1 Air Division

The Story of Leapfrog IV

By Squadron Leader GB Waterman


At four o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, September 4th, 1953 the screaming of Sabre engines over Canada's new Fighter Wing base at Baden-Soellingen, Germany, heralded the fact that this country had fulfilled another part of her pledge to NATO. Farmers all over the quiet countryside shaded their eyes to see the last three of the twelve fighter squadrons, promised by Canada for European defence, arrive to take up their operational role. And, as the sleek fighters rolled to a halt on the new concrete runway, the fourth and last "Leap-Frog" operation reached its conclusion in the record time of 8 days, 4 hours, and 40 minutes.

The Planning

The intent of Operation Leap-Frog Four was, in the words of Air Defence Command Operation Order 27/53, "to relocate 414 (F) Squadron, Bagotville, 422 (F) Squadron, Uplands, and 444 (F) Squadron, St. Hubert, at Baden-Soellingen, Germany, as No. 4 Fighter Wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force First Division".

Like the three similar operations which preceded it, the move required the flight of the rapid but comparatively short-ranged jet fighters from different bases in this country to a new location in Europe. Because the range limitations of the Sabres meant that they could not fly the ocean direct, but must hop from island to island along the route, "Leap-Frog" was a logical title for the operation. The fact that ground crew support parties were required to keep one jump ahead of the aircraft at all times lent additional significance to the name chosen (although the pilots who took part in the fourth operation unofficially renamed it "Leap-Creek").

Obviously, an operation of the importance and magnitude of "Leap-Frog" required a good leader. The man picked to plan and carry out the operation was Wing Commander DG Malloy, DFC, Soellingen's Wing Commander Operations, who had been in Germany since April making the newly-built airfield ready for the three squadrons. As an ex-fighter pilot with an intimate knowledge of fighter operations, a jet pilot who can fly the Sabre as well as "the young fellows", and a former commanding officer of a station which trained four F-86 squadrons for overseas duty, W/C Malloy was a logical choice for Task Force Commander, "Leap-Frog Four". I was very happy to be appointed as his technical adviser for the planning of the operations, and also Chief Technical Officer of the actual flight. Like W/C Malloy, I had seen three squadrons leave Uplands, and my experience with the first three "Leap-Frogs" made the opportunity of actively participating in the last one all the more appealing. My first connection with the operation came on Tuesday, July 19th, when my leave was rudely shattered by a telephone request from ADCHQ that I return to St. Hubert immediately for inoculation and in order to be briefed for a familiarization tour over the "Leap-Frog" route. After the normal amount of confusion and a little blind panic, two days and two needles later found me, along with several section commanders from Nos 444 and 414 Squadrons, making my first overseas jaunt since the end of the Second World War. Air Transport Command's OTU was running a training trip to Europe for several new air crew, and had agreed to carry us in lieu of normal freight so that we could visit the airports where the Sabres would have to land. Incidentally, one of the trainees on that flight, Flying Officer DF Clifton, later served as a North Star Captain on "Leap-Frog Four".

Because of the rapid pace set for us by the OTU schedule during the next seven days, my recollections of this trip are somewhat confused. I do remember that the customs officer in the UK was surprised to hear that we carried 17 crew members for the benefit of six passengers; and also that, for my first trans-oceanic flight, the presence of several pilots and a half dozen navigators was extremely reassuring. I remember, too, that I mentally composed a memorandum to the Staff Officer Accounts and Finance at ADC, pointing out five excellent reasons why the temporary duty rates for London should be increased considerably. I recollect that the snow-clad mountains of Greenland were, to understate the matter, awe-inspiring; and that at midnight, in Iceland, I could not sleep because it was still light outside my window. Finally, I remember that at North Luffenham, Kefiavik, Narsarssuak (Greenland), and Goose Bay, I talked to various people who knew something of the technical and logistics problems which "Leap-Frog Four" could expect to encounter.

Back at St. Hubert again, I found Wing Commander Malloy ensconced in the office of Squadron Leader RC Bayliss, Chief Navigation Officer at ADCHQ and Navigation Officer for the operation. There, during the next month, the Task Force Commander worried about such things as search and rescue; Squadron Leader, about the cruise control flight logs; and I, about the number of serviceable starter energizer at Bluie West One (Narsarssuak). Through the office at various times passed other members of the "Leap-Frog" team - Flight Lieutenant RH Anderson, the telecommunications officer; George Pincock, the meteorological officer; and W/C JF Allan, the officer commanding No. 414 Squadron and wing leader for the flight.

One thing that surprised me was the large number of agencies which were vitally concerned with the success of each "Leap-Frog" operation, not only in Canada, but in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The actual supervision of the "Leap-Frog" route is the responsibility of the USAF Military Air Transport Service, which co-ordinates all American, British, and Canadian jet moves across the Atlantic itself. The RAF has established liaison staffs at the various bases between Canada and Scotland, and they give a great deal of support to the RCAF In Canada, not only ADC and AFHQ, but also AMC, ATC, TC, and Maritime Command co-operate to supply logistical, operational, and rescue facilities to "Leap-Frog" operations. Without the whole-hearted support of the air forces of three countries, Operation "Leap-Frog Four" could not have been successfully carried out.

As the commencement date (27 August) for the operation approached, all three squadrons were busy finishing their flying programs, preparing their aircraft for the long flight, and sending their men on embarkation leave. Two weeks before kick-offtime, the squadron commanders, flight leaders, and engineering officers, visited St. Hubert for briefings on the operational and technical aspects of the exercise. During the last week, the TFC visited the various squadrons on their home fields to speak to all personnel about the country to which they were going, reminding them that they would be acting as ambassadors for Canada throughout their overseas tours.

By Monday, August 24th, departure preparations were completed, and Nos. 414 and 444 Squadrons flew to Uplands to join with No. 422 in a departure ceremony at which the CAS, wished the wing "Godspeed". Two days later, W/C Malloy and his staff flew to Goose Bay, to await the arrival of the three squadrons at the marshalling-point.

The Operation: The First day

August 27th dawned clear and warm at RCAF Station Goose Bay, and preparations for the arrival of the three squadrons were early afoot. A weather check revealed that flying conditions would be satisfactory, but, because of strong head winds, the St. Hubert and Uplands squadrons would have to refuel at Bagotville en route.

At 10:28 am, exactly on schedule, W/C Allan led the first section of No. 414 Squadron into the Goose Bay circuit. As he taxied up to the parking strip, his confident "thumbs up" indicated that at last the operation was really under way. Then, at five-minute intervals, the remaining four sections of the Bagotville squadron joined the circuit, so that by eleven o'clock all nineteen Sabres had landed and were ready for refueling. To many pilots, the most arduous part of their first "Leap-Frog" leg had been burning off their excess JP4 fuel after landing, so that all fuel tanks could be crammed to capacity with heavier, longer-range JP1.

Because poor visibility at St. Hubert had delayed No. 444 Squadron's departure, No. 422, under S/L WJ Buzza, was the next to arrive. An hour after the last of these 21 aircraft were on the ground, S/L J MacKay, DFC, led the first section of No. 444 Squadron over the aerodrome. By 4:30 pm, the 63 Sabres which made up the Wing were safely on the ground, and preparations for the first over-water leg were rapidly going forward.

Most of the ground crew of No. 4 Fighter Wing had already left for Germany, but 24 men from each of the squadrons had been assigned the task of leap-frogging across the Atlantic with the Wing. The 414 Squadron support party, under WO2 FS Chorney, was the first to arrive on the afternoon on the 27th. These men were to take off at midnight for Greenland, there to await the arrival of the Sabres, but none the less they spent the whole afternoon helping to park aircraft and repair minor snags.

Landing shortly after their Sabres, the tradesmen of No. 422 Squadron stopped only to eat before proceeding to work under the direction of their engineering officer, F/O JB Fortin. Because they had landed at Bagotville to help refuel their own and No. 422 Squadron's aircraft, F/O JH Kerr and the technicians of No. 444 were the last to arrive. An hour later, they too were on the line.

Darkness found us still refueling and inspecting aircraft; but, since weather prospects for the following day were not favorable, it was decided that we would not attempt to finish that night. Most of the airmen were released from duty, except for several crews from No. 444 Squadron, who worked until the small hours of the next morning refueling the last few aircraft and rectifying snags on two aircraft which had been pulled into the hangar. On this first day of the exercise, I was tremendously impressed by the eagerness of all the technicians. Right from the start it was evident that a real team spirit had arisen to replace the friendly rivalry which had existed between the squadrons while training in Canada. This was extremely gratifying, because W/C Malloy had indicated that one of my main responsibilities was to see that such a team spirit existed. I had no need to preach this theme throughout the operation.

The Second Day

Bagotville's ground support party having departed for Narsarssuak at 7:30 a.m., the ground crews from the other two squadrons carried out the daily inspection on the 63 aircraft. By nine-thirty all were serviceable and ready for take-off, but, because of extremely strong head-winds between Goose Bay and Greenland, the TFC decided that there could be no departure that day.

During the early evening, Goose Bay stopped trying to imitate a summer resort and produced the sort of weather which I had been dreading - a steady, penetrating rain which was to last for almost 24 hours. The rain was as wet as any I've seen, and, fearing that the Sabres, with their complicated electrical mechanisms, might not enjoy the storm, I did a last tour of the line at 10:30 p.m. Have you ever heard the song of a lonely fog-horn sounding from some distant, invisible rock? I heard the same song that night from a Sabre whose emergency hydraulic pump had been brought to life by a short-circuited microswitch. I was very damp and dismal when I retired to bed, after ensuring that enough circuit breakers had been pulled along the line to keep all aircraft quiet for the remainder of the night.

Third Day

For a little while in the morning the rain stopped, and immediately electricians and communications technicians swarmed over the Sabres to check for possible rain damage. Weather necessitated another cease-fire by nine o'clock, but by late afternoon the clouds had retreated far enough for aircraft covers to bc removed and serviceability inspections to be started in earnest. From an unserviceability standpoint, this proved to be our worst day. Six of the jets had to be towed into the hangar for repair work, and No. 422 Squadron's airmen were the unlucky ones who worked far into the night.

During the evening, I felt that an hour off was indicated, and after shaving and changing into formal attire (ie a clean shirt), I entered into a "Monte Carlo Night" at the officers' mess. I soon realized that it must have been especially laid on for the benefit of suckers like myself. I lasted ten minutes each at roulette, crown and anchor, and vingt-et-un, before retiring hurriedly to the hangar. If Goose Bay owns a new piano the next time I visit there, I shall ask to have a "donated by" plaque suitably engraved and mounted on its front. Anyway, I did not leave the hangar again until early the next morning when all aircraft were serviceable.

The Fourth Day

Weather was doubtful in the morning, but preparations for an afternoon take-off were pushed forward. To save precious fuel, thc Bagotville squadron was towed to the starting-button. Seven hundred nautical miles can be a long and lonely journey with only the ocean below and headwinds eating up the fuel reserves. By twelve o'clock, weather and winds were "good enough", the weather ships and rescue aircraft were assuming positions on track, and the TFC said "Go".

Between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, sixty Sabres and a North Star took off for Bluie and vanished rapidly into the overcast. Because of last-minute minor troubles, two jets were unable to take off on schedule, which meant work for F/L EA Glover, DFC, the Wing's "clean-up man". Quick action by the ground crew repaired the snags, but the three Sabres were unable to take off, as Narsarssuak is closed to aircraft at dusk.

By early evening, word was received from W/C Allan that all 60 aircraft had arrived in Greenland, and that serviceability was so good that a morning take-off for Iceland was planned. At Bluie the only accident of the whole operation occurred when one Sabre found the strange American runway too short, and was damaged extensively after running off the end of the concrete.

The Fifth Day

opes for bringing the whole wing together again were dashed early this morning when it became apparent that Goose Bay had temporarily run out of good Sabre weather. As F/L Glover would not be able to take off for at least 24 hours, the TFC decided to leap-frog to Kefiavik and to re-form the wing there. We were off before noon in our trusty North Star.

As we flew eastward, word was received via radio from Greenland that the wing leader, with 59 Sabres, was pressing on for Kefiavik. We landed at Bluie West to examine the crashed Sabre and start salvage proceedings, and to make arrangements for the servicing of the three aircraft which were still at Goose Bay. Five men were left behind at Bluie to look after the laggards, with instructions to proceed thence directly to Lossiemouth, Scotland, to meet the wing there.

<>Perhaps I should include a short word here on the Narsarssuak aerodrome. It is obvious that the necessity of a Greenland field must have been very great to make such a forbidding location acceptable. Situated at the top of one of Greenland's many fjords, at the foot of towering snow-capped mountains, it can be approached by one route only, up the fjord itself. Twice this summer I made the one-way approach into Bluie West One, both times extremely conscious of a vertical wall of rock where there would normally be a large flat overshoot area. They tell me that when Narsarssuak is "socked in", aircraft can still reach the aerodrome by finding the mouth of the fjord and flying up it at sea level, below the clouds and mountains, until the end of the one long runway comes into view. In fact, the three remaining Sabres used this approach coming in from Goose Bay on Tuesday, September 1st. I do not want to do it, ever!

Midnight, and we had reached Iceland. Unlike my previous visit, on this occasion it was pitch dark when I landed at the entry port of Keflavik. The light was right for sleeping, and I would have been happy to do so if we hadn't sat up half the night yarning with Colonel Schilling of the USAF, who was homeward bound with a wing of F-84's. Colonel Schilling was, if not the first, one of the first to fly the Atlantic via jet fighter.

The Sixth Day

Tuesday, September 1st, was the sixth day of our trip, but to most of us it seemed like the sixteenth. Because we would not go on without our three stragglers, we loafed through the day, not reporting for work until 9:30 am and quitting at eight in the evening. Unfortunately, even with no flying, there could be no day off for the airmen of Nos 444 and 422 Squadrons. We had unserviceable aircraft to repair and radio crystals to change, but we did find time to visit the Post Exchange and admire the many attractive items which were stocked for the benefits of the American airmen doing their lonely tour of duty in Iceland. Come to think of it, we may even have found time to appreciate a few of the handsome blonde Icelandic women who work at Keflavik airport.

To me, Keflavik, is first and always, a place at which to land on your way to someplace else. I have had no opportunity to see the rest of Iceland, but I am sure that it cannot bc nearly as forbidding as the airport and country which lies around it. Trees are non-existent, and scenery consists of a jumble of sand, shaggy grass, and quonset huts. It is definitely not a spot for tourists. Our aircraft were parked on an unused runway on the side of the field opposite the Icelandic and USAF Headquarters, a wind-swept three miles by road around the airport perimeter. Quite apart from the lack of scenic splendor, the difficulties faced by "Leap-Frog" crews in maintaining aircraft at Kelflavik are tremendous, and I cannot help but pity the officers and men in "Leap-Frog One" and "Leap-Frog Three"; their operations took place in the middle of winter. Fortunately, for us, the Americans did everything they could to make our task easier, not the least of their services being the loan of four jeeps to myself and the maintenance crews. In spite of the fact that we had to drive on the left side of the road, not one vehicle was dented or one pedestrian killed.

The Seventh Day

Our day of "rest" over, the crews went back to work with a will. News had been received that "Glover's Gang" had reached Greenland on the previous day, and we were anxious to be ready for a take-off as soon as he arrived in Iceland. Our meteorological expert, however, had not used the right spells when ordering his weather, and after lunch all prospects of departure on this day were ruined by reports of continuing bad weather over the United Kingdom. At 2:00 pm, F/L Glover led his section of three over the base, and shortly afterwards the wing was again complete, with all 62 aircraft serviceable and ready to go. Finding myself with a full evening free, I attended a Bingo party in the USAF Officers' Club. The prizes were valuable, and excitement ran high. It so happened that the only Canadian winner was W/C Malloy, who collected a new camera and exposure-meter. As usual, I did a last tour of the Sabre line before turning in; but all was serene, and the USAF Air Police patrol was there to see that no one could steal an aeroplane for a souvenir.

The Eighth Day

We were ready if the weather was. The TFC anxiously waited for word from F/L Harvey, whom Air Division had sent to Lossiemouth to help guide the operation over the last leg. No. 422 Squadron airmen loaded their North Star so that they would be ready to leave for the UK as soon as it became evident that the wing would depart. The Sabres had been moved into the starting position, and we were, as the man said, hot to trot. By noon, W/C Malloy and S/L Bayliss had come back from their latest navigation briefing. The ceiling had lifted to 2000 feet over Lossiemouth and was still improving. At twelve-thirty I drove the three miles from the operations room to the aircraft to give the thumbs-up signal. The cluster of men around my vehicle broke up as everyone vanished to his job. Fifty-five minutes later, the wing leader gave the signal which warned his section to "light up". Two hours after that, as the last of the 62 Sabres took off, most of No. 414's aircraft had landed in Scotland. The Chief Technical Officer breathed a sigh of relief. (I did not learn until I had reached Lossiemouth that W/C Allan's number two had an oxygen failure at the point of no return, and that the section had been forced to complete the leg at a much lower altitude. On account of the more rapid fuel consumption at the lower height, the section landed with about four minutes to spare.) Midnight found the TFC and his party being greeted with open arms by the Royal Navy's shore station "Lossiemouth". After bacon and eggs in the galley and a nightcap in the wardroom, I sank gratefully into the comfortable bunk which had been allotted to me. My last thought, I remember, was: "The Navy is a wonderful Service, even if it doesn't speak English".

The Last Day

On the line at six bells (7:00 am to you land-lubbers), with perfect weather facing us for the rest of the day. The TFC had indicated that, "come you-know-what or high water", we were to sleep in Soellingen this night; so fiendish activity was indicated. The Sabres had survived the last lap very well, but four frequency changes had to be completed in every aircraft so that our radios would put us in touch with things continental. It was a big job, and no one had time to stand slack and count his medals. Luckily, we had further assistance from a party of technicians from North Luffenham. Suddenly it was two-thirty, and time for the last start. Communications and airframe technicians were still buttoning up No. 422 Squadron's Sabres when I crossed my fingers and informed the wing leader that we were ready. After all I thought, if all 62 Sabres do not reach Soellingen together, the TFC will certainly see that there are flowers at my funeral. There should be a special medal for the ground crew of No. 414 Squadron and North Luffenham for the work they did. In addition to the fact that they had to work with starting equipment which was unfamiliar and in short supply, they found that many of the Sabres had suddenly decided to become temperamental and refused to start up as they should. The airmen would not allow any difficulties to defeat them. Five minutes before the last possible take-off time, the last six Sabres got airborne, thus saving my life and the wing's reputation. By 5:40 p.m. the last of the aeroplanes landed at Baden-Soellingen, and Operation "Leap Frog Four" had been successfully completed.


What a reception! Following my normal practice of arriving everywhere at bedtime, I landed at Soellingen to find the parties of welcome well under way. The Sabres had been met by Air Commodore KLB Hodson, OBE, DFC, acting AOC Air Division. No.4 Fighter Wing's Commanding Officer, Group Captain RS Turnbull, DFC, AFC, DFM, had opened the Station to our old friends and acquaintances from No. 2 Fighter Wing, at Grostenquin, and No. 3 at Zweibrucken, and the unofficial greetings lasted long into the night. All messes and clubs were bounding when our North Star arrived; but the German built buildings were sturdy and came out unscathed. To attempt a description of the RCAF Station at Soellingen after a short three-day visit would be presumptuous on my part. It deserves a feature-length article of its own. Its low, green-stuccoed, modern buildings; its rich green grass; its winding concrete roadways; and, above all, the beautiful Black Forest out of which it has been carved - all combine to paint a picture which is almost too beautiful to be believed.

The surrounding country was no less interesting to me since it was a part of Germany which I had not seen before. During these three days, while we awaited transportation home, we drove through many miles of the Black Forest. Once we paused on a mountain brow to eat roasted duck at the Hohritt Gasthaus, where we were surrounded by old European atmosphere and North American tourists; and, on another occasion, we descended into a valley to savour fresh trout at the Waldhotel Fischkultur, where, as the name implies, the meal came straight from the pond to the table. We marveled at the old-world atmosphere of Baden-Baden, drank good German beer in its open-air cafes, and enjoyed the Casino of the Kurhaus. On our last day, we visited the lovely old market town of Rastatt to buy souvenirs of high quality at comparatively low prices for the folks in Canada.

Two weeks to the day after my departure from St. Hubert, S/L Bayliss, F/L Anderson, and I returned to ADCHQ. I find it difficult even now to decide whether it seemed like two months or two days. Although "Leap-Frog Four" had actually been completed in eight days and five hours, there had been times when we thought it would never be over. For what had been the fastest of the four "Leap-Frogs", we could thank our lucky stars for good leadership, good luck, reasonably good weather, and, above all, for a good team which, although composed of over 100 individuals, had pulled throughout as a single man.

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Updated: July 5, 2004