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Military History

The commemorative gate to the BCATP

DND Photo PL-52817

In 1951, Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh inspect RCAF Station Trenton and the commemorative gate to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a wartime initiative of which Frank Miller was very much a part.

Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller ~ A Civilian and Military Leader

by Ray Stouffer

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On Thursday, 28 April 1960, the Ottawa Citizen wrote that Frank Miller, the former air marshal, and, more recently, the Deputy Minister (DM) of National Defence, had become the Diefenbaker Government’s choice as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), replacing General Charles Foulkes. Miller’s 24 years of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) “…[had] given him a valuable store of knowledge of all aspects of defence.” 1 As DM, Miller was “…hailed as one of the keenest and most incisive minds in the Defence Department.”2  In the same article, it was implied that changes were necessary in Canada’s military that demanded Miller’s experience, management skills, and leadership. Miller was “…believed one of the very few men suited to take Canada’s military element through the ultimate transformation to a unified force.”3  Frank Miller’s return to uniform therefore came with solid credentials and high expectations.  He was to become Canada’s highest-ranking military officer, but few Canadians knew him at the time, and fewer still today.  

The purpose of this article is, in part, to bring to light the public life of Frank Miller to better understand who he was, and why he was chosen as Foulkes’s replacement. The fact that such an exercise has not been undertaken previously says much about the lack of scholarly interest in the Cold War RCAF generally, and the dearth of biographies of senior Canadian airmen specifically. As remarkable as Miller’s career was is the fact that it is today largely unknown and therefore unappreciated. Comprehending Miller’s military and civilian service not only explains why he was selected as Chairman of the COSC, it also addresses the larger question of military leadership in peacetime. It is proposed that those responsible for Miller’s selection felt that he possessed the requisite leadership capabilities and understanding of the needs of a peacetime military better than his peers. 

To support this argument, this article focuses upon two aspects of Frank Miller’s career. First, his ascendancy through the ranks and increasingly senior appointments will be described in the context of the evolution of a peacetime and wartime RCAF. Second, Miller’s professional accomplishments will be compared to those of two other successful senior officers and contemporaries – Air Marshal Roy Slemon and Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes. Slemon was four years older than Miller and had joined the RCAF earlier than Miller. However, these two airmen would share similar flying and command postings for over three decades.  Their at times meteoric rise in the wartime and postwar RCAF made them professional rivals. Ultimately, Slemon would ‘get the nod,’ and become Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) in 1953. Seven years later, Miller would reach even higher rank as Chairman of the COSC and Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). 

One historian has argued that Charles Foulkes understood better than his competitors that military leadership during the Cold War required special skill sets. Foulkes was sensitive to the reality that the existence of expensive peacetime forces-in-being challenged Canadian governments that had to balance domestic and international political interests.4 This article will argue that Frank Miller was as good as, if not better than, his predecessor in meeting the challenges of leading a Canadian peacetime military during the early Cold War. Miller’s military and civilian careers not only distinguished him from his peers, but ultimately from Foulkes as well. Those in political authority deemed that Frank Miller, not Charles Foulkes, was the best military leader to guide the Canadian military through the turbulent years of integration and unification. 

Chief Air MarshalFrank Miller

CFJIC Photo RE66-1426-1

Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller

Life in the RCAF – Part One

One major challenge in writing about Frank Miller is that of working with scarce sources. Due mainly to the fact that Miller did not keep a personal diary, there are few primary sources available describing his professional career, and fewer still that mention his early life. Secondary sources are of little help. Fortunately, sufficient evidence exists from ancillary sources from which a reasonable picture of his life and career emerges. 

Frank Miller was born in Kamloops, British Columbia on 30 April 1908. He attended public and high schools there, and from 1925 to 1931, he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering at the University of Alberta. During his university years in Edmonton, Miller was a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps (COTC),5 and upon graduation, he aspired to become a service pilot. Similar to Roy Slemon’s career path a few years earlier, Miller was accepted into the RCAF because interwar air planners “…considered an engineering degree an essential qualification to be a pilot.”6  Further, both men had demonstrated their desire to be in the military as members of the COTC. 

Frank Miller was commissioned in the RCAF Regular Force on 15 September 1931. The following month, Pilot Officer Miller was posted to No. 1 Squadron at Camp Borden, Ontario. By December 1931 he had obtained his pilot’s wings after completing a series of flying training courses. On 16 December he was promoted to flying officer (lieutenant).7  Although Miller joined the RCAF because he wanted to fly, he neither appreciated the national scope of the service, nor its nascent military capabilities. Prior to enlistment, he had the impression that the RCAF was limited to carrying out non-military roles. He expected to be assisting other government departments in activities such as aerial mapping, fire-fighting, and communication and transportation flight duties.8 For the most part, Miller’s preconceptions about the interwar RCAF were correct. His own experiences would confirm that for much of the interwar period, Canadian airmen were “bush pilots in uniform.” However, he was nonetheless impressed by the range of air power roles practised by the RCAF in the early 1930s. For example, at Camp Borden, the RCAF taught courses on army cooperation in addition to aerial combat.9

Unfortunately for Frank Miller and his air force contemporaries, they joined the RCAF just at the commencement of the Great Depression. Desperate to fund relief programs, the Bennett Government slashed the military budget in 1932, and the RCAF was forced to make drastic cuts in personnel. As Miller later recalled: “The earth fell in … I was kicked out [of the RCAF]!”10 Luckily for Miller, his ‘temporary leave’ from the air force was short-lived.  By July 1932, he was employed at Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ) in Ottawa, and, in January 1933, he was back at Borden to continue his flying training, this time at the School of Army Cooperation. 

Frank Miller was one of the lucky few to have been availed of the opportunity to continue his training during these years of the “Big Cut.” During the period 1932-1933, the RCAF saw its personnel strength drop from 906 officers and men to 694 personnel all told. The budget was slashed by over a million dollars from the pre-Depression years to a mere $1,405,000. As Miller himself experienced, airmen were released, and pilot training was drastically curtailed. In some instances, flying training came to a complete stop. Furthermore, RCAF expansion was impossible due to lack of funds for base construction, operational and training flights, and new aircraft purchases.11 Budget cuts also forced a reduction in professional development for the more experienced personnel. This training was expensive. The only staff courses available for senior Canadian airmen to learn the latest in air power theory, as well as command and staff duties, were taught overseas by Britain’s Royal Air Force.12

Although flying activity at Camp Borden was severely curtailed at the time, Flying Officer Miller was able to complete his army cooperation course during the period 1 February-31 May 1933. In so doing, he logged 34 hours in the Avro 621 Tutor and a single hour on one the RCAF’s three Consolidated O-17 Courier aircraft. This course was clearly designed to train RCAF pilots how to operate with the army, and in that vein, he was taught aerial photography, map reading, air reconnaissance, artillery observation, and Morse code.13 

Devoting precious training time to supporting the army was anathema to Canadian airmen who closely followed air power developments in Britain. RAF doctrine was based upon the primacy of strategic bombing. Support to surface forces was not a priority. Unfortunately for the RCAF, it was not in a position to put this theory into effect, and, until 1938, the service remained subordinate to the Chief of the Army General Staff (CGS). Senior army officers wanted aviation assets controlled at division and corps levels, as was often the case during the First World War. The demands of the Canadian Army aside, the reality of the Depression-era RCAF lay in being content conducting any type of operational training, given the limited number of aircraft and pilots on strength.

For the remainder of 1933, Flying Officer Miller continued his flying training at Camp Borden and at Ottawa, Ontario. He successfully completed his Instrument Flying Course at Borden during the month of June. Flying the de Havilland (D.H.) 60 Gipsy Moth, predecessor to the ubiquitous wartime trainer, the D.H. 62 Tiger Moth, Miller was awarded an overall course rating of “very good” by his instructor, Squadron Leader R.S. Grandy. According to Grandy, Miller had made excellent progress on the course and had displayed no major faults. During the month of July, he attended the Seaplane Conversion Course at RCAF Ottawa (Rockcliffe), where he flew the D.H. 60 floatplane and the Vickers Vedette.  From 1 August to 22 December 1933, Flying Officer Miller was back in Borden to attend the Squadron Armament Officers’ Course at the Air Armament and Bomber School. This course allowed him to log more flying time on a variety of RCAF aircraft, including the Fairchild 71 Courier, the Armstrong Whitworth Siskin, and the Gypsy Moth. Thus, remarkably, during a year in which most flying activities had come to a standstill in the RCAF, Frank Miller was somehow able to complete four full flying courses.14 

Within the financial confines of the Depression years, the RCAF Permanent Force maintained a tenuous national presence and semblance of flying activity. On the west coast, the RCAF operated out of RCAF Station Vancouver, home to No. 4 Flying Boat (FB) Squadron and two mobile detachments. Flying Officer Miller was posted there in January 1934 to begin his first operational tour. In addition to his primary duty as a squadron pilot, he was appointed unit adjutant.15 In 1934, ‘clouds of war’ in Europe were still several years away. Therefore, No. 4 (FB) Squadron continued to perform non-military functions in support of other federal and provincial departments. Miller and his fellow squadron pilots flew Vickers Vedette, Vickers Vancouver, and Fairchild 51/71flying boats on anti-smuggling and aerial photography missions.16 

Air Commodore Roy Slemon

CFJIC Photo PL-29731

Roy Slemon (centre, as an air commodore) while serving in 6 Group, 1944

In 1935, the career paths of Frank Miller and Roy Slemon would cross for the first time. Between 1933 and 1938, Slemon was employed in Borden as a flight instructor and staff officer in RCAF Headquarters.17 In April 1935, Flight Lieutenant (captain) Slemon was Miller’s instructor on the Air Pilotage Course. He rated Miller as “above average.”  Later that June, Miller successfully completed the Flying Instructor Course. He was rated as an “excellent student” by no less than Squadron Leader G.E. Brookes, future Air Officer Commanding, No. 6 (RCAF) Group of wartime Bomber Command.18  

Between 1935 and 1938, Frank Miller filled various billets as a flight and air navigation instructor. He was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant on 1 April 1937 – presumably not an April Fools’ joke. The next month he moved from the Flying Training School in Borden to the Air Navigation and Seaplane School at Trenton. Then, in September 1938, his training took him to Britain when the service RCAF posted him to the School of Air Navigation, RAF Manston, to attend the Specialist Air Navigation Course.19  Prior to his departure, Frank Miller got married to Dorothy Virginia Minor on 3 May 1938, the wedding taking place in Galveston, Texas.20 

When Flight Lieutenant Miller went overseas in the autumn of 1938, there were genuine concerns with respect to a looming war. Although Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King privately accepted the reality that Canada would come to Britain’s side if war was declared against Nazi Germany, the Defence Department was limited to planning for continental defence. Politics aside, Canadian defence planners, including the RCAF, could not ignore the likelihood of another war in Europe. A major challenge consisted in bringing the small peacetime Canadian military to a wartime footing. To do so, defence planners had to identify those sailors, soldiers, and airmen that had demonstrated superior professional and leadership skills to lead such an expansion.21 Frank Miller was one such airman.  

If the Canadian military recognized the need to expand to a wartime military, it did not have the means with which to accomplish this goal during the years immediately preceding the Second World War. Lacking sufficient resources in Canada, the RCAF had to send selected airmen to Britain to receive specialist training from the RAF.22 Flight Lieutenant Miller was sent to Britain because, by this time, his superior airmanship skills had come to the attention of his air force superiors. Miller had also proven leadership potential superior to that of his peers. On 1 April 1939, he was promoted to the senior officer rank of squadron leader (Major).23 Upon completion of the course, the RCAF expected Miller to return to Canada with advance knowledge of air navigation. Perhaps more importantly, senior air force leaders counted upon Miller commanding air navigation schools as part of an expanding air training program. 

When Canada declared war against Germany on 10 September 1939, the RCAF recalled Squadron Leader Miller. The plan was indeed for Miller to lead a training school as part of the expected wartime expansion plan. 24  Little did the RCAF know that this plan was about to become much larger. By the end of September, the Mackenzie King Government was deliberating the details of its immediate commitment to Britain and her Commonwealth allies. The British were shocked that Mackenzie King‘s immediate offer was but one infantry division. Ottawa was then asked if Canada would support a Commonwealth air training program as a sub-set of the British Empire Air Training Scheme.  

After several months of acrimonious negotiations, the Mackenzie King Government agreed to commit significant financial, material, and personnel resources to the creation of such a major national undertaking.25 The understanding was that the organization and operation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was to be Canada’s main contribution to the development of Commonwealth wartime air power. In fact, Mackenzie King‘s acceptance to run the BATCP was predicated upon his belief that it would substitute for providing substantial military forces to the war effort. In the event, this would not prove the case. Whatever Mackenzie King’s motivation, to the miniscule RCAF, this national responsibility represented “a challenge of great magnitude.”26 Air Vice-Marshal Croil, Chief of the Air Staff, judged establishing and operating the BCATP “…[the] equivalent of maintaining 50 squadrons in the field.”27 Before the war, the RCAF had been hard-pressed to train 125 pilots a year. It was now asked to train 540 pilots, 340 observers, and 580 wireless operators/air gunners… every four months! Fortunately for the RCAF, it had gained experience during the previous war in training allied aircrew. Equally important, it had seasoned and proven leaders like Frank Miller who would make this air training scheme work.

Even before the final details of the BCATP were signed on Mackenzie King’s birthday, 17 December 1939, sites for the training schools were being selected and surveyed. Further, contracts for flying training and logistical needs were being let. By far the largest need was for civilian and military flying instructors. Many of the young RCAF pilots who had counted upon going overseas to fly in combat were disappointed upon being told that they were to remain in Canada as instructors28 Squadron Leader Miller was too busy to be concerned about operational flying opportunities. Just as the Anglo-Canadian negotiations for the air training scheme began, Miller was appointed Officer Commanding of the Air Navigation and Reconnaissance School located at Trenton.29  This would be the first of several important postings in which he commanded specialist training schools within the BCATP. In all instances, Miller’s performance evaluations were consistently rated as “outstanding.”  Moreover, he would be recommended for accelerated promotion ahead of his peers by several prominent senior RCAF officers.

Wing Commander Frank Miller

CFJIC Photo PL-3714

Frank Miller as a wing commander in an Avro Anson at ANS Rivers, Manitoba, 4 June 1941.

Miller’s superiors while posted to the Air Navigation and Reconnaissance School included the two future AOCs of No. 6 (RCAF) Group, Group Captains G.E. Brookes and C.M. McEwen.  In January 1940, McEwen wrote that Miller was reliable, tactful, and energetic, and that he demonstrated good judgment and common sense. McEwen added that Miller was especially well-qualified in his duties, and was an excellent leader. In September 1940, Brookes wrote that Miller was mature in judgment and had shown much initiative in meeting the many problems of his school during its early months of operation. Brookes added that Miller demonstrated exemplary conduct, and was recommended for accelerated promotion.30  

In November 1940, No. 1 Air Navigation School (ANS) (as it was then called) was relocated to Rivers, Manitoba. Within a month of moving to the new location, Miller once more impressed his superiors. Group Captain Sully, future Air Member for Personnel in AFHQ, noted that Miller did splendid work under difficult conditions as Officer Commanding (OC) of No. 1 ANS.  Sully recommended Miller for accelerated promotion to acting wing commander (lieutenant-colonel). This recommendation was strongly supported by Air Commodore Shearer. Frank Miller had clearly proved himself a most capable officer, leading No. 1 ANS through the tough beginnings of the BCATP.  Miller was indeed promoted to wing commander in December 1940, and, six months later, he was posted as OC of No. 2 ANS located in Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick.31

Miller’s year at Pennfield Ridge proved as successful as his previous tours at Rivers and Trenton. Group Captain Costello wrote that with regard to both training and administration, Miller organized and commanded Pennfield Ridge in a very efficient manner. Costello’s recommendation for Miller’s accelerated promotion to group captain (colonel) was endorsed by Air Vice-Marshal (major general) A.A.L. Cuffe, Air Member for Training. In May 1942, Miller was posted back to Rivers as OC of No. 1 Central Navigation School.  He then paid the price for success once more as he was promoted to acting group captain two months later and sent east to Summerside, P.E.I., as Commanding Officer of the newly created No. 1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS).32

Although Miller would spend only six months at Summerside, he was able to bring No. 1 GRS to a high standard of training during this period. In January 1943, Air Vice-Marshal Cuffe remarked in his assessment of Group Captain Miller that he was highly intelligent, and possessed a pleasing personality. He added that Miller’s high standards of efficiency were reflected in the excellent condition of the training school. In their evaluation of him the following month, two more ‘rising stars’ in the RCAF, Air Commodore (brigadier-general) Morfee, and Air Vice-Marshal G.O. Johnson, stated that Group Captain Miller had done an excellent job as Commanding Officer of No. 1 GRS.  They also wrote that Miller deserved credit for the high quality of training and efficient administration of the station.33  In the spring of 1943, Miller’s superiors concluded that his excellent work to date in the BCATP had prepared him for duties in higher headquarters. Group Captain Miller was therefore posted to AFHQ in Ottawa as Director of Training Plans and Requirements.34

Miller was employed at AFHQ from January 1943 until April 1944. During this period, he was promoted to acting air commodore, and he finished his headquarters tour as Director of Air Training and Deputy Member for Training. Reflecting back over the previous four years, Miller’s accomplishments as a leader of BCATP training establishments solidified his reputation as an outstanding air force officer. By the time he was posted to AFHQ, he was one of the most senior airmen overseeing the air training scheme at the height of its operation. However, by the early spring of 1944, the BCATP was about to wind down. Victory was in sight, and the RCAF needed the talents of airmen like Frank Miller overseas to fill command positions. In April 1944, Miller was posted to No. 6 (RCAF) Group Headquarters, located at Allerton Hall, Yorkshire. In so doing, he relinquished his rank of acting air commodore.35

Between April and June 1944, Group Captain Miller ‘learned the ropes’ of the myriad staff work associated with leading Canadian bomber operations. During this period, he would once more work with Roy Slemon. The latter had served as the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) in No. 6 (RCAF) Group HQ since its inception in January1943. Having been the right-hand man for Air Vice-Marshals Brookes and McEwen, Air Commodore Slemon’s experience would prove invaluable to his protégée, Frank Miller.36 

During the summer of 1944, Miller received his first command of an operational bomber unit, RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale.37 For security reasons, Miller’s rank and position “officially” barred him from flying combat missions. However, what little evidence there is detailing his tours in 6 Group suggests that he showed marked concern for his subordinates.  His challenge was to lead and to encourage his aircrews when they were confronted with operational adversity. He met his crews upon their return from combat, and he was actively involved in their debriefings.38  Further, a close review of the war diaries of 424 and 433 Squadrons reveals that Group Captain Miller “flew” on a mission over the Falaise area of Normandy on 17 July 1944. He wanted to get a first-hand look at how his crews were supporting the allied advance in France.39

Miller’s first operational command experience impressed his superiors. Air Vice- Marshal McEwen wrote in August 1944 that Miller was a good organizer and that he had a solid grasp of human nature. He added that Miller was untiring in his efforts with the operational functioning of his station.40  On 14 October 1944 he was promoted, once again, to air commodore, and appointed Commanding Officer of No. 61 Base, located at Topcliffe.

Group Captain Frank Miller

CFJIC Photo PL-29938

Group Captain Frank Miller (gold braid on cap) in a 6 Group debriefing with a 433 Squadron crew, circa 1944.

By the spring of 1945, Frank Miller had become a respected and experienced wartime station commander within 6 Group. During this period, he also commanded RCAF Base No. 63, Leeming, Yorkshire. Proving himself up to the challenge, Miller was able to maintain the Leeming squadrons’ sortie rates in the face of changing aircraft types, aircrew conversion training, and personnel rotations. Noteworthy was his appointment as Roy Slemon’s deputy commander of the RCAF Tiger Force in July 1945. This unit was to be Canada’s commitment to a Commonwealth bomber force operating with the Americans against Imperial Japan. However, with the surrender of Japan later that summer, plans for the force were cancelled, and Miller was repatriated to Canada in September 1945.41

Wartime demobilization was swift and dramatic. From a wartime peak of over one million men and women in uniform, the Mackenzie King Government slashed the size of its postwar military to less than fifty thousand all ranks. The prime minister and his closest advisors understood, however, that geostrategic realities prevented a return to the paltry peacetime force that had existed before the war. The new threat to world peace was a belligerent Soviet Union. Armed with long-range bombers, and, after September 1949, atomic weapons, the Soviets posed a threat to continental North America. Ottawa could neither ignore this threat, nor the reality that it had to move closer to the United States to jointly defend the continent from strategic attack. Therefore, Canada joined the US in establishing what eventually became the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) in 1957. Prior to this unprecedented peacetime commitment, Canada became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Soviet threat extended to all of Western Europe as well as to North America. Again departing from tradition, the Canadian government created a large body of regular forces-in-being, and in this new nuclear age, the Western Alliance based its offensive and defensive strategies upon air power. By the early 1950s, the RCAF would therefore become the fastest-growing and most important of the three fighting services.42

Air Commodore Frank Miller’s career never slowed down during this transitory period. He was clearly being groomed as a senior leader in the postwar RCAF. With flying mostly limited to aerial mapping and communications during the period 1945-1948, Miller was posted to Air Materiel Command – first as Chief Staff Officer, and then, in June 1946, as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC). Between August 1948 and September 1949, he also attended the US National War College.43 The friendships and contacts Miller made with fellow American and NATO students were most opportune and they would greatly benefit the RCAF in its future relations with alliance members. In the fall of 1949, Miller was posted to AFHQ as Air Member Operations and Training. Two years later he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal, and became Air Marshal Curtis’s Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS). One of his important duties was serving as the Canadian Air Representative on the Canada-US Permanent Joint Board on Defence. In this regard, the CAS credited Miller as having made an outstanding contribution in the field of Canadian-US military relations.44At a time when cooperation between the RCAF and USAF was increasing rapidly, Miller became the most senior RCAF contact with the USAF in terms of discussing common doctrine and equipment purchases, as well as planning for the air defence of North America.

It is not clear if Miller expected to replace Curtis as Chief of the Air Staff.  Existing work suggests that the CAS had been grooming Roy Slemon, who indeed replaced him in January 1953. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Curtis had been in the job since 1947. The implication is that Defence Minister Claxton allowed Curtis the extra time as CAS to provide Slemon with more experience.45 Ultimately, Frank Miller had to concede this coveted appointment to his old friend and competitor. And yet, the following year, Air Marshal Slemon provided Miller a great career opportunity. He arranged with General Foulkes to have Miller posted to SHAPE as General Lauris Norstad’s Vice-Deputy Air.46 The RCAF insisted that allocation of such a prestigious air staff position was appropriate, given Canada’s contribution of an air division of 12 fighter squadrons to NATO’s central area. Frank Miller did not become CAS, but he did become Canada’s highest ranking airmen in NATO.

On 14 June 1954, Defence Minister Claxton used the occasion of the visit to Ottawa of the American General Gruenther, Supreme Allied Commander Central Europe (SACEUR), to announce Miller’s new appointment. Although there was an embarrassing moment when Claxton erroneously announced that Miller was to be immediately promoted to air marshal (lieutenant-general), the occasion was an important one for the RCAF generally, and for Miller personally. In part, General Gruenther had come to Ottawa to convince Defence officials about the importance of collective defence in the West and the need for Canada to continue its support. SACEUR emphasized that air power had become the dominant factor in defence planning, and he thanked his Canadian hosts for the country’s increasing participation in this field. It was, therefore, most appropriate to have a highly recommended airman like Frank Miller join NATO’s senior staff.47

Avro Arrow

CFJIC Photo RE68-1795

An early Avro CF-100 Canuck interceptor in flight.

A year after his appointment was announced, Frank Miller was promoted to air marshal. He therefore joined Roy Slemon as the most senior airmen during a period that became the ‘Golden Years’ of the RCAF. In addition to the 12 Canadair F-86 Sabre-equipped fighter squadrons in Europe, the RCAF had nine regular force air defence squadrons at home equipped with the Canadian-made, all-weather Avro CF-100 Canuck.  By 1955, the RCAF was being allocated more of the defence budget than the RCN and the Canadian Army combined. That same year the RCAF’s strength of 51,000 personnel exceeded that of the Canadian Army. And, 1955 would also be a momentous one for Frank Miller personally. While attending a NATO meeting in Paris that year, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, accompanied by the Deputy Minister of National Defence, Bud Drury, paid Air Marshal Miller a visit. To the astonishment of Miller, the PM wanted him to return to Canada and to replace Drury as DM.48

Frank Miller the Senior Bureaucrat

So, how did it come about that the prime minister wanted an active serving airman to be DM of the Department of National Defence (DND)? Miller recalled years later that he sent a message to Drury asking him to reconsider. Miller stated that as far as he knew, the job was for a civilian, not a military man, because the DM represented the civilian employees of the Department. Drury, unhappy with being replaced, agreed with him. But Drury’s superiors made it clear that Miller was not being “…invited, but told to be his replacement.”49 Prior to taking the job six years earlier, Drury had come from a similar background as Miller. He was a graduate of the Royal Military College, and had risen to the rank of brigadier during the war. Therefore, there was no negative reaction by senior public servants to Miller’s appointment as DM. The ex-Brigadier Drury had already set the precedent, and he had been well-received in the Department. He relinquished the job to Miller reluctantly, and then only due to personal family reasons.50

As Deputy Minister, Frank Miller’s responsibilities changed dramatically in scope and kind.  Although primarily responsible for managing departmental civilians and for coordinating the Defence Department budget, his influence in the pre-integration and pre-unification Canadian military was pervasive. The power structure consisted of myriad senior committees,51  and Miller sat on all of them. He was a member of the Defence Council, the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the Defence Research Board. In the absence of the Minister of National Defence (MND), Miller sat in on meetings of the Cabinet Defence Committee, and, on occasion, in Cabinet itself. He rarely saw St. Laurent and Diefenbaker, but he had extensive contacts with his immediate bosses, Ralph Campney and George Pearkes. He also recalled getting along well with Charles Foulkes.52

General Charles Foulkes

CFJIC Photo ZK-954-A

General Charles Foulkes pictured with his senior commanders in Italy during the Second World War.

The evidence suggests that Miller faced two major challenges. One was his desire to better integrate the civilian and military chains of command. The other was the need to change the overall structure of the Defence Department. He made some headway toward solving the first problem.  Although civilian employees were guided by separate regulations, they became better integrated into the military operational chain. However, little progress was made in the matter of defence structure. Here, to some extent, Miller shared the frustrations of Foulkes. From their experiences in the COSC, they understood that until such time as the established right of the individual Service Chiefs to approach the Minister directly was removed, there would continue to be inefficiency in the management of the Department. Having spent five unsuccessful years trying to get the Service Chiefs to better coordinate and rationalize their program demands, Miller knew that change was necessary if the Department was to meet its assigned defence tasks.  However, internal changes were not the only solution. Not only did Miller face inter-Service animosity, he also had to deal with a parsimonious Treasury Board insensitive to the reality that a steadily decreasing defence budget was a larger concern than Departmental inefficiency.53

Although Miller recollected that he got along well with General Foulkes, the minutes of COSC meetings suggest that they did not always agree. It is interesting that their differences were not limited to the subjects of defence estimates and civilian personnel, traditional responsibilities of the DM. They also disagreed upon operational issues. Miller held strong views on a range of strategic policy matters. He made recommendations regarding the use and storage of nuclear weapons, promoted disarmament talks, and commented upon strategic military intelligence assessments. It is understandable, therefore, that Miller and Foulkes did not always share the same opinions on such a broad range of subjects. That said, Miller deferred to the Chairman’s authority at these meetings.54  Moreover, on a private basis, and in other committees, such as Defence Council, Miller and Foulkes “…had a very good relationship [and] worked closely with [each other].”55

Avro Arrow

CFJIC Photo PCN-215

The CF-105 Avro Arrow at the official roll-out, a technological marvel for its time.

Miller’s frustrations with the Service Chiefs notwithstanding, for the most part he had a good professional relationship with them. This included working with his old friend and rival, Roy Slemon. They cooperated well and were united in their defence of the ill-fated CF-105 Avro Arrow program, and the need for a joint Canada-US air defence command.56 Upon the establishment of NORAD in 1957, Slemon was appointed Command Deputy Commander-in-Chief (DCINC), yet another prestigious career assignment. More importantly, as far as the Diefenbaker government was concerned, Frank Miller’s close ties with the US defence establishment facilitated the successful signing of the Development and Defence Production Sharing Agreement with the Americans. To the Conservatives, NORAD meant integrated defence production as well as integrated continental air defence.57

Miller’s extensive contacts with the USAF also benefitted Canada’s major equipment acquisitions and systems upgrades, including CF- 104 Starfighters for nuclear strike and reconnaissance missions in Europe, as well as BOMARC surface-to-air missiles and CF-101 Voodoo interceptors for North American air defence. Miller also oversaw the funding and contracting of these high-cost weapons platforms. It was therefore not surprising that Miller often commented upon RCAF operational policy during meetings of the COSC. 58  This may not have pleased Hugh Campbell, then Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). However, the associated infrastructure, logistics, and personnel costs were certainly Miller’s concern as DM. Moreover, Miller more often than not supported the interests of the RCAF.59  Finally, as DM, he was in a better position than the CAS to appreciate the need to rationalize RCAF demands with those of the other fighting services.

Air Marshal Hugh Campbell

CFJIC Photo PL-110200

Air Marshal Hugh Campbell, Chief of the Air Staff, RCAF, circa 1957.

Frank Miller may not have wanted the job as Deputy Minister, but once so committed, he performed his duties as exceptionally as was the case throughout his previous uniformed service career. This is not to say that he could do the job alone. To assist him in the civilian side of the Department, he leaned heavily upon Elgin Armstrong. This yielded two positive results. First, Armstrong’s extensive background in civilian personnel and financial matters greatly assisted Miller in that important area of his work. Second, and more importantly for the future of the Defence Department, Miller prepared Armstrong as his replacement.60 Frank Miller was therefore able to combine a firm grasp of civilian matters in National Defence with what he already understood to be the real issues facing the military side of the house.

Back in Uniform – The RCAF’s Oldest Recruit

When it became public knowledge in early 1960 that Diefenbaker wanted Foulkes replaced, those knowledgeable about DND surprisingly suggested that Frank Miller was a serious candidate. The logical choice was one of the Service Chiefs. The Chief of Naval Services (CNS), Vice-Admiral Dewolf, appeared to have the inside track if the government decided to set precedent and rotate the chairmanship among the three Services. But Admiral Dewolf was considered to be too old at the time. Further, the RCN was also the smallest of the three Services from the point of view of manpower and expenditure. And reflecting the diminished importance of the Canadian army at this point in the Cold War, the CGS, Lieutenant-General Clark, was not viewed as a serious choice.  The government wanted neither a sailor nor a soldier as Foulkes’s replacement. Yet surprisingly, the ranking airman was felt to be equally unacceptable. At this time, Ottawa faced several critical defence policy issues associated with air power and nuclear weapons, but Hugh Campbell was not chosen for the highest uniformed billet.61 And in due course, the MND, George Pearkes, informed Frank Miller that he was being brought back into uniform as the next Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Thus, in April 1960, Frank Miller ‘dusted off’ his air marshal’s uniform and commenced his second career in the RCAF, this time as its oldest recruit. On 2 June, he chaired his first COSC meeting. And on 1 September1961, Frank Miller was promoted to Air Chief Marshal (general), the only active Canadian airman to hold that rank.62 When the Liberals returned to power in 1963, Miller worked with Defence Minister Paul Hellyer toward the integration and unification of the Canadian military. In August of the following year, Miller became Canada’s first Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). It is noteworthy that Hellyer retained Miller as CDS for another two years, even knowing that his senior military officer supported the military’s integration, but not unification.  Charles Foulkes tried to convince Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and Hellyer to permit him to return as CDS, due to his unequivocal support for the Defence Minister’s proposed structural changes to the nation’s armed forces. And yet, Hellyer remained committed to Miller, writing later that his CDS had “the right qualities.” 63

Frank Miller retired in 1966 and left the future of the Canadian Forces in the hands of his minister, Paul Hellyer, and Miller’s duly appointed successor. Under Miller’s direction, most of the hard work had been accomplished to prepare the armed forces for change. Loyal to the end, his retirement permitted Hellyer to choose a CDS completely committed to leading a unified Canadian military. Miller and his wife spent their retirement years in Charlottesville, Virginia, and he passed away on 20 October 1997. Sadly, much as was the case with his public life, few Canadians took note of his passing.

PM Pearson, MND Paul Hellyer, and Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller

Library and Archives Canada/Duncan Cameronl/PA-117109

Left to Right, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, Minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer, and Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller, June 1965.


In chronicling the career of Frank Miller, this article has attempted to accomplish two things. Hopefully, more is now broadly known about this remarkable man, whose 35 years of distinguished service provide an insight into the maturation of the RCAF through four distinct periods: the Depression, the Second World War, the immediate postwar period, and the Cold War. Miller became an accomplished airman and leader.  His operational tours and professional training in Britain and the United States prepared him for the challenges confronting Canada’s air force as it recovered from postwar retrenchment and expanded yet again during the Cold War. By the mid-1950s, Frank Miller’s brilliant career had not only been noticed by senior officers, but also by politicians and senior public servants. He was effectively ‘ordered’ by Prime Minister St. Laurent to become the Deputy Minister of National Defence. This unprecedented event was followed by another one five years later when George Pearkes brought Miller back into uniform as the armed forces’ most senior officer. 

This article’s second aim follows from the first. In describing Frank Miller’s career, questions as to why he rose to the highest military rank to lead a peacetime military have hopefully been addressed. His consistently outstanding performance and the experience he acquired as a senior officer and public servant placed him at the top of the available candidates for the job. Doubtlessly, his air force background and experience in working with Canada’s allies made him a preferable candidate to his navy and army peers. As an airman, he also benefitted from the reality that Cold War nuclear strategy relied heavily upon air power. More money was spent on the Royal Canadian Air Force than on the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy combined during this time frame. And yet the government of the day did not choose Miller the airman. Lauded for his work as DM, Miller’s civilian experience was as important in leading a peacetime military as was his military background. In short, Miller had a proven career record of excellence, dedication, and loyalty, both in and out of uniform.    

These were the “right qualities” to which Hellyer referred. They set Miller apart as a leader from other ranking officers. These personal and professional attributes also distinguished Miller from Roy Slemon and Charles Foulkes. Miller’s two contemporaries were themselves outstanding leaders, and they enjoyed highly successful military careers. And as it materialized, their professional accomplishments until now have overshadowed those of Frank Miller, due to extensive publication of their respective service careers, and, in the case of Foulkes, in the form of an extensive legacy written by the man himself. This article has attempted to somewhat level the scholarly playing field. Hopefully, it has provided the reader with a better understanding and appreciation of the remarkable public life of Frank Miller. By doing so, it has hopefully established him, not only as an outstanding leader of Canada’s Cold War armed forces, but as one of the best to ever serve.

Avro Arrow

Library and Archives Canada R112-190-2-E

Group Captain Frank Miller (centre) at a debriefing of 433 (Porcupine) Squadron aircrew after a raid on German flying bomb sites in France, 1944.

CMJ Logo

Major Ray Stouffer, CD, PhD, an air force logistics officer, is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada.


  1. “Airman Heads Chiefs,” in The Ottawa Citizen, dated 28 April 1960. Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH), Miller File. 
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sean M. Maloney, “General Charles Foulkes:  A Primer on How to be CDS,” in Warrior Chiefs:  Perspectives on Senior Canadian Military Leaders, Bernd Horn and Stephen Harris (eds.) (Toronto:  Dundurn Press, 2001), p. 219.
  5. Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Record Group 2, RCAF Record of Service 139 Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller, CBE, CD.  Record signed by Paul Hellyer, MND, August 1966.  Subsequent references quoted as “Miller Service Record.” 
  6. Sandy Babcock, “Air Marshal Roy Slemon:  The RCAF’s Original”, in Horn and Harris, p. 258.
  7. Career summary for Air Member for Personnel (AMP), 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  8. Interview with Air Chief Marshal (ret’d) Miller by Douglas Bland, 22 September 1992, DHH. Subsequent references will be quoted as “Bland Interview”. 
  9. Career summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  10. Bland Interview.
  11. Larry Milberry, Sixty Years:  The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-84 (Toronto:  CANAV Books, 1984), p. 47.  
  12. 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, 1986), p. 120.
  13. Career summary written for Air Member for Personnel, dated 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  14. Career summary written for Paul Hellyer, August, 1966, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Milberry, p. 53. During the Depression years, the RCAF would consume half their civil flying time conducting anti-smuggling patrols for the RCMP.  See Douglas, p. 117. 
  17. Babcock, in Horn and Harris, p. 264.
  18. Career summary written for Paul Hellyer, August, 1966, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  19. Bland Interview.
  20. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  21. Brereton Greenhous, Stephen J. Harris, William C. Johnston, and William G.P. Rawling, The Crucible of War 1939-1945:  The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume III (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), p. 13.
  22. Douglas, p. 145.
  23. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Greenhous et al., pp. 20-23.
  26. Unknown author, “The Canadian Overseas Air Force Policy”, undated DHH summary, File 83/698, p. 1.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Bland Interview.
  36. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  37. For reasons unknown, official records omit Miller’s posting to RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale. The exact date he arrived there is also not clear. This author has determined that Miller left No.6 Group HQ sometime in June or early July 1944 – well before the official record which has him leaving HQ for Topcliffe in September 1944. Greenhous et al., p. 915. See also Miller Service Record. DHH.
  38. Ibid. and see photo, p. 495.
  39. Historical Reports, RCAF Station Skipton-on-Swale, dated 17 July 1944, DHH.
  40. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Major Stouffer, “An Expression of Canadian Nationalism:  The History of No.1 Air Division and RCAF Cold War Air Power Choices,” unpublished PhD Thesis, January 2005, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario, Chapters 1 and 2.
  43. Undated note by Air Marshal Curtis. Miller Service Record. DHH.
  44. Summary written for AMP, 28 August 1946, Miller Service Record. DHH.
  45. Babcock, in Horn and Harris, p. 264.
  46. Letter from Air Marshal Slemon to General Norstad, 5 June 1954, Miller Service Record, DHH.
  47. Claxton message to General Norstad, 12 June 1954, Miller Service Record, DHH.
  48. Bland Interview.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Douglas L. Bland, Chiefs of Defence: Government and the Unified Command of the Canadian Armed Forces (Toronto: Brown Book Company Limited, 1995), pp. 154-158.
  52. Bland Interview.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Various Minutes to Meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH.
  55. Bland Interview.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Jon B. McLin, Canada’s Changing Defense Policy, 1957-1963: The Problems of A Middle Power in Alliance (Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1967), pp. 178-181.
  58. Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Paragraph 27, 4 December 1957, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH.
  59. As an example, see Minutes to the 608th Meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Paragraph 17, File 2002/17, Box 71, Joint Staff Fonds, DHH.
  60. Bland Interview.
  61. “Civilian may be successor to Foulkes,” in The Province, 23 January 1960.  Miller File, DHH.
  62. Lloyd Breadner was promoted to Air Chief Marshal upon retirement in 1945. 
  63. Paul Hellyer, Damn the Torpedoes: My Fight to Unify Canada’s Armed Forces (McClelland & Stewart, 1990), p. 85.

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