United States Air Force Actvities at Frobisher Bay

Canadian External Relations - 1955


Volume #21 - 342.









Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs
to Chairman, Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources


Ottawa, June 13th, 1955


On March 15, 1955, the Department of External Affairs received from the Secretary of the Joint Planning Committee a copy of a memorandum,† dated March 10, 1955, from the U.S. Section of the Military Cooperation Committee to the Canadian Section, setting out a requirement for the establishment by the USAF of a VHF Forward Scatter Facility to provide a ground-to-ground communication link between Frobisher Bay and Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. The memorandum stated that establishment of such a circuit was necessary to provide a tie-in between the Greenland aircraft control and warning system and the Pinetree system. A copy of this memorandum is attached.

2. On June 9, the Department of External Affairs received a further memorandum† from the Secretary of the Joint Planning Committee attaching a copy of a memorandum† from the U.S. Section of MCC to the Canadian Section, (dated June 2) setting out a United States requirement for increasing the number of U.S. personnel at Frobisher from 150 to 350. The memorandum also indicates that the United States Air Force expects to propose the construction of additional buildings and other facilities, and because of the increase in United States investment in the base, will wish to have the tenure provision of the Frobisher Bay agreement revised. A copy of this memorandum is attached.

3. You will recall that in 1951 the United States was authorized to repair the wartime facilities at Frobisher Bay on condition that the repairs would not in any way affect the ownership of the land or existing buildings and that, in respect of any further construction, Canada would retain title to any immovable property. In 1951 the United States Air Force was also authorized to maintain a detachment of approximately 150 men at Frobisher Bay as a line of communication support base for northern bases and as a weather alternate and refuelling stop. This authorization was granted on the understanding that the station would remain under the command and control of the RCAF.

4. It should be appreciated that in addition to the 150 men at the station there are approximately the same number of USAF personnel at a Pinetree radar station which is nearby.

5. In 1952, as a consequence of a further request by the USAF for permission to improve facilities at Frobisher Bay, an agreement was prepared between the RCAF and the USAF designed to implement the External Affairs note of 1951 authorizing occupancy and use of the base by the USAF.73 The agreement provided that the commanding officer of the station would be an RCAF officer, whose responsibilities were (a) to insure that USAF use of the station was in keeping with activities authorized by the Canadian Government, (b) to supervise the functions of the Canadian detachment at the Base, (c) coordinate base defence arrangements, plans and deployment.

6. Under this RCAF-USAF agreement, Canadian personnel at the Base are responsible for the central tower, ground/air communications, air traffic control and the operation of a dependent forecast office and associated communications. The total number of Canadian personnel is in the neighbourhood of 24 of which about 16 are employees of the Department of Transport. Apart from the Commanding Officer, it is understood that all RCAF personnel at the Base are employed on air traffic control duties. All activities at the station other than those enumerated above are carried out by USAF personnel.

7. I am of the opinion that under the circumstances described above the position of the RCAF officer in attempting to act as commander of the base is anomalous to say the least, and that if the size of the U.S. contingent is increased to 350, his position as commander will become a fiction which will be impossible to maintain.

8. Assuming that the USAF requirement for additional personnel and for expansion of Frobisher are militarily justifiable and should be concurred in by the Canadian Government, I think it is essential that we devise some different method of taking care of Canadian interests there.

9. There would seem to be three possible courses of action, each of which has serious drawbacks as well as advantages:

(a) increase the size of the RCAF detachment so that the base becomes an RCAF station in fact as well as in name;

(b) have the field operated by the Department of Transport as a civil air field, and increase the number of Canadians on the station by taking over responsibility for some of the base services now provided by the USAF;

(c) turn the field over to the USAF, reserving the right to take it over again on reasonable notice, and providing that Canadian civil and military aircraft may use it as required.

10. I expect that this subject will come up at the July meeting of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence and I suggest therefore that it might be useful to have a preliminary discussion at the June meeting of the Advisory Committee on Northern Development. This could be followed by more detailed discussion between the departments directly concerned.

Jules Léger

73 Voir le volume 18, les documents 747-751.
See Volume 18, Documents 747-751.