Mining Gander Airport
by Frank Tibbo
The order came in November 1939. "Mine the runways!"
It may be hard to believe that the authorities of the day had every intention of blowing up the airports at Botwood and Gander because of the fear that the Germans were coming.
Enemy possession of the two airports would mean that they would have control of the main line of the Newfoundland Railway and the seaplane base at Botwood. The fear was that the Germans would use the two bases as a staging point for raids on Canada and the United States. The authorities who gave the order were far away in Britain. The Canadian authorities had given their blessing to the plan; however, it probably didn't matter what the Canadians said because the British were the head honchos.
The local authority consisted of Squadron Leader H.L. Pattison (for whom Pattison place, Gander, is named), meteorologist Patrick McTaggart-Cowan, and a communications officer from Britain by the name of Fever. The three procrastinated because they were convinced that Gander could be used as a critical staging point for getting aircraft to Britain.
Letters and messages went back and forth. Pattison, who could not disobey an order from a superior officer, simply asked questions concerning the methods he was to use, the extent to which the explosives were to be set in the runways, and what was to be done with the equipment, etc.
Pattison, McTaggart-Cowan and Fever gained time to make suggestions regarding the possible military use of the airport while asking questions concerning the detonations. Pattison also determined that he could get army regiments from Canada to protect the two airports. By June 1940, the British were getting hammered pretty badly, and the shipping losses were mounting up on the North Atlantic. It would be nice to have sub hunters stationed in Gander.
On June 5, 1940, the British gave up the plan to blast the airports to smithereens and asked the Canadians to take it over. The RCAF sent five Digby aircraft to Gander to patrol the bays to prevent German subs from putting landing parties ashore. The Canadian army set up camouflaged Lewis guns around the airport to protect it from air attack and sent a regiment to Botwood to protect its base. During the next few years, Gander was protected by the Black Watch, the Queen's Own Rifles, the Royal Rifles, the Victoria Rifles, Lincoln and Welland, the PEI Highlanders and the Pictou Highlanders
Contributed by F. Tibbo