Fleet Fawn II – R.C.A.F. #264

Research by Clarence Simonsen (May 2021)

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Fleet Fawn RCAF 264

Click on the link above for the PDF.

Introduction

The full history of Fleet Aircraft Limited and their Canadian aircraft manufacture can be found on many websites and need not be repeated. The first Fleet Model 7B aircraft was taken on charge by the RCAF 1 April 1931, and nineteen more [Mk. Is] were delivered from Fort Erie, Ontario. They were given the name “Fleet Fawn” and these two-seater primary trainers not only impressed the RCAF, they greatly improved pilot flying standards in the pre-war 1930s.  

Thirty-one Model 7C trainers Mk. II were constructed and delivered to the RCAF between 5 March 1936 and 16 November 1938, fitted with a more powerful but quieter engine. They became the definitive trainer variant aircraft. Forty-three Fleet Fawn Model 7B [Mk. I] and 7C [Mk. II] trainers were on operational pilot training duties when war was declared on 10 September 1939. 

Fleet Fawn 7C [Mk. II], manufacturer construction number FAL-123 [Fleet Aircraft Ltd.] was completed in early July 1938 and officially taken on charge by the RCAF on 7 July. The aircraft was assigned RCAF serial number 264 and flown to No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron [Auxiliary] at Montreal [St. Hubert] Quebec, 16 July 1938.


Text version (with images) 

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Maclean’s Magazine – 15 May 1944

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The full history of Fleet Aircraft Limited and their Canadian aircraft manufacture can be found on many websites and need not be repeated. The first Fleet Model 7B aircraft was taken on charge by the RCAF 1 April 1931, and nineteen more [Mk. Is] were delivered from Fort Erie, Ontario. They were given the name “Fleet Fawn” and these two-seater primary trainers not only impressed the RCAF, they greatly improved pilot flying standards in the pre-war 1930s.  

Thirty-one Model 7C trainers Mk. II were constructed and delivered to the RCAF between 5 March 1936 and 16 November 1938, fitted with a more powerful but quieter engine. They became the definitive trainer variant aircraft. Forty-three Fleet Fawn Model 7B [Mk. I] and 7C [Mk. II] trainers were on operational pilot training duties when war was declared on 10 September 1939. 

Fleet Fawn 7C [Mk. II], manufacturer construction number FAL-123 [Fleet Aircraft Ltd.] was completed in early July 1938 and officially taken on charge by the RCAF on 7 July. The aircraft was assigned RCAF serial number 264 and flown to No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron [Auxiliary] at Montreal [St. Hubert] Quebec, 16 July 1938.

Early history of No. 15 [Fighter] Squadron – reformed No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron

No. 15 [Fighter] Squadron [Auxiliary] was formed at Montreal, Quebec, on 1 September 1934, however they would be flightless birds for the next twenty-one months. No flying, just ground school duties showing as ‘NIL’ in their Daily Diary. The Great Depression had caused a delay in the development of RCAF training, aircraft, and qualified pilots, coupled with the over-cautious approach taken by P.M. Mackenzie King and his political advisers, who believed Hitler and Germany were not a threat to world peace. 

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In May 1936, No. 15 Squadron received four Tiger Moth DH-60 trainer aircraft serial #64, #72, #81, and #110, allowing their first pilot training to begin that summer. 

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On 15 September 1937, No. 15 Squadron was renumbered No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron [Auxiliary] and flying training increased. At militia summer camp in Camp Borden, 2 June 1938, Tiger Moth serial #81 crashed at Ivy, Ontario, killing P/O P. F. Birks, resulting in four new Fleet Fawn trainers being assigned to No. 115 Squadron beginning 3 July 1938. 

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The first modern Fleet Fawn Mk. II two-seat trainer serial RCAF #262 arrived 3 July 1938, followed by Fawn #263 and #264 [Nanton, Alberta, Museum today] on 16 July. The fourth and last Fawn 7B Mk. I trainer RCAF #198 [below] arrived at St. Hubert airbase 30 August 1938.

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At times historians and Canadian aviation museums lose sight of the importance involving a few aircraft or their small part in forming WWII RCAF history, thus, too often it is just overlooked and forgotten. These four forgotten Fleet Fawn trainer aircraft provided vital pilot training for the auxiliary pilots in No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron for twelve months, August 1938 to August 1939. [In August 1939, the RCAF listed only 235 fully trained pilots, including 57 Flying Instructors] When war began, 10 September 1939, Auxiliary units represented one-third of RCAF total strength, and supplied two complete squadrons which sailed for England in 1940.

No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron was formed as a fighter unit at Trenton, Ontario, on 21 September 1937, training in obsolete WWI Siskin aircraft. 

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Canadian Department of National Defence (Royal Canadian Air Force photo) – From: Dempsey, Daniel V. A Tradition of Excellence: Canada’s Airshow Team Heritage. Victoria, BC: High Flight Enterprises, 2002.

The squadron moved to Calgary, Alberta, in August 1938, and continued Siskin training until February 1939, when the first British Mk. I Hurricanes began arriving at Sea Island in shipping crates. These first modern RCAF Hurricanes were uncrated, reassembled, test flown and then ferried over the Canadian Rocky Mountains to Calgary, Alberta. When war was declared, 10 September 1939, No. 1 Squadron was ordered to St. Hubert, Quebec, for Hurricane training and by 27 September the balance of the squadron had arrived, total strength five Officers and seventy-two airmen. 

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A new No. 1 Squadron “unofficial” badge [Motto – “Always Faithful”] appeared in Quebec with the squadron but the details are still unknown. I believe this art originated in Calgary, Alberta, after February, when the new Hurricanes fighters began arriving. [author scale replica from original photo in P/O Nesbitt collection] On 6 November 1939, No. 1 Squadron moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, for further Hurricane training. 

The auxiliary fighter pilots in No. 115 Squadron had their first look at a new British Modern Hurricane fighter, but they continued to train in their four Fleet Fawn aircraft. The flight training pilot names listed for one day, 1 November 1939, [below] demonstrates the importance of this Fleet Fawn training as nine of these Montreal pilot’s will later fly Hurricane fighters with No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron in the Battle of Britain. These same nine pilots would destroy [confirmed kills] thirteen German aircraft and claim another fourteen damaged during the Battle of Britain, thanks in part for their Fleet Fawn training obtained at St. Hubert, Quebec. 

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Daily Operations Record for No. 115 Squadron list twenty-four [Auxiliary] members of the squadron who flew one or more training flights in Fleet Fawn #264 from 1 November to 2 December 1939. The nine underlined flew in the Battle of Britain.

P/O Pitcher, P/O Brown, P/O Beardmore, P/O Hyde, P/O Hill, F/O Molson, P/O McCarthy, P/O Jones, F/O Mclean, P/O Nesbitt, F/Lt. Pollock, F/Sgt. Horsley, S/L Foss, P/O Russel, Cpl. Phillips, AC2 L’Abbe, P/O Hanbury, S/L Fullerton, A/C Stone, Lt. Smallere [RCE Army], Sgt. Carpenter, P/O Sprenger, Cpl. Fair, and F/O Corbett.  

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This free domain photo possibly came from the collection of P/O Nesbitt, showing the RCAF auxiliary pilot strapping his skies to the port side of a No. 115 Squadron Fleet Fawn trainer. The Fleet Aircraft Ltd insignia can be seen under the cockpit fuselage in the image.

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P/O Nesbitt flew all four of the Fleet Fawn trainers in 1938-39 [56:25 Hrs.] and trained in Fawn #264 twice on 2 November 1939, [10:25 to 11:40 hrs.] and [12:45 to 13:20 hrs.] The following day he flew #264 from 10:50 to 11:45 hrs. It is possible this snowy scene was taken in November 1939, as his name was no longer recorded in the Daily Operations from this date onwards. Three North American Harvard trainers arrived on 1 December 1939, serial #1341, #1342, and #1343, pilot P/O Nesbitt flew Harvard training flights totalling 48:35 Hrs. 

Eight Senior Officers, eleven Officer pilots, and 86 airmen of No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 27 May 1940. On 28 May 1940, all personnel were absorbed into No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron and the new unit sailed for England [11 June] as a complete mobile force prepared to go to air war in France. The total No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron personnel which arrived in England were twenty-seven Officers, including twenty-one pilots and 314 Airmen. Almost half of this new composite RCAF squadron personnel came from Montreal, Quebec, 43 per cent from No. 115 Squadron [Auxiliary] St. Hubert, Quebec, September 1937 to May 1940.

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This RCAF group photo of No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron was taken on the Steamship “Duchess of Atholl” ship E.37 in Halifax harbour around 21:00 hrs., 10 June 1940. Departed Halifax 10:00 hrs 11 June 1940. Forty-five ranks are in the photo, including 27 officers, 21 are pilots. Eleven of these pilots are from No. 115 Squadron and have no flying experience in Hawker Hurricane fighters. They will be treated as new pilots and receive Hurricane fighter training in England. This reveals the importance of their many hours of training in four Fleet Fawn trainers at St. Hubert, Quebec. 

The following chart records the flying training hours completed by twenty of these No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron pilots when they arrived in the United Kingdom on 20 June 1940. The average age of No. 1 Squadron pilots was twenty-five years. 

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Twenty-seven Canadian pilots [one American F/O Brown] in No. 1 Squadron will fly Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, original copy of No. 1 Squadron [Renumbered No. 401 Squadron 1 March 1941] list follows. 

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No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron photo taken 5 July 1940, arrival at Croydon, England.

Top row left to right – F/O R. Smither #C1594, F/O Thomas B. Little #C1117, P/O Arthur M. Yuile #C1328, F/O Eric W. Beardmore #C820, P/O Dal B. Russel #C1319, F/O C.E. Briese #C1591, 

Middle row L to R – F/O B.E. Christmas #C925, Capt. Donald Rankin, Medical Officer, P/O O. J. Peterson #C900, F/Lt. Gordon R. McGregor #C936, F/O Deane A. Nesbitt #C1322, F/O S. T. Blaiklock #C1817, Intelligence Officer, F/O Hartland de M. Molson #C1226, P/O E. M. Reyno #C806, P/O J.B.J. Desloges #C788, S/L E.A. McNab #C134, F/O P.B. Pitcher #C615.

Front row L to R – F/O George G. Hyde #C948, F/O William P Sprenger #C895 [with dog mascot] and F/O J. W. Kerwin #C922. 

Missing from the photo are F/O V.B. Corbett #C299 and F/O R.L. Edwards #C903. 

On arrival at Liverpool, 15:30 hrs, 20 June 1940, these Canadian pilots were assigned to No. 11 Group Middle Wallop, Hants. and seventeen were given RAF procedure and elementary attack courses between 5 and 12 June 1940. RAF Command wanted to see how well trained these new Canadian pilots were compared to British trained pilots and the test results obtained were above average. 

In the total of seventeen Canadian pilots tested, eight were original members on No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron and were all fully qualified to fly the British Hawker Hurricane Mk. I fighters. The remaining eight pilots [marked in yellow highlight] were all auxiliary trained pilots from No. 115 Squadron at St. Hubert, Quebec, and were only qualified in Fleet Fawn trainer aircraft and American Harvard trainers. F/L Corbett had only trained 5:50 Hrs. in the Hurricane Mk. I fighter. 

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Course No. 18 contained eight [yellow highlight] ex-members of No. 115 [Auxiliary] Squadron from St. Hubert, Quebec, trained mostly in the Fleet Fawn trainer [sixteen months] and the American Harvard [five months flying time]. P/O A.M. Yuile had no Hurricane training. These Canadian course pilots scored almost the same test results as the Canadians in course No. 17, seven of whom were fully qualified to fly the modern Hawker Hurricane fighter. The four two-seater primary Fleet Fawn trainers had proved their full value in properly training the auxiliary pilots in No. 115 Squadron and now these pilots moved on converting to the Hurricane fighters assigned to No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron in England. 

No. 1 Squadron moved to RAF Croydon, Surrey 6 July to 16 August 1940, then to Northolt, Middlesex, 17 August to 10 October 1940. After the Battle of Britain, the Canadians moved to Castletown Caithness, Scotland, to regroup, a base described as a cold, wet, ‘pigsty.”

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No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron moved to No. 12 Group, Driffield, Yorkshire, from 11 February until 28 February 1941. On 1 March 1941, they were renumbered No. 401 [Fighter] Squadron based at Digby, Lincolnshire, No. 12 Group, Canadian Digby Wing.

Due to the large number of Dominion Squadrons formed in the United Kingdom under R.A.F. control, a large number of low numbered squadrons had caused confusion. No. 1 [Fighter] Squadron RAF and No. 1 [RCAF] [Fighter] Squadron were both stationed at the same base causing many air control problems. The British Air Ministry assigned the number block 400-445 to the RCAF and No. 1 became No. 401 [fighter] Squadron on 1 March 1941, with a new official badge and motto.

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The unofficial No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron badge with Motto – Semper Fidelis [Always Faithful] had been painted and used by members, however it is still unknown if this art ever appeared on Hurricane fighter aircraft. 

The new No. 401 Badge featured the head of a Rocky Mountain sheep with Motto – Mors Celerrima Hostibus [Very Swift Death for the Enemy].

Today it is hard to believe the RCAF entered the Second World War with only sixty-three qualified flying instructors, who did not even warrant a separate organization in the Air Force. In April 1939, the RCAF began preparation for the formation of their first instructional flight at Camp Borden, Ontario, and Fleet Fawn trainers were now transferred to the new F.I.S. In July 1939, this first instructional flight was elevated to status of a school under command of F/Lt. G.P. Dunlop. In September, with war declared, the flying Instructor school expanded month by month and more and more aircraft were required for pilot training.

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Fleet Fawn #264 was transferred to RCAF Camp Borden, Flying Instructors School, arriving 2 December 1939, pilot Macallister. With the demand for more qualified instructors, and to meet future requirements, the F.I.S. relocated to RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario, on 18 January 1940, and Fleet Fawn #264 found a new home. Twenty-nine Fleet Fawn aircraft flew at Flying Instructor Schools, training thousands of pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and #264 flew until 3 March 1942. A new Sgt. pilot H. McFarlane was taxiing #264 at Trenton when he ran into the rear of a fuel truck and sustained Category “C” damage to the trainer. The 1938 constructed Fawn was no longer a top priority trainer aircraft and repairs were not completed until 2 December 1942. The Fawn was now reissued to No. 1 Training Command as an Instructional Airframe with serial “A198.” On 4 August 1943, the airframe record entry shows “Free Issue” to West P.S. Centre 4, that location is still unknown. [info. required]

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By 1943, the Fleet Fawn primary trainer aircraft were no longer useful and thirty-two were kept around as squadron instructional airframes, until they were flown to Surplus Equipment Holding units. Fawn #264 was sent to No. 3 S.E.H.U. at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, on 24 September 1945. It was turned over to War Assets on 19 September 1947, sold to Ernie Oakman, Stewart Valley, Saskatchewan, and donated to Nanton Museum in 1990. In the following years the volunteers at Nanton, Alberta, [today the Bomber Command Museum of Canada] restored Fawn 264 back to almost flying condition, however it will never take to the skies again, it is too valuable. In 1998, the complete aircraft was reskinned and a rebuilt Kinner engine was installed in 2007. 

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During the restoration years of the Fleet Fawn, the author was a card carrying member of the Nanton Museum and followed the rebuild progress. After the reskinning of this trainer aircraft, the original skin was in very poor condition and only selected sections such as the RCAF roundels and fuselage original skin were saved. It was discovered the inside Fawn skin taken from the twin cockpit area contained many signatures, RCAF service numbers and date each WWII aircrew member had trained in Fawn #264. It was suggested this would make a perfect display and research project, however being a Bomber Command Museum, it fell on deaf ears. At this date, [2021] I have no idea if the Fawn original skin with signatures will ever be displayed or even still survives. The original skins thrown in the garbage were saved by the author [Special thanks to past curator Bob Evans] and over the past twenty plus years many have been restored and used to preserve WWII RCAF replica nose art paintings. 

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This is the original starboard side of Fleet Fawn #264 tail RCAF tri-color markings painted in 1938. This was recovered from the garbage in Nanton, Alberta, [1998] in three sections, missing a five-inch strip from the centre section. Restored by the author, it contains 80% of the original fabric and paint from Fawn #264, plus the original RCAF Instruction Airframe serial #A198, applied in December 1942. This was painted to preserve and honor the pilots and aircrew from No. 115 [Auxiliary] Squadron, St. Hubert, Quebec, [Montreal] who trained in this forgotten Fleet Fawn during 1938 and 1939.

No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron Canadians in Battle of Britain

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  1. F/O E.W. B. Beardmore [Montreal, Quebec] trained 164:20 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, damaged one Bf 109 5 October 1940, wounded 18 September 1940.
  2. F/O C.E. Briese [Rosetown, Saskatchewan] trained 55:15 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, no kills.
  3. F/O E. de P, Brown [Coronado, California] trained 56:20 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, damaged one Bf 109 30 September 1940 and destroyed one Do 215 on 27 September 1940.
  4. P/O J.A. Chevrier [St. Lambert, Quebec] no kills. Killed Mont Joli, Quebec, 6 July 1942.
  5. F/O B.E. Christmas [St. Hilaire, Quebec] trained 49:55 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, destroyed Bf 109, 31 August 1940, damaged Do 215, 1 September 1940, damaged He 111, 11 September 1940 and destroyed Bf 109, 5 October 1940.
  6. F/Lt. V.B. Corbett [Westmount, Quebec] trained 239:15 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, damaged one Do 17, 26 August 1940. Killed 20 February 1945.
  7. F/O J.P.J, Desloges [Ottawa, Ontario] trained 60:05 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, no kills, burned 31 August 1940, killed 8 May 1944.
  8. F/O R.L. Edwards [Cobourg, Ontario] trained 50:45 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, destroyed one Do 17 26 August 1940, killed same date.
  9. F/O F.W. Hillock [Toronto, Ontario] no kills.
  10. F/O G.G. Hyde [Westmount, Quebec] trained 191:15 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, no kills, wounded 31 August 1940, killed 17 May 1941.
  11. F/O J.W. Kerwin [Toronto, Ontario] trained 45:55 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215 destroyed 31 August 1940, one Bf 109 destroyed 1 September 1940 and one Do215 damaged 1 September 1940. Killed 16 July 1942.
  12. F/O T.B. Little [Montreal, Quebec] trained 44:15 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, damaged 26 August 1940, one Bf 109, destroyed 31 August 1940, one Do 215, damaged 1 September 1940. Killed 27 August 1941.
  13. F/O P.W. Lochnan [Ottawa, Ontario] two Bf 109s damaged 9 September 1940, one Do 215, damaged 14 September 1940, shared kill of He 111, 15 September 1940, shared half kill of Bf 110, 27 September 1940, one Bf109, damaged 5 October 1940, and one Bf 109, destroyed 7 October 1940.  Killed 21 May 1941.
  14. F/Lt. G.R. McGregor [Montreal, Quebec] trained 109:15 Hrs, in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, destroyed 26 August 1940, one Do 215, probably destroyed, one Do 215, damaged 1 September 1940. One Me 110 damaged 4 September 1940, one He 111, destroyed 11 September 1940, one He 111 probably destroyed 15 September 1940, one Ju 88 probably destroyed and one Bf 109 damaged 27 September 1940, one Bf 109, destroyed 30 September 1940, and one Bf 109, destroyed 5 October 1940. Died 1971.
  15. S/L E.A. McNab [Rosthern, Saskatchewan] one Do 215, destroyed 15 August 1940, one Do 215, destroyed 26 August 1940, one Bf 109, probably destroyed 7 September 1940, one Bf 109, damaged 9 September 1940, one He 111 shared kill and one Bf 110 damaged 11 September 1940. One He 111 destroyed and one He 111 damaged 15 September 1940, one Bf 110, destroyed and one Ju 88, destroyed 27 September 1940. 
  16. F/O W.B M. Millar [Penticton, B.C.] no kills, wounded 9 September 1940.
  17. F/O H. de M. Molson [Montreal, Quebec] trained 50:55 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, damaged 26 August 1940, two Bf 110 damaged 4 September 1940, one He 111, destroyed 11 September 1940.
  18. F/O A.D. Nesbitt [Westmount, Quebec] trained 56:25 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, damaged 26 August 1940, one Bf 110 destroyed 4 September 1940, one Bf 109 destroyed 15 September 1940. Wounded 15 September 1940. Won DFC.
  19. F/O R.W. Norris [Saskatoon, Saskatchewan] one Bf109 probably destroyed 15 September 1940, one Bf 110, damaged 27 September 1940.
  20. F/O O.J.Peterson [Halifax, Nova Scotia] trained 56:55 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, damaged 1 September 1940, one Bf 110m damaged 4 September 1940, one Bf 109, destroyed 9 September 1940, one Bf 109, probable destroyed and one Bf 109 damaged on 18 September 1940, half kill shared Do 215, 25 September 1940. Killed 29 September 1940.
  21. F/O J.D. Pattison [Toronto, Ontario] no kills, won DFC.
  22. P/O P. B. Pitcher [Montreal, Quebec] trained 89:05 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one He 111, damaged 15 September 1940, one Do 215, damaged 27 September 1940, and one Bf 109 destroyed and one Bf 110, damaged 5 October 1940.
  23. F/L E. M. Reyno [Halifax, Nova Scotia] trained 38:00 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, shared kill on 1 September 1940.
  24. F/O B.D. Russel [Toronto, Ontario] trained 45:35 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Do 215, damaged 31 August 1940, one Bf 110, probably destroyed and one Ju 88 damaged on 4 September 1940. One He 111, probably destroyed on 15 September 1940, shared kill Do 215, 25 September 1940, one Bf 109, destroyed one Bf 110 destroyed and one Do 215, damaged on 27 September 1940.
  25. F/O R. Smither [London, Ontario] trained 58:55 hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one Bf 109 damaged 31 August 1940, one Bf 110, destroyed and one Bf 110, damaged on 4 September 1940. Killed 15 September 1940.
  26. F/O W.P. Sprenger [Montreal, Quebec] trained 71:05 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, no kills. Shot down 31 August 1940, killed 26 November 1940.
  27. F/O C.W. Trevena [Regina, Saskatchewan] no kills, discharged medical grounds October 1943. 
  28. F/O A. Yuile [Montreal, Quebec] trained 43:55 Hrs. in Fleet Fawn, one He 111, destroyed 11 September 1940, one Do 215, damaged 27 September 1940.

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Four members of No. 115 [Auxiliary] Squadron flew during the Battle of Britain, flying Hawker Hurricane fighters with No. 1 [RCAF] Fighter Squadron. These four pilots were killed in action in United Kingdom, and two trained in Fleet Fawn #264 at St. Hubert, Quebec, 1938-39.

F/Lt. V. B. Corbett, Westmount, Quebec, killed 20 February 1945.

F/O W. P. Sprenger, Montreal, Quebec, killed 26 November 1940.

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