The Lion evolved: The story of 427 Squadron’s celebrated 75-year history

An old, black and white photograph showing four people riding a motorcycle with a sidecar, in front of a military plane.
427 Squadron Leading Aircraftman Frank Thompson of Hamilton, Ont., a dispatch rider with the RCAF Bomber Group, is pictured with three members of the ‘W-Debs’ RCAF Entertainment Unit during their visit to his station somewhere in Northern England during the Second World War. Photo: CANSOFCOM

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By Captain Pete Curtis, 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron

Late last year, 427 Squadron celebrated its 75th anniversary. With a distinguished history of aviation excellence, the squadron has evolved considerably since its inception, repeatedly adjusting to an ever-changing aviation environment for the better part of a century.

Created on November 7, 1942, in Yorkshire, England, 427 Squadron started out as one of 15 Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) bomber squadrons. Initially outfitted with the twin-engine Wellington bomber, the squadron soon upgraded to the four-engine Handley Page Halifax, relocating to Leeming in North Yorkshire, England, where it continued to stage operations for the remainder of the Second World War.

The 427 ‘Lions’ won the admiration of many during the war. One such admirer, American film giant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), adopted the squadron and allowed the names of such stars as Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and Joan Crawford to be displayed on squadron aircraft. Legend has it that MGM went so far as to provide all members with a lifetime pass to its theaters across North America. These accolades, along with the adoption of a lion cub presented by then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, propelled the squadron’s Lion nickname and made its aviators some of the most respected of the war.

By war’s end, 427 Squadron had completed some 3200 sorties and earned a distinguished list of battle honours and medals, including four Distinguished Service Orders, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, 16 Distinguished Flying Medals, and 147 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

If change was the only constant after the Second World War, the evolution of 427 Squadron was no exception. Having been disbanded after the war, the Lions stood-up again in 1952 in St-Hubert, Que., this time as a fighter squadron flying the F-86 Sabre before relocating across the Atlantic to Zweibrucken, Germany. The squadron experienced yet another transformation in 1962, when it was equipped with the CF-104 Starfighter, flying the supersonic interceptor until the squadron was again disbanded on July 1, 1970.

On January 1, 1971, the squadron reformed and returned to Canada, this time as a tactical aviation squadron in Petawawa, Ont. – its home to this day. Equipped with the Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, the CH-135 Twin Huey, and the CH-136 Kiowa, 427 Squadron deployed on several operations and UN missions around the world. By 1997, it was furnished with a uniform fleet of CH-146 Griffon aircraft to support a global demand for Canada’s tactical aviation capability.

Shortly after the creation of Joint Task Force 2, a special operations aviation capability was generated from within 427 Squadron as the RCAF’s dedicated aviation support to special operations. Later, in 2006, 427 Squadron was again reorganized to support the standup of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). In 2007, it was formally designated 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (SOAS).

Today, 427 SOAS endures as an integral component of CANSOFCOM. Its members are Special Forces through and through. And just as the story of 427 SOAS is far from over, the Lions will continue to evolve and grow with the RCAF and CANSOFCOM for many years to come.

Image gallery

  • An old, black and white photograph showing a military pilot standing in front of a fighter plane.
  • An old, black and white photograph showing a man painting the name Judy Garland onto the side of a plane.
  • Four soldiers descend onto a ship from a helicopter hovering above.
  • Four soldiers kneel on the ground as a helicopter lands nearby.
  • Three helicopters flying over an island.
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