Royal Air Force

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Royal Air Force

RAF Badge.svg

Royal Air Force emblem
Lineup April 1, 1918
Country United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Armed forces United Kingdom Armed Forces
Type Armed forces ( air forces )
structure Air Force Board

Air Command

No. 1 Group RAF
No. 2 Group RAF
No. 22 Group RAF
No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group
Strength 46,000 (43,500 regular soldiers + 2,500 active reserves)
Air Staff Offices Department of Defense , Whitehall , London
motto Latin " Per ardua ad astra "
German "Through difficulties to the stars"
march Royal Air Force March Past
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier
Aircraft cockade RAF roundel.svg RAF Lowvis Army roundel.svg
National emblem ( vertical stabilizer ) RAF-Finflash-Noncombat.svg Fin flash of the United Kingdom Low Visibility.svg
Royal Air Force flag
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge in an RAF parade uniform

Royal Air Force (official abbreviation RAF , unofficially also R. A. F. ) is the name for the air force of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The "Royal Air Force" was the first air force in the world to be organized as an independent military force.

History of the Royal Air Force

Predecessor organizations

The first military used aircraft in the "Armed Forces of the Crown," the armed forces of the United Kingdom , were under the flight staff of the " Corps of Royal Engineers ," the engineering troops of the " British Army ". These units were transferred to the “ Royal Flying Corps (RFC)” by royal order on April 13, 1912 , which officially represents the direct predecessor organization of the later “Royal Air Force”. At the end of 1912 the "Royal Flying Corps" as early as 12 were under manned balloons and 36 biplane - combat aircraft . At the same time, the “ Royal Navy ” set up its own unauthorized naval aviation association , the “ Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS)”, which was not officially recognized until July 1, 1914, less than a month before the start of the First World War . When the United Kingdom entered the First World War on August 4, 1914, the “Royal Naval Air Service” had more aircraft under its control than the “Royal Flying Corps”. The "Royal Navy" entertained 12 airship ports along the British coast from the north-east Scotland village of Longside in Aberdeenshire to lying to the west Welsh island of Anglesey .

Established in the First World War

The challenges of the First World War - Great Britain had almost 3,500 dead and many wounded among its civilian population as a result of the bombing of German zeppelins and bomber planes - contributed decisively to the first considerations of a merger of the British Army Aviators of the " Royal Flying Corps (RFC)" as early as 1916 with the British naval aviators in the " Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS)" to ensure an effective defense of the British airspace in the future. These considerations were finally put into practice on April 1, 1918 with the merger of the two aviation associations to form a military force independent of land and naval forces , the "Royal Air Force". This made the British “Royal Air Force” the first air force in the world to be organized as an independent military force . She was under the command of the " Air Ministry ", the British Aviation Ministry. Her first military commander was Hugh Trenchard .

Interwar period (1918–1939)

Between the First World War and the Second World War , the RAF also took on transport tasks for the post office and freight. Militarily it was used for so-called police tasks in the British colonies during this time . In 1928 the Royal Air Force carried out an evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan for the first time . Organizationally, the RAF was divided from 1936 into the upper commands " Fighter Command ", " Bomber Command " and " Coastal Command ", which were expanded in 1938 to include the "Maintenance Command". Hugh Dowding was appointed first commander in chief of the newly created "Fighter Command" .

Upgrade planning

When a future war against the German Reich gradually came within the realm of possibility in 1934 , the British government formulated a five-year plan ("Plan A") to expand the British air force , which included the formation of a strong force of bombers to attack Germany as well as the creation of an air defense system to repel German air attacks . This plan was implemented in essential parts according to the original draft. The establishment of a network of air bases in southern England and the training of a cadre of pilots and crews were given priority. The equipping of the Royal Air Force with modern combat aircraft, however, could only take place towards the end of the planning period. The lack of an operational air force influenced British politics and is often seen as one of the reasons for Chamberlain 's policy of appeasement . In contrast, the leadership of the German Reich was aware of the threat posed by its armed forces . This was particularly true of the newly created German Air Force .

Viscount Swinton's successor as Secretary of State for Air was Kingsley Wood , who held the post from 1938 to 1940, as part of a cabinet reshuffle . Shortly after taking office, he announced that he wanted to revolutionize Great Britain's Air Expansion Scheme (air armament planning).

Radar development

After successful test results, a lot of money was invested in the British radar development. As early as January 1936, solutions had been found for all aspects of radar location (distance, elevation angle and location direction). Even the principle of a tracking radar could be demonstrated in practice on June 20, 1939 in front of Winston Churchill . In 1937 work began on installing a chain of 20 coastal radar stations, the so-called Chain Home , on the east coast of the British Isles . It worked at a wavelength of 10 to 13.5 m (22 to 30 MHz), transmitted 25 pulses per second with 200 kW power and had a range of 200 km. From Good Friday 1939, this radar chain was in continuous 24-hour operation.

Second World War (1939–1945)

Hawker Hurricane fighter plane
Royal Air Force bombers, 1940

On September 1, 1939, the Wehrmacht began the attack on Poland . Great Britain and France then jointly declared war on the German Reich after an ultimatum on September 3, 1939.

It was only at the beginning of World War II that Britain began to replace its anti-aircraft guns with new models. The Swedish 40 mm Bofors gun proved to be an effective weapon (range 4000 m).

In 1939, during the first RAF attacks on German warships and naval bases on the North Sea, it became clear that the Luftwaffe fighter planes guided by search radar could put the bombers into battle and inflict devastating losses on the bomber formations despite their defensive armament. During a British air raid on Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel on September 4, 1939, an aerial battle broke out; seven of the 24 RAF Bomber Command bombers were shot down. During the first major operation against the German naval base in Wilhelmshaven on December 18, 1939, there was an aerial battle over the German Bight ; this "died" the myth that a massive bomber attack, in which the planes with their defensive weapons covered each other, always "got through". This experience made the British air defense system appear far more important than had been expected before the war. Bombers turned out to be less effective than expected. Nevertheless, the British held on to the expectation that bombing raids against the civilian population would be decisive for the war (“ moral bombing ”).

During the Second World War , the command structure of the "Royal Air Force" was expanded in 1940 to include the "Flying Training Command" and in 1943 the " Transport Command ".

Western campaign and enterprise sea lion

When the Wehrmacht began the campaign in the west on May 10, 1940 , the seat war ended . In mid-May 1940 the RAF flew their first attack against western Germany. The goal was Mönchengladbach .

In mid-June 1940, the Wehrmacht took concrete steps to implement the “ Sea Lion Company ”, the planned invasion of Great Britain. This operation failed for several reasons. One of the reasons was the strength of the Royal Navy . Ultimately, this plan had to be abandoned on the German side.

After the defeat of France that began in August 1940 Battle of Britain ( "Battle of Britain"). The German Air Force outnumbered the RAF, yet the RAF successfully defended British airspace against the Air Force and inflicted heavy losses on it. The Luftwaffe did not achieve the goal of forcing peace negotiations through bombing, nor was it able to achieve air control over a possible invasion area for ground troops in the south of England.

In the final phase of the Battle of Britain, the German air raids were directed against the greater London area (" The Blitz "), both against the civilian population and against production facilities and port facilities.

On the night of 27 to 28 February 1942, the British succeeded in command - Operation Biting . They captured parts of a German radar system of the 'Würzburg' type and gained the important insight that its transmission frequency could not be changed. This knowledge made it possible to calculate the ideal length for tinfoil strips ( "chaff" ). These stripes (soon to be called “tinsel” in Germany) were dropped by British planes during attacks. The Germans saw “signal clouds” on their screens and no longer individual planes. This information would have been useful for air defense and flak. The tin foil strips saved thousands of planes from being shot down; England would not have had the capacity to maintain the number of its aircraft with a higher kill rate (= to replace losses promptly).

In April 1943 a night fighter of the type Ju 88 C-6 landed in England with an on- board radar of the new type Lichtenstein FuG 202 B / C. This gave the British valuable knowledge about this radar, including its wavelength (75 cm). They threw once and 37.5 cm long chaff (in England as a window hereinafter) from; this rendered the on-board radar system largely useless for a few crucial weeks in the early summer of 1943.

Bombing raids

From the summer of 1942, allied bomber fleets continuously flew heavy attacks against cities and industrial plants in Germany, in Europe occupied by the German Reich and in Italy (see also the article on aerial warfare ). The defense of German airspace initially seemed possible (albeit difficult). The RAF Bomber Command flew at this time mostly night raids and attempted bombings targeted on infrastructure and defense industries (with their hit rate was small and slow rise). From the summer of 1943 bomber formations of the 8th Air Force stationed in Great Britain began to carry out area bombings together with the RAF under their commander-in-chief Sir Arthur Harris ( Area Bombing Directive of February 1942). The RAF's bomber fleet was now up to 1,000 aircraft strong (" Thousand Bomber Attack "), many of them heavy four-engine bombers. The German air defense was - also due to the stresses of a multi-front war - increasingly overwhelmed. The RAF Bomber Command coordinated its operations with the 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force, which later operated from Italy . By the end of the war, both area bombings flew on residential areas of major German cities, in which incendiary and phosphor bombs were used specifically to ignite large fires or even firestorms in order to cause extensive and complete destruction. Firestorms caused over 20 such attacks , among others in Dresden (1945) , Hamburg (1943) , Pforzheim , Kassel , Frankfurt , Cologne and Würzburg . The aim of these actions should be to break the will of the German people.

Whether this type of warfare was ethically justifiable or had a military benefit is controversial; that these attacks caused innumerable human tragedies and wrought great suffering is beyond dispute. The Hague Air War Rules - which have not been ratified internationally - as well as the interpretation of some articles of the Hague Land Warfare Regulations allow this indiscriminate area bombing to be assessed as contrary to international law. One can argue that with its air raids, Germany waged a strategic aerial war against parts of the British civilian population; However, the allied area bombing of the last years of the war was much more extensive, more intense and more targeted at the civilian population.

Cold War (1945 / 47–1989)

During the Cold War era, the "Signals Command" was added to the existing command structure in 1958.

RAF Germany

Panavia Tornado of the 31st season
Vickers VC10 tanker

After the Second World War , units of the RAF remained stationed as RAF Germany in northwest Germany . There was also RAF Gatow in Berlin . Most recently, RAF Germany closed the bases RAF Gütersloh and RAF Wildenrath in the early 1990s , later RAF Laarbruch and finally RAF Brüggen in 2002 .

Participation in other armed conflicts

In the Korean War (1950–1953) the RAF only played a marginal role. In the Suez Crisis of 1956, the RAF was used in extensive operations from Cyprus and Malta . In 1968 the administration and structures of the RAF, which had existed since 1936, were reformed. The most significant change was the creation of the "Strike Command" in High Wycombe . This command center now jointly coordinates bombers and fighter planes that were previously subordinate to various RAF institutions. In 1971 the RAF was withdrawn from the South Asian region as part of the downsizing of its troops. A little later, the withdrawal from the Arab region followed.

In the Falklands War (1982), the RAF and the Royal Navy noticed the consequences of the disarmament. In addition to patrol missions over the Atlantic , helicopters and fighter planes were mainly used by the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy . In addition, as part of the flying Operation Black Buck Vulcan bomber from Ascension in the Atlantic seven appearances against the Argentine air defense and an airstrip.

Development from 1990 to 2016

Military operations

In the Second Gulf War in 1991 , 100 RAF fighter planes, bombers and helicopters were used, with precision-guided ammunition used for the first time .

Eurofighter Typhoon F2

The RAF has been involved in all major conflicts since 1995, including the 1999 Kosovo war and, from 2001, the war on terror in Afghanistan , known internally as Operation Harrick . The Royal Air Force also used fighter-bombers in the “ Third Gulf War ” from 2003, and lost an aircraft: a Tornado GR4 was accidentally shot down by an American Patriot rocket on its return from a mission . From March 19, 2011, several Eurofighters, tornado fighter planes and transport and surveillance aircraft took part in the implementation of UN Resolution 1973 . To this end, the RAF attacked ground targets in Libya in order to prevent troops of the Gaddafi regime from air strikes on their own people.

On the night of April 13-14, 2018, four Tornado-type fighter jets attacked a military target in Syria. This was located 24 km west of Homs. During the same period, France and the US also attacked targets in Syria.

In addition, many types of aircraft that had been in use for several decades have been replaced by newer aircraft. On the one hand, this affected the reconnaissance fleet, but also the tanker fleet. Both the British Aerospace Nimrod and the Vickers VC10 have been replaced with newer solutions.

Humanitarian operations

In addition to the engagement in combat missions, the transport aircraft fleet of the British Air Force was also used on a humanitarian basis . After the tsunami of December 26, 2004, around 20 transport aircraft were used for disaster relief, which could also be used in the role of medical evacuation ( MedEvac ). The operation included aid deliveries and the evacuation of tourists and the injured. In addition, from March 2015 the Royal Air Force participated with C-130 transport aircraft in the UN mission UNMISS in South Sudan in supplying remote areas with food and technical relief supplies, and the crews also helped after the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015 .


Royal Air Force (United Kingdom)
RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Leeming
RAF Valley
RAF Scampton
RAF Waddington
RAF Coningsby
RAF Cranwell
RAF Wittering
RAF Shawbury
RAF Brize Norton
RAF Northolt
RAF Benson
MoD Boscombe Down
RAF Odiham
RAF High Wycombe
RAF High Wycombe
Overview of the airborne units' bases and the headquarters of the Royal Air Force in the British Isles

The top management level of the RAF is the Air Force Board , which includes ministers, state secretaries and senior military officials. The other purely military levels of command , group , station , wing and squadron are subordinate to him . The top two levels are all located at RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire :

  • Air Command , responsible for all operations, is the only command of the RAF today
    • 1 Group , you are responsible for all fighter aircraft bases
      • Typhoon Force , with headquarters in RAF Coningsby and bases there and in Lossiemouth
      • Tornado Force , with headquarters and bases in RAF Marham and Lossiemouth
      • ISTAR Force , with headquarters and bases at RAF Waddington, Leeming and Creech AFB in Nevada
    • 2 Group , the operational support group to which the transport and tanker aircraft, the SAR helicopters and the ground forces of the RAF regiments are subordinate
      • Air Mobility Force , with headquarters in RAF Brize Norton and bases there and in Northolt (VIP fleet)
      • RAF Regiment , with headquarters in RAF Honington and bases at other airfields
    • 11 Group , the operational command group, with headquarters at RAF High Wycombe
    • 22 Group , responsible for all personnel and training issues, the training units for pilot training are subordinate to the group and that
      • Joint Helicopter Command
    • Director Special Forces / Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing
    • Permanent Joint Headquarters with headquarters in Northwood, to which the bases abroad (including Cyprus, Falkland Islands) and the

For an overview of the most important military airfields and flying stations , see the adjacent map and the


F-35 Lightning II

Future planning

The arrival of the Typhoon jets and the modernization of the helicopter fleet are nearing their end, while the replacement of the Hercules C5 with the A400M Atlas C1 is not expected to be fully completed until 2022.

The most important investment is the replacement of the Tornado GR4 with the F-35B Lightning II , which will be procured together with the Royal Navy . This will also be the main beneficiary of the order for nine P-8A Poseidons .

In terms of training aircraft, the Tucano T1 is to be replaced by the Texan II by 2019 , and the school helicopters used today (common for all branches of the armed forces) by the H135 Juno and a few H145 Jupiter from 2018 .


As a rule, the air forces take over the ranks of the army. Not so with the RAF. In contrast to almost all other air forces, the Royal Air Force has developed its own system of rank designations , which is based on the designations of the units ( squadron , group , squadron ).

Generals of the Royal Air Force
Marshal of the Royal Air Force
Air Chief Marshal
Air Chf Mshl
Air Marshal
Air Mshl
Air Vice Marshal
OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7
UK-Air-OF10.svgBritish RAF OF-10 (ceremonial shoulder board) .svg
Royal Air Force Officer Corps
Air Commodore
Air Cdre
Group Captain
Gp Capt
Wing Commander
Wg Cdr
Squadron Leader
Sqn Ldr
Flight Lieutenant
Flt Lt
Flying Officer
Fg Off
Pilot Officer
Plt Off
OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1b OF-1a
Royal Air Force NCOs
Master Aircrew
Warrant Officer
Flight Sergeant / Flight Sergeant Aircrew
FS / FS Acr
Chief Technician
Chf Tech
Sergeant / Sergeant Aircrew
Sgt / Sgt Acr
OR-9 OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-7 OR-6 / OR-5 OR-4
No equivalent
OR7b RAF Flight Sergeant.svg
OR7c RAF Flight Sergeant Acr.svg
OR7a RAF Chief Technician.svg
OR5n6a RAF Sergeant.svg
OR5n6b RAF Sergeant Acr.svg
OR4 RAF Corporal.svg
Royal Air Force crew grades
Lance Corporal (RAF Regiment only)
Senior Aircraftman Technician / Senior Aircraftman
Leading Aircraftman
OR-3 OR-2 OR-2 OR-1
OR3 RAF Lance Corporal.svg
OR2 RAF Senior Aircraftman.svg
OR2 RAF Senior Aircraftman Technician.svg
OR1 RAF Leading Aircraftman.svg
No badge


  1. The Air Commodore (OF-6) is, unlike many other armies, not a member of the generals .
  2. The Royal Air Force only has one non-commissioned officer rank with the title Warrant Officer and thus has no equivalent to Warrant Officer Class 2 , such as the British Army or the Royal Navy .
  3. The sergeant aircrew , the flight sergeant aircrew and the master aircrew are a special group of ranks that are awarded within airborne units.
  4. The Marshal of the Royal Air Force is a rank that is reserved for times of war and is only awarded on an honorary basis in peacetime to outstanding officers of the RAF or members of the royal family.


The following personalities are associated with the Royal Air Force (in chronological order):

See also the category: Military Person (Royal Air Force)

See also

Web links

Commons : Royal Air Force  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ( Memento of the original from November 16, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. David L. Bashow: blue Soldiers. How Bomber Command and area bombing helped win the Second World War. Canadian Defense Academy Press, Kingston, Ontario, Canada 2011, ISBN 978-1-100-18028-1 , pp. 4-5 (English).
  3. See Secretary of State for Defense (Ed.) (2014), Short History of the Royal Air Force, pp. 24-26. Online as PDF on the official website of the Royal Air Force ( online ( memento of April 5, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on August 18, 2019).
  4. See Secretary of State for Defense (Ed.) (2014), Short History of the Royal Air Force, pp. 1, 25. Online as PDF on the official website of the Royal Air Force ( online ( Memento of 5 April 2011 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on August 18, 2019).
  5. See Meilinger, Phillip S., Trenchard and “Morale Bombing”. The Evolution of Royal Air Force Doctrine Before World War II, in: The Journal of Military History, Volume 60, No. 2 (1996), pp. 243-270, here pp. 247-248. doi: 10.2307 / 2944407 , JSTOR 2944407
  6. See Dear, Ian CB, Dowding, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh, in: Dear, Ian CB (Ed.), The Oxford companion to the Second World War, Oxford, England, UK and others. a. 1995, pp. 310-311, here p. 310.
  7. ^ Building of Aircraft. In: The Sydney Morning Herald. June 15, 1938, p. 16.
  8. Chronology here , losses of the sea flying associations, January - June 1940
  9. See Süß, Dietmar, Tod aus der Luft. War Society and Air War in Germany and England, Munich 2011, p. 10.
  10. Marcus Hanke: The bombing of Dresden and its impact on international law. Lecture, May 27, 2000.
  11. Ian Drury: Mission aborted on orders of SAS: RAF attack is halted after troops spot human shields. In: Daily Mail . Retrieved March 23, 2011 .
  12. FOCUS Online: Syria War: Air strike should destroy Assad's chemical weapons program . In: FOCUS Online . ( [accessed on April 14, 2018]).
  13. Beth Stevenson: RAF C-130J deployed to South Sudan. In: March 27, 2015, accessed on March 29, 2015 (English): “The Royal Air Force says that its Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules strategic transport has been deployed to northeastern Africa to deliver supplies to a remote region under the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) humanitarian relief effort. The C-130J was due to depart RAF Brize Norton on March 26, the Ministry of Defense says, and will deliver "vital supplies" to the remote city of Malakal - the first deployment of the aircraft for the UN in Africa. "
  14. Beth Stevenson: Training key to RAF C-130J role expansion. In: April 29, 2015, accessed on April 29, 2015 (English): "The RAF's 24-strong fleet of C-130Js is due to retire from service in 2022, but general consensus is that the Hercules will transition past this out of service date in some way. However, the squadron is not counting on it. "
  15. Historic 11 Group reforms for multi-domain challenges, RAF News, November 2, 2018
  16. Leaner but Meaner . In: Air Forces Monthly . No. 11 . Key Publishing, November 2015, ISSN  0306-5634 .
  17. UK signs £ 1.1bn deal for new military training fleet, Flightglobal, February 2, 2016
  18. UK begins receiving UKMFTS training helos, Flightglobal, December 8, 2016 ( Memento from December 8, 2016 in the Internet Archive )