The Royal Air Force (RAF)

Read more about the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was established in April 1918 from the amalgamation of a number of smaller aerial combat forces that had served during the First World War.  The RAF expanded significantly during the Second World War, reaching a total strength of some 1.2 million men and women.  Over 185,000 of these were male British aircrew, among them pilots, navigators, flight engineers, wireless operators, bomb aimers and gunners. They were joined on some of the most dangerous active service missions of the war by 130,000 pilots from Commonwealth countries and some 30,000 aircrew from other European countries, notably Poland.

Although downplayed, the early bombing raids were in truth dreadfully inaccurate and this led to calls for better trained crew and better equipment. Gradually standards in both improved: over the course of the war the RAF used 333 flying training schools in Britain and further afield in Canada, Australia. New Zealand, South Africa.

Aerial warfare during the Second World War was pursued on two fronts, by Fighter Command and Bomber Command, each responsible for defence and attack respectively. Fighter Command led by Hugh Dowding and using two heavily armed interceptor aircraft - the Hurricane and the Spitfire – managed to successfully resist the Luftwaffe and won the Battle of Britain in 1940. As the war progressed, the focus of RAF operations shifted to Bomber Command and to attack with the crews of Halifax and Lancaster bombers flying many thousands of missions across occupied Europe to bomb Germany.  The average age of a bomber crew was 22 years old.

A total of 70,253 RAF personnel were lost on operations during the war and of these around 55,000 came from Bomber Command.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 08/05/2012.