When Nazi Germany attacked Norway on 9 April 1940, with only a small number of modern aircraft on order from US manufacturers taken on charge, the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNAF) was unable to mount a sustained defense. Following the defeat of the Norwegian forces, the King, key members of the government and military left Norway in June 1940 aboard the HMS Devonshire.
After arriving in England, the Norwegian government-in-exile began the process of setting up a new base of operations. A decision was swiftly made to keep the existing Norwegian pilots that had escaped to England, as an independent unit, consequently, none were allowed to participate in the Battle of Britain. Arrangements were made to transfer Norwegian pilots to a North American headquarters while various locations were considered, a base around the Toronto Island Airport in Canada was chosen. Once the base was established, young Norwegians migrated to the site to enroll in the RNAF in Canada.
In May 1942, the training camp was moved to a 430-acre site in Muskoka, at today's Muskoka Airport and was called "Little Norway". An order of 50 Fairchild PT-26/PT-26B Cornells was placed with the first deliveries being received by 1942. The training continued at Muskoka until February 1945.
According to fellow historian, Matt Fairbrass: "The last recorded crash by the FTL in Canada, took place August 1944 when a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell trainer with pilot and student aboard lost its wing and crashed into the ground, south of Gravenhurst; both on board died. The bodies were recovered from the dense undergrowth and a wing section was found, but no wreckage was recovered.
Not long after, another Fairchild crashed for the same reason, but both occupants escaped by parachute. Fairchild aircraft were temporarily grounded, but after the cause of the accidents were determined and other aircraft repaired, Fairchilds were again in service.
A crash into Lake Muskoka occurred involving a Northrop Nomad A-17A #3521, which still contains the remains of British pilot, Peter Campbell, and Canadian pilot, Ted Bates. The pair collided with another Nomad over southern Lake Muskoka and crashed into the lake's icy depths on December 13th, 1940 while searching for another pilot that had gone missing in a snow storm the day before. There are plans to recover the plane and the bodies in 2012. The other plane they crashed into also plunged into the lake; however, it and its two dead crew members were brought to the surface in 1941, leaving Campbell and Bates behind on the lake's 140 foot bottom.
One of the planes from a training mission crashed off of Norway Point in Lake Rousseau, killing the pilot. The aircraft was accidentally recovered by a cable crew snagging the plane in 1960 and the pilot was found inside. For reasons unknown the plane was cut free and fell back to the bottom with the pilot still inside. Authorities are investigating this site as time allows. The Norwegian Govt. can't confirm the loss in this area as it was unwitnessed at the time. The plane was a trainer flying solo doing a navigational triangle course. The Norwegian govt. records of Little Norway apparently were "lost" after the war and we have been able to find very little as far as solid data pertaining to the activities of the base as a whole.
Skeleton Lake also holds the remains of a Norwegian flier that was a witnessed crash site and is also under investigation as time allows.
Another crash south of Gravenhurst is in a swamp and was discovered in the early 1960s by hunters. I have interviewed a relative of the hunter and visited the area but was unable to locate the wreckage due to intense overgrowth. A tail section was found back then and should still be there as it was dragged up and left against a tree.
Another site is in Brydon Bay, Gravenhurst and is in 13 ft of water and was lost when the pilots decided that some unauthorized aerobatics were in order. They attempted a loop and hit the water. Rumour has it that they were showing off to their wives in the rented cottage that was right in front of where it still resides today.
Below are the pics of the Cornell that went down south of the airport. The wreck is a Cornell and was one of two that crashed a month apart due to spar failure. The other aircraft that has since been removed was the Cornell that R Heise SGT 2253 and B Ottersen N 2596 were killed in on Aug 26th 1944...This wreck with the pictures was shown to me by the man who witnessed it go down. This aircraft is still on his property where it fell all those years ago.
Another group is looking into the Norway Point crash . The aircraft was possibly a P40 or a Douglas DB8A . Even though the pilot's body was still in the plane in the early 1960s it is unlikely that any remains will still exist. There are NO recoverable remains of the Nomad #3521 at all... just clothing and personal items..."
The information above might have left readers with a few questions, so I took the liberty of asking Matt Fairbrass for some final clarification and got some more interesting tidbits to add to the above stories:
"The pics are of the wreckage of the second Cornell that the fellows parachuted out of the fellow had also badly broken his leg if I recall the interview with the witness. The eye witness by the way was Ernie Whitlauffer of Gravenhurst who witnessed both crashes about a month apart both due to spar failure. If you want a bit more intrigue some officials were convinced that the Germans were escaping at night from the POW camp nearby and messing with the planes...No kidding. The police suspected poor Ernie as he was in the same area at the same time for both of the incidents. He was actually farming his parents land at the time and was constantly watching the aircraft from Little Norway only 2 Km away. They questioned him at length due to his German background and scared the poor kid half to death as he recalled.
The first Cornell we were told was recovered where the two men died. This aircraft did crash on the Whitlauffer farm and he gave us bits of it about 5 years ago and still may well be there. It fell onto a rocky outcropping beside a swamp on his farm. He was first to get there and it was a horrible site he said. The smashed propeller hub he gave us is now on display at the Little Norway Museum at the airport as well as the recovered flight harness that Ernie took from the crash. He gave these to us about 5 years ago.
The Brydon Bay crash was indeed during the war.
The other wreck south of Gravenhurst was found in the 1960s and was visited by DND at the time. Actually it was a big deal as it was one of the first helicopters that was used to land in the area and my contact Bruce Schultz said it caused quite a stir in town. He said they made a funny comment about the wreckage saying "it wasn't one of ours". They then left with no clear idea of what happened. I understand though that the Norwegians did not report all of the incidents just the ones where men were killed, but I could be wrong. We still do not know what is in that swamp behind the Tim Hortons. I do have a map that shows where the part was found but is a terrible place to get into and the trees have grown over much of what was a rocky terrain. This wreck we are sure is also Norwegian and was a metal craft."
News update: The Two Airmen Have Finally Been Brought to the Surface and Given Burials
According to the Toronto Star and CTV at these links from Sept., 2013:
For more info check the links below.