Memories of a Lion CF-104 CO

I was the fourth 427 Lion CF104 CO from May 1966 to 1 September 1967. My family consisting of my wife and four children arrived at 3 Wing, Zweibrucken Germany in April 1966. We were met by Clem Tousignant and Ron Russell of 427 SQN and their wives. Clem was Acting CO at the time and Ron was his Deputy. Clem had been appointed on the departure of Jimmy Dunlop, the third 104 CO in September 1965. We were later fed by our sponsor, Bernie Hamel, an old friend from 4 FTS Penhold days, and then bedded down in the Gasthaus Weiss in downtown Zweibrucken. This inconvenience went on for five weeks until a PMQ was found next to Artie Maskell of 434 SQN. We subsequently moved to a senior officer PMQ in July. During this period, I took combat ready training with 430 SQN under the guidance of Mac McGregor who was a great mentor. When Mac thought I was ready, he passed me to John Hutt of Wing Standards for my check ride. I was then declared combat ready by Hal Knight, Wing COpsO and assumed command of the Lions.

As CO, I was directly responsible for 18 pilots, an adjutant, Al Hoare, and a Cpl clerk. My theoretical establishment of 18 CF104's was pooled with those of the other two squadrons of 3 Wing namely 430 and 434 squadrons. Our 54 CF104's were under the direct control of the Wing Chief Technical Services Officer, Hugh Kerr. Control of nuclear weapons was under the resident USAF Custodian. In effect, I was not CO of a traditional RCAF squadron which was typically made up of air crew, ground crew, aircraft and weapons establishments.

After assuming command of 427, I learned that my primary responsibility was to ensure that I provided two motivated combat ready pilots to man two CF104's for 24 hours, 365 days as part of the NATO deterrent Quick Reaction Alert Force (QRA). Our QRA commitment of two CF104's was a small part of a force of 100 NATO strike aircraft of 36 squadrons mostly USAF and based in the south of West Germany and in England. The QRA deterrent was on 15 minutes stand-by 24 hours and loaded out at all times with nuclear bombs. It was designed to pre-empt a sizable Soviet incursion into West Germany. The target strategy was to destroy Warsaw Pact air defences and to catch their strike forces on the ground as well as block their invading armoured columns. It is interesting to note that one of my QRA CF104's could drop the destructive power equivalent to a bomber raid of 1,000 WWII vintage bombers. The specific duties of my QRA pilots and their general squadron activities is contained in a excellent article authored by Eric Mould, formerly 427 SQN, which was published in the Legion Magazine of Jan/Feb 2009.

The squadron upon my arrival was made up of a mixture of pilots ranging from Ed Rozdeba and Norm Garrioch of Golden Hawks fame followed by Ron Russel, my Deputy, Ev McKay, John England, Eric Mould, Ron Potter, Dick Kaye - all experienced ex-Sabre pilots from the original 1 Air Division 12 squadrons and with AFS or OTU instructor experience on jets. Also there was Bernie Hamel, an ex-CF100 driver. The remainder was mostly pipeline graduates on their first tour namely Lloyd McDonald, Gerry Walker, Doug Annis, Jack Partington, Bill Best, Norm McSween and Charlie Carrington-Smith. Last but not least was Vern Peppard, an ex-CF100 pilot from North Bay, and myself, the most recent graduates from the OTU at Cold Lake.

In view of my comparatively limited experience in jet fighter operations, I decided to command in accordance with the following ranked principles:

  • Attend to the career and personal needs of my pilots including their families when appropriate.
  • Ensure my pilots were combat-ready for QRA duty and that they consistently met the requisite performance standards set by NATO authorities. This involved quality control measures through check rides in CF104D's, chase on cross country missions, bombing range checks and flight simulator training sessions. It also involved frequent liaison and coordination with the Chiefs of Wing Operations, Technical and Administrative services and with other squadron commanders. This was necessary to ensure the safety and security of my pilots and their families from adverse influences.
  • Ensure that I maintained personal flying proficiency to QRA standards. This duty was the most difficult for me to perform on a consistent basis unlike more experienced pilots. Albeit, I took part in inter-wing competitions and TAC EVAL's with varying results unlike other CO's who avoided this potential exposure to error.

In June 1966, Hal Knight assigned me the task of outside controller of the Wing dispersal area during an Alert. This involved the supervision of both the load up with nuclear bombs on the full fleet of Wing CF104's and the launch sequence at General Alert. Also, I was appointed PMC of the Mess. At that time, the Officers' Mess at 3 Wing was the best in the RCAF in terms of cuisine, entertainment and wine cellar. This enjoyable task lasted a year.

In July 1966, 427 and 434 Squadrons deployed to 4 Wing at Baden Soelingen, because our runway was to be resurfaced and our dispersal area refurbished. We commuted and shared working accommodations at 4 Wing with Bud Lawrence's welcoming 421 SQN. While at 4 Wing we maintained our QRA commitment and training routine. On September 2, we returned to 3 Wing. Fern Villeneuve and I arranged to have our respective squadrons gather over Phalsburg France after our pilots had flown a quality trip. This was the one and only time I had a chance to really lead 427 SQN and the Wing as a whole. Upon arrival back at Zweibrucken, we landed in four plane elements and were greeted by our new Wing CO, Ken Lewis. I also welcomed the arrival of two very experienced CF104 Squadron Leaders, Don McGowan from Decci and Len Fitzsimmons from the Staff of the OTU at Cold Lake. Both were to be my trusted deputies until I left 427 in Sep 1967.

We went through the remainder of 1966 without incident. In early 1967, 434 SQN was disbanded and 427 absorbed half of their pilots and increased our QRA commitment to three (3). The new additions fit in well with 427. At this time, US airlines were actively recruiting our pilots. Once discovered that they had signed up, I grounded them and gave their scarce and valuable flying time to those loyal to the RCAF. In June 1967, we had a squadron exchange wit the USAF 55th Tactical Fighter SQN based in Wethersfield, England. I found that the 55th maintained a QRA of 3 F4D's and that they were highly proficient and armed in the attack role unlike our poorly equipped, armed and trained CF104 squadrons in 1 Air Division. The air staff at Air Div HQ had apparently paid little heed to the attack role for the CF104 even though NATO strategy now called for flexible response.

In July 1967 my tenure as CO of 427 came to an end.

On 1 September 1967, I left the Lions and departed with my family to Ramstein 4th Allied Tactical Air Force HQ. There we were welcomed with open arms by the Canadians assigned to 4ATAF and by the USAF and GAF personnel who were also part of 4ATAF HQ.

I found my future tours most satisfying. These included at 4ATAF HQ as Assistant Chief of Offensive Operations and three years later at NDHQ as Chief of Combat Air Requirements followed by Chief of NATO Air Plans and Special Studies. At Ramstein, I gained a wealth of knowledge by being in close contact with highly experienced USAF and GAF tactical fighter pilots. As Chief of Combat Air Requirements, I was instrumental in equipping and arming the CF104 for the iron bomb attack role of 1 Canadian Air Group, Lahr, West Germany and for gaining approval of the operational equipment requirement to replace the CF104, CF101 and CF5 which resulted in the acquisition of the CF18. In this respect I was ably assisted by Jack Deacon, the top Voodoo pilot in the Service, Ernie Gardner and Bob Nicholson, both highly experienced CF104 pilots and Keith Inkster, an experienced CF5 pilot. Finally I was instrumental in saving 1 CAG from being subsumed by the army in 1974. This small force was the last vestige of the once proud RCAF 1 Air Division.

I left the Forces in 1978 and I was proud to have been a Lion CO of the finest pilots I have ever met and not have lost any during my watch.

Ferte Manus Certas

Pat Higgs (Wing Commander Ret'd)