The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP; “The Plan”), known in some countries as the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), was a massive, joint military aircrew training program created by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, during the Second World War.
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BCATP/EATS remains as one of the single largest aviation training programs in history and was responsible for training nearly half the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners, wireless operators and flight engineers who served with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the war.
Under a parallel agreement, the Joint Air Training Scheme, South Africa trained 33,347 aircrew for the South African Air Force and other Allied air forces. This number was exceeded only by Canada, which trained 131,500 personnel.
Southern Rhodesia at the time was a British Crown Colony (rather than a Dominion) and was not involved in the negotiation or signing of the BCATP; the Southern Rhodesia Air Force was subsumed by the RAF in 1940. However, Rhodesia provided significant EATS facilities and contributed personnel to British units.
Students from many other countries attended schools under these plans, including Argentina, Belgium, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United States, where the similar Civilian Pilot Training Program was already underway by the end of 1938.
The United Kingdom was considered an unsuitable location for air training, due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields and the unpredictable climate, so the plan called for the facilities in the Dominions to train British and each other’s aircrews.
Negotiations regarding joint training, between the four governments concerned, took place in Ottawa during the first few months of the war. On 17 December 1939, they signed the Air Training Agreement – often referred to as the “Riverdale Agreement”, after the UK representative at the negotiations, Lord Riverdale.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was viewed as an incredibly ambitious programme. The 1939 agreement stated that the training was to be similar to that of the RAF: three initial training schools, thirteen elementary flying training schools, sixteen service flying training schools, ten air observer schools, ten bombing and gunnery schools, two air navigation schools and four wireless schools were to be created.
The agreement called for the training of nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. Training costs were to be divided between the four governments.
Article XV of the agreement stipulated that graduates belonging to Dominion air forces, where they were assigned to service with the RAF, should be placed in new squadrons identified with the RAAF, RCAF and RNZAF.
These units later became known as “Article XV squadrons”. Articles XVI and XVII stipulated that the UK government would be wholly responsible for the pay and entitlements of graduates, once they were placed with RAF or Article XV units. Some pre-war/regular RAAF and RCAF squadrons also served under RAF operational control, while New Zealand and Rhodesian personnel were frequently assigned to RAF squadrons with the honorifics of “(NEW ZEALAND)” and “(RHODESIA)” in their names. However, in practice – and technically in contravention of Article XV – most personnel from other Commonwealth countries, while they were under RAF operational control, were assigned to British units.
On 29 April 1940, the first Canadian training course officially commenced, with 221 recruits, at No. 1 Initial Training School RCAF, located initially at the Eglinton Hunt Club, Toronto. From this intake, 39 received their wings as aircrew on 30 September 1940. All of these graduates, however, were retained by the BCATP in Canada, as instructors, staff pilots or in similar flying assignments.
The first BCATP personnel sent to the UK were 37 Canadian observers, who received their wings at RCAF Trenton, near Trenton, Ontario, on 27 October 1940. The first BCATP-trained pilots posted to Europe as a group were 37 RAAF personnel who graduated in November 1941, from No. 2 Service Flying Training School, RCAF Uplands, Ottawa.
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