Charles Keith Bisset, who has died age 93, rose from the ranks of the Royal
Canadian Air Force to become one of the world’s leading Aerial Reconnaissance
Interpretation specialists and an expert on the Soviet Union’s Air Forces.
Bisset, always known as ‘Keith’ was born on the 14th of November 1924, at
Brantford, ON into an Anglo-Scottish military family, the eldest of the four
sons of Charles and May Bisset. All three brothers, Bob, George and Dick,
pre-deceased him. He was educated at Brantford Collegiate Institute and
Vocational School, where he joined the Cadet Force. Canada had entered the
Second World War a few days after the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany
and the young Keith saved enough money to buy a few flying lessons at a local
aero club, hoping to get into the RCAF when the time came.
A favourite uncle, Albert William Bisset, had been killed in action at Dieppe in August 1942, but there was no hesitation on Keith’s part as he volunteered straight after his 18th Birthday for the RCAF. His father was still serving in the Army in England.
Soon Keith was inducted into the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, one of Canada’s greatest contributions to winning the War. After basic training, he learned to fly on the Fairchild Cornell PT-26. Once qualified as a pilot, he found himself in demand as an instructor, particularly on ’The Link Trainer’, a very early flight simulator known as ’The Blue Box’. This skill and the need for pilots produced by The Plan meant that he was never transferred to Europe for combat duty.
Keith Bisset Jan 43 Brandon MB
After the War, the excess of trained pilots meant that opportunities in the RCAF would be limited, so Keith transferred to the Canadian Army. He first trained as a paratrooper and then, in January 1947, qualified as an ‘Enlisted Specialist, Photo Interpretation’ at Fort Riley, Kansas, USA. This specialty was to dominate his subsequent career.
After Fort Riley, Keith was sent as a Sergeant Pilot to England where he learned to fly combat gliders such as the General Aircraft Hotspur and Airspeed Horsa, serving with the British Glider Pilot Regiment, qualifying as a Glider Pilot in 1947.
For the next three years, he served as an Instructor at the Joint Air Photo Interpretation School at Rivers, Manitoba, before being commissioned in 1951. There followed a short spell at the Canadian School of Infantry at Camp Borden, ON, and Keith was then transferred to the Canadian Intelligence Corps with whom he served until retirement.
Rivers MB Jan 49
Commissioning Course RCS of I Camp Borden 1951
Keith Bisset middle row second from the left. Harry Reid front row third from the left.
His first posting as an Intelligence Officer was to the Air Photo Interpretation Section of 1st Canadian Division who then attached him to 408 ‘Goose’ Squadron, based at RCAF Rockcliffe, ON, where he was to spend the next five years. Part of 408’s task was to conduct an extensive aerial survey of Northern Canada, maps of which were rudimentary in an age when the emerging Cold War meant that the North had become an important Canadian Frontier.
To carry out their mission, 408 was equipped with Canadian-built Avro Lancaster Mark Xs (which Keith flew on occasion) modified from their original mission as WWII heavy bombers, with the addition of extra fuel tanks and aerial photo survey equipment. In later years, Keith would recall operations that took their Lancasters close to the airspace of the Soviet Union. These were 408’s missions to monitor Soviet Air Force response and reaction as well as to measure radioactivity from the Soviet Atmospheric Nuclear Test program.
Three years at Rivers, Manitoba followed where he served as an instructor before being posted to England in 1959-60 where Keith served in the UK’s elite Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre near Cambridge. Here he and his family occupied an apartment in the wing of a country house, becoming part of English village life. The family having come originally from England, there were visits to Cheshire where they were able to see a very different lifestyle from the one they had known in Canada.
There followed further intelligence appointments before a three-year posting to the Canadian CL-89 Reconnaissance Drone Program in Yuma, Arizona. Keith then had a further assignment with 408 Squadron before his final posting as Strategic Intelligence Analyst at the Department of Military Intelligence based at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.
Keith retired from the Army in 1971 in the rank of Captain. Such was his skill set that he was immediately re-employed as a civilian intelligence specialist. Here he was to deploy his considerable technical and organizational skills in the field of Aerial Reconnaissance Interpretation and further to develop his speciality in the air forces of the Soviet Union. He became a highly regarded specialist in these two fields and rose to lead Canada’s contributions to international conferences and meetings.
When he finally retired in early 1993, his final evaluation noted him as an ‘extremely dedicated man who has without fail, performed his duties…… in an outstanding fashion’. His position paper on the Strategic Bomber Forces of the defunct Soviet Union had been adopted internationally and his exceptional background knowledge and analytical skill had brought much credit to Canadian Intelligence and his counsel would be greatly missed. His evaluation also noted that Keith was a ’true gentleman’.
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Supplemental detail pertaining to the career of Keith Bisset
Born in Brantford, Ontario, 14 Nov 1924. Attended Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School
Enlisted and trained as a pilot in RCAF.
Transferred to Canadian Army-parachute instructor at A-35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre-Shilo, Man. Attended first intelligence course at US Army Ground General School, Fort Riley Kansas, 1946, graduated as an Enlisted Intelligence Specialist.
Served with RAF and Glider Pilot Regiment as Sgt pilot in UK, flying HOTSPUR and HORSA aircraft.
Instructor at Joint Air Photo Interpretation School, Canadian Joint Air Training Centre, Rivers, Man.; and served as staff pilot in air transport support school.
Commissioned - Instructor Royal Canadian School of Infantry - Camp Borden, Ont.
Transferred to Canadian Intelligence Corps-served with 1 Cdn Division Air Photo Interpretation Section attached to 408 Sqn RCAF-Rockcliffe, Ont.
Instructor and army liaison staff pilot Canadian Joint Air Training Centre, Rivers, Man. - Promoted Captain.
Canadian Exchange Officer - Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre-UK.
Instructor-Canadian School of Military Intelligence.
General Staff Officer Grade 3, NDHQ Ottawa - Directorate of Military Intelligence - Organization and Training.
Chief photo-intelligence officer CANADAIR CL-89, Reconnaissance Drone Programme YUMA Arizona.
Squadron Intelligence Officer 408 Squadron RCAF-Rivers, Man.
Strategic Intelligence Analyst NDHQ/DMI. First Photo intelligence officer involved in the intelligence programme which later became DIE. Retired from Forces in 1971.
Staff Officer-Security, specializing in Security of Automatic Data Processing systems NDHQ-D Secur. While in this position drafted first ADP Security Orders for the Canadian Forces - designed physical security plans for Canadian Forces Data Centre - Tunney's Pasture and CFB Borden. Served as member of NATO-ADP Security Planning Working Croup.
Air Intelligence Analyst. 2 I/C DDI 3 Air intelligence section.
Strategic Intelligence Analyst (Air) DDI 2, specializing in Soviet Strategic Aviation-NDHQ DDI/DIWP.
Strategic Intelligence Analyst (Soviet Long Range Aviation) - DIWP 5.
DDI 4-5 Strategic Intelligence Analyst (Air) Russian Air Forces.
Represented Canada both as a delegate and working group chairman at many national and international conferences.