Royal Air Force
RAF was formed on the 1 April 1918 with the amalgamation of the
Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps.
mark the occasion the then Air Minister, Lord Rothemere,
offered the following tribute to "our Flying Men" which was
published in Flight Magazine on 4 April 1918:
Of all the amazing object-lessons in personal bravery which
Armageddon has given us, surely there is nothing more wonderful than
the British flying man. All our previous standards of bravery and
daring have had to be revised in face of the deeds of the boys in the
R.F.C. and in the R.N.A.S. I do not think any of us who come into
daily contact with the pilots and observers in our Air Service ever
quite lose a sense of wonder when we come face to face with them.
These boys of 18, 19 and 20, as they are for the most part, without
any vestige of 'side,' all imbued with the desire that their splendid
deeds should remain anonymous, are one of the miracles of the War.
I wonder if those who read the daily bulletins issued by the Air
Service as regards the fighting on the various fronts have any idea
of what is entailed by the simple statement ' twelve enemy aircraft
were brought down ' ? Spinning nose dives, tail-slides, side-slips,
'falling leaf,' looping the loop, and the many other 'stunts'
entailed almost take our breath away.
The performances of our flying men to-day and the aerobatics which
form part of their daily routine were undreamed of even eighteen
months since. Only human beings of perfect physique, of matchless
bravery or of extraordinary quickness of brain can have any chance of
distinguishing themselves in aerial warfare in 1918. And here is the
miraclethe British Empire possesses thousands, not hundreds, of
these ' supermen.'
Our pilots come from all sections of the British Empire ; from our
public schools and universities ; from the counting house and office
desk in London, Manchester and Glasgow; from the wheat farm in the
Canadian North-West; the sheep station in Australia and New Zealand ;
from the gold mines on the Randin fact, from every section of
His Majesty's Dominions these boys have come to ' strafe the Hun.'
Whatever mistakes there may have been in the past owing to a lack of
realisation of the outstanding part that aerial warfare was destined
to play, it is very largely thanks to the bravery of the British
airman that the Empire occupies its present position in the Air."
application of air power was developing beyond the immediate
tactical use of aircraft by the Navy and the Army. At home the civil
population had been on the receiving end of German bombing raids and
the psychological effects of this was having a significant impact on
politicians. Consideration was being given to the creation of a long
range bombing force both as general retaliation and as a means of
disrupting enemy war production. There were also continuing concerns
about aircraft supply and priorities between the services, though
these were increasingly better co-ordinated.
Prime Minister, Lloyd George, commissioned Lt Gen Jan Smuts
(the South African General he had asked to join the War Cabinet) to
report on two issues: arrangements for Home Defence against bombing
and secondly, air organisation generally and the direction of aerial
operations. It was Smuts' report of August 1917 in response to the
second of these questions that led to the recommendation to establish
a separate Air Service. In making his recommendations Smuts commented
that "the day may not be far off when aerial operations with
their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial
and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal
operations of war, to which the older forms of miltary and naval
Given this new dimension he commented that it was important that
the design of aircraft and engines for such operations should be
settled in accordance with the policy which would direct their future
strategic employment. On these grounds he argued there was an urgent
need to create an Air Ministry and that this Ministry should sort out
the amalgamation of the two air services.
War Cabinet accepted this recommendation and Smuts was asked to lead
an Air Organisation Committee to put it into effect. Much of the
detailed work was led by Lt Gen Sir David Henderson. The Air
Force Bill received Royal assent on 29 November 1917 and Lord
Rothermere was appointed on 3 January 1918 as the first Secretary of
State for Air and an Air Council established.
The War in the Air, Vol 6, by H A Jones
perspective on the new Service ...
editorial commenting on the formation of the new service:
future safety of the Empire is in the air as well as on and under
the sea, and it is thus impossible to look into that future without
being forced to the irresistible conclusion that, while armies as we
known them nowand even fleetsmay disappear as a means of
practical war, our aerial navies must and will continue to increase
and multiply until the millennium, when there shall be no more war.
editorial did however go on to concede that: There may be some
who think we go too far in this, and who hold that even in their
highest development aircraft can be no more than an arm subsidiary to
ground armies and fleets at sea.
the news that week:
German offensive on the Somme front continued.
editorial commented on current operations in France:
by day and night after night our air squadrons are making every
moment hideous to the enemy. They have searched his bivouacs and
concentration areas with bombs and machine gun fire ; caused
holocausts of casualties in his ranks; and have done far more than is
yet realised in the holding up of his massed advance. In fact, it is
probably not going too far to say that had it not been for the
magnificent work of the personnel
what is now the Royal Air Force, the results of the battle, so far
as they fall to be written now, would have been far more disquieting
to the Allies. As a matter of fact, it is within our knowledge that
this is an understatement of the case, but more cannot be
about the work of the British airmen in the great Battle of the
Somme until the necessarily fragmentary stories which are current
to-day have been sifted and pieced together.
King had sent the following telegram to Sir Douglas Haig on 27
I wish to express to General Salmond and all ranks of the Air
Services of the British Empire in France my gratification at their
splendid achievements during this great battle.
am proud to be their Colonel-in-Chief. GEORGE
senior staff of the RAF were:
of the Air Staff Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard,
Chief of the Air Staff Rear Admiral Mark Kerr
Officer Commanding the RAF in France Major General John Salmond
the scenes ...
Gen Sir Hugh Trenchard had tendered his resignation as Chief of
Air Staff having disagreed with Lord Rothemere on his role in the new
Service. This was accepted on 13 April and Maj Gen Frederick Sykes
was appointed in his place. This then prompted the resignation the
Vice President of the Air Council Lt Gen Sir David Henderson
on the grounds that he could not work with Sykes. On 25 April Lord Rothemere
resigned and was replaced by Lord Weir (Rothemere having
indicated earlier that he might leave because of ill health, added to
which his eldest son had recently been killed in action).
the war ...
General Frederick Sykes retired from the RAF as Chief of Air Staff
in 1919 and went into politics;
General Sir Hugh Trenchard having gone on to lead the
Independent Force was reappointed Chief of the Air Staff
1919-1930 becoming the first Marshal of the Royal Air Force. He went
on to become Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police 1931-1935
General John Salmond continued in the RAF and succeeded Trenchard as
Chief of the Air Staff 1930-1933 (being succeeded very briefly in
that post by his brother).
Gen Sir David Henderson, regarded by Trenchard as the true father of
the air force, died in 1921.
RAF at the end of the war ...
The RAF had
grown by the end of the war to an organisation of 290,000 men, 99
Squadrons in France (with 1800 aircraft), a further 34 squadrons
overseas, 55 Home Establishment squadrons and 199 training squadrons,
with a total inventory of some 22,000 aircraft.