Rebirth of The RAF

This article was written in England. In accordance with official British policy, no signature is included.
British air strength has multiplied many fold since the war began and the work of each of the several Commands has been greatly intensified.

In hard figures, published for all the world to read, the Annual Air Estimates for the years ending in March 1935 to March 1940, show Britain's air strength following a continuously rising curve. Gradually at first — for Britain's tradition of disarmament died hard — then steeply as the muffled tones of Germany's war drums beat through on the consciousness of the threatened nations, the RAF was built up to something like its former premier place among the airy navies of the world. From a 1935 low of 580 first line aircraft, and 31,000 regular personnel and about half as many auxiliaries and reservists, the figures rose in 5 years to a proposed first-line strength of 2,370 aircraft, plus certain undisclosed additions both at Home and Overseas. With those aircraft, the target for March, 1940, were to go 150,000 regular officers and airmen and over 100,000 auxiliary and reserve personnel. That makes rather more than a quarter of a million trained and partly trained airmen of all sorts — within five years of the time when the entire strength of Britain's air forces was but 46,000.

The financial provisions for those prewar years of Britain's air awakening are equally impressive. For 1934-1935 Britain earmarked £17,000,000 for the whole of its air services — a flea-bite to what it was known the Germans were secretly spending in preparation for the second Der Tag. This 17 millions — not much more than the current cost of a single day's expenditure on the war — included subsidies for civil aviation, as well as the cost of aeronautical research and development, new aerodromes, works and so on. For 1939 — the year of Munich * — the financial provision for Britain's air defense and civil air development had been multiplied nearly eight times! For 1940, it was scheduled to be £240,000,000 — roughly 14 times what had been set aside for all Britain's air services in 1935. Such is the bare pattern of Britain's air development in terms of hard figures up to the time when the Nazis began to create the "Danzig incident" as a prelude to world war.

War Time Development of the RAF

Actually the figures for the year which ended in March, 1940, were destined to become merely "token figures." From the autumn of 1939 the fog of war descended on such details of the nation's fighting services. Actual strengths, and the directions of air development — how much for aircraft, how much for armament, how many officers, how many men, the numbers of squadrons and of reserves — these have become a close secret.

Just what numbers of aircraft and personnel were realized in 1940 and 1941 will not be known until after victory is won. But the scale of Britain's air offensive today in all parts of the world plainly tells of a vast increase in every direction. One single indication of the way the power and strength of the RAF has been developed under the impetus of wartime needs was given recently by the Prime Minister. He revealed that we now had in the Middle East an air force almost as large as we had in Great Britain when the war began.

In step with this impressive growth in mere numbers of men and machines — and for that matter in the aircraft and aircrew productive capacity which is a vital foundation on which to build a first class fighting Air Force — there have been rapid and far-reaching developments in the aircraft themselves. Not only have completely new types been evolved but existing ones so redesigned as to make them almost new aircraft. This technical advance includes their equipment — armament, bombs, instruments and the rest. An example of the technical advance achieved is the latest type Hurricane. Mark I of this single-seat fighter — one of the two standard monoplane types with which Britain entered the war — was originally armed with 8 rifle-caliber machine guns, and had a top speed of around 335 mph. With its new 2-speed, supercharged engine the Mark II Hurricane has a higher ceiling, a better rate of climb and a higher top speed. And with that increased performance it now carries the terrific armament of 12 machine guns, or alternatively four 20-mm cannons.

Organization and Command

The organization of the RAF, has not been materially changed during the war. A complete reorganization of the Metropolitan Air Forces was effected some years before the war by which functional commands were substituted for geographic commands, and operational groups within the commands were given a new significance. The. various main functions of the air force — fighting, bombing, coastal work and training — were allocated to a separate command, each under an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. Abroad, the geographical basis still maintains. There is a Middle East Command, Iraq Command and so on. That reorganization, carried out in peacetime but designated for modern wartime needs, has stood the test of combat conditions. Some new commands have been added — notably the Army Cooperation and the Balloon Commands; and the original Training Command has been split into two — one for flying training, one for technical training. Coastal Command has been greatly expanded. But the functional pattern of the RAF's organization is still the same. But this functional pattern does not mean that the jobs of the different Commands are, as it were, cut-and-dried. Certainly the operational Commands often lend a hand with one anothers' jobs. Coastal Command is not above doing a job of bombing; Bomber Command might help with Coastal reconnaissance. But there are certain broad distinctions.

Fighter Command controls all the principal air defenses of the country, apart from purely naval ones, either directly or for purposes of coordination. Fighter or so-called interceptor aircraft, anti-aircraft gun barrages, searchlights, aural, visual and radiolocation detection systems and the barrage balloons are all operated as a single interlocking system under the aegis of Air Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas C-in-C of Fighter Command. But its role is far from entirely defensive. Aggressive fighter sweeps over enemy occupied territory, air escort for bombers or reconnaissance aircraft and fighter protection to military formations, air attacks by fighters on enemy shipping and other targets all come within the scope of Fighter Command.

On Bomber Command, under Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, falls the responsibility for maintaining the principal weight of Britain's air offensive against the enemy. Home based aircraft, varying from speedy middleweights like the Blenheims to such 4-motor giants as the Stirling and Flying Fortress, are night and day delivering Britain's air punches on enemy targets, ranging from Italy to the coasts of Norway, and far into the German hinterland.

Coastal Command is almost an air force unto itself. The duties are as wide as the seas and oceans it patrols. Capturing a submarine, "shooting up" a flak ship, torpedoing an enemy cruiser, bombing a gun emplacement — it's all one to the pilots and crews commanded by Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert.

The other purely RAF Commands at Home — that is excepting the Army Cooperation Command — are strictly non-operational. Their jobs are to train the personnel and equip the squadrons who carry out the active operations. Here are their names and their Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief:

The Army Cooperation Command

To the Army man the Army Cooperation Command of the RAF has the closest interest. This was formed in November, 1940, "after joint consideration by the War Office and the Air Ministry of how best to secure the most effective cooperation between the Army and the Royal Air Force." It comprises all squadrons allotted to Army formations in the United Kingdom, together with associated training units. Primary function of the Command is to organize, experiment and train in all forms of cooperation between the air and land services. The operational employment of the Army CoOp squadrons rests with the commanders of the Army formation to which the Squadrons are allotted.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt, an old gunner officer and former C-in-C of the British Air Forces in France, is Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief.

This article was originally published in the January, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 1, pp 136-137, 220.
The original article includes 2 photos.
Photos credited to British Combine.
* This must be a typo. The Munich Agreement was dated September 30, 1938 —JLM.