Volume #18 - 735.|
RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES
Memorandum from Deputy Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
April 21st, 1952|
TORBAY AIRPORT, NEWFOUNDLAND|
Torbay airport, the only civil airfield serving St. John's, is used by international civil aviation as an alternate for Gander. A small RCAF Search and Rescue squadron is based on the field. As the headquarters of the Northeast Command at the U.S. Leased Base at Pepperrell possesses no airfield, it uses Torbay extensively.
Torbay airport has four 5,000 foot runways. It is therefore not suitable for B36 aircraft or for jet planes. Jet aircraft could use the field only if one runway were extended about 2,000 feet at an estimated cost of 1.5 to 2 million dollars. It might also be necessary to strengthen existing hardstands and construct one new one.
Of the three hangars at Torbay, one is shared by the Department of Transport and the RCAF, and the other two are used by the USAF. There are about 64 buildings of temporary type construction, most of which were built during the last war. The Department of Transport and the RCAF have used only a few of them since the end of the war.
II. United States Interests
The USAF would like to use Torbay airport for two purposes. First, it would be an Air Force general depot or "airhead" for Northeast Command. In this role the buildings at Torbay would be used for administrative purposes, troop accommodation and storage, and the runways would, as now, be used by aircraft on administrative flights. The USAF has now no intention of using Torbay for B-36 operations.
As a second purpose, the USAF wishes to use Torbay as a base for a jet interceptor squadron of 25 aircraft for the air defence of the area. The USAF has not yet submitted this request formally. It has not made clear whether it wishes to station these aircraft at Torbay in the near future, or whether it merely wishes to make provision for them on the outbreak of war. The USAF has not yet expressed a view on the operational responsibilities of this defence squadron.
Canada bas already agreed to short term commercial leases (terminable on 30 days' notice) for about half the unoccupied buildings at Torbay; National Defence is now considering whether to agree to a U.S. request for similar leases for all the remaining unoccupied buildings. We understand that the USAF is spending large sums on the renovation and improvement of the buildings which it is leasing.
Torbay airport is now administered by the Department of Transport, but we understand that the RCAF has agreed in principle to take over responsibility for the station, when and if the USAF leases the remaining buildings.
III. The Request for Buildings
It would be difficult to refuse the U.S. request to lease the remaining unoccupied buildings for administrative use.61 The USAF needs them now and we do not. Although we maintain our right to assume occupancy of the buildings on short notice, there might nevertheless be practical difficulties in recovering buildings on which the USAF had spent money which may equal their original value. To forestall this difficulty, we might consider reminding the USAF, through PJBD channels, of the short tenure; we might at the same time suggest that if Canada wishes to take over the buildings, the Canadian Government would consider compensating the USAF for its expenditures on the basis on the residual value to Canada.
IV. Extension of Torbay Runways
The extensive administrative use of Torbay by the U.S. Northeast Command at Pepperrell will inevitably affect the character of the airport to some extent even though the rights of civil air operators are protected. If it is left to the United States to extend the runways, it may be all the more difficult to preserve complete Canadian control of Torbay. Before the U.S. makes a request for permission to extend the runways, therefore, Canada might well consider the possibility of undertaking this work itself. The cost does not seem unreasonably high, and Torbay is an airport where the facilities are almost bound to be of residual value to civil aviation when defence needs are no longer so pressing. It may be a long time until the defence of Newfoundland is no longer a matter of serious concern, but it is possible that strategic considerations would dictate a shift in the emphasis on defence from St. John's to some other part of northeast North America. In this event it would be unfortunate if, because of its financial stake in the Torbay facilities, the USAF were reluctant to leave the field entirely to the Canadian authorities. It would be particularly embarrassing to have the U.S. press a claim, whether legally founded or not, in a Canadian area of such political importance. Canadian expenditure on the runways, therefore, may be well justified by considerations of sovereignty both at the present time and in the future if Torbay is no longer needed as a fighter base.62
V. Torbay As a Fighter Base
A second aspect of the sovereignty question arises in connection with the stationing of a fighter squadron at Torbay. If the only fighter squadron in Newfoundland were supplied by the USAF, in practice that squadron would be responsible for the defence of a large amount of Canadian territory. Although it is true that Newfoundland is a possible target mainly because of U.S. military activities, it seems more realistic to accept the fact that, for whatever reasons, air defence will have to be provided for Newfoundland. We have never agreed to U.S. responsibility for aerial defence of Canadian territory, and the only alternative is RCAF responsibility, with or without U.S. assistance.
At present, the only RCAF operational unit on the east coast is one squadron (sometimes two) at Greenwood, this is not defensive in character. If one RCAF fighter squadron were assigned to St. John's, and only if an RCAF squadron were provided, we could make a strong case for a reasonable voice in the defence of Newfoundland and ensure that the responsibility for the protection of Canadian territory remains in Canadian hands.