437 RCAF Husky Squadron
437 Squadron was by far the youngest member of 46 Group, it was formed at Blakehill Farm on the 4th September 1944, but did not officially come into operation until two days before Operation Market Garden. It then had the distinction of being the only Royal Canadian Air Force squadron in Transport Command.
The Squadron at first consisted of just fifteen Dakotas, which had obtained from a variety of sources, and twelve of these were deployed during the First Lift of Market Garden, with each aircraft towing a Horsa glider. One of these had to abort the mission and return to base, but the flight was otherwise uneventful and the remainder returned safely after releasing their gliders. A further four glider towing sorties were completed over the following days, thereafter the Squadron participated in resupply operations to the troops at Arnhem.
On Thursday 21st September, the air forces suffered their cruelest losses, not merely due to intense fire from the anti-aircraft guns on the ground, but also to a number of Luftwaffe aircraft which caused havoc amongst the unescorted, slow and unarmoured transports. 437 Squadron had ten of its Dakotas in the air on this day, but only four of these returned to base. Four were shot down over Arnhem, the crew of another bailed out, whilst the sixth made a successful crash landing. Another loss was to come, on Saturday 23rd September, Flying Officer Paget's Dakota was shot down, killing all four aircrew and four RASC despatchers aboard.
In all, not including the four killed despatchers previously mentioned, the Battle of Arnhem had claimed the lives of twelve aircrew, and a further four were taken prisoner. The Squadron's gallantry during this costly baptism of fire was recognised, however; two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Distinguished Flying Medal were awarded.
The losses were soon replaced, and thereafter the Squadron assumed the day-to-day duties of 46 Group, flying freight and passengers to the front line and bringing wounded men back to where they could receive proper medical treatment. The Allies dominated the skies at this time, so there was little else to trouble the crews during these flights other than the state of the weather and the condition of the runways on which they landed. These points could be perilous; on the 24th October 1944, Flight Sergeant Schneider's Dakota left an airfield in Belgium during poor weather, and neither he nor his crew were seen again.
The shuttle service that 46 Group ran between England and the front line was extremely valuable in terms of the lives it saved and the supplies that it delivered. To assist them in this endeavour, 437 Squadron received a number of Anson aircraft in November. During the following month, Germany launched a major offensive through the Ardennes and the resupply flights intensified and continued without respite, if the weather allowed, until late January 1945.
The Rhine Crossing
On the 24th March, 437 Squadron returned to their original role of dropping and supplying airborne troops, by helping to transport the 6th Airborne Division to its various drop and landing zones around Hamminkeln, thereby securing a bridgehead across the Rhine. Twenty-four of their Dakotas were used during the first and only lift of the operation, each towing a Horsa carrying men and equipment of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. Anti-aircraft fire was very heavy and four of the aircraft received damaged, yet all made safe landings at their forward base at Nivelles, in Belgium. They remained here in anticipation of being called upon to carry out supply dropping sorties to the Division, however due to the rapid progress of the ground forces, further operations were deemed unnecessary and the Squadron returned to Blakehill Farm on the 26th March. Five Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to the Squadron's aircrew for their conduct during the operation.
The Squadron resumed its usual shuttle service to the front line, but increasingly the return flights were not dedicated to flying the wounded home to British hospitals, but repatriating freed prisoners of war. On the 7th May 1945, the Squadron received orders to specialise in this task, and to facilitate this it moved back to Nivelles on a more permanent basis. Three days later Squadron Leader McVeigh landed in Oslo, in Norway, one of the first Allied aircraft to do so after the German surrender, tasked with transporting the Nazi peace delegation to Scotland.
Wing Commander Jack Sproule DFC and
Squadron Leader Charles 'Mac' McVeigh
No. 437 Squadron RCAF with 'Brevet' the
The Liberation of Belsen
April 15th 2021 marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen after it was surrendered to the British by retreating German forces.
What greeted British and Canadian troops when they entered the gates was described by newspapers as a “horror camp” — some 60,000 emaciated people, Jews and other prisoners, all in desperate need of medical attention. It’s estimated that 35,000 people died at Bergen-Belsen, including Anne Frank, who died of typhus just a few months before it was liberated.
437 Squadron Royal Canadian Airforce were involved in this dreadful episode of human history.
In April 2021, I was sent this powerful newspaper article regarding Blakehill's 437 RCAF Husky Squadron and the liberation of Belsen concentration camp from Joel Zelikovitz of Toronto, who's father flew from the air station - one can only try to imagine what they witnessed. My thanks again to Joel for everything he contributes and the colourised photo of his dad, Flight Officer Bill Zelikovitz in the article is remarkable.
By June, the Squadron was operating from a number of bases. The main body was removed to Melsbroek, but six of its aircraft remained in Oslo, with further minor detachments at Odiham, in England, and Gatow, in Germany. For many servicemen, the end of the war naturally brought about a more relaxed atmosphere in their operations, but transport aircraft were needed like never before, and if anything the Squadron's work rate increased. They carried freight and passengers to destinations all over Europe; one of the more notable of the latter was "Lord Haw Haw", taken to England to face trial for his infamous Nazi propaganda broadcasts.
In September, 437 Squadron's headquarters was posted to Evère. While here, news was received that King George VI had approved their badge which depicted a Husky pulling a sledge; thereafter they became known as the Husky Squadron. Although a few of their more scattered elements remained at various bases around Europe, the majority were recalled to Odiham where they joined 435 and 436 Squadrons, collectively becoming 120 (RCAF) Transport Wing. The Squadron continued to fly freight, passengers and mail all over Europe until they carried out their last sortie on the 30th May 1946. On the 16th June, the Squadron was disbanded.
On the 1st October 1961, 437 Squadron was reformed at Trenton, Ontario, carrying out the various transport duties to Canadian forces in Europe that their predecessors would have been familiar with. The Huskies are still performing this role from Trenton today, under their proud motto, "Omnia Passim" (Anytime, Anywhere), carrying equipment, personnel and VIP's in support of the Canadian military, NATO, the United Nations and the Red Cross.
The information contained here has been reproduced with very kind permission of Mark Hickman of the Pegasus Archive.