We hope you enjoy our new Calendar and Annual Report commemorating the Royal Air Force, below is a explanation of the inspiration for each month’s design.
December – The International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in Lincoln is a world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation for Bomber Command. It provides the most comprehensive record for generations to come to learn of the Command’s vital role in protecting our freedom enjoyed today.
The IBCC acknowledges the efforts, sacrifices and commitment of the men and women, from 62 different nations, who came together in Bomber Command during WWII.
The project also covers the stories of those who suffered as a result of the bombing campaigns and those whose survival was guaranteed by the humanitarian operations of Bomber Command.
During WWII over a million men and women served or supported Bomber Command. They came from 62 nations across the world and were united in their efforts to protect the freedom we enjoy today. The service included Aircrew, Ground Crew, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Auxiliary Air Transport, Auxiliary Transport Services, NAAFI and many others.
Bomber Command suffered the highest losses of any unit during WWII but have struggled for recognition. Every member of Bomber Command aircrew was a volunteer with an average age at death of only 23.
“Bomber County (Lincolnshire) is the place from where many of us operated, so most veterans think that this is the place where we should be remembered. The magnificent Memorial, Digital Archive, Exhibition and International Peace Gardens when completed will ensure that memories of our sacrifices will live on.”
February – The RAF Regiment may be said to ‘fight on the ground to enable control of the air’. For over seventy-five years the RAF Regiment has been a vital component of air power that is able to prevent enemy attack on Royal Air Force or allied air assets and able to ensure that RAF and other personnel are fully protected.
Established by a Royal Warrant signed by His Majesty King George VI on the 1st February 1942, the Royal Air Force Regiment (RAF Regt) was formed. The RAF Regt may be said to fight on the ground to enable control of the air. As with all other RAF Officers, those joining the RAF Regt are trained at RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire.
From its foundation in 1918 the RAF recognised that it would need to place strong emphasis on protecting vulnerable air assets, and importantly, the military personnel that operate and control air power assets wherever they are on the ground.
Tracing its origins back to RAF armored car companies that first formed in 1921, what has been known as the RAF Regt since 1942 can rightly claim to be the world’s oldest, dedicated air force ground combat organisation. It remains an integral and vital part of the RAF capability having at its heart warfighting.
Since WWII and right up until British forces departed Afghanistan in 2014, the RAF Regt had been on constant operations for every single day of its existence, only matched by UK Special Forces. Over the past forty years this has included the Falkland Islands invasion by Argentina in 1983, Gulf War 1 and 2, operations in the Balkans and subsequently those in Iraq from 2003. In addition, the RAF Regt was deployed in Afghanistan throughout the period that UK forces and our allies were involved. Of note too is that the RAF Regt served with distinction in Northern Ireland, protecting RAF bases and air operations in the Province for almost 40 years. The RAF Regt was also extensively employed providing specialist United Nations Mission monitoring staff throughout the 1980 and 1990’s.
The RAF Regt is also responsible for manning the Queens Colour Squadron (QCS), a unit that undertakes all major Royal Air Force ceremonial duties. They have previously been involved mounting the Guard at Buckingham Palace and providing Guards of Honour for visiting Heads of State.
The RAF Regiment is not alone of course defending RAF bases and all uniformed personnel based at an RAF station have a secondary ground defense role for which they are trained to defend their place of work against ground attack and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) attack. Training for this is provided by RAF Regt instructors and this is provided on courses at station level.
March – The first Meteor to fly was DG206/G on 5th March 1943 when it took to the air for just three minutes and thirty seconds, piloted by Michael Daunt at RAF Cranwell. On this first flight there was an uncontrollable yawing motion which led to a redesigned larger rudder.
The first gas-turbine ‘jet’ engine was originally patented and built by John Barber of Nottingham in 1792. It was powered by wood, coal and other flammable substances, however the heat-resistant materials required to fully take advantage of the design were not available.
By 1926, Frank Whittle, an apprentice in the RAF, had developed his own theory of using gas turbines to power aircraft at speeds and altitudes impossible for piston driven engines. Whittle knew that for man to fly faster, he would have to fly at a greater altitude where the air was thinner and that the conventional propeller would not be capable. At the same time, his mathematical talent was spotted and he was recommended for officer and pilot training. He patented his idea for a centrifugal compressor-driven turbojet engine in 1930.
With the threat of war, the Air Ministry contracted a jet engine to power an experimental aircraft to be built by Gloster Aircraft Company, which would prove the jet engine concept. The single engined aircraft was flown powered by the Whittle W.1 engine.
In August 1940, Gloster’s proposals for a twin-engined jet fighter led to an initial order of twelve prototypes (later reduced to eight) in February 1941. Initially to be called ‘Thunderbolt’, it was changed to Meteor to avoid confusion with the USAAF Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
A contract was placed for 300 Meteors, later cancelled following the end of the war in September 1945. The first two Meteors were transferred to RAF Manston, joining a Squadron still operating Spitfires. The Meteor and Spitfire pilots were billeted in separate huts and the Meteors kept under cover and under guard in the hanger. The Meteors would be used to counter the threat of the V1s targeting London. Although limited in numbers and in their range, the 410mph Meteor was marginally faster than the Spitfire XIV with a top speed of 396mph, but it excelled at 1,000 to 3,000 feet, just where the V1 operated.
By the end of August 1944 the V1 sites in France were overrun by Allied ground forces, reducing the attacks on London. Thirteen V1s were confirmed killed by the squadron by the time the launches stopped.
April – 100 years ago on 1st April 1918 the RAF secured the nation’s skies and established itself as the world’s first independent air force. The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, become one, and an old rivalry is ended in a single identity of uniform.
The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were amalgamated. Officers and men of both services who continued service after this date transferred into the newly formed RAF and were joined by new entrants. From this date onwards the RFC and RNAS ceased to exist. An Air Minister was now responsible for the whole of our offence and defence in one element, as the War Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty are in the other two.
The RAF has remained at the forefront of technological innovation throughout its history. Today it operates some of the most advanced fighting equipment in the world, including remotely-piloted air systems, and is an acknowledged leader in the use of synthetics to train its fast jet combat and air mobility aircrew. The Royal Air Force has also led the way in applying innovative solutions to aircraft support, improving operational performance and reducing costs – simultaneously fostering a unique and symbiotic partnership with business and industrial partners.
‘High Flight’ is one of the world’s most famous aviation poems, written by pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr, who was enthused by the words “to touch the face of God” during a high altitude training flight in a Spitfire on 18th August, 1941. That same day, on his return to earth, he finished the poem, calling it ‘High Flight’.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Tragically, just a few months after writing High Flight, Magee was killed in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire. He was buried there at Scopwick Cemetery, near Digby, and the first and last lines of the poem are inscribed on his grave.
May – The bomb that bounced… At the core of the RAF’s Operation Chastise was the bouncing bomb which was quite an amazing design, by Dr Wallis. On the night of May 16th, the Dambusters left RAF Scampton in three waves of Operation Chastise, led by Guy Gibson, and attacked the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams.
The Möhne and Eder dams were breached successfully, however the attack on the Sorpe was less effective. The breached dams caused floodwaters to sweep through the Ruhr Valley, and the Möhne dam was swept away and railway and road bridges vanished – the news really boosted morale in wartime Britain.
Those selected to carry out Operation Chastise were the most supreme pilots of bomber Command who flew specially adapted 30-tonne Avro Lancasters which were originally designed to operate at 10,000 feet and at nearly 250mph. Something that might highlight just how astute and accurate the pilots had to be is knowing that for Operation Chastise the pilots had to fly at 60 feet – which is about the height of a medium sized tree, sometimes they flew lower than that, at speed, and during enemy fire. And for the night time raids they were doing all that in the dark. What skill that must have took. You really have to admire the pilots who not only had to fly very strategically, but who also had very little time to prepare for the mission – honourably and devotedly they just did it.
Apparently, Wing Commander, Guy Gibson who led the mission only had 11 weeks to prepare crews for Operation Chastise. And even though they practised some low-level flying and precision bombing, crews had no idea about their target until six hours before take-off. Sadly though, almost half of the 113 airmen that were a part of it never made it back. The pilots must have had a fantastic amount of bravery.
The last surviving British Dambuster is Johnny Johnson, the bomb aimer on ‘T’ for Tommy, who according to an article, never doubted that he’d make it back from the mission. Johnny, recalled his part in the legendary raid – talking about flying without any lights at just 30ft, getting attacked by enemy fire and dropping his bomb with such skill.
June – Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) came from all walks of life and around the world. By 1943, 48 nationalities were represented in the force including Irish, Caribbean and Polish women. Despite coming from a variety of backgrounds, all had to adapt to the rigours of service life; basic facilities, a lack of privacy, shift work and inspections.
On 28 June 1939 King George VI established the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) for duty with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in time of war. Since 1938, RAF Companies had existed within the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the female force equivalent to the Territorial Army. These companies were affiliated to Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons but by May 1939, the Government decided that a separate women’s air service was necessary.
The WAAF was not an independent organisation nor was it completely integrated within the RAF. Rather it was interlinked with its ‘parent’ force for the purpose of substituting, where possible, women for RAF personnel. It was mobilised on 28 August 1939 and within the year tens of thousands of women had volunteered to serve. In 1941 the WAAF became part of the Armed Forces of the Crown, subject to the Air Force Act. This was greeted with pride and enthusiasm by its members.
With conscription for women introduced from December 1941, the ranks swelled further so that by July 1943 a peak strength of 182,000 had been reached. By 1945 a quarter of a million women had served in the WAAF in over 110 different trades, supporting operations around the world. They were an integral and vital part of the Royal Air Force’s war effort.
Women did fly aircraft in Britain during the Second World War but they did so as civilian pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary. With war coming to an end demobilisation began. By June 1946 over 100,000 had left the service. The Government was conscious of the contribution made by the WAAF. Proposals for retaining a permanent female peacetime force were discussed and, as a result, the Women’s Royal Air Force was re-formed on 1 February 1949.
Over a quarter of a million women served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). No fewer than 183,317 were volunteers with a further 33,932 women called up from December 1941. The majority were aged between 18 and 40. Many WAAFs were decorated for their gallantry. Daphne Pearson, a medical corporal rescued a pilot from his crashed aircraft at RAF Detling on 31 May 1940. As the aircraft and its bomb load exploded, Corporal Pearson threw herself on top of the pilot to protect him from the blast and splinters. As a result of her action, Corporal Pearson was awarded the George Cross.
The women of the WAAF were a vital part of the RAF’s war effort and through their example demonstrated the contribution which women could make to Britain’s Armed Forces.
July – The scramble was a hurried affair … a large enemy formation was encountered flying up the Thames Estuary towards London. The Battle of Britain was one of the decisive battles of the Second World War, and saw the RAF defeat a German attempt to gain air superiority over southern England in preparation for Operation Sealion, the planned invasion of Britain.
The battle was also the first major defeat to be suffered by the Germans during the Second World War, and by keeping Britain in the war denied Hitler the quick victory that he had expected.
The second phase, from 8-23 August, saw the Luftwaffe attempt to destroy Fighter Command by attacking coastal targets, including ports, the aircraft industry and RAF airfields.
The third, and most dangerous phase of the battle, lasted from 24 August to 6 September and saw the Luftwaffe attack Fighter Command’s inland stations in great strength, threatening to disrupt the carefully constructed control system based around the Sector Stations. Just as Fighter Command was beginning to be worn down by this approach the Germans changed their plan again.
The fourth phase of the battle, from 7 September to the end of the month, saw the Luftwaffe carry out a series of massive daylight raids on London in the hope that this would force Fighter Command to commit its last reserves to the battle.
Finally during October the Luftwaffe abandoned large scale daylight bombing raids. Instead it carried out large scale fighter bomber raids during the day while its bombers operated at night. After the end of October even the fighter bomber raids ended, and the Germans concentrated instead on the Blitz, the night time bombing raids over Britain’s cities.
August – The first flight of the prototype English Electric Lightning (the P.1) took to the air on the 4th of August 1954, piloted by Roland Beamont, ‘English Electric’s’ chief test pilot. On its third flight (on the 11th) it exceeded Mach 1 in level flight, the first British aircraft to do so
The P.1s, while recognisably Lightning ancestors, had a number of differences in appearance. Most obviously, they had yet to receive a radar, and the nose intake was egg-shaped rather than round; looking like a basking shark’s mouth.
Flight testing was not without its mishaps; problems with the canopy release mechanism resulted in no less than three in-flight losses of the canopy. The pilots involved were lucky to survive (one canopy self-jettison occurred at supersonic speed, making the pilot, de Villiers, the fastest open-cockpit pilot in the world). Some amusement in the press was caused by these failures; Punch printed a cartoon showing the P.1 with rope wrapped around the fuselage and canopy with a caption of “Had a little trouble losing cockpit canopies, but I think we’ve mastered it.”
In October 1958, the RAF officially named their new aircraft – Lightning had struck. One month later, using minimum afterburner, the Lightning attained mach 2.0; thunder follows lightning!
The early days of Lightning operation were characterised by ever bolder paint schemes, culminating in 56 squadron’s famous red and white-checked tails, along with a red and white arrowhead in front of the nose roundel. Unfortunately the days of such brightly-marked fighters were numbered; officialdom soon decreed that the colourful squadron markings had to go, and Lightnings reverted to natural metal finishes with much more discreet and standardised markings.
During their time in the RAF, Lightnings wowed air show audiences in the UK; in 1961, an aerobatic team called The Tigers was formed by 74 squadron – nine Lightnings in formation! In 1963, 56 squadron formed an aerobatic team – The Firebirds. Taking over from The Tigers, the red and white markings of the flamboyant 56 squadron were applied to the aircraft and this, as well as the amazing displays, endeared them to air show-goers throughout Europe. At the time, 56 squadron made much of their image, with pilots appearing in national newspapers and magazines proudly sporting the red and white checks of their squadron.
September – Jean Lennox Bird was a vital link in women’s aviation history and on 20th September 1952 became the first female RAF pilot to be awarded her wings
Jean Lennox Bird was one of the British Women Pilots’ Association’s (BWPA’s) first thirty founding members and an important personality in the post-war aviation world as it developed, especially in its approach to women in the aviation industry. Jean Lennox Bird was born in 1912. She learnt to fly at Hamble, in 1930, so that she was an experienced pilot by the outbreak of war in 1939. Initially she was commissioned in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, 1940-41 and resigned her commission to become an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) First Officer on 1st August 1941.
She flew ferrying aircraft until disbandment of the ATA on 30th November 1945. She and a good number of her ATA colleagues, along with a mix of other women pilots and ab initios, joined the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (WRAFVR), which at the time (1947) was at least part-fulfilling the RAF’s promise to train women aircrew, a whole different story. Jean was the first of these highly-experienced women pilots to qualify for their RAF Wings, that were awarded in her case on 20th September 1952 at Redhill Aerodrome.
It was on 29th April 1957, 60 years ago, she was killed in the crash of a Miles Aerovan G-AISF, that she was piloting from Manchester (Ringway) Airport. She was surveying the proposed route of a new road at the time that she was killed. By the date of her death Jean Lennox Bird was a very experienced British women pilot. She had about 3,100 hours, in close to 90 different aircraft types, including high performance military aircraft as she qualified for her RAF wings in the reserves. She held a senior commercial licence, an instructor’s rating and many other licences. In the world of private aviation, she was known as a part-time instructor at Croydon, with Surrey Flying Club.
October – With a trademark combination of close formations and precision flying, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, has been displaying since 1965. One of the premier aerobatic teams in the world, the Red Arrows are the public face of the Royal Air Force and are ambassadors for the United Kingdom.
The team is made up of more than 120 people, including pilots, engineers and essential support staff. Together, they demonstrate the excellence and capabilities of the Royal Air Force and the Service’s skilled, talented people. Based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, the Red Arrows had flown 4,800 displays in 57 countries, by the end of 2016 – the Squadron’s 52nd season.
The team has a number of important roles:
November – November 1948 was one of the crucial months in the Berlin Airlift. This humanitarian event is tribute to the many servicemen and women who served on the airlift in the air and on the ground, supporting operations to keep the population of West Berlin alive during the Soviet Blockade of 1948-1949.
Thirty nine British and Commonwealth personnel lost their lives during the airlift, also known as “Operation Plainfare”. The Berlin Airlift was a difficult, unglamorous and dangerous undertaking; the biggest humanitarian operation ever conducted.
British aircraft flew more than 175,000 trips to and from the city as the RAF, supported by civilian pilots and Army teams on the ground, faced the most challenging of conditions in ensuring that the two million people living in Berlin did not starve or freeze to death when their supplies were cut off by the Soviets.
At the start of the Berlin Blockade, before the Airlift started, West Berlin had just thirty-five days’ worth of food, and forty-five days’ worth of coal. Without the involvement of the Allied Armed Forces, West Berlin would have been lost and the nature of post-war Europe would have altered significantly.
British aircraft spent more than 210,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of 24 man years, and flew more than 30 million miles, which equates to flying to the moon and back 63 times.
During the Airlift, British military and civilian aircraft lifted more than 540,000 tons. This included food, coal, liquid fuel, military equipment and other items, such as metal girders to rebuild the bridges in the city destroyed during the Second World War.
The airlift sustained the population of West Berlin, at that time estimated to be around two million. Their daily requirement for food alone was 900 tons of potatoes; 641 tons of flour; 106 tons of meat and fish, 105 tons of cereals and so on, amounting altogether to some 1,800 to 2,000 tons of food alone every day. Nearly 45 per cent of the food and supplies taken in to Berlin were flown in British aircraft.
Alongside the population of Berlin, there were also many Servicemen and women with their families stationed in the city as part of the Allied garrison for the duration of the Blockade. British aircraft also transported more than 131,000 individuals – mainly children and the sick – out of Berlin for medical attention in West Germany. They also transported people into the city, including Service personnel and their families. The British were the only force that sustained trade with the city, exporting nearly 360,000 tons of goods produced in Berlin out to West Germany and beyond.
The Soviet Blockade was lifted on 12 May 1949, the Airlift having prevented the starvation of the city. Flights continued for several months however, ensuring the city was well stocked in the event of further blockades.
December – The Royal Air Force Motto – ” Per Ardua ad Astra”,
As far as can be ascertained, the motto of the Royal Air Force dates back to 1912 and the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The first Commanding Officer of the RFC (Military Wing) was Colonel Frederick Sykes. He asked his officers to come up with a motto for the new service; one which would produce a strong esprit de corps.
Shortly after this, two junior officers were walking from the Officers’ Mess at Farnborough to Cody’s Shed on Laffan Plain. As they walked, they discussed the problem of the motto and one of them, JS Yule, mentioned the phrase “Sicictar ad Astra”, from the Virgilian texts. He then expanded on this with the phrase “Per Ardua ad Astra”, which he translated as, “Through Struggles to the Stars”. Colonel Sykes approved of this as the motto and forwarded it to the War Office. It was then submitted to the King, who approved its adoption.
The question of where this motto had come from can be answered by the fact that Yule had read it in a book called “People of the Mist” by Sir Henry Rider Haggard. In the first chapter was the passage, “To his right were two stately gates of iron fantastically wrought, supported by stone pillars on whose summit stood griffins of black marble embracing coats of arms and banners inscribed with the device ‘Per Ardua ad Astra'”.
As to where Sir Rider Haggard obtained this phrase is still unclear although it is possible that it originated from the Irish family of Mulway who had used it as their family motto for hundreds of years and translated it as “Through Struggles to the Stars”.
The authoritative translation of the motto is just as unsure as the source. Since there can be a number of different meanings to ‘Ardua’ and ‘Astra’, scholars have declared it to untranslatable. To the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth Air Forces though it will remain “Through Adversity to the Stars”. It is peculiar to the Royal Air Force and has been made famous by the heroic and courageous deeds of our air forces over the years.
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