carriers

The first RCN carrier was H.M.C.S. Warrior, commissioned on 24 January 1946.  It was equipped to the standard of a Royal Navy light fleet carrier, in order to quickly put a carrier in Canadian service.  While initial training began on the Warrior, the partially built Magnificent was modified to Canadian requirements.  In particular, the machinery and the crew accommodations were modified to suit the Canadian climate.  Warrior was returned to the RN on 23 February 1948.  It would serve for many more years as an operational carrier and as a trials ship for early RN jet aircraft, before being passed to the Argentine Navy in 1958.  H.M.C.S. Magnificent was commissioned on 7 April 1948, and would serve until June 1957.

Using the lessons learned with Warrior and Magnificent, and closely watching carrier development in the UK and the USA, the RCN planned extensive modifications for its third carrier.  Laid down as H.M.S. Powerful during World War II, this ship started out as a sister to the Magnificent.  The Canadian modifications included an angled flight deck, the latest in steam catapults, and a mirror landing sight, to permit high performance jet aircraft to be operated.  The post war Canadian shift to American aircraft, and technological advances in electronics, lead to other less obvious changes below deck.  The extent of the changes justified a new name, and H.M.C.S. Bonaventure was commissioned on 17 January 1957.  The Bonaventure's advanced features permitted USN and RN aircraft to be regularly operated during training exercises.  It would serve until the defense cuts of 1970.

The RCN squadrons and markings

The first squadrons destined for the RCN were designated from existing RN squadrons in 1945, and began training for their intended Pacific mission in the summer of that year.  Squadron numbers, equipment, organization, and markings came straight from then current RN practices.  At a later date, unique RCN squadron numbers were used.  From November 1952, squadrons were identified with USN style two letter prefixes - VF for fighter squadrons, VT for training squadrons, and so on.

At the end of the war, the RN marked a two character squadron code plus a single character individual aircraft identifier on its operational aircraft.  These appear to be very similar to the contemporary RAF marking practices, but a unique series of RN squadron codes was used.  When an aircraft was moved from one squadron to another, these markings would be revised - although not always in a timely fashion.

The RCN continued to use this marking method  for several years.  Initially, the RN squadron identifier of the parent squadron was used, with uniquely RCN codes coming later.  The aircraft carried their British serial numbers, with the text "Royal Canadian Navy" placed just above.  When American aircraft were first procured, they carried their BueAer number, along with an RCN three character code.  The table below gives an overview of the RCN squadrons, their equipment, and their identifier codes, when known.  Most of this data is taken from the book "A History of Canadian Naval Aviation", by J.D.F. Kealy and E.C. Russell.


RCN Squadrons and their two character Squadron Identifier Codes
Squadron
Number
Dates
Identifier
Typical aircraft
803 Squadron
15 June 1945 - reformed at RNAS Arbroath, Scotland, to train Canadian crews

24 January 1946 - transferred to RCN

March 1946 - embarked on HMCS Warrior for transfer to Canada

spring 1947 - became part of 19th Carrier Air Group

15 January 1951 - transferred to 19th Support Air Group

May 1951 - renumbered
Sea Fury - "BC" Supermarine Seafire Mk. XVII, from June 1945 to early 1948

Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI from early 1948 to May 1951
870 Squadron
May 1951 - renumbered from 803 Squadron, part of 31st Support Air Group

November 1952 - renumbered
Sea Fury - originally "BC", as late as June 1952, then carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 100 range Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI from May 1951 to November 1952
VF 870
November 1952 - renumbered from 870 Squadron Sea Fury - carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 100 range
Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI, from November 1952 to March 1954
September 1962 - disbanded, when Banshee was retired Banshee - originally carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 100 range, later carried last three of serial number as a pennant
McDonnell Banshee, from November 1955 to September 1962

883 Squadron
18 September 1945 - reformed at RNAS Yeovilton, UK to train Canadian crews

February 1946 - disbanded, after Canadian decision to operate only one post war carrier

15 May 1947 - reformed as RCN squadron, at Naval Air Section Dartmouth, NS, as part of 18th Carrier Air group.

September 1948 - transferred to 19th CAG

15 January 1951 - transferred to 18th CAG

May 1951 - renumbered
Seafire - "AA"

Sea Fury - originally "AA", later carried 3 digit pennant numbers
Supermarine Seafire Mk. XVII, from September  1945 to February 1946 and May 1947 to September 1948

Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI, 6 aircraft received September 1948, to May 1951
871 Squadron
May 1951 - renumbered from 883 Squadron, part of 30th Carrier Air Group

November 1952 - renumbered
Sea Fury - originally "AA", as late as May 1952, later carried 3 digit pennant numbers Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI, from May 1951 to November 1952
VF 871
November 1952 - renumbered from 871 Squadron

16 March 1959 - merged into VF 870
Sea Fury - carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 100 range Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI, from November 1952 to 1957

Lockheed T-33, from mid 1950s

825 Squadron
1 July 1945 - reformed at RNAS Rattray, Scotland, to train Canadian crews

24 January 1946 - transferred to RCN

March 1946 - embarked on HMCS Warrior for transfer to Canada

spring 1947 - became part of 19th Carrier Air Group

September 1948 - transferred to 18th CAG

15 January 1951 - transferred to 19th Support Air Group

May 1951 - renumbered


Firefly Mk. 1 carried only individual aircraft letter

Firefly Mk. V -"BD"

Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 300 range
Fairey Barracuda II, 12 radar equipped aircraft from July 1945 to January 1946

Fairey Firefly FR Mk. 1, from January 1946 to Spring 1948

Fairey Firefly Mk. IV, spring 1948 to spring 1949

Fairey Firefly Mk. V, spring 1949 to 1951

Grumman Avenger, from early 1951
880 Squadron
May 1951 - renumbered from 825 Squadron, part of 31st Support Air Group

November 1952 - renumbered
Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 300 range Grumman Avenger, from May 1951 to November 1952
VS 880
November 1952 - renumbered from 880 Squadron

February 1967 - became part of CAF

March 1975 - renamed 880 MR Squadron, CAF

1990 - disbanded, when Tracker retried
Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 300 range

Tracker displayed last 2 or 3 of serial number as pennant number
Grumman Avenger, from November 1952 to about 1958  (last carrier operation 10 October 1956)

de Havilland Canada Tracker, October 1957 to 1990

826 Squadron
15 August 1945 - reformed at RNAS East Haven, Scotland, to train Canadian crews

February 1946 - disbanded, after Canadian decision to operate only one post war carrier

15 May 1947 - reformed as RCN squadron, at Naval Air Section Dartmouth, NS, as part of 18th Carrier Air group.

May 1951 - renumbered
Firefly Mk. 1 carried only individual aircraft letter, or later full code "AB"

Firefly Mk. V -"AB"

Avenger - "AB"
Fairey Barracuda II, from August 1945 to January 1946

Fairey Firefly Mk. 1, from January 1946 to February 1946 and May 1947 to early 1950

Fairey Firefly Mk. IV, spring 1948 to spring 1949

Fairey Firefly Mk. V, spring 1949 to early 1950

Grumman Avenger, from early 1950
881 Squadron
May 1951 - renumbered from 826 Squadron, part of 30th Carrier Air Group

November 1952 - renumbered
Avenger - "AB", later carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 300 range Grumman Avenger from May 1951 to November 1952
VS 881
November 1952 - renumbered from 881 Squadron

7 July 1959 - merged with VS 880
Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 300 range

AEW Avenger carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 400 range

Tracker displayed last 2 or 3 of serial number as pennant number

Grumman Avenger from November 1952 to about 1959

AEW Avenger from March 1955

de Havilland Canada Tracker February 1957 to July 1959

743 Fleet Requirements Unit
September 1946 - formed at NAS Darthmouth, NS.

1947 - became part of Training Air Group

February 1952 - renumbered

Fairey Swordfish from September 1946 to about mid 1947

Supermarine Walrus, late 1940s

de Havilland Tiger Moth (may have been rented civil aircraft), late 1940s

Avro Anson V, late 1940s

North American Harvard from late 1940s
VU 32
February 1952 - Renumbered from 743 FRU

February 1967 - became part of CAF

June 1992 - became 434 Squadron, Canadian Armed Forces

North American Harvard, from February 1952

Grumman Avenger from about 1953 to 1960

Beechcraft Expeditor, until 1960

Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI, until 1960

Canadair T-33 from 1955

de Havilland Canada Tracker, from about 1959

Douglas Dakota, 2 on strength in 1975

Bell CH-135 Twin Huey, dates unknown

Instrument Flight School
1947 - formed at NAS Dartmouth, NS, as part of Training Air Group
Beechcraft Expeditor from 1947
Operation Flying Training School
1947 - formed at NAS Dartmouth, NS, as part of Training Air Group
Firefly  T. Mk. I and Seafire - "TG"
North American Harvard, 8 on strength by December 1948

Fairey Firefly T. Mk. I from 1948
VT 40
2 May 1954 - formed from Instrument Flight School and Operational Flying Training School of TAG

4 May 1959 - merged into VU 32
Expeditor carried 3 digit pennant number in 300 range

Sea Fury carried 3 digit pennant number in 800 range

T-33 carried 3 digit pennant number 
North American Harvard and Beechcraft Expeditor from May 1954

Hawker Sea Fury Mk. XI (Advanced Training Flight) to 1957

Canadair T-33 from January 1955

VX 10
March 1953 - formed at HMCS Shearwater

February 1967 - became part of CAF

June 1970 - disbanded, some aircraft and staff to AETE, CFB Cold Lake

de Havilland Canada CS2F-1 Tracker, from October 1956

McDonnell Banshee, by 1957

also Beechcraft Expeditor, Fairey Firefly, Bell HTL-4, Hawker Sea Fury, Sikorsky H04S, Grumman Sentinel (AEW Avenger), Sikorsky Sea King, dates unknown

No. 1 Helicopter Flight
September 1951 - formed
May 1953 - renumbered

Bell HTL from 1 September 1951

Sikorsky H04S-1, from 1952
VH 21
May 1953 - renumbered from 1 HF
April 1955 - renumbered
HUP-3 were numbered 945, 946 and 947
Bell HTL from 1 May 1953

Sikorsky H04S-1, from late 1952

Piasecki HUP-3, from mid 1954
HU 21
April 1955 - renumbered from VH 21

February 1967 - became part of CAF

12 July 1972, disbanded, partially absorbed into 406 Squadron, CAF
HUP-3 were numbered 945, 946 and 947; later 245, 246, 247
Bell HTL / H-13 from April 1955

Sikorsky H04S-1, from April 1955

Piasecki HUP-3, from April 1955 to 1960

Sikorsky Sea King, dates unknown

HS 50
4 July 1953 - formed at HMCS Shearwater, NS.

February 1957 - became part of CAF

July 1974 - split into HS 423 and HS 443, CAF
HO4S-3 carried pennant numbers in 200 range

CHSS-1 used last 3 or last 2 of serial number as pennant number
Sikorsky HO4S-3, first 6 received July 1955

Sikorsky CHSS-1 Sea King, from 1961

VU 33
November 1954 - formed at RCAF Station Patricia Bay, BC. from West Coast Detachment of VS 880

February 1967 - became part of CAF

1974 - moved to CFB Comox, BC

June 1992 - became 414 Squadron, Canadian Armed Forces
HUP-3 were numbered 621, 622 and 623; later 406, 407
Grumman Avenger, from November 1954

Beechcraft Expeditor

de Havilland Canada Tracker by 1962 to 1974 (at least)

Piasecki HUP-3, from 1958 to 1964

Canadair T-33, by 1962 to 1974 (at least)

Cadet Flying Unit 1
July 1952 - moved from HMCS Shearwater, NS to RCAF Station Patricia Bay, BC

December 1953 - became VC 922 - see below

initial equipment was 2 North American Harvards.  Used for familiarization flights for cadets from Royal Roads college in Esquimalt.

Reserve Squadrons


1946 - surplus aircraft delivered to reserve units as training aids
Harvards carried 3 digit pennant numbers in 800 and 900 range Initial equipment was North American Harvards for flying, Fairey Swordfish as training aids.  Harvards were all retired by March 1959

Grumman Avenger, from 1955 (or earlier?)

Beechcraft Expeditor, from 1955 (or earlier?)

Hawker Sea Furies received as training aids late 1950s
VC920, Downsview, Ontario May 1953 - established as flying unit at HMCS York, with 4 Harvards

August 1955 - nine pilots become carrier qualified, on Avengers

early 1960s - disbanded
VC 921, Kingston, Ontario September 1953 - formed as flying unit at HMCS Cataraqui

early 1960s - disbanded

VC 922, Victoria, BC December 1953 - formed from CFU, at HMCS Malahat

early 1960s - disbanded

VC 923, Quebec City early 1954 - formed at HMCS Montcalm

early 1960s - disbanded

VC 924, Calgary, Alberta 1 June 1954 - formed as flying unit at HMCS Tecumseh

early 1960s - disbanded


Pennant numbers

The Royal Navy switched from its war time identifiers to a new series of three digit pennant numbers in late 1945.  An additional letter code identified the aircraft's land base or carrier, but this appears to have been little used.  Unlike the squadron based markings, the pennant numbers were assigned in blocks by aircraft function, and would not change when an aircraft moved from squadron to squadron.  They could change, however, when the aircraft's role was changed, for example when an older operational aircraft moved to a training unit.  The RCN adopted a similar system, starting with Sea Furies in the summer of 1952.  If anyone knows the exact date the other RCN aircraft  full RCN markings switched over, please tell me.  Aircraft received from the US, and from the RCAF, would usually retain their original serial number in small markings near the tail of the aircraft, but be given an RCN pennant number in much larger characters on the centre or forward fuselage.  A sampling of RCN pennant numbers is given in the serial number table, to identify the typical aircraft in each block.  It is far from complete.

When The RCN began to acquire new Trackers and Sea Kings with RCN serial numbers, the "last three" of this serial number were marked on the fuselage as pennant numbers.  In the case the Sea King, the "last two", minus the leading zero, were also marked on the nose.


The table below will connect you to two types of listings of these aircraft. The "Brief lists" present a minimum amount of information about as many aircraft as I can fit on a reasonably sized page. Use these lists to identify individual aircraft, or to quickly scan a large range of serials. The "Detailed lists" contain all the information currently in my database, and are broken into many more pages to keep the data manageable.


Royal Canadian Navy Pennant Numbers and Serial Numbers
Brief lists
Detailed lists
Description
brief list of pennant numbers
39 records updated 5 December 2004




RCN 3 digit pennant numbers, used on aircraft without an RCN serial number

complete brief report
503 records
updated 20 January 2006
50, 300 to 302, 1329, 1387, 1388, 1452
Bell H-13 / HTL
1500 to 1550
detailed report
51 records
updated 18 November 2005

1551 to 1600
detailed report
50 records
updated 18 November 2005

de Havilland Canada CS2F Tracker
4001 to 4041 Sikorsky CHSS2 Sea King
55144 to 55892
detailed list , 13 records, updated 27 December 2004
Sikorsky HO4S Sea Horse
for a detailed history of this helicopter with the RCN, see
http://www.aviation.technomuses.ca/pdf/Sikorsky_HO4S-3_S-55_Horse.pdf

Fairey Firefly




Supermarine Seafire
detailed list
75 records
updated 7 April 2006

Hawker Sea Fury




Grumman Avenger




McDonnell Banshee
detailed list
3 records
updated 26 May 2006

Piasecki HUP-3

This data has come from a variety of sources, and may contain all sorts of errors. In the future, I will add a complete list of references. For now, some recent Internet references can be found at the links below.  I would welcome any corrections or additions you may have. Contact me using the link below.

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© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by R. W. R. Walker      All rights reserved under the copyright laws.
This is an amateur site - please don't rely on any of this data for anything important!
Created 28 April 2004. Updated 5 February 2007.