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Military History

Squadron Leader Small

DND photo PL12610

Squadron Leader N.E. Small, the officer responsible for 113 Squadron’s remarkable success during the 1942 U-boat campaign in Canadian waters.

squadron leader n.e. small: a study of leadership in the rcaf’s eastern air command, 1942

by Richard Goette

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It is not aeroplanes or ships or tanks that win battles; it is the men in them and the men who command them. The most important factors in any battle are the human factors of leadership, morale, courage and skill, which cannot be reduced to any mathematical formula. It was these that won the Battle of the Atlantic....1

Air Marshal Sir John Slessor,
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief
Coastal Command

During 1942, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Eastern Air Command had a difficult time coping with German U-boats (submarines) that entered North American coastal waters to attack Allied shipping. The German assessment that anti-submarine defences in the area were weak proved to be well-founded, for few pilots in Eastern Air Command had the skills or initiative needed to counter U-boat attacks on merchant shipping. One exception, however, was Squadron Leader (S/L) N.E. Small, an airman described by historian W.A.B. Douglas as Eastern Air Command’s “outstanding pilot and its most conscientious student of maritime airpower.”2 Indeed, Small’s skill and initiative resulted in Eastern Air Command’s first U-boat kill on 31 July 1942. It was also under his leadership that 113 Bomber Reconnaissance (i.e., Maritime Patrol) Squadron achieved the best record of successful attacks on U-boats of any squadron in Eastern Air Command in 1942.

S/L Small’s innovative and independent actions as a squadron commander provided ample evidence of his own superb leadership skills and, at the same time, of the serious shortcomings of the senior leadership of Eastern Air Command. In evaluating the leadership attributes of both S/L Small and Eastern Air Command senior officers, this article will draw on a study by Dr. Allan English, a historical research fellow at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute.

English argues that an effective squadron leader must demonstrate both heroic and technical leadership. Heroic leadership is the “conspicuous sharing of risk with subordinates,” while technical leadership is “the ability to influence others to achieve a goal based on the specialized knowledge or skill of the leader.”3 Since technology and the technical ability of both crews and their leaders are essential for ensuring survivability and the ability to fight, English stresses that technical leadership is thus “exercised by leaders who must be able to ... actually do the same job as their subordinates (e.g., pilots).” Therefore, English concludes, before a squadron commander could be an effective leader, he had to first demonstrate his operational flying ability (technical leadership), and then share the risks with his subordinates by going on difficult operations (heroic leadership) with them. S/L Small fulfilled both requirements.

English also notes that the higher up the chain of command one goes, the less one has to demonstrate technical or heroic leadership. At the formation level, (i.e., Wing Commander and Group Captain), there was a decline in the amount of technical leadership necessary, although “occasional heroic leadership was still necessary to inspire confidence in the aircrews.” Finally, at the highest level of air force command (i.e., Air Commodore to Air Marshal), leaders were not expected to demonstrate flying skills or physical risk. What subordinates did expect of them was that they risk their careers for the welfare of their crews. This included not only securing resources like new equipment and sufficient personnel, but also ensuring that the latest doctrinal innovations and tactics reached the squadrons. It was in these areas, in fact, where the senior Eastern Air Command leadership failed.

Loading depth charge

DND photo PMR77-192

Crewman loading a depth charge into the bomb-bay of a Hudson.

small’s early career

Born in 1908, Norville Everitt “Molly” Small joined the RCAF in 1928 and trained as a pilot.4 After receiving his wings in June 1931, he served on the west coast as a sergeant pilot, where he logged 2,000 hours on seaplanes and flying boats, and a further 1,000 hours on twin-engine aircraft. Senior officers appreciated Small’s dedication to duty, and in his yearly “Record of Character and Trade Proficiency,” Small was consistently ranked as being good or very good. Small’s superiors described him as a “good worker, who takes his duties seriously”, as an individual with remarkable “keenness and ability to absorb instruction”.

Small’s service on the west coast lasted until 1937, when, like several of the RCAF’s pre-war pilots, he resigned to fly commercial aircraft. While flying for civil airlines, Small further enhanced his reputation as a fine pilot and a hard worker. For example, when Small decided to leave Canadian Airways in the of summer 1939 for a better position at Imperial Airways, his former employer noted:

We should like to take this opportunity to express our confidence in Mr. Small, not only as a pilot of outstanding ability and sound judgement, but also as an executive whose interest in his chosen work extends far beyond the limits of the ordinary “day’s work.”5

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939, Small re-enlisted in the RCAF as a pilot officer. He was soon posted to Eastern Air Command’s No. 10 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, where he served as an advanced flying instructor on the Douglas Digby aircraft that Canada had recently acquired from the United States. While with 10 Squadron, Small quickly became a ‘jack-of-all-trades’; besides his instructor duties, he also carried out reconnaissance patrols searching for airfield sites in Newfoundland, and for potential remote anchorages that enemy submarines might try to use as bases for their attacks on Allied shipping. In the spring of 1941, Small was assigned to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Ferry Command, where pilots with airline experience were in high demand for transatlantic ferry flights. Among the aircraft that Small flew while with Ferry Command was the long-range Consolidated Catalina. Therefore, when the RCAF’s newly-formed 116 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron began to take delivery of Cansos (the Canadian amphibian version of the Catalina) in July 1941, Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ) posted Small to that unit in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

CrestIt did not take long for Small to secure a good grasp of maritime air power in his new assignment. Senior leaders described him as a “master pilot” and “excellent tactician” who was possessed of a “burning desire to get on with the job.”6 In March 1942, AFHQ recognized Flight Lieutenant Small’s service by giving him command of the newly-created 10 Squadron Detachment in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and by awarding him an Air Force Cross (AFC).7 Small did not disappoint. On 28 April 1942, he was on an operational patrol off Yarmouth in a Canso when he sighted a U-boat on the surface. Diving from 500 feet, Small attempted to release his four 450-lb depth charges around the U-boat, but, fortunately for the German submarine, only two of the depth charges came away from the aircraft, so there was minimal damage. As luck would have it, soon after Small’s return to base, he received a letter that outlined the solution to the depth-charge release problem he had just experienced.8 This was not to be the last time that important tactical information was late in arriving at the squadron level.

On 19 May 1942, 10 Squadron’s detachment in Yarmouth, having received more aircraft, was re-formedas 162 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, with the recently promoted Squadron Leader N.E. Small in command. However, this assignment lasted only one month, and on 28 June Small took command of 113 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron at Yarmouth. Small’s short time with 162 Squadron proved, however, to be very beneficial: he “had insured a sound initial organization [of the squadron] and at the time of his departure the squadron ... had accepted and was carrying out efficiently its full responsibilities as an operational unit.”10 His effect on 113 Squadron would be even greater.

anti-submarine warfare innovations

A little over a month after taking over command of 113 Squadron, Small and his crew surprised the submarine U-754 southeast of Cape Sable. Although the German sailors desperately scrambled for the hatch as the vessel’s captain ordered a crash dive, the U-boat was still visible when Small released the depth charges from his diving Lockheed Hudson. The placing of the depth charges was ideal. They bracketed the submarine forward of the conning tower, and exploded as the vessel submerged. Soon afterwards, the U-boat broke the surface, only to be greeted with machine gun fire from Small’s aircraft. Small saw the submarine disappear under the waves again, and seconds later there was a “heavy underwater explosion [which] brought a large quantity of oil swirling up” to the surface.11 S/L Small had sunk U-754, the first submarine kill by an Eastern Air Command aircraft.

The destruction of U-754 had not been an accident, but rather the result of an innovative and calculated response to an operational situation created by the German submarines themselves. To maximize the effectiveness of his U-Boat fleet against Allied shipping, German Admiral Karl Dönitz required his submarine commanders to keep in regular contact with their home base by high frequency radio transmissions. But the Allies intercepted these messages and, by means of High Frequency Direction-Finding (HF/DF), were able to plot the submarine’s probable position. The problem in Canada, though, was that it took far too long for the HF/DF information to get from the Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC) in Ottawa to Eastern Air Command Headquarters in Halifax for it to have any operational value.12

To counter this problem, S/L Small set up an ad hoc system of communications (bypassing both the Naval and RCAF Operations Centres in Ottawa and Halifax) with the Director of Maritime Patrol Operations at AFHQ, Wing Commander Clare Annis, and with the OIC in Ottawa. As soon as the OIC received a ‘hot’ U-boat fix, it phoned the bearings to Annis, who in turn telephoned the information by hot-line to Small in Yarmouth.13 The key to the system was that Small had emergency standby crews at full readiness at Yarmouth. These crews were on a 24-hour tour of duty, sleeping in the hangar and leaving only to take their meals. They were therefore able to act at a moment’s notice once a U-boat fix arrived from Ottawa, much like the scrambling of fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain. Small was thus able to have an aircraft in the air a scant 12 to 15 minutes from the time the information came into him. This system proved to be so effective that the Operational Intelligence Centre began to work directly with Small at Yarmouth. Indeed, on 31 July 1942 it was a ‘hot’ fix from Ottawa that led to the sinking of U-754 by Small’s Hudson.

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spotting u-boats

To plot the approximate location of a U-boat by HF/DF was one thing, but for an aircraft to actually locate the vessel in a large body of water was quite another matter. Indeed, it required good eyesight and a wide breadth of view. The best chance of success was to surprise a U-boat, attacking it while it was on the surface or in the process of submerging. Such a manoeuvre usually became a race between the aircraft and the submarine, the U-boat crew rushing to dive their vessel, and the aircraft attempting to attack the U-boat before it slipped below the surface. The problem early in the war was that lookouts aboard the German submarines were often able to spot an aircraft before the aircraft spotted them. This gave the U-boat time to submerge before the aircraft could carry out its attack.14 By 1941, the problem had become so widespread that the RAF’s Coastal Command began to search for ways to make their aircraft less conspicuous, and they came up with two solutions: white camouflage and higher patrol heights.

Trials in June and July 1941 proved that painting patrol aircraft underbellies white reduced the reflection of light in the North Atlantic by some 20 percent. This made it more difficult for U-boat lookouts to spot the aircraft, subsequently, giving an aircraft a 30 percent better chance of attacking a surfaced enemy submarine.15 But a white underbelly was only part of the solution. Another reason U-boat lookouts were able to spot aircraft quickly was that Coastal Command’s standard 500-foot patrol height was simply too low. As W.A.B. Douglas has explained, the logic of this change in patrol height was twofold: “High-flying aircraft were most likely to make a sighting at long range, and to catch a boat unawares, for the lookout on the conning tower could comfortably scan the lower sky but had to strain his neck to sweep the upper altitudes.”16 Thus, with both the white colour scheme and a higher patrol altitude, it became easier for aircraft to spot U-boats and more difficult for the lookouts to see the aircraft first. The result was an increase in the number of successful attacks on U-boats.

RAF Coastal Command had the capability of experimenting with and devising innovative tactical procedures because it had the requisite scientific and structural basis, including a joint Navy-Air Force committee to oversee the tactical prosecution of the U-boat war. In 1942, Eastern Air Command had nothing akin to Coastal Command’s resources for the development and promulgation of tactics, and it therefore had to rely heavily on the RAF for tactical innovation.

Coastal Command tactical innovations had been instrumental in Small’s destruction of U-754: he had taken the German submarine by surprise because the bottom of his aircraft had been painted white, and he was flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet instead of the Eastern Air Command standard of 500 feet. His astute attention to developments in maritime air power tactics (technical leadership), and his ambitious efforts to act on fresh intelligence had produced Eastern Air Command’s first U-boat kill. He also demonstrated excellent leadership skills by ensuring that his entire squadron utilized the tactical innovations that he himself developed as well as those he borrowed from RAF Coastal Command.

A few hours after Small’s destruction of U-754, Pilot Officer (P/O) G.T. Sayre of 113 Squadron carried out an attack on U-132. Although he did not destroy the boat, Sayre’s attack had been launched because of fresh DF plots phoned to RCAF Station Yarmouth, and he employed the new tactics Small had introduced to the squadron. On 2 August, Small made another attack on a U-boat, this time U-458, and only three days later he followed it up with one more, this time on U-89.17 These accomplishments continued to impress Small’s superiors, and in their August 1942 assessment of his performance, they noted that: “[Small is] an outstanding leader who radiates enthusiasm. [He is a] tireless worker whose only hobby is work.”18

operations in the gulf of st. lawrence

Based on the actions of Small’s squadron against U-boats, on 8 September 1942 Eastern Air Command decided to position a detachment of three 113 Squadron Hudsons at Chatham, New Brunswick. This unit was to serve as a “special Submarine Hunting Detachment” over the Gulf of St. Lawrence convoy routes, where U-boats were wreaking havoc on merchant shipping.19 The effect of the new detachment on the area was immediate. On 9 September, P/O R.S. Keetley’s Hudson swooped down on what he thought was a sailboat. In fact, it was U-165, cruising on the surface 20 miles south of Anticosti Island. Although Keetley was unable to make an attack on his first pass, the surprise that he achieved by flying at 4,000 feet permitted him to attack on his second pass, a relatively short time after the U-boat submerged.20 Keetley’s attack was in marked contrast to an attack on a U-boat undertaken by a 10 Squadron aircraft only six days earlier. In that instance, the pilot flew at an altitude of just 900 feet, and the lookouts aboard the German submarine spotted the aircraft in time so that it submerged a full 20 seconds before being attacked.

One week later, again acting on fresh DF information, Keetley caught U-517 on the surface, but the submarine was able to escape with only minimal damage.21 While providing air coverage for a convoy on 24 September, Flight Sergeant A.S. White located and attacked the same submarine southeast of Sept-Îles, Québec. On that occasion, U-517 submerged too quickly for White to make an attack, so, adhering to the Coastal Command tactics that he had learned from S/L Small, he dropped sea markers and then flew off to warn the convoy. Employing Coastal Command “baiting tactics”, White returned to the scene a few minutes later and was able to make a depth charge attack on the U-boat. Even though U-517 was not damaged in that attack, its presence in the area had been established, and, as a result, a five-aircraft search and escort duty operation was flown that very night.22 It soon bore results. Shortly before midnight, another 113 Squadron Hudson flown by Flying Officer (F/O) M.J. Belanger took U-517 “completely by surprise,” and dropped depth charges that resulted in two “violent” explosions close astern. Although well executed, this attack did not succeed in sinking the boat. The next morning, 113 Squadron Hudsons forced the U-boat to dive twice, and later that afternoon Belanger made one more attack on U-517, which again submerged in enough time to avoid damage. Although U-517 had not been sunk, the results for 113 Squadron were an impressive seven sightings, and three well-executed attacks on the German submarine within 24 hours. 113 Squadron, however, was not finished with U-517.

Off Gaspé on 29 September, F/O Belanger caught the enemy submarine on the surface. Although U-517’s captain noted that Belanger’s depth charges were “well-placed,” the attack resulted only in slight damage. Small’s final attack on a German submarine came on 24 November 1942, when he spotted and attacked a U-boat in the failing late afternoon light southeast of Yarmouth. Although Small managed to drop depth charges 150 feet in front of the U-boat’s swirl, the weapons produced no damage. On 11 December, Eastern Air Command brought an end to 113 Squadron’s operations from Chatham. For the rest of the month, the squadron continued its anti-submarine sweeps from Yarmouth, while Small began a series of lectures to bring his charges up to date on the latest developments on safety, navigation and tactics.23

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Lockheed Hudson

DND photo PL1185, courtesy of the Shearwater Aviation Museum

Squadron Leader Small made his successful attack on U-754 in a Lockheed Hudson like this aircraft from 11 Squadron. Note the white paint scheme on the aircraft’s belly. Small’s squadron was the first in Eastern Air Command to use this camouflage.

The operational record of 113 Squadron was becoming impressive. In all, squadron pilots made 22 sightings, which resulted in 13 attacks, all but one in the period June to November 1942. This was more than all Eastern Air Command squadrons combined for the whole year. Only Squadron Leader Small’s attack on U-754 proved to be a confirmed kill, but that did not devalue the effect of the other attacks. Indeed, if the other 12 attacks resulted in only limited damage to U-boats, the more important consequence was that they forced the German submarines to spend much of their time submerged, where their slow underwater speed meant they could not remain in contact with potential targets. This was crucial, for the main goal of Eastern Air Command (and indeed all Canadian and British air and naval forces employed in trade protection) was “the safe and timely arrival of shipping,” not the destruction of U-boats.24 Furthermore, although 113 Squadron did not know it at the time, its attacks had a significant psychological effect on the U-boats crews. For example, historian Michael Hadly notes that the captain of the heavily-attacked U-517, Kapitänleutnant Paul Hartwig

still recalls the stress that RCAF surveillance, ‘scare charges,’ and attacks caused his watch officers. Planes would unexpectedly swoop down on them, buzz them, drop out of a cloud, or skim low over the water out of the sun and drop bombs. Even when the attacks were inaccurate, the bombs made “one hell of a ruckus.” All his officers had been badly shaken by such attacks and consequently preferred to stand their watch submerged.25

The recognition that Small received for his successes with 113 Squadron was the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Another of his pilots got a DFC, and Mentions in Despatches were given to several of his airmen.26 The squadron’s attacks also received recognition from the government and the press. The Minister of National Defence for Air, C.G. “Chubby” Power, used this as a public relations ploy in mid-December 1942 to allay the public’s feeling of vulnerability caused by the German U-boat operations in the St. Lawrence.

Nonetheless, despite the efforts of 113 Squadron, when summarizing the efforts of his U-boats in Canadian waters in the autumn of 1942, Admiral Dönitz concluded that the Canadian defences proved to be comparatively weak. As a consequence, the German Navy planned to send further U-boats to the area. Although, in large measure, this reflected the failed efforts of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN),27 it was still a damning condemnation of Eastern Air Command’s efforts against German U-boats in 1942.

leadership weaknesses in eastern air command

Largely because of 113 Squadron’s record of attacks, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal L.S. Breadner, began in August to dispatch U-boat DF plots from Ottawa to Eastern Air Command Headquarters in Halifax, and to No. 1 Group Headquarters in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Breadner hoped that airmen would be able to get a more accurate picture of enemy operations in Canadian waters, which would assist in planning air patrols. In addition, since he was responsible for most of the successful attacks, S/L Small was posted to Eastern Air Command Headquarters to ensure that the staff in the Operations Room clearly understood how to disseminate and use DF intelligence. Indeed, there had been occasions when controllers had failed to pass on intelligence concerning U-boat activity. For example, on 30 July 1942, a controller failed to report a U-boat DF position to a patrolling aircraft because he “apparently decided that the situation did not warrant the diversion of aircraft to the area.”28

Eastern Air Command’s operational difficulties were in part a product of the command’s slowness in recognizing and implementing the maritime patrol tactics developed by RAF Coastal Command. Although AFHQ in Ottawa had been receiving information on these tactical innovations since Spring 1942, other than in 113 Squadron, adoption of the Coastal Command tactical procedures in the rest of Eastern Air Command’s Maritime Patrol squadrons did not occur until autumn. W.A.B. Douglas has argued that the main reason for the delay had to do with the “general lack of leadership” among senior officers in Eastern Air Command who failed to stress the importance of Coastal Command’s tactical innovations, and, therefore, also failed to ensure that squadrons brought them into use.29

In April 1941, AFHQ sent Air Commodore N.R. Anderson for an extended visit to Coastal Command Headquarters in Britain. Anderson was suitably impressed by the RAF’s methods and procedures in their campaign against German U-boats. He requested that copies of Coastal Command’s Tactical Memoranda be sent to Canada so that Eastern Air Command could utilize the proven practices of their British counterparts.30 Even though the RAF complied, this important Coastal Command material still did not always find its way to the Eastern Air Command squadrons.

When this was investigated in April 1942, the Director of Armaments at AFHQ, Group Captain T.J. Desmond, discovered that the Directorate of Intelligence had indeed distributed both Coastal Command Tactical Memoranda and Tactical Instructions to command headquarters, which in turn usually made copies and sent them on to the squadrons. Desmond concluded that this was satisfactory insofar as Memoranda were concerned, but that it was a different case altogether in terms of the Tactical Instructions:

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Tactical instructions, however, are as the title implies, definite orders. As they are originally prepared by the RAF, they carry no executive authority in Canada. The result is that unit commanders read and digest them but do not necessarily put them into effect and in actual fact Eastern and Western air Command Headquarters appear to have neither given executive authority to RAF instructions, nor to have issued any tactical instructions of their own. If this is in fact the case, the tactical employment of aircraft rests with individual unit commanders, and I think that you will agree that this is most unsatisfactory.31

To rectify this problem, Desmond proposed that AFHQ stress to the Air Officers Commanding both Eastern and Western Air Commands that “the tactical employment of aircraft is entirely their responsibility.” He added that the way that aircraft in their commands were to be employed had to be laid out in “appropriate standing instructions.” Furthermore, these standing tactical instructions should utilize fully “the experience gained in the RAF” and should be drafted on the basis of Coastal Command’s Tactical Instructions, “modified to suit local arrangements.”32 Despite the logic of Desmond’s suggestions, it does not appear that they were ever carried out. Although the onus was on squadron commanders to implement the tactical doctrine passed on to them, the responsibility for the form of tactics laid down ultimately rested with the Command Headquarters. Why, then, did the senior leadership in this organization fail?

Part of the reason was that most senior Eastern Air Command officers knew very little about maritime air power operations. Those officers had matured in peacetime, when the main focus was civil flying operations. In addition, there was, in general, very little development of maritime air power doctrine during the inter-war period.33 Whatever doctrine RCAF officers may have learned before the war no doubt consisted of the strategic bombing theories taught by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and his successors at the RAF Staff College in Andover, England. Thus, when the war broke out, these officers had very little understanding of maritime air power, or the aerial defence of oceanic trade.34

The inferior resource position of Eastern Air Command did not help. Instead of being able to focus on the doctrinal and tactical expertise needed to battle the U-boats that entered Canadian waters, senior officers were “consumed by the day-to-day challenges arising from excessive commitments, shortages of equipment and trained personnel, and half-developed base facilities.”35

Submarine U-165

DND photo PL12814

The German submarine U-165, which was attacked south of Anticosti Island by F/L Keetley’s Hudson on 9 September 1942.

leadership cut short

Squadron Leader N.E. “Molly” Small was killed on 7 January 1943 when his Canso crashed shortly after taking off from Gander, Newfoundland. Yet in the death of this remarkable aviator, his technical and heroic leadership qualities continued to shine. Small’s plane crashed because he had been conducting an experiment on how to get greater range out of the RCAF’s Cansos. This was a very important endeavour, for in the middle of the Atlantic there was an “Air Gap” where German U-boats operated freely because Allied aircraft lacked sufficient range to patrol the area effectively. Strong westerly winds restricted the range of Eastern Air Command’s Cansos to 500 miles, well short of the “Air Gap”. In an effort to increase the range of the aircraft to 600 or even 700 miles, Eastern Air Command assigned its best officer, S/L Small, to Gander. Small immediately set out to strip as much weight as possible from the aircraft so they could carry more fuel. In all, he was able to eliminate 1,269 pounds of equipment — enough, he hoped, to enable the Cansos to reach out to the “Air Gap” in the Atlantic.36 Of course, Small never did find out whether his initiatives worked.

Nevertheless, thanks to Small’s weight-saving measures (technical leadership), which he tested himself and died doing so (heroic leadership), both 162 and 5 Squadrons were able to extend the range of their Cansos to 700 miles. The squadrons capitalized on Small’s innovations immediately, for, as W.A.B. Douglas has pointed out, “it was largely due to the efforts of Small that Gander-based Cansos were able to make a series of promising attacks at maximum range during the early weeks of February [1943].”37

The circumstances of Small’s death raise interesting questions about the leadership competencies of the senior officers in Eastern Air Command, and of Small himself. While it has been shown that Small was an exceptional leader and an outstanding squadron commander, it could be argued that he may have taken his technical and heroic leadership qualities too far when he decided to test the modified Canso himself. Because he was the one who had made the changes to the aircraft, Small felt obliged to test it himself — something he did not have to do. By choosing to test fly the modified aircraft, Small probably put himself at unnecessary risk, and he lost the gamble when his aircraft crashed. It could perhaps also be argued that if Small had sent another pilot to fly the fated aircraft instead of himself, he might have considered he had acted irresponsibly as a commander.

In the end, it was the operational necessity of extending the range of the Cansos that was the dominant factor in Eastern Air Command in early 1943. And, it must be noted, Small’s effort to extend the Cansos’ range proved to be successful, thereby giving the capability to patrol as far out as the “Air Gap”.

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By the end of 1942, Eastern Air Command had made significant progress in enhancing its Maritime Patrol capabilities. By November, a direct telephone line linked Eastern Air Command Headquarters in Halifax and Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa. This allowed the timely passage of accurate DF intelligence on U-boats, upon which the command now organized the majority of their anti-submarine sweeps. At the same time, Eastern Air Command established its own Operational Research Section, modelled on the one at Coastal Command in England, to undertake analytical studies of anti-submarine operations. A number of steps were taken to hone the tactical skills of the pilots and crews, such as the requirement that all crews in maritime patrol squadrons had to drop at least one depth charge per month. Eastern Air Command was finally learning from its mistakes, but it had taken a long time — and the intense efforts of one of its true experts — to spur many of these changes.

Squadron Leader N.E. Small made significant contributions to the growing effectiveness of Eastern Air Command. By going out of his way to discover tactical procedures and techniques that would permit more effective and more rapid responses to time-sensitive intelligence, by adopting and practising proven RAF Coastal Command tactics, and by personally piloting aircraft very skilfully on anti-submarine missions, Small repeatedly demonstrated both the technical and heroic leadership qualities expected of a first-rate squadron commander. It is fair to say that this one officer had a substantial role in bringing Eastern Air Command to a state of operational effectiveness, and by 1943 the rest of the RCAF was on the same track. As historian Marc Milner has noted, “luckily for the Germans, Small was one of a kind.”38


Richard Goette is a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University in Kingston.


This article is based on a study carried out for the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute. The author wishes to extend his gratitude to Dr. Allan English, Major Howard Coombs, Lieutenant (N) Rich Mayne, and CFLI for their assistance.

  1. Sir John Slessor, The Central Blue: Recollections and Reflections (London: Cassel and Company Limited, 1956), P. 524.
  2. W.A.B. Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume II (Toronto: University of Toronto Press and the Department of National Defence, 1986), P. 504.
  3. Allan English, “The Masks of Command: Leadership Differences in the Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force,” paper prepared for the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society Conference, 25-27 October 2002, Kingston, Ontario, pp. 6, 14. English bases this definition on British historian John Keegan’s perspective on leadership in The Mask of Command. Keegan argues that by sharing risks, leaders cultivate a kinship between themselves and their followers, giving leaders “the moral legitimacy, beyond their legal authority, that they must have to be successful.” John Keegan, The Mask of Command (New York: Viking Penguin Inc.), 10.
  4. Norville Everitt Small, Personnel File [hereafter Small Personnel File], National Archives of Canada. All personal information on Small is based on this source.
  5. W.E. Gilbert, Superintendent, Pacific Division, Canadian Airways Limited, to Imperial Airways, 24 July 1939, Small Personnel File, NAC.
  6. Douglas, Creation, p. 504; Short Confidential Report, Small Personnel File, NAC.
  7. Hugh Halliday, “Small, F/L Norville Everett (C1379), Air Force Cross [AFC] Commendation,” RCAF Personnel – Honours & Awards – 1939-1949, http://www.airforce.ca/wwii/ALPHA-SM.1.html, accessed 10 November 2002.
  8. Carl Vincent, “Prelude to Glory – the story of 162 (BR) Squadron RCAF, 1942-May 1944,” High Flight – Canada’s Wings, Volume 1, Number 6 (November/December 1981), pp. 230-231.
  9. Small Personnel File, NAC.
  10. DHH 74/2, “History of Eastern Air Command,” DHH narrative (1945), p. 391.
  11. Douglas, Creation, 520; 113 Squadron ORB, 31 July 1942. Quote from Douglas.
  12. DHH 81/520/1440-18, Vol. 3, “Notes on the History of Operational Intelligence Centre in Canada, 1939,” p. 2 and “1941,” pp. 4-5.
  13. Interview with Clare L. Annis, 10 September 1979 (by J.D.F. Kealy and W.A.B. Douglas). The first aircraft search that Small sent in response to the ‘hot’ U-boat fixes was on 23 July 1942. 113 Squadron ORB, 23 July 1942.
  14. Alfred Price, Aircraft Versus Submarine: The evolution of the anti-submarine aircraft, 1912 to 1972 (London: William Kimber and Co. Ltd., 1973), p. 69.
  15. Price, Aircraft Versus Submarine, p. 70. Price argues that the adaptation of the white colour scheme was “a tacit recognition of a colour scheme gulls and other sea birds had adopted some millions of years earlier.”
  16. Douglas, Creation, p. 474. 5,000 feet was the maximum height that an aircraft could fly to give it enough time to dive and attack a U-boat with any expectation of success.
  17. Douglas, Creation, 520; 113 Squadron ORB, 31 July, 2 and 5 August 1942.
  18. Small Personnel File, NAC.
  19. The detachment was later reinforced with a further three Hudsons from Yarmouth on 18 September. 113 Squadron Operational Records Book (ORB), 8 and 18 September 1942.
  20. He dropped depth charges eight seconds after the submarine had submerged, which resulted in no damage. Still, Keetley’s attack did have a notable impact, as it resulted in further searches for U-165 by Navy vessels and Eastern Air Command aircraft. These searches greatly hampered the movement of the U-boat, causing the submarine’s commander to report to base that he found it “‘difficult to contact’ convoys between Gaspé and Anticosti ‘because of air patrols.’” W.A.B. Douglas, et. al, No Higher Purpose, The Official History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1939-1943, Volume II, Part 1, p. 454.
  21. 113 Squadron Operational Records Book, NAC RG 24, Vol. 22616, 16 September 1942; Sarty, “A/S Operations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” p. 38.
  22. 113 Squadron ORB, 24 September 1942.
  23. 113 Squadron ORB, 6-16 December 1942.
  24. DHH 181.003 (D309), “Submarine Warfare, World War II,” Report, prepared by Wing Commander C.L. Annis, RCAF, 29 January, 1943, p. 7.
  25. Michael L. Hadley, “Inshore ASW in the Second World War: The U-Boat Experience,” in W.A.B. Douglas, ed., The RCN in Transition, 1910-1985 (Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1988), pp. 132-133.
  26. Hugh Halliday, RCAF Personnel – Honours & Awards – 1939-1949, http://www.airforce.ca/wwii/ALPHA-SM.1.html, accessed 10 November 2002.
  27. The RCN destroyed no U-boats in Canadian waters during 1942, while US Navy vessels sank two, US Navy aircraft sank two as well, and the RCAF sank one (Small’s destruction of U-754). Hadley, “U-Boat Experience,” 132. See also Douglas, et. al., No Higher Purpose, Chapters 7 to 10.
  28. 113 Squadron ORB, 14 August 1942; AOC EAC to Power (AFHQ), 5 August 1942, DHH 181.009 (D1147). See also Douglas, Creation, pp. 519-521.
  29. Douglas, Creation, p. 524.
  30. Air Commodore N.R. Anderson, RCAF, Attached to Coastal Command, RAF to AOCinC CC, 4 July 1941, DHH 181.002 (D121).
  31. D.Arm. [G/C T.J. Desmond] to D.Ops., 9 April 1942, NAC, RG 24, Vol. 5273, HQS 28-6-3. Emphasis added.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Both the RCAF and the RCN adhered to the British Admiralty’s conviction that the threat of submarines had been nullified by the introduction of the convoy system and the invention of Asdic, an underwater detection device known today as active sonar. DHH 79/599, Captain D.V. Peyton-Ward, The RAF in the Maritime War, Volume I: The Atlantic and Home Waters: The Prelude, April 1918-September 1939 (RAF Air Historical Branch Narrative), nd, p. 151.
  34. Not one senior officer in the RCAF had any firsthand experience with trade defence until Wing Commander C.L. Annis became the director of Maritime Patrol operations at AFHQ in August 1942. Douglas, Creation, p. 536.
  35. Douglas et. al., No Higher Purpose, p. 489.
  36. No. 5 (BR) Squadron ORB, 5 January 1943, NAC RG 24, Vol. 22603, microfilm reel c-12, 229.
  37. DHH 74/2, “History of Eastern Air Command,” 565-566; Douglas, Creation, 541. Quote from Douglas. Douglas also notes that Small’s efforts to increase the range of Cansos went a long way towards Eastern Air Command’s efforts to secure the Very-Long-Range Liberator aircraft needed to close the “Air Gap.” Indeed, he remarked that Small’s modified Cansos “went some way towards demonstrating the results [Eastern Air Command] might have achieved with Liberators.”
  38. Marc Milner, “Inshore ASW: the Canadian Experience in Home Waters,” in W.A.B. Douglas, ed., The RCN in Transition, 1910 -1985, p. 147.