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12 Wing Shearwater:
12 Wing Shearwater has the distinction of being the birthplace
of Canadian Naval Aviation. From 1948 until they were disbanded in
1975, Royal Canadian Naval Air Station HMCS Shearwater was the home base
of Canada's naval air squadrons.
Originally established at Baker Point by the United States Navy
in 1918 as United States Naval Air Station Halifax, it was shortly
afterwards the station was taken over by the Royal Canadian Navy and
re-named Royal Canadian Naval Air Station Dartmouth. However, Canada's
first experiment with a Naval Air Service would be short lived as it was
disbanded shortly after World War I ended.
The Station fell into virtual disuse by the military, becoming
simply a storage depot for surplus war equipment. Flying operations at
the Station were limited to aerial photography and fishery patrols
conducted by the Canadian Air Board.
The Royal Canadian Air Force was established in 1924 and by the 1930's
had grown to such a point that new Air Stations were needed. In 1934,
the Station re-opened as RCAF Station Dartmouth and became the home of
No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron, who conducted flying operations for the
RCMP and the military. A pigeon loft was also constructed at the
station, one of 8 such sites across Canada for the purpose of housing
and training homing pigeons for use by RCAF aircrews.
Defence Department cutbacks in the 1930's resulted in the
elimination of all pigeon lofts except the ones at RCAF Stations Jericho
Beach and Dartmouth.
The onset of World War II brought about a whole new phase in
the history of RCAF Station Dartmouth. The Royal Navy formed a Naval
Air Section at Dartmouth and as a result, a new airfield was
constructed. Several Air Force and Naval fighter, bomber and transport
squadrons were moved to the Station, such as No. 5 and No. 11 Bomber
No. 118 (Coastal Artillery Co-operation) Squadron transferred
from RCAF Station Saint John in April 1944, but later disbanded. 431
Bomber Squadron, RCAF, formed in England, re-located to RCAF Station
Dartmouth at the end of World War II disbanding there on 5 September
1945. The Squadron was re-activated on 1 April 1978 as 431 Air
Demonstration Squadron, more commonly known as the Snowbirds, Canada's
In 1946 the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, later re-named
the Naval Air Branch, was formed and in 1948, RCAF Station Dartmouth was
taken over by the Navy for use as a Naval Air Station. The Station was
re-named Royal Canadian Naval Air Station, HMCS Shearwater,
"...following the Royal Navy tradition of naming air stations after sea
birds," (12 Wing Shearwater web page) and became home to the Atlantic
Fleet's Aircraft Carriers and Naval Air Squadrons. The Shearwater
Station Squadron Fleet Requirement Unit, later re-named VU-32 Squadron,
was formed in May 1946 and VS-881 Naval Air Squadron in May 1947 as part
of the 18th Carrier Air Group. In October 1947 No. 103 Rescue Unit
relocated from Shearwater to RCAF Station Greenwood.
In 1951, HMCS Shearwater became the primary home to the Royal
Canadian Navy's new helicopter squadrons and training units. It was the
RCN in-fact who pioneered the concept of flying helicopters from
destroyer size ships, a concept that was adopted by other navies of the
world. No. 1 Helicopter Flight stood up in August 1951 and was tasked
with search and rescue, aerial photography, recovery of ships' practice
torpedoes and light transport duties.
On 5 November 1952, Experimental Squadron Ten (VX-10) was
formed to test and evaluate maritime aircraft and related equipment.
VF-870 Squadron and VF-871 Squadron were formed at Shearwater in January
& May 1951 respectively, as was VT-40 Air Training Squadron in May
1954. By 1956, Shearwater also became the home of HS-50 Anti-submarine
Helicopter Squadron, HU-21 Squadron and VS-880 Squadron, formerly from
RCAF Station Summerside. VT-40 Squadron merged with VU-32 Squadron in
In November 1955, VF 870 and VF 871 squadrons replaced their
Sea Fury aircraft with the F2H3 Banshee all-weather jet fighter, the
pride of naval aviation in Canada. However the Banshee would have a
short career in the service of the navy. In 1962, the Canadian
Government disposed of the Banshee aircraft and elected not to replace
them and thus, VF 870 squadron disbanded in September 1962 (VF 871
merged with VF 870 on 16 March 1959). RCN fighter squadrons had lasted
a mere 16 years.
As a result of the Unification in 1968, HMCS Shearwater was
re-named CFB Shearwater. The Naval Air Branch was eventually disbanded
and all flying duties became the responsibility of Air Force personnel.
Canada's last Aircraft Carrier, HMCS Bonaventure was de-commissioned in
1970 and as a result, the Navy's fixed-wing aircraft were now all
Also in 1970, VX-10 Squadron was disbanded and its personnel
were transferred to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at CFB
The disbandment of the RCN Air Arm led to a change of duties
for many of the former aircraft carrier squadrons. VS-880 Squadron,
with their fleet of Tracker aircraft, switched from an anti-submarine
warfare (ASW) role to surveillance duties in conjunction with the
federal Department of Fisheries, operating out of Shearwater and their
forward detachment at the Torbay Airport. 443 Anti-submarine Warfare
Helicopter Squadron re-activated at Shearwater on 25 October 1974.
CFB Shearwater officially reverted back to an Air Force
establishment in 1975, when control of the base was transferred to Air
Command, although it's primary function was still to provide helicopter
and aircraft support to the Navy. As the home of 420 (Fighter)
Squadron, the Fleet Diving Unit, the Maritime Command Sea Survival
School, 406 Squadron, 415 (Swordfish) Squadron, 413 Transport &
Rescue Squadron and the Atlantic fleet's Sea King helicopters, 423
Squadron, Shearwater was an extremely busy Maritime Air Base.
The Helicopter Operational Test & Evaluation Facility
(HOTEF) was established at Shearwater in 1980, charged with the
responsibility of researching and testing operational equipment for the
Sea King helicopters, as well and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and
other support equipment trials, marking the return of a dedicated naval
air testing facility for the first time since the disbandment of VX-10
Squadron in 1970.
In June 1992, VU-32 Squadron disbanded in a ceremony held at
Shearwater, ending 46 years of service to the Canadian Navy. 434
Composite Squadron, originally a bomber squadron, re-formed on 4 July
1992. The squadron was later re-designated a Combat Support Squadron.
The introduction of the Wing concept at Air Force
establishments resulted in the base being re-named 12 Wing Shearwater in
1993. However, more change in the wind due to the Federal Government's
planned reductions in Canada's Air Force. As a result, Shearwater was
downsized to a detachment of CFB Halifax in 1994, although it remained a
component of No. 1 Canadian Air Division, Headquartered in Winnipeg.
12 Air Movements Squadron and the Helicopter Operational and Testing
Evaluation Facility also remain at 12 Wing. When the Sea King
replacement, the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone, comes on line in 2008, it will
be HOTEF that will conduct the trials on the new helicopter.
443 Anti-submarine Warfare Helicopter Squadron re-located at
the Victoria International Airport in British Columbia in 1985 as a
detached squadron of 12 Wing. Shearwater's fighter-aircraft squadrons
434 and 420 Squadrons re-located to 14 Wing Greenwood.
12 Wing Shearwater is now solely a helicopter facility and
remains the centre of naval aviation in Canada as the principal home of
30 CH-124 Sea King helicopters Maritime helicopters flown by 406
Maritime Operational Training Squadron and 423 Maritime Helicopter
Squadron. The runways are now abandoned.
HMCS Acadia Sea Cadet Summer Training Centre re-located to 12 Wing Shearwater. from Cornwallis.
Approximately three-quarters of the base property was turned
over to the Canada Lands Corporation for disposal. The Air Force is
also retaining all but one of the hangars, the messes, barracks, supply,
transport, construction engineering buildings and the World War I era
"Y" hangar (on the opposite site of Highway 322 down to the shore),
currently used by the Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic).The Canadian Forces Housing Agency still maintains 300 PMQs (now called Residential Housing Units) for military members.
There are currently numerous construction projects ongoing at Shearwater
in support of the soon-to-be-acquired CH-147 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter, including the Maritime Helicopter Training
Center where 406 Squadron will be located, as well as a new 423 Squadron
hangar facility, a new 12 Air Maintenance Squadron facility with 6
repair bays, and a new Operational Support Facility where the Helicopter
Operational Test and Evaluation Facility (HOTEF) and various 12 Wing
headquarter functions will be located.
Source Material: DND press release from February 1994,
"Sentinel" Magazine from March 1967, pg **, June 1968, May 1970,
September 1971, May 1974, pgs 12 - 15, June 1974, pg. 9, and February
1992, pg. 21, the personal recollections of Petty Officer 2nd Class John
Slor (Ret'd), (1999), pamphlet printed by Studio High Techniques of
Toronto (1998), information provided by The National Aviation Museum,
Rockcliffe, Ontario (1999), 14 Wing Heritage web site -
, "Badges of the Canadian Navy" by LT (N) Graeme Arbuckle, the 12 Wing
Shearwater web page - http://www.shearwater.dnd.ca, information provided
by Ernest Cable Shearwater Aviation Museum Historian (2003), The
Manitoba Military Heritage Project -
http://www.unb.ca/nbmhp/02_NBMHPsites.htm & the Shearwater Aviation
Museum On-line - www.shearwateraviationmuseum.ns.ca.
Naval Radio Station Newport Corner:
Naval Radio Station Newport Corner was established in 1942 near
Newport Corner, Nova Scotia, as a transmitter station for Naval Radio
Station Albro Lake.
NRS Albro Lake and its sub-unit NRS Newport Corner was renamed HMC NRS
Albro Lake on July 1, 1956.
With the closure of CFS Albro Lake, Newport Corner became the
transmitter station for CFS Mill Cove, functioning much as before.
Defence cutbacks in the late 1990s saw both the NRS Newport
Corner transmitter and NRS Mill Cove receivers were automated. They are
currently operated remotely HMCS Trinity at CFB Halifax and function as
detachments to CFB Halifax. The Canadian Forces Housing Agency still maintains 17 PMQs (now called Residential Housing Units) for military members.
"Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume III: Atlantic " by
Author Paul Ozorak & information supplied by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (2011).