/ RAF - 100 years
On Sunday the Royal Air Force celebrates its centenary.
Personally I shall be thinking of my grandfather. Having joined the Royal Engineers in the early years of the twe tieth century he was attached to the Army Balloon regiment. This evolved, following experiments with heavier than air aircraft, into the Royal Flying Corps. My grandfather was assigned a two digit RFC number and qualified as a pilot in 1912. He saw service in France and, on 1st April 1918, became one of the very earliest members of the RAF when the RFC amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service. Sadly he died in 1961, before I really got interested in flying. I would have loved to have taken him for a ride in a Tiger Moth on which I learned to fly.
When I was an active private pilot I often wonder if he was sitting up there keeping a watchful eye on me.
A fantastic story, the early aviators military and civil were very brave and very inspirational men. My own grandfather served in the RAF voluntarily in the 50s, and though he rarely talks much about his service it had a profound effect on me as a teenager; until losing interest at university due to the government of the day I always aspired to join the RAF, and it's his influence which has led to me now pursuing a career in the Army.
It's funny that, having amalgamated the RFC and RNAS to form the RAF, by the time the Second World War came about both services once again had their own flying corps under their own command in the form of the Army Air Corps and the Fleet Air Arm.
I'll make a toast to my four uncles who served in the RAF.
And here's to my grandfather who served in the RAF during WW2, though much to his frustration on the ground rather than in the air. Sadly, he died very shortly after I was born so I never got to talk to him about his experiences at various airfields in southern England and then in France and Germany after D-Day. He took the family with him to some of his postings in Devon and Cornwall and mum used to talk of the pilots she met, some of whom of course never came back. I took her to watch a Battle of Britain Flight display over Cardiff Bay a few years ago: the sound of the engines, both fighters and bombers, transported her back to her childhood in an extraordinary way.
To the memory of my father, my mother and my uncle all of whom served in the RAF/WAAF.
My dad joined the RAF in 1933, learned to fly on Tiger Moths at Filton Aerodrome (now the home of Rolls Royce aero engines), before being posted to the Middle East where he flew a variety of biplane fighters, including the then state of the art Hawker Hart. He served in Egypt and the then Palestine, and took part in a punitive action against revolting tribesmen in Mesopotamia (Iraq) where he first saw action carrying out bombing raids against insurgent's positions in Fairy lll Fs where he returned from missions with bullet holes through the aircraft's fabric.
At the outbreak of WW2 he was still in Egypt and was involved in the early battles of the Western Desert, before being posted back to the UK to do an engineering course at the RAF's Engineering School at RAF Halton. On graduating he returned to the Middle East as an Engineer Test Pilot in command of several Maintenance Units (MUs) which recovered crash landed Allied Aircraft from the Western Desert, often flying in deep behind enemy lines in a transport aircraft like a Hudson with spare parts to effect field repairs. He would then fly the repaired aircraft back. He was posted to Malta during the long siege and bombing of the island where he ran Maintenance Units keeping the heavily stretched Spitfires and Beaufighters operational and air testing them. It was whist sheltering in a slit trench here that he was lightly wounded by shrapnel in the arm and carried a bit of metal in the arm for the rest of his life, which used to set off airport security alarms!
He was involved in the Invasion of Sicily again preparing to set up MUs with the Invasion forces, but shortly afterwards was posted back to the UK here he became involved in the RAF's planning for Operation Overlord, and the provision of tempoary airfields and MUs on Normandy. He landed by landing craft on D Day +2, and witnessed the Battle for Caen, before being posted to Bomber Command where he underwent training on 4 engined bombers. He flew operational raids over Germany with both 50 Squadron and 619 Squadron flying Lancasters right up to the end of the War in Europe. He was involved in Operation Exodus, the repatriation of British POWs from Norther Europe.
Then he was posted to 44 Squadron where he was flying Lincolns and they were training to continue the war in the Far East operating from Okinawa carrying out area bombing of Mainland Japanese cities when the atomic bombs brought about the Japanese surrender.
After the war he remained in Bomber Command, before being posted for a Tour with the RCAF in Canada. On his return to the UK he learned to fly Meteor and Vampire jet fighters, and then Sycamore and Whirwind helicopters, finaly retiring in 1963, going on to a second career with the Ministry of Defence. During his career with the RAF he flew 88 different aircraft types. He died in 1979
My mother had an equally interesting war. She joined the WAAF aged 24 right at the outset and served as an WAAF driver at RAF Biggin Hill during the Battle of Britain, and experienced the bombing of the airfield. She was caught in London during the Blitz several times when driving RAF Officers to or from meetings at the Air Ministry, having to go into the nearest air raid shelters.
She was then commissioned and posted to join the RAF's codes and cyphers unit and was billeted in Coventry along with several other WAAFs. She was in the city during the night of the infamous bombing raid which destroyed much of the inner city including the Cathedral. Their house was hit by an incendiary bomb and the roof caught fire. She and the other girls managed to extinguish the fire using water buckets and a stirrup pump.
She was then posted to the then Palestine and sailed out in a troopship via the Cape of Good Hope and Suez. She was flown by a Hudson transport aircraft to Palestine, and on landing the aircraft crashed killing 50% of those on board. She was very lucky with just minor bruising. She was very secretive about her work in Codes and Cyphers but I have often wondered if she was working with Enigma?
It was whilst she was on leave one day in Cairo that she met a young RAF officer, my Dad. Shortly afterwards they were married, and when she became pregnant with me she had to resign her commission and was sent home on a troop ship. The convoy had to run the gauntlet of frequent Axis air attack as they passed through the Mediterranean , and several ships were sunk. She used to tell me that it had been a frightening experience. She died in 1974
My uncle, my mother's brother, was also in the RAF. In 1940 his Hurricane Squadron 46, was posted to Norway where he saw action during the German Invasion of Norway. When the Squadron was withdrawn they flew their Hurricanes onto the deck of the carrier HMS Glorious. For some reason (I have never discovered why) my uncle and one other pilot were not included in this fly on, and missed the sailing. Subsequently HMS Glorious was discovered and sunk by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. My uncle and the other pilot were the only survivors from 46 Squadron.
On return to the UK he was posted to 242 Squadron (Hurricanes) where he snot down an He 111, and a few days later a Do 17. However his aircraft was hit by return fire from the Dornier and he had to bale out over Kent.
He was subsequently posted to Canada where he trained crews on Lancasters. He settled in Canada and died in 1989.
A glass tipped to my father in law who I never met, who tragically died, alongside 18 others, serving in the RAF in 1984.
Dad served in the RAF 1938-1944, demobbed after contracting rheumatic fever. Posted in S Africa, India, and finally N Africa. I’ve photos of him and his crew in the desert, with a tarpaulin over the wing of his Hurricane as a tent. They’ve all gone native, dressed as bedhouin, all with big beards and looking like a bunch of ‘bad boys’. Belly mounted cannon ‘tank busting’ Hurricane variant.
I suppose I shall raise a bitter-sweet glass to my world speed record breaking great uncle, George Stainforth (‘killed on active service’ in September 1942) ... bitter-sweet because working on his biography has already cost me a very difficult seven years of my life (having unearthed a proverbial ‘bucket of worms’), with at least a year's more work still to go.
It’s a very paradoxical story of a tragically split personality (what would now be called a ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’), whose dark side – the result of a childhood tragedy in which his brother died – was invisible and unknown to almost all his friends and colleagues. Unquestionably a brilliant test pilot – the air correspondent and BBC broadcaster, Major Oliver Stewart, in 1964 called him ‘the finest pilot the Royal Air Force has ever had’ – he nevertheless ruined at least six people’s lives, including his own … as a result of a complete fixation on one woman.
But tomorrow I shall have to be thinking of his good side, his considerable contribution to the development of aviation in the 1930s and to the war effort with all the aircraft testing and ‘Pilot’s Notes’ he wrote in 1940-41. And the squadron he commanded in Egypt in 1942.
My first driving instructor was a navigator/radar operator in Mosquitoes and used to distract me with descriptions of low level flights over German installations on the North Sea Coastline. Mr Rayner, I think of the North End School of Motoring, Durham, nice chap, taught my mother to drive a few years earlier. Perhaps those experiences of being shot at prepared his nerves for my driving.
My wife's grandfather used to refuel Mosquitos in Lincolnshire during the war. He used to say that, after a number of sorties many crew would be too terrified to continue (apparently, firing the cannons on a Mosquito made the whole airframe shake to the point where the crew thought it was going to drop to bits around them).
Brave men - I wonder if we could live up to their example (I suspect we could)
Mostly military history just depresses me. How long was it after the RAF's formation until they first dropped poison gas? How long until the deliberate bombing of civilians?
BBC4 now is a re-run of the McGregor borther's Battle of Britain Doc if anyone is interested
To the best of my knowledge the RAF have never dropped poison gas.
As you undoubtedly know. The RAF bombed civilian targets about 20 years later in WW2 as a deliberate attempt to demoralise both the German and Japanese populations, intended to bring about surrender, and disrupt the productivity of the civilian industrial work forces. It was Total War and as a policy it failed. I am neither going to condone nor condemn this policy with the benefit of hindsight because I was not old enough in WW2 to experience or understand the impact that this terrible war had on those living in the UK at the time. With the exception of a few survivors none of us alive today are in a position to make such a judgement. That's all I have to say on the matter.
I totally abhor your unnecessary and spiteful comment whilst supporting those of Trangia and others.
I remain immensely proud that my grandfather was one of the pioneers of the RAF and I revere the efforts made by him and others to keep this country relatively safe and free from the clutches of an evil dictator.
They were better men than us.
> Mostly military history just depresses me. How long was it after the RAF's formation until they first dropped poison gas? How long until the deliberate bombing of civilians?
Would you have had the freedom to whine about them if they hadn't made their sacrifices?
I suspect you are alluding to the use of chemical munitions in Mesopotamia in the 1920’s. My understanding is that the chemical munitions were artillery shells and not bombs as bombing was too inaccurate to be reliable. So I’m unsure where you can show the RAF has used chemical munitions.
For anyone interested I've just temporarily upload a photograph to my gallery. I hope the mods will allow it.
It shows a group of RFC personnel and was, I believe, taken in France - date unknown.
The sergeant sitting in the front row, far right is my grandfather. Unfortunately the original photograph was damaged in that it was torn. The tear went through my grandfather! I have managed to do a patch up job on it.
I hope the mods will allow the upload.
I toasted my three grandparents, one of whom flew in both wars, my Uncle who flew in Suez, and a couple of cousins too.
The work of Bomber Command was a necessary evil and awful for those who had to carry it out. The life expectancy of the bomber crews was very poor. There is an interesting article in The Aeroplane this month about a Lancaster bomber pilot and his crew who flew on many bombing missions in which they were lucky to survive. On one, another Lancaster blew up directly underneath them which flipped their own plane completely upside down, and they just managed to barrel roll out of that before hitting the ground. On another mission, they had a mid-air collision with another Lancaster, which sliced underneath them and was destroyed, but they just managed to limp back to Britain. After six weeks of continual missions (including one bombing raid over Nurembourg, in which over fifty airmen from their squadron alone were killed), this pilot and his crew were on the way out to their Lancaster for yet another mission, when they were intercepted by the station commander who told them they were not going, that they had been replaced by another crew. When the pilot questioned this, he was taken back to the commander's office who showed him the station statistics (hidden behind a curtain) which revealed that their crew was the only one in their squadron that had survived six weeks of missions. The commander grounded this crew because he wanted to keep it that way!
I should also mention my Dads cousin, who, when he wasn't busy dropping mustard gas on orphanages, found time to win the DFC flying Short Sunderlands in support of HMS Amethyst on the Yangtze river in 1949. His personal effects make up part of the Sunderland display at Duxford.
> For anyone interested I've just temporarily upload a photograph to my gallery. I hope the mods will allow it.
> It shows a group of RFC personnel and was, I believe, taken in France - date unknown.
> The sergeant sitting in the front row, far right is my grandfather.
> The life expectancy of the bomber crews was very poor.
It was appalling
Bomber Command suffered the highest casualty rate of any British military formation in WW2, greater even than the high infantry officer casualty rate of WW1.
A Tour was 30 operational flights. Few survived a tour, but some went onto complete a second tour, and a very few into a third tour.
Survival chances of completing one Tour (source Wiki ):
Taking an example of 100 airmen:
> For anyone interested I've just temporarily upload a photograph to my gallery. I hope the mods will allow it...
Photo is now in my gallery.
In WW1 the life expectancy of an RAC and RAF pilot was very poor. Flying was in it's infancy and deaths from training accidents were on a par with deaths caused by enemy action. On joining a front line Squadron a pilot had just a few weeks life expectancy. In the First World war although parachutes had been invented, they were not issued because High Command thought that pilots would take to their parachutes at the first sign of the enemy rather than fight hard to survive! A dreadful and fatal slur on their determination and courage.
At the time of the Battle of Britain new pilots were being posted to their Squadrons with just a few hours flying training. One survivor likened it to someone who had just passed their driving test being entered for a Formula 1 race.
It wasn't until after WW2 that what we now know as PTSD became fully understood. Battle fatigue was recognised up to a point, and some steps were taken by Commanders on the spot to rest over fatigued crews, as in John Stainsforth's post, but some suffered breakdowns only to be labled LMF (Lacking of Moral Fibre) and to have this stamped in their logbooks, before being taken off flying duties and posted to a ground job. An absolutely appalling way to treat someone.
Given the dreadful physical and mental strain operational crews were under instances of LMF were surprisingly few. Aircrew feared being branded LMF more than they feared the enemy.
For anyone who has missed them, and wants to catch up, Channel 4 has been running some excellent documentaries this week in celebration of the RAF - 100 years
> For anyone who has missed them, and wants to catch up, Channel 4 has been running some excellent documentaries this week in celebration of the RAF - 100 years
I think you mean BBC Four - can't see anything on Channel 4. Go to the History category in iPlayer and they're all there.
> I think you mean BBC Four - can't see anything on Channel 4. Go to the History category in iPlayer and they're all there.
Sorry! Yes, thanks, you're right
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