2018 marks the one hundredth anniversary of one of the most well recognised military units in the world, the Royal Air Force (RAF), which was formed on 1 April 1918 in response to the pressures of the First World War by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
At the start of the First World War, the air borne troops consisted of an amalgamation of the Royal Navy’s aircraft, airship, balloon, and man-carrying kite companies and the Royal Flying Corps planes. They were formed into squadrons for the first time, in July 1914.
It wasn’t until, worn down by the continual barrage of the more advanced German flying squadron, that the British military planners created the RAF in order to carry out more strategic bombing campaigns against Germany. So, on April 1, 1918, the RAF was formed along with the Women’s Royal Air Force. On that same day, Bristol F.2B fighters from the 22nd Squadron carried out the first official mission as members of the RAF. So effective was the newly formed RAF, that by November 1918 consisted of almost 300,000 officers and airmen, and more than 22,000 aircraft.
During the period of peace between the First and Second World Wars’ the RAF’s troops was cut to just 2000 aircraft, so when Adolf Hitler had developed the Luftwaffe–with the specific aim of destroying all the ports along the British coast, his troops severally outnumbered.
The Battle of Britain, one of the most famous military engagements of the Second World War, was fought against Germany in the skies across the nation. The RAF was hugely outnumbered, yet through a combination of new radar technology, new and more manoeuvrable aircraft and exceptional bravery, it successfully resisted the intense German air invasion. For every British plane shot down, the Luftwaffe lost two. In May 1941 the Battle of Britain was declared a British victory; a feat which led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say of the RAF pilots, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
By the war’s end in 1945, nearly one million people worked within the RAF. Once peacetime arrived, this number was reduced to about 150,000 men and women. It hasn’t just been during the two World Wars that the RAF has proved valuable to the safety of the UK, however. It has provided protection during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Cold War, the Falkland Conflict, the Gulf War and beyond. By using modern technology, the RAF has developed and changed to stay relevant to the world in which it operates- and will continue to do so for years to come.
To help celebrate the anniversary, and to teach us more about their history, the RAF have put together a schools project. If you’d like to get involved you can find out about all the events and information here: https://www.raf100schools.org.uk/ There are also many events happening up and down the UK to commemorate the RAF’s 100th year. You can find out more here: https://www.raf.mod.uk/raf100/
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.