April 8, 2011

Secrecy, war planes and belligerent nations

What do secrecy, war planes, and belligerent nations have to do with Montana? More than you might think. A recent research request put me on the trail of training planes sold to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1939 and 1940. The request asked for confirmation of these planes being flown to Sweet Grass, Montana and then being pulled across the border into Canada. Newspapers proved to be the place to find this information. Using our subscription to Access Newspaper Archive I was able to find articles in the Lethbridge Herald that confirmed this had taken place. Then I started looking at similar dates in the Shelby Promoter and Great Falls Tribune. The first 5 planes crossed the border on November 19, 1939. Ten more followed within a week. The November 27, 1939 Great Falls Tribune ran a large article with several photos that detailed the plan. A small article in the Montana Standard on December 13, 1940 stated that 100 planes would be delivered to Canada through Great Falls. The U.S. Neutrality Act would not allow U.S. pilots to fly across a belligerent nation (Canada was at war with Germany) or allow for flight across the US by people from a belligerent nation. The North American Aviation Company was getting around the law by flying the planes to Sweet Grass, and then having them towed across the border by Canadian civilians. RCAF members could not touch the plane until it was firmly on Canadian soil. If they crossed the border into the United States they could be interned for the duration of the war. The cash and carry law was replaced by the Lend-Lease Act in March of 1941.

Learn more about the Cash and Carry amendment to the U.S. Neutrality act here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_and_carry_(World_War_II)

Read about the Lend-Lease program and see the actual bill text here: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=old&doc=71