*** World War II European air campaign Royal Air Force

World War II European Air Campaign--The Royal Air Force

The Blitz
Figure 1.--Air doctrine was still in its infancy at the time of World War II and at the onset both the Germans and the Allies believed that that the War could be decided early by bombing and brealing the morale of the people, what Douhet had theorizd at the end of World War I. The Blitz was Hitler's solution when the Luftwaffe campaign draggd on and he British respoondsed by pin prick attacks on Berlin. Hitler did not understand this was not what the Luftwaffe was designed to do. And unlike earlier campaigns, Btitain had both modern, high performznce fighters and an integrated air defense system. The Royal Air Force was able to make Luftwaffe paid dearly for the damage done. In the cold mathamatics of war, the British lost houses and 40,000 civilians at the cost of damaghing one of the major compoments of Blitzkrieg. Not only was the British war effort not damaged, but the Royal Air Force was stongerr after the Blitz than before it. The same was not true of the Luftwaffe. Both aicraft and hard to replace trained crews were lost just as Hitler needed them for the decisive campaign of the War -- the Ostkrieg. This was not a way to win the war. British morale did not break, but a lot of Brits were burning wih the desire to wrek the same damage on German cities.

"The fighters are our salvation, but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory. We must therefore develop the power to carry an ever-increasing volume of explosives to Germany, so as to pulverize the entire industry and scientific structure of which the war effort and economic life of the enemy depend, while holding him at arm's length from our island."

-- Winston Churchill, September 3, 1940.

The British Royal Air Force almost entered World War II with biplanes. The Royal Navy did--the Fairy Swordfish. The Hawker Hurricane was an effective fighter, but was outclassed by the Luftwaffe ME-109. The Spitfire arrived just in time to play a decisive role in the Battle of Britain. The full significance of the Battle of Britain was not dully understood until later in the War. Air Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris when he was appointed to lead the RAF's Bomber Command stated that the Germans began the War with the unrealistic assumption that they would bomb enemy cities, but German cities would not be bombed. The British at the time were outproducing the Germans. As the War progressed, much of the British aircraft production was devoted to the construction of bombers. Unable to contest land campaigns with the Wehrmacht and smarting from the Blitz, the British decided to focus on a strategic bombing campaign. The instrument of that campaign would be Harris' Bomber Command. The British relied on American production for much of its fighter and virtually all of its reconnaissance and cargo aircraft. American aircraft factories were supplying the British from the onset of the War and this only increased after America entered the War. The effectiveness of the Anglo-American alliance showed in the ultimate propeller fighter of the War--the North American P-51 Mustang. It was an American air frame married with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It was the long range fighter which destroyed the Luftwaffe in the skies over northern Europe.

Early Steps

The first British air units were formed 8 years after the 1903 Wright Brothers' flight took place in America (1911). The Royal Engineers formed an air battalion made up of one balloon and one airplane company (1911). The Admiralty also formed the first naval flying school, at the Royal Aero Club ground at Eastchurch, Kent a few months later (1911). The British decided to set up a combined Royal Flying Corps (RFC) with naval and army wings and a Central Flying School at Upavon (1912). The specialized training needed for naval aviation soon became apparent. Separate organization were establish just before World War I broke out. The the naval wing of the RFC became the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), the military wing retaining the title Royal Flying Corps (1914).

World War I

Germany launched World War I by invading neutral Belgium (1914). At the time, few military commanders had given any serious thought to flimsy flying machines available. The air plane soon proved its military value and advances in aviation quickly followed. Improvements were made in altitude, climb, endurance, fire power, range, and payloads. The Air War was important, but not decisive in World War I. Britain was the first country to create an air force as an independent service--The Royal Air Force. (America would not do so until after World War II.) South Africa General Ian Smuts became a string advocate. The British created the RAF. Aviation was still very new when th War began, but Britain developed the largest aviation industry in the world to fight the War. British factories not only supplied the RAF, but many of the planes American aviators would fly when the United States entered the War (1917). The Germans built excellent aircraft during the War, but German industry plagued by raw material shortages could not keep up with British production. The first RAF commander was Hugh Trenchard who would become an advocate of strategic bombardment. The Germans had ineffectually bombed English cities during the War with Zeppelins and the Gotha bomber and caused a huge public uproar. As the fighting on the Western Front was reaching a climax (April 1918), the British and French were preparing to retaliate with a strategic bombing campaign against Germany. When the War began, aircraft struggled to cross the Channel. As the War entered its fourth year, the British were building large numbers of the two engine FB-27 Vickers Vimy that had the range to bomb Berlin from Britain (1918). And the British were building them in huge numbers. This never happened. The German generals, reeling from military reverses on the Western Front asked for an armistice, ending the War. The same generals, led by Hindenberg and Ludendorf, immediately began to perpetrate the 'stab in the back' myth. At the time the RAF was the largest most powerful air force in the world.

Post-War Actions

World War I was a war unlike anything on previous history. It was an industrial war and the whole population and entire population had been mobilized for war. The fighting ended November 1918). The Versailles Pace Treaty was signed (July 1919). Millions of men had been mobilized and large numbers of women had been mobilized, mostly for war work at home. All of this had to be unwound and the population returned to civilian life. Jobs had to be found for the men demobilized. The companies had to return to civilian production. The services had to return to peace-time operations. Huge cuts had to be made by the services. And decisions about peace-time roles made. World War I, called the Great War at the time was billed as the 'war to end all wars'. People optimistically began to think about the possibility of a world without war and military forces. The RAF which was a war-time creation in particular was on the chopping block. The major matter was to cut military spending as low as possible.

The RAF Survives

Britain was bankrupted by World War I. As a result, military spending was drastically cut back, even the Royal Navy, historically the senior service experienced huge cuts. There were even calls to disband the RAF. Some saw it as needed to win he War, but not needed after the War. Huge cuts were made. The RAF was reduced from nearly 400 squadrons to only 41 squadrons (1920). Personnel was cut 90 percent. The whole service was on the budget chopping block. In the end the RAF survived, in large measure due to the tireless work of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Trenchard's tireless efforts. It appears that the RAF was popular with the general public. They were widely seen as knights of the air during the War. Trenchard capitalized on this by actively participating in air shows--launching the Hendon Air Display near London (1920). This was also a place for manufacturers to show off their new planes. The reason for the popularity of the RAF are not entirely clear, but it is likely the impact of German World War I bombing made a powerful impact on the British people that was not eased by the end of the War. Rather it created a desire for a permanent air force. And there were spectacular flights which Trenchard also promoted. The first was the first non-stop flight crossing the Atlantic (1919). This was done in a Vimy demonstrating the reach of bombers. There was also a flight to Australia. Most of these achievements were done in military aircraft. Lindbergh's flight was a rare spectacular exception (1926). Ultimately there was a fight between the Riyal Navy and the RAF as to who could best defend the country. As much as the public admired the Royal Navy, it was clear to anyone who looked at the issue that the Royal Navy could not defend against bombers.

The 10-year rule

All of Britain's fighting services were seriously under funded during the inter-war era. They were operations under budget restraints imposed by the Treasury after World War I--the 10-year rule (August 1919). The Treasury ordered the armed services to draft their budgets 'on the assumption that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next ten years". [Kennedy, Rise, p. 273.] Ten years later, Churchill, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, seen as the steeping stone to the premiership. He convinced Cabinet to make the rule self-perpetuating, meaning ht it was in force unless cancelled. Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald briefly became prime-minister (1931). He wanted to cancel the rule. Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson successfully opposed this. By this time the Depression was causing severe unemployment. Substantial cuts were made in defense spending as the need for welfare pending increased, declining from from £766 million in 1919–20 to £102 million in 1932. [Kennedy, Realities, p. 231.] First Sea Lord, Sir Frederick Field, ominously commented on th decline of the Royal Navy predicting much of what actually came about in World War II (1931). [Barnett, p. 297.] At the time, the Royal Navy was ill sen as th bulwark of British defenses. After considerable debate, the Ten Year Rule was discontinued (1932). The Depression meant that the under funding of the services continued. Th Cabinet cautioned, "this must not be taken to justify an expanding expenditure by the Defense Services without regard to the very serious financial and economic situation" which the country was in due to the Great Depression." And this was the case even after NAZI leaser Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor (1933). In fact, the growth of pacifist feeling further restrained military spending.

Focus on Strategic Bombing

The bloodletting of World War II was horrendous, essentially decimating a whole generation. Military strategists began theorizing how to prevent such a future disaster. Avoiding any future war was of course an answer. And pacifist feeling grew. More rational minds realized that there was no way to ensure that every other country would adopt pacifist policies. And the answer to avoid another blood letting seemed to lead to an air war and strategic bombing. The leading theorist here was Italian Gen. Giulio Douhet. He argued that air power was revolutionary, opening a third dimension of warfare. Aircraft could fly over even the most massive surface forces and powerful fortifications and strike at what he called an enemy country's 'vital centers'. He wrote that aircraft could "go far behind the fortified lines of defense without breaking through them. The battlefields will be limited only by the boundaries of the nations at war and all of their citizens will become combatants since all of them will be exposed to the aerial offensives of the enemy. There will be no destinations any longer between soldiers and civilians.' [Douhet] This basically rendered huge costly armies valueless. And the sky is so vast, the bombers could not be found and intercepted. (This was an early interaction of the bomber will always get through thesis.') Not only is the sky a vast expanse , but the vagaries of light and cloud made it almost impossible to find and intercept a raiding force. This was the experience of RAF fighter pilots (1915-17). The cost of intensive air patrolling astronomical. Thus the cost of a major fighter force was largely wasted money. Douhet focused strongly on what he believed was the ability of bombing to break the will of any enemy population to resist. [Douhet] Other air power advocates were American Billy Mitchell, German Walther Wever (who would become the first commander of the Luftwaffe), and British Hugh Trenchard. The American who call Trenchard the 'patron saint of air power' [Boyle, p. 732.] Trenchard argued in the inter-War era that an air campaign could dispense with the costly problem of defeating an enemy army in the field. "Air power can dispense with this intermediary step, can pass over the enemy armies and navies, and penetrate the air defense and attack directly the centers of production (1928). Trenchard like Douhet focused on breaking the spirit of enemy populations. "It is on the bomber that we must rely for defense. It is on the destruction of enemy industries and above all on the lowering of enemy morale caused by bombing that ultimate victory rests." Under Trenchard, the RAF was used in Iraq and the Indian Northwest Frontier to quell tribal unrest. Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill rebuked him because of civilian casualties. The Air League was organized to infirm the public of the importance of air defenses. Some authors have commented on the fact that it was the Americans and British who developed strategic bombing forces and not the dictatorships who focused on tactical fighters and bombers. This can be overstated. The Germans, for example, did not have the resources to build both a tactical and strategic force. And as the Luftwaffe leadership when it was created (1935) was drawn from the Wehrmacht, it is understandable that emphasis would be given to tactical aircraft. But it is probably true that American and British leaders understood that their public would not allow another World war I-style blood letting and thus were more disposed to fight the War through technology. Perhaps the sea barrier also affected American and British thinking, although the Channel for Britain was uncomfortable narrow.

Inter-War Era

Prime-Minister Baldwin stated the future in chilling terms. "I think it is well for the man in the street to realize that no power on earth can protect him from being bombed. What ever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through. The only defense is offense, which means you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves." British air policy would in effect be strategic bombardment as a deterrence. And this was reflected in British defense spending. Considerable finds were spent on the RAF and an emphasis was placed on bombers. The Royal Navy received less and the Army even less of the much reduced defense budget. At the time no British Government was prepared to ever send another British Army to France again.

Service Infrastructure

Trenchard continued to command the RAF for more than a decade after World War I. He had been the major reason that the RAF survived the War. And during the 1920s he worked to create the infrastructure that a permanent air service needed. He help create training facilities foe air crews, maintenance staff and senior officers. He opened the RAF College at Cranwell which trains officers and air crews. It was originally established as a naval aviation training center during World War I. It became the world's first air academy (1919). This was part of Trenchard's efforts to maintain the Royal Air Force as an independent service. He believed that he establishment of an air academy was a high priority. He was not only thinking about flying skills, but training and creating an officer corps focused on air power for the future leadership of the service. It was Trenchard who chose Cranwell, as he explained later, "Marooned in the wilderness, cut off from pastimes they could not organize for themselves, the cadets would find life cheaper, healthier and more wholesome." [Goodall] Aircraft engines are different than those designed for cars and trucks. As a result, Trenchard launched the Aircraft Apprentice Scheme which while originally located at Cranwell (1920). It was here that jet engine designer Frank Whittle got his first training in aircraft engines. The school was moved to RAF Halton (1922). Radio appretices continued to train at Cranwell. The RAF Staff College wa established at Andover (1922). These three institutions would prove vital to the success of the RAF in World War II and Trenchard was responsible for all three. Other important innovations were short service commissions, special reserve squadrons, and the auxiliary air force. One area that Trenchard gave special attention was given to training. The Central Flying School (CFS) was established by the Royal Navy at Upavon Aerodrome, near Upavon, Wiltshire (1912). It also trained pilots for the Royal Flying Corps--the Future RAF. After the War, Trenchard converted the CFS to training flight instructors (1920)s. Pilot training was then delegated to Flying Training Schools.

Defense retrenchment

The American Stock Market Crash (1929) and resulting Depression of the 1930s significantly impacted British defense spending. Military appropriations were cut to the bone. Major elements in the Labour Party began calling for unilateral disarmament even after Hitler seized power in Germany. The Conservative Party led by Baldwin adopted a policy of appeasement in part because any aggressive policy of confrontation would have meant disaster in the 1935 General Election. By this time, Neville Chamberlain although not yet prime-minister, was a major figure in British politics. He thought that money spent on armaments considering the needs of the British people were a moral outrage. The British were faced, however, with the NAZI's rapid build up of the Germany military, including the new Luftwaffe. Chamberlain adopted the calculation that Britain did not have to match NAZI spending, only maintain the ability to hurt the Germans to defer them. Chamberlain despite terrible assessments about Hitler was right bout some matters. This was not one of them. And perhaps his most grievous error was trying to hide the extent of the NAZI build up from the British people as part of an overall plan to develop a strategic partnership with Hitler. Here the cheapest approach was strategic bombing. Thus was in line with RAF thinking. Eventually, however, Sir Thomas Inskip, the minister in charge of defense coordination decided to order the building of more fighters (December 1937). The RAF leadership still wed to the concept of strategic bombardment complained loudly. One RAF commander charged that Inskip just saw that fighters were less expensive to build. They certainly were, but that may are may not have been the reason for Inskiip's decision. Whatever the reason. When war came, Britain's bomber force proved ineffective. The British and French were unwilling to bomb German cities and after the fall of France, Germany was too far for the RAF's early bomber types. The Luftwaffe was, however, just across the Channel. And because of Inskip's fighters, the RAF had just enough to stop the Luftwaffe in the summer and fall of 1940--just.

Life line to aviation companies

A huge aviation industry was built up in Britain during World War I. After the War, there were few uses for aircraft. A civil aviation industry was in its infancy. The end of the War meant that the market disappeared for aircraft. The various companies began to go bankrupt, many did. Trenchard understood that the RAF depended in large measure on the aviation industry. He did what he could to keep manufacturers in business by drip feeding them contracts which could keep the companies in business. One example was Avro. He got them contracts to build aircraft like the Avro 504 trainer. (Avro of course would go on to build the iconic Avro Lancaster in Wold War II.) This proved just enough to keep many manufacturers in business.

Imperial policing

The British Empire actually expanded as a result of World War II, primarily in the Middle East and Africa. There re enormous costs associated with running n empire. And these costs escalate substantially if large military forces have to be employed and even more so if military action proves necessary. The British Empire could usually avoid costly military actions because it was not a very repressive undertaking . Many colonial people actually benefited. On of the great ironies of history is that the Americn colonists who rebelled (1776) were the freest and most prosperous people on earth. They were even more free than the English people. For his reason, only small colonial police forces were needed in most colonies. Bu there were constant issues throughout the Empire and some occurred after World War I. As events transpired, th RAF was able to quell disturbances at a fraction of the cost of deploying ground troops. Trenchard wrote, "It is perhaps not too much to hope that before long it will prove possible to regard the Royal Air Force units not as an addition to the military garrison, but as a substitute for it." This was demonstrated in British Somaliland. Rebellion broke out that might have demanded the deployment of substantial army force. Instead a small RAF force was sent. Colonial Secretary Minister Leopold Amery wrote, "All was over in 3 weeks. The total cost worked out at £76,000. The cheapest war in history." (Amery is best known as an anti-appeaser and for his remarks in Parliament leading to the collapse of the Chamberlain Government in May 1940) Another such effort succeeded in Iraq where the RAF actually administered the territory (1920s). RAF flights over remote deserts and mountains in many cases succeed at little no cost where a huge expenses would be required of a substantial army force on a much less timely timescale. Imperial policing helped guarantee the RAF's survival, but it could be done with World War I aircraft or aircraft with only minor advances. Thus only limited technological advances occured during the 1920s and most of the 30s. The RAF actually adopted the bi-wing Gloster Gladiator (1937).

Continued focus on bombers

Trenchard retired (1930). He continued, however, to have a powerful influence on the RAF. His successor, John Salmond, who was also focused in strategic bombing. Soon after his appointment, Salmond, had to deal with British politicians who at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva (1932-34) were prepared to accept Britain's entire aerial disarmament. The talks broke down, however, when the new German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, withdrew from the Conference (October 1933). The RAF contintinued to focus on bombers. The major companies were Armstrong Witworth and Vickers. A small company that virtually come out of nowhere to produce he iconic British bomber of the War--Avro. One reason that the British continued to focus on strategic bombing was the 'the bomber will always get through' idea. This persisted because bombers were at first as fast and in many cases faster than the fighters of the day. There was no way to stop bombers with World War technology and significant developments did not occur until the mid-1930s. And this came two major developments: 1) radar to locate bomber forces and 2) modern-high speed fighters to intercept them. The timing was virtually miraculous, both were in place just as the War began, but untested. The Germans shocked the RAF with their innovative all metal high-speed Me-109 monoplane fighter (1935). The RAF had nothing like it.

Air racing

The aviation industry grew during the inter- sar era. Air races began to capture the public imagination. Companies engaged in them for competitive purposes. The same was true of automobile races. International events attracted substantial box offices and offered attractive cash prize awards. Success could lead to winning lucrative contracts. Civil aviation by he 1930s was growing. And unlike the situation after World War I, by the mid-1930s there was a real and growing market for aircraft. The most prestigious air competition was the Senider Trophy race. It was a seaplane race because the sponsor, the son a French steel and arms magnate, believe that landing in water was the easiest way of bringing aviation to the world--no expensive airport was needed. But what was being tested was the engines and air frames. To win the trophy permanently, competitors had to win three straight times in a row. The competition had begun just before Word War I. [Dick] The final three races (1927, 1929, and 1931) were held with an agreement that at least a 2 year interval were needed between races to allow for technology development. The three consecutive wins were finally accomplished by a small British company--Super Marine (1931). The designer was R.J. Mitchell. The competition had been mostly Italian. But the RAF leadership was shocked. The small Super Marine company without government funding had produced a plane that could fly 379 miles per hour--170 miles an hour faster than their top of the line fighter--the biplane Hawker Fury . This ended the refusal of the RAF to consider monoplanes. Mitchell decided to try to wun a government contract.

Modern fighters

The Air Ministry issued specification F7/30 (1931) fora new day and night fighter to replace the Bristol Bulldog biplane. It specified 195 mph in level flight, four .303 machine guns and a ceiling of at least 28,000 ft . All the major manufacturers submitted designs. It was assumed Super Marine in Southampton would win. Their fast monoplane seaplanes had won three consecutive Schneider Trophies. The Type 224 produced by R.J. Mitchell, the Chief engineer at Super Marine had been a disappointment--slow, poor rate of climb, a fixed undercarriage and great thick wings. Dowding was one of the assessment team and was disappointed. The other submissions were not much better. A Polis plane was considered. The contract went to th Gloucester Gladiator biplane, a plane still in service in May 1940. Mitchell recovering from cancer went back to work (Summer 34). He came up with a whole new plane--the type 300. Top speed 265 mph. The Air Ministry with Dowding's support decided to separate it from the F7/30 specifications and fund it as an experimental plane. Super Marine had worked with Rolls Royce, The RR Goshawk had powered the planes that had won the Schnider trophies. They had now created a new engine, the PV-12 27 liter power plant they were hoping to get 1,000 hp out of it. They might boost the Type 300 up to 300 mph, This was the birth of the World War II work horse -- the Merlin engine. It was an entirely private venture on Rolls Royce part. The Air Ministry issued specifications F10/35 (1935). This asked for at least 310 mph , no less than ??, but preferably 8 machine guns. Mitchell had now had decided on the distinctive thin elliptical wings. Hawker Sidney Camm was working on specifications F/36/34. The Hawker Hurricane proved relatively easy to build, it was based on a biplane fuselage that was already being built so little retooling was needed. And Hawker was a much more established company than Super Marine. Göring announced his Luftwaffe (1935). The British response was the 'Subcommittee on Air Parity', indicative of the appeasement mentality at the time--parity not supremacy. Earlier British Governments had insisted in a fleet at least the size of the two largest navies of other countries. Despite the name of the Committee, real action was taken. As Hitler advanced in Europe, air power seemed the only realistic way in which Britain could oppose him. [Smith] Baldwin became prime-minister again (1935). Baldwin was committed to appeasement, but neither he or Chamberlain were pacifists, unlike many in the Labour Party. His preference was appeasement, but he understood that defense measures were needed. He appointed Cunliffe-Lister air minister, soon to become Viscount Swinton. Baldwin then appointed Thomas Inskip, Minister for the Coordination of Defense (1936). It was a controversial appointment at the time . One wag commented that Baldwin wanted to appoint someone 'even less brilliant than himself'. [Gunther, p. 348.] Churchill wanted the job, but Baldwin felt for good reason that Churchill would antagonize the Germans and undermine appeasement efforts. While there are various views on Inskip, he did push fighter production as part of a plan to create a more balanced air force. And production was given priority over the bombers. The Colonial Secretary, Phillio Cunliffe-Lister was put in charge instead of the lethargic Air Secretary Lord Londonderry. He urged immediate production once the prototypes were approved. Orders were concentrated on two types: the Hawker Hurricane and the Super-Marine Spitfire. The Hawker Hurricane soon had its first successful flight (November 6, 1935). The Spitfire was much later (March 5, 1937). It achieved 335 mph and then with some minor changes 348 mph. The HH was slower, but still was capable of a respectable 310 mph. Hawker got Hurricane production going very quickly. because it was already producing the bi-plane it was based on. Spitfire production was a disaster. The process was more complicated and Super-Marine a much smaller company with little experience as mass production. . Working in metal required new technologies. Not one Spitfire was produced in 1937. Super Marine outsourced 80 percent of production. The first production plane rolled out (May 1938). Lord Swinton was forced to resign, but he had come up with the idea of Shadow Factories and hoped to involve Lord Nuffield. Nuffield's Morris automobile factory was the largest mass production facility in Britain. The two, however, fell out, but after Swinton's departure, Nuffield began building a huge facility at Castle Bromwich near Birmingham for aircraft production. A new factory, however, meant more delays. Super Marine was now working out is production problems, and solving the subcontracting problems. Woolston was finally working at full capacity (Summer 1939) just as Hitler and Stalin had begun to launch the War. The RAF had 24 Spitfires of the original 310 plane order. The RAF was finally modernizing for war and not a moment too soon. When war finally came the RAF had 50 Hurricane squadrons and 9 Spitfire squadrons. It would be the narrow difference between victory and defeat. On such narrow margins does history often turn.

Air defense

Britain had been bombed by the Germans during World War I. The Germans used both Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. The damage was minimal, but absolutely terrified and enraged civilians. As a result the RAF in the inter-War period gave considerable attention to air defense. This was something no other country did. The Germans developed radar, but did not give it much attention because it was primarily a defensive instrument. The Luftwaffe was wedded to the offense. What the RAF pioneered was to integrate radar into a coordinated air defense system--the Chain Home Network. Radar was at the core of the Chain Home Network, but without an integrated system had minimal value. RAF Chief Air Marshall Hugh Dowding, surely the most underappreciated commander of the War, was a major supporter of the Chain Home Network. It allowed still outnumbered RAF Fighter Command to resist the powerful larger and more experienced Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe's earlier victories were secured largely by destroying opposing forces on the ground (1939-40). This would be repeated in the Soviet Union (1941). The Chain Home Network not only gave an early warming, permitted Fighter Command to concentrate it fighters in time and space to met the Luiftwaffe bombers. The really terrifying fact is how close Fighter Command came to entering World War II with obsolete bi-wing fighters. The Chain Home Network was central to the RAF victory in the Battle of Britain. It enable the outnumbered the RAF to overcome the previous advantages of time and space the bombers previously had. Now fighter aircraft could be vectored into attacking bomber squadrons. The RAF succeeded in defeating Luftwaffe day-light attacks, but was less successful against night attacks.

Command Structure

The command structure of the RAF was created (1936). It would be the basic RF structure when war came (1939) and continued to be so throughout the War with only minor changes. The three basic commands were Bomber, Fighter, and Coastal Command. Bomber Commnd: The largest and most important was Bomber Command. This was the case because of Trenchard's focus on strategic bombing. Most of the RAF's limited resources were put into bombers throughout the 1920s and early-30s. There was a crash program to build fighters in the lead up to Word War II, but bombers absorbed the lion's share of RAF resources during the War. This was due to Trenchrd's influence before the war and the importance Churchill assigned to strategic bombing during the War. Despite the expenditures in the 1920s and 30s, Bomber Commend did not have an aircraft capable of strategic bombing until the Avro Lancster arrived (1942). Then the numbers were phenomenal. There were 64,514 operational sorties flown, 1.0 million tons of bombs were dropped. The cost was high. Some 8,300 aircraft lost in action. Bomber Command crews also suffered an extraordinarily high casualty rate: 55,600 men were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, nearly 45 percent. Fighter Command: Hugh Dowding commanded Fighter Command from the beginning. Fighter command lagged in acquiring high-performance aircraft. The Chain Home Network was a priority. Fighter Command did not get modern high-performance for nearly two decades. They finally got Hurricanes in number (1938). Spitfires dud not begin to arrive until less than 2 moths before the outbreak of World War II and only in small numbers (July 1939). The fighter force was split into two sections, defense and attack (November 1943). The defensive force became Air Defense of Great Britain (ADGB) and the offensive force became the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. ADGB was renamed back to Fighter Command (October 1944) in response to the German V-1 attacks. [Franks] Coastal Command despite its importance was the poor sister of the three main RAF commands. Maritime aviation in general had been neglected in the inter-war period, primarily because of infighting between the RN and RAF. [Buckley, p. 185.] And the issue of maritime patrol was not the main issue. The RN's principal concern was the return of the Fleet Air Arm. The RAF's priority was the development of a bombing force. Coastal Command: Coastal Command's most important contribution responsibility was the protection of the all important North Atlantic convoys. But because neither the RN or RAF saw this as a priority before the War, those convoys got little air protection during the opening stages of the Battle of Britain. Coastal Command had trouble getting aircraft. Bomber Command did not want to give up any of their force. Finally the American B-24 Liberator would give the convoys the covered they needed. Training Command: There was the temporary creation of Training Command (1936-40). As increasing numbers of aircraft began to arrive, the RAF needed an expanded training effort. The RAF almost lost the Battle of Britain, not because of loss of aircraft, but the shortage of trained pilots. The RAF had set up a volunteer (unpaid) reserve. This would prove to be a critical source of manpower when the war began. Aircraft could be built in a short time. Training a pilot took about 2 years. Between 1934 and the outbreak of war, RAF personnel tripled.

World War II

The RAF almost entered World War II with biplane fighters. The Royal Navy did--the Fairy Swordfish. The Hawker Hurricane was an effective fighter, but was outclassed by the Luftwaffe ME-109. The Spitfire arrived just in time to play a decisive role in the Battle of Britain. The RAF had a substantial bombing force when the War broke out. Medium bombers included Blenheims and Battles Considered to be heavies at the time included Wellingtons, Hampdens, and Whitleys. These were twin engine bombers comparable to the three Luftwaffe bombers. They were 20-30 miles slower, but the Whiteys had a higher bomb load. The German industrial complex of the Ruhr was located in western Germany, well in range of bombers from French bases. And 60 percent of Germany's industrial output came from the Ruhr. RAF Bomber command believed that they could knock Germany out by hitting these targets. And this would have been possible with the Luftwaffe concentrated in Poland (September 1939). At least it would have releaved pressure on the Poles. The Air Staff pushed for action as soon as Germany launched a Western offensive. The French refused. They claimed bombing the Ruhr would not stop the advancing Germans. They wanted the bombers used on the battlefield. At heart this was part of their deeply imbued defensive mindset. And Chamberlain's war policy was to avoid any major ground combat and blockade Germany He could not believe that the German people would not eventually come to their senses. The great fear was German retaiation on their cities. The French gave way (April 1940). The French then agreed to a British bomber offensive should the Dutch and Belgians be attacked. They continued to be afraid of German reprisals. Gen. William 'Tiny' Ironside Chief of the Genera Staff as well as Churchill and his war cabinet when he assumed the premiership than got cold feet. With the German bombing of Rotterdam m the War cabinet gave Bomber Command the go ahead. Bomber Command hit targers in the Ruhr (May 15-16). The pilots thought they had hit the mark, They had not. American journalist William Shirer was in Aachen, on a Propaganda Ministry visit to the front (May 19). This was the gateway to the Ruhr. He had expected to see bomb damage. There was virtually none. He reported, 'the night bombings of the British have done very little damage.' He had expected to see morale hurt by the War and British bombing. "But all afternoon driving through the Ruhr, we saw them --especially the womenfolk--standing on the bridges over main roads cheering the troops setting off for Belgium and France." [Shirer] And British raids had shown that the Luftwaffe fighters would savage the slow moving bombers in day light. And night raids could barely find cities. Attacking specific targets was impossible. The Luftwaffe would then remove any constraints on the part of the British, but they would have to wait 2 years before they had a capable, long-range heavy bomber.

Battle of Britain

The full significance of the Battle of Britain was not fully understood until later in the War. Air Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris when he was appointed to lead the RAF's Bomber Command stated that the Germans began the War with the unrealistic assumption that they would bomb enemy cities, but German cities would not be bombed. The British at the time were outproducing the Germans. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign fought in the air. The German initiated their long awaited western campaign in May 1940. Paris fell June 14 and France capitulated June 22. The fall of France meant that Britain stood alone and for a year had to valiantly fight the Germans without allies. American public opinion was decisively isolationist--against involvement in another European war. Most Europeans and Americans thought Britain would soon collapse and further resistance was futile. But the British stirred by Prime Minister Churchill did fight. The Luftwaffe quickly established bases in France and by July 10 launched preliminary strikes in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe while better trained and outnumbering the RAF was ill prepared for the campaign. They did not appreciate the critical importance of the British home chain radar network. They also had no strategic bomber fleet. The air offensive was to be conducted with two engine bombers that proved highly effective in short range tactical operations, but were not well suited for longer-range strategic bombing.

Air Cadet Program

Air Commodore Sir John Chamier was the major force in founding the British Air Cadet Program. Britain entered World War I with an Army and Naval Cadet Program, but no cadet program for the Royal Flying Corps, at the time oat of the Army. It was the forerunner of the Royal Air Force. Chamier served as a pilot in the War and watched many poorly trained young men die within in days of being deployed to the front. Flying was one of the mos dangerous military assignments during the War, especially for new pilots. Chamier formally transferred to the Royal Air Force after it was officially constituted (1918). After a decade of post-War service, he retired (1929). He became Secretary-General of the Air League, a private organization consisting of individuals desiring to inform the British public about the importance of military aviation. The British like the Americans soon after the euphoria of victory became disenchanted. Most came to believe that the War had been a serious mistake. And the losses had been much larger than those suffered by the Americans. The British public was both determined to avoid participating in another War and voted for politicians who supported sharp cuts in military spending. When Hitler seized power in Germany and launched a major armaments program, this soon put the Allies (Britain and France) behind in defense preparation and arms development. (France experienced the same political process as in Britain.) Air Commodore Chamier, concerned about German rearmament and recalling the terrible tragedy of poorly trained young pilots being shot down by experienced German pilots, decided that Britain needed an air cadet corps in addition of the army and naval program. Chamier help found the Air De fence Cadet Corps (ADCC) (1938). The idea was to train youth in aviation skills. [MOD] The ADCC proved popular and thousands of youth joined, but facilities including glides and training air craft were very limited because of the substantial costs involved. Unfortunately for Britain, the Germans had begun this process earlier and with extensive Government support--The Flieger HJ. As a result, the Germans began the war with a much larger pool of trained aviators and youth with aviation skills. Government support for the effort did not begin until after the start of the War and the Battle of Britain. As it evolved, the RAF almost lost the Battle of Britain because of the shortage not of aircraft but of trained pilots. King George VI by Royal warrant finally turned the ADCC into an official cadet program (1941). T he ADCC began air training for teenagers below military age who were interested in joining join the Royal Air Force.

Desert Air Force (1940-43)

The British after the outbreak of World War II began describing their air forces in the Middle East as the Desert Air Force (DAF). Af first the air contingent was very small. The Desert Air Force was formally constituted as the Western Desert Air Force (WDAF) (late-1941). Air Vice-Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, an Australian who grew up in New Zealand, took over command of RAF No.202 Group (1941). He began the first steps of creating the DAF and would command through out the desperate fighting with Rommel's Afrika Korps until the British victory at El Alamein. He oversaw the important development of close air support tactics that the Germans had mastered before the War. No.253 Wing was formed to experiment with the close air support tactical operations that would be so important in the Western Desert fighting (July 1941). WDAF's primary function was to provide close air support to the British Eighth Army. This would be the first time that the Germans had to face the air tactics that they had developed. And here the Desert Air Force would have several advantages over the Luftwaffe. The Germans from the beginning saw the Western Desert as a side show. Hitler's focus and that of OKW was east on Barbarossa. This and British attacks on Italian convoys severely limited the delivery of supplies bd equipment. The British in contrast saw the Western Desert as of critical importance and for an extended period when the War was being decided on the Eastern Front was the only active Allied front.

Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45)

The RAF portion of the Battle of the Atlantic was the primary faction of Coastal Command. This meant the protection of North Atlantic Allied convoys, primarily from U-boat attacks. They were also also responsible for protecting convoys to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and African theaters. There were bases in the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), Iceland, Gibraltar, the Soviet Union, West Africa and North Africa. [Hendrie, p. 90.] Coastal Command's mission was primarily defensive in character, protecting convoys. There were, however, offensive missions, interdicting Axis convoys and shipping (North Sea, Arctic, Mediterranean, and Baltic). CC had strike wings attacked Axis German shipping carrying war materials. A primary mission was to attack Italy convoys transporting supplies to the Afrika Corps in the Western Desert. They also attcked German shipping from Scandinavia (mostly Norway) to Germany. Coastal Commend despite its importance had s low priority for aircraft. The priority was Bomber Command. This only changed with Lend Lease and the ramping up of American aircraft production (1943). Coastal Command finally began receiving the long-range aircraft needed, most prominently the Consolidated B-24 Liberators. The British produced the Short Sunderland, but it was the American B-24 that was available in the numbers needed. And they began obtaining the equipment needed to defeat the U-boats, including Mark III ASV [air-to-surface vessel] centimetric radar, the latest depth charges, homing torpedoes, officially classed as Mark 24 mines [better known as 'Wandering Annie/Willie'] and eventually rockets. CC aircraft carried out one million flying hours and 240,000 operations, They destroyed 212 U-boats. [Hendrie, p. 179.] This was CC's major accomplishment. The Allies could not fight the war unless American industrial might cold reach the fighting fronts. To accomplish this CC eventually had over 2,000 aircraft. CC offensive operations sank 366 German transport vessels and damaged 134. The total tonnage sunk was 512,330 tons. [Ashworth, p. 179.]

Strategic Bombing Campaign (1942-45)

As the War progressed, much of the British aircraft production was devoted to the construction of bombers. Unable to contest land campaigns with the Wehrmacht and smarting from the Blitz, the British decided to focus on a strategic bombing campaign. The interments of that campaign would be Harris' Bomber Command. Arguably the most controversial aspect of World War II was the Allied strategic bombing campaign. There are two elements of the campaign that remain controversial. First is the effectiveness of the campaign. Second is the morality of the campaign. With the NAZIs in command of the Continent, the only way that Britain could strike at Germany was by air. German air defenses meant that the RAF could only bomb at night and restricted British strategy to area bombing. This significantly inhibited the effectiveness of British operations. The entry of America into the War meant that the air offensive could be significantly expanded. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were committed to strategic bombing. The hope was that strategic bombing would force the NAZIs to capitulate. The Allies at Casablanca demanded unconditional surrender (January 1943). The American buildup of air forces in Britain continued throughout 1942 and by the beginning of 1943 the 8th Air Force was ready to join the British in an around the clock bombing campaign against Germany. American and British planners agreed on four priority targets: 1) U-boat building facilities, 2) aircraft production plants, 3) ball bearing plants, and 4) oil refineries. Although not at the time, the Allied strategic bombing campaign has become the most controversial aspect of World War II.

Sir Arthur Harris (1892-1984)

Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris watched London burning during the Luftwaffe's Blitz of London (1940). He famously said at the time. "The Germans have sown the wind, and so they shall reap the whirlwind." At the time the RAF did not have the capability of retaliating in force. Harris and others seethed to bring the population centers and war industry of the Reich under the bomb bays of a modern force of four-engine heavy bombers. He did more than watch. He carefully studied the results of the Luftwaffe operations and concluded that Bomber Command could do better. Harris replaced J. E. Baldwin as head of RAF Bomber Command (February 1942). He would acquire the name of Bomber Harris. He was a fervent advocate of winning the war through air power. And he took command at the same time that the redoubtable Avro Lancaster squadrons began to be activated giving Bomber Command the capability of hitting the Reich hard for the first time.

Josef Goebbels

Harris adopted a policy of area bombing which Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels called terror bombing. Goebbels of course did not mention that German Führer Adolf Hitler had from an early pointed threatened and carried out terror bombing. Goebbels and the NAZIs did not so much object to the concept, their complaint was that German cities were being subjected to it. To Hitler and Giebbels the derfinitoin of a wsar crime was when invaded countrties fought back. Bombing was wht the Luftwaffe was susposed to do, not the RAF.. In fact he enthralled during the Battle of Britain when British cities were attacked. He was so pleased with the photograph of St Paul's with London burning around it and he ordered that it be published in German newspapers. And he added the triumphabt caption, "London is burning!"

American Contribution

The Anglo-American alliance, especially Lend Lease, was central to the The British war effort and this included the air war. Largely not understood is the degree to which the ir war dominated industrial production. Something like half of American, British, and German industrial production went to the air war. This adversely affected the land and naval production. only American had the ability to fully supply all three services. American Lend Lease thus helped supply British land and naval forces. The Germans had no such back up for their war effort--especially the all important Ostkrieg. First and most importantly was the American supply of oil and petroleum products. This included high-octane aviation fuel which gave British aircraft an important edge, especially the fighters. Second Lend Lease supplied vast quantities of military equipment and supplies. Without this, the British could not have focuse its war industries on the Strategic Bombing Campaign. In addition, the RAF relied on American production for much of its fighter and virtually all of its reconnaissance and cargo aircraft. It was an American Catalina, for example, that found Bismarck. The Royal Navy relied even more heavily on American naval aircraft. American aircraft factories were supplying the British from the onset of the War and this only increased after America entered the War. Third, the arrival of the American Eighth Air Force in Britain (1942) mean that the Germans could not concentrate their air defense system on Bomber Command night bombing. The Around-the-Clock Bombing (1943) stretched German resources. This not only benefited the British, but the Red Army in the Ostheer. The Germans had to divert a huge portion of their industry to the Air War and the War in the West in general. This was all diverted from the already over-stretched and poorly supported Ostheer. Fourth: The British with the arrival of the Avro Lancaster began the Strategic Bombing Campaign in earnest (1942). Then in 1943 onward both American an British air forces absolutely destroyed German war industry and the ability of the NAZIs to make war. There is one aspect of the air war that was the exclusive achievement of the Ameicans. British night bombers had little impact on the Luftwaffe, it was the Americans bombing during the day that destroyed the Luftwaffe. Luftwaffe fighters came up to defend their cities and were shot out of the skies by the P-51 Mustang escorts. This is what made the D-Day landings possible.


Britain almost went to war with bi-plane fighter squadrons still in service to confront the fast German ME-109s. The Royal Navy did still use the Fairy Swordfish bi-planes on its carriers. British Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires early in the War exposed weaknesses in the Luftwaffe. The British like the French also used their aircraft poorly, but fortunately the Brits had the Channel which bought the time needed to adjust air combat tactics. The British produced an excellent fast light bomber--the Mosquito. It was made of plywood rather than aluminum which was hard to obtain. The British used the legendary Avro Lancaster to bomb at night, probably the most effective bomber of the War, until the B-29 came into service. The British began working on jets quite early in the War. They introduced the Glocester Meteor (1944). It was the only plane fast enough to chase a V-1. A Meteor managed to tip the wing of the V-1! and send it spiraling out of control to explode in the countryside. Meteor pilots sighted ME-262s, but as far as we know,, no actual air combat occurred between the two jets.

Hawker Hurricane

Super Marine Spitfire

Avro Lancaster

De Havilland Mosquito

The P-51 Mustang

The effectiveness of the Anglo-American alliance showed in the ultimate propeller fighter of the War--the North American P-51 Mustang. The P-51 was a marriage of an American air frame and the British Rolls Royce engine. Nothing could so exemplify the importance and effectiveness of the Anglo-American World War II alliance than the Mustang. It is considered by many to be the premier propeller fighter of the War and as close to perfection as was possible with propeller aircraft. Most importantly, it had the range to accompany Allied bombers all the way to Berlin and back. It was the long range fighter necessary to escort American bombers. The P-51 was not only faster than the Me-109 and FW-190, but could out turn them. And by the time the P-51 went into combat over northern Europe (December 1943), the hard pressed Luftwaffe had lost many of of its veteran pilots and was replacing them with poorly trained new recruits. It was a recipe for a German disaster. Well trained German pilots could take on the P-51s, albeit at a disadvantage. The Luftwaffe by 1944, however, had fewer and fewer experienced fighter pilots. They had the planes, but not the trained plots. In the ensuing air battles over the industrial cities of the Reich, resulted in the destruction of the Luftwaffe as a an important fighting force. The P-51 not only had the superb Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, but had several innovations making it a supremely deadly instrument. The P-51 wings had an innovative form, thickest at mid-wing which helped to create laminar flow, a factor in its long range and speed. Variable pitch propellers also help reduce the drag of the propellers at high speed. And the bubble canopy in te final variants gave the pilots unrestricted vision. Luftwaffe Chief Herman Göring said after the War that when he first saw the P-51s over Berlin, he knew that the War was lost.

Gloster Meteor

The British produced the Gloster Meteor, one of the few jet aircraft to enter service during the War. The Meteor was in large measure the result of cutting edge science--turbojet engines designed by by Frank Whittle and the Power Jets Ltd company that had founded. Whittle began work on the engine (1936). Work on th Meteor began (1940). It first flew (1943). It was operational with No. 616 Squadron (July 1944). The Meteor was not a superbly designed aircraft aerodynamically. The wings, for example, unlike the Me-262 were not swept back. Whittle's forte was on engines which meant that the air frame was lacking. It was not as effective as the Luftwaffe Me-262, but the two never met in combat. Britain had, however, had a lead over both the Americans and Soviets. Power Jets Gloster's 1946 civil Meteor F.4 demonstrator G-AIDC was the world's first civilian jet aircraft. It established a Brussels-Copenhagen speed record on a continental tour, but crashed (1947). One of the important development in both aviation and economics is why Britain with a substantial lead lost out to American companies in the development of civil aviation.


Ashworth, Chris. RAF Coastal Command: 1936–1969<>/i> (Patrick Stephens Ltd.: 1992).

Barnett, Correlli. The Collapse of British Power (Pan: 2002). .

Boyle, Andrew. Trenchard Man of Vision (St James's Place, London: Collins, 1962).

Buckley, John. "Coastal Command in the Second World War," Air Power Review>/i> Vol. 21: (Spring 2018).

Douhet, Giulio. Command of the Air.

Dick, Ron. "The Schneider Trophy," Smihsonian Air and Space Magazine (May 1988).

Franks, Norman L.R. RAF Fighter Command, 1936–1968<./i< (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.: 1992).

Goodall, Philip. My Target Was Leningrad: V Force: Preserving Our Democracy (Fontill: 2015).

Gunther, John. Inside Europe (Harper & Brothers: 1940).

Hendrie, Andrew. The Cinderella Service: RAF Coastal Command 1939–1945. (Pen & Sword Aviation: 2006).

Kennedy, Paul. The Realities behind Diplomacy (Fontana, 1981).

Kennedy, Pauk. The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (Penguin, 2004).

Ministry of Defense (MOD). "About Defense - What we do - Reserve Forces and Cadets - DRFC - History of the Cadet Forces" (Ministry of Defence).

Smith, Malcomb. "The Royal Air Force, air power and British foreign policy, 1932-37," Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 12, No. 1 (January 1977), pp. 153-74.


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