|  Page 1 of 2|
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force Pictures
The RAF. Royal Air Force. Motto: Per ardua ad astra (Through struggles to the stars). The most junior of Britain's three armed services (after the Royal Navy and the British Army) started as the Royal Flying Corps, part of the Army, in 1912. It was the Royal Flying Corps that operated British manned balloons and aircraft for most of the Great War. Originally its aircraft were marked with the Union flag, but they were often targeted by their own side which mistook them for German cross markings. Consequently the RFC adopted the roundel identification that is retained by the RAF to this day.
On the 1st April 1918, following a report by Jan Smuts that identified the potential and importance of aerial warfare, the RAF was established as an independent service on a par with the Royal Navy and British Army. It is the oldest independent air force in the world and its formation confirmed the rising importance of aviation in general as well as an avenue of military action.
Between the wars the RAF was involved in little conflict other than the occasional sortie in the outposts of Empire. But the rise of Hitler and German militarisation left the RAF, belatedly, playing catch-up to develop modern aircraft and to recruit and train pilots in sufficient numbers for the impending war that most knew could be delayed but not averted. In this period the R J Mitchell-designed Supermarine seaplanes competing in the Schneider Trophy air race were a test-bed for high-performance aircraft that formed the basis for the Spitfire fighter, arguably the RAF's most illustrious airplane.
As World War II went badly for the Allies and France fell, the RAF was the West's last bulwark against fascism (until the Americans turned up). It was the sacrifice of the RAF's pilots (including those from the Commonwealth - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Rhodesia especially - and the Poles and Czechs) that stopped the Luftwaffe gaining the air superiority that surely would have led to invasion of the British Isles and German victory. As Churchill put it in one of the 20th century's greatest speeches 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'.
Whilst Fighter Command was defending these shores, Bomber Command was the only means to carry the war to the enemy's territory. Despite suffering terrible losses the RAF's Wellingtons, Lancasters and other bombers managed even to attack Berlin, far in the East. Goering had taunted the British: "The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring: you can call me Meier!". By the end of the war Berlin's air-raid sirens were known as Meier's trumpets.
Since WWII the RAF has mixed military exploits from the ignominious Suez debacle through the Falklands (although those Harriers were actually Fleet Air Arm airplanes) to the first and second Gulf Wars with humanitarian support (most notably the Berlin Air Lift of 1948 and 1949).