In 1917 the Sopwith Camel bi-plane joined in hostilities against the Germans a year before the founding of the RAF. (1)
Hugh Trenchard born Today in 1873 had joined the army in 1893, but after taking flying lessons became Brigadier-General of the Royal Flying Corps by 1914, then part of the army. He advocated the separation of the Air and Army forces being chiefly responsible for the formation of the RAF in April 1918 when the air force had expanded to nearly 300,000, more than there had been soldiers in 1914.
The other two services tried to kill off the upstart RAF and the bomber was used by Trenchard in his move in securing the future of the service, strategists claiming the bomber would always get through. The Zeppelin raids on East Anglia and London in the First War had caused alarm of airborne forces when Britain realised we were no longer an island immune from attack.
By 1933 the RAF’s fully operational home bomber force comprised five night bomber squadrons and 6-day squadrons, however it did lose the Fleet Air Command to the Admiralty and its aircraft carrier force.
Trenchard’s promoted strategic air power theories, which proposed attacks not just on military and industrial targets but also civilian to undermine moral later to be used in the Second World War.
Inter-war he was the instigator of ‘Air Control’ when as the first Chief of Air Staff he promised Churchill that he could suppress Iraqi rebellion through air power alone. However, troops had to be sent, and a local militia recruited locally to pacify the region.
Trenchard unlike Churchill and Sir Horace Rumbold our Berlin Ambassador thought that the Germans could be persuaded to disarm, especially if we strengthened our Air Force, but when the political tide started to turn in 1935 he was sacked.
Today a statue to Lord Trenchard is to be found opposite the old Air Ministry in Whitehall.
(1) Many small companies were building aircraft in the early days such as Norwich’s Boulton and Paul with its Sopwith Snipe and Mann-Egerton’s (under licence) Short’s Bomber. Robert Robey of Lincoln, boiler engineers built Sopwith planes in 1916 and Short’s Sea-Planes.
The most frightening call from a bomber rear gunner (Tail-End Charlie), to his pilot was: ‘Corkscrew Starboard Go!’, as the aircraft attempted to evade attack.
So in a desperate bid to maintain morale those who cracked (‘flak-happy’) were charged with low moral fibre, de-ranked, sent from squadron and confined to menial tasks.(1)
It was Today a Thursday in 1941 which saw the first flight of prototype BT308 Lancaster flown by Test Pilot H.A. ‘Bill’ Thorn at the Experimental Flight Department Ringway, Manchester.
By 1940 Britain had bombers such as the Short’s, Stirling, Handley-Page, Halifax and Chadwick’s prototype twin-engined Avro-Manchester III, which with its temperamental Vulture engines by 1941, was to morph into the Lancaster with its four Merlin engines and longer wings.
The first production Lancaster flew for first time on 31st October, with the first unit to be equipped being Number 44 squadron at RAF Waddington. Eventually 56 front-line squadrons were operating the plane and by March 1945, 745 planes were ready for operations with a further 296 available.
In the early days the normal crew of a Lancaster included pilot, navigator, bomb-aimer (doubling as nose gunner), flight- engineer, wireless operator, mid-upper and a radar scanner (early replaced), tail and ventral gunner.(1)
After training aircrews were left to coalesce informally to decide who they wanted in their individual crews which was based often on friendship and expertise.
Peculiarly the senior pilot as captain was often a sergeant and might have commissioned members under his command.(2)
The rear-turret was the most perilous place to be, with a high mortality rate, and often the turret was shot away. The design originally was the Fraser Nash or Boulton-Paul, having four Browning 0.303 inch, machine guns, and constituted the main defence as night fighters tended to attack from the rear.
The rear-gunner’s position would be icy-cold, especially as often happened, the Perspex was removed to offer a clearer view. Later the Rose-Type Turrets with two Browning 0.5 inch guns were more effective against the better armed German night fighters.
The cold and noise inside the bombers were appalling with crews flying in wool, leather and silk, recruiting themselves with sandwiches, but the coffee often froze and wings iced up.
The ‘Navvy’ gave a course on take off and relied on pinpoints from the ground. On clear nights a sextant shot the stars. Bombing was by Estimated Time of Arrival: ‘he who bombs by ETA lives to fight another day’, was the catch phrase, rather than risking a reckless descent.
RAF Bomber Command flew 364,000 missions, lost 8,090 aircraft and over 55,000 aircrew, but had to await until June 2012 to have a memorial unveiled in Green Park, London. [Sheer Ingratitude].
(1) A Tour of Duty was 30 complete ‘Ops’, no turning back! Those who survived became ‘Tour Expired’ and went for 6 months as instructors to Heavy Conversion Units (HCU) or Operation Training Units (OTU).
(2) The RAF was rather loose on rank, the awarding of commissions often depending on social background, or by luckily surviving tours (when a decoration might be awarded), or acquiring high pass marks in training, or just by being noticed by the station commander.
Ref: elsham.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk Bomber Command 1939-45. Rob. Davis.
In 1939 the Royal Air Force (RAF) Home Command constituted Training, Coastal, Bomber, Fighter, Maintenance and Balloon. Reserve, Flying-Training, Technical Training, RAF. Northern Ireland, Army Co-operation, Ferry and Transport Commands.
Such was the change necessary in a force which had to expand rapidly for war, and then to adjust to ‘peace’, by June 1948, Bomber Command had a front-line strength of 48 Lancasters and 96 Lincolns with 16 de Havilland, Mosquitos.
These were eventually to be replaced by the Canberra and the V-Bombers, the nuclear deterrent force, which in 1962 comprised 15 squadrons.
Today on 1st April 1968 saw the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the RAF under Sir John Trenchard.
With the rapid expansion and resulting run-down as a consequence of World War II, the RAF went through many re-organisations with the major one being the reduction of the ‘Command’ structure.
It was on the 30th April 1968 that Bomber and Fighter Commands merged into Strike Command with its HQ at High Wycombe, Bucks and the number of Groups being reduced to No 1 and No 11.
From then on the other Commands were taken into Strike Command.
Signals (Aetherum Vincere) was absorbed on November 1st 1969 with Coastal Command on the 28th.(1)
Air Support, once Transport Command was absorbed on the 1st of September 1972 which included the RAF Regiment.
Personnel and Training joined Strike Command at High Wycombe HQ to become on 1.4.07 Air Command. RAF Germany which had absorbed 2 Bomber Group on 1.4.1993, was disbanded on the same day.
Before this final merger, the Last C-in-C was Air Chief Marshal, Sir Joe French.
In the 1980.s the RAF had 1800 aircraft, (650 front-line) in 59 squadrons. By 2015 it had about a third aircraft with c 100 Tornados and 130 Eurofighter Typhoons.
(1a) The backbone of Coastal Command comprised the Sunderland, Shackleton and Nimrod planes. Air-Support Command which replaced Transport in August 1967 used Hastings, Beverley, Comet, Belfast, Vickers VC 10, York and Argosy planes.
telegraph.co.uk/RAF. Asa Bennett.17.7.2015.
Of the hundreds of RAF airfields built in WWII the most identifiable building was the giant hangar with one of the key companies involved in their construction being the old established Teesdale Iron Works of Head Wrightson & Co., which Today in 1890 was registered as a public company.(1)
Head Wrightson played a major part in the construction of the Bellman Hangar designed by structural engineer N.S. Bellman in 1936, to the specification of The Board of Works.
These hangars were so designed to be constructed and dismantled by unskilled workers and set to become a feature of most airfields here and abroad. Along with the semi-circular ‘Blister’ patented by Miskins & Sons in 1939, many are still in use today.
The Daily Telegraph reported in April 1942, under the heading: Britain as a Huge Air Raid Base: ‘Britain is to become the strongest air base in the world…springboard for the most devastating aerial attacks ever contemplated outside the realm of imaginative fiction’.
The Paper continued, ‘a striking force capable of levelling half Germany will be assembled at aerodromes in the United Kingdom. Already the bomber forces of the R.A.F. have reached considerable dimensions…
… every one of the new giant bombers is the equivalent of three of the older types…and the United States would augment and stiffen our air attacks’.(2)
Two air-fields were selected for the non-Blister tests: RAF Thornaby for the Bellman and RAF Usworth for an alternative model by Callender Cable, with a decision to plump mainly for the Bellman Model.
With the probability of war, purchases were made in bulk in 1938 and 40 were stored at the central parts storage at No.3 MU at Milton, Oxfordshire.
The preparation for war had started in 1936 with ‘Shadow Factories’ which could quickly be turned over to munitions. This along with the ability to build 100.s of airfields in a matter of a few years contrasts with the situation today when it has taken decades to consider whether to build an extra runway at Heathrow.
When needs must, the Devil drives!
(1) In 1922 the Company acquired the interests of Whitwell & Co., previously held by Amalgamated Industrials. The Times 26.6. 1922.
(2) The Daily Telegraph. Tuesday, 21st April 1942.