back to article Happy 100th birthday to the Royal Air Force

This Sunday marks the 100th birthday of the Royal Air Force - Britain’s military arm for the skies - as a separate Armed Force in its own right. The RAF has been at the forefront of technological innovations over the last century, many of which are still in use to this day. From the earliest days of biplanes (and triplanes), …

  1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Britain had an empire before the RAF.

    Just saying.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

      Are you trying to start a Navy/Airforce flame war?

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

        @Phil O'Sophical

        Are you trying to start a Navy/Airforce flame war?

        Fly Navy!

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

          "Fly Navy!"

          Sail Army!

          Eat crab!

      2. Stoke the atom furnaces

        Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

        "Are you trying to start a Navy/Airforce flame war?"

        Remember that the RAF has not shot down a fixed wing aircraft since the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

        All these MiG15, A4s and Mirages downed during the Korean and Falklands wars were shot down by Fleet Air Arm.

        1. The March Hare

          RAF fixed wing kills

          I think you'll find the RAF successfully shot down one of their own in Germany 1982

          Phantom killed a Jaguar with a Sidewinder AIM-9L - pilot ejected safely.

          Disclosure: I was there but on a different squadron (phew!)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: RAF fixed wing kills

            > Phantom killed a Jaguar with a Sidewinder AIM-9L - pilot ejected safely.

            The longer version of this is that Phantoms would fly fully armed on exercise in order for it to be as realistic as possible and to react quickly if they had to go to war for real.

            A Phantom caught a Jaguar on it's way back into Bruggen. The idea was that the navigator pulled the breakers in the back and the pilot would have the master arm off and not pull the trigger, so in theory the exercise should be reasonably safe.

            Our pilot slots in behind the Jaguar, gets good tone from the Sidewinder and all that training kicks in. Master arm on, shoot. Nothing should happen because the breakers are out. Unfortunately the breakers are in position that's easily jostled by the nav's leg.

            "Whoosh" says the AIM9. "Oh shit!" Says the Phantom pilot. "BOOM!" says the Jaguar. The Jag pilot left via Martin-Baker's exciting furniture and the Jag became an interesting collection of small parts adorning the German countryside.

            At the subsequent court martial the Phantom crew's defence was essentially "Well what the fuck did you think was going to happen??" which given that it was a systemic failure in training and procedures was a valid question.

            And yes, they put a kill mark on the Phantom. The RAF have a very dark sense of humour...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: RAF fixed wing kills

            An EE Lightning shot down a pilotless Harrier to prevent it flying in to East Germany - don't know if that counts. One of the accounts in 'The Lightning Boys' strongly implies that an RAF Lightning (with a US pilot) was used to shoot down an 'AWOL' USAF C-130 - don't know if that counts either.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

          "Remember that the RAF has not shot down a fixed wing aircraft since the Israeli War of Independence in 1948."

          IT engineer Roy Newbury was in the RAF at that time as a ground engineer in Israel and Cyprus. There is an informal bit of his history on a BBC oral history page.

          Here is a relevant snippet:

          "Prior to May due to incursion and damage to RAF a/c Ramat David in Palestine, by units from the Egyptian Air force flying Spitfire Mk LFIX. The 32 & 208 Squadron Spitfires Mk XIV were activated and flew dawn patrols over Palestine. An engagement was made when EAF hostiles flew into Palestine air space (under UK protectorate).

          Only witnessed one engagement or the result of one, when Squadron Spitfires returned to RAF Nicosia. Two overshot the runway and bellied-in, and one cart-wheeled on touchdown.

          As a member of LMRU parked adjacent to Flying Control, I was the first personnel at the crash site to extricate the dazed pilot from his inverted position and with help of other ground staff conveyed the pilot to safety. At this point a Squadron senior NCO ordered me away due to my khaki clothing being saturated in 100 Octane from the leaking fuel tank immediately above the pilot’s location.

          1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

            Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

            Phantom - Jag write up here.

            1. JetSetJim Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Britain had an empire before the RAF.

              > Phantom - Jag write up here.

              I prefer the ACs version above your link

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. b0llchit
    Coat

    April's fool

    So, you don't think the whole RAF thingy is the joke of the matter?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: April's fool

      The RAF is fictional. That's why they had to make all those films about them. It's a WWI April Fool that got out of hand, and nobody could admit it and lose face.

      Surely those moustaches are just too odd to be believeable!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Window/Chaff

    Fwiw, Britain and Germany were, unbeknownst to each other, both developing and testing Window/Chaff in 1942. However, both sides were initially reluctant to use it for fear that the other side would recover some of it, quickly figure out how it worked, and use it against themselves, not realising that their opponents already knew about it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Window/Chaff

      On D-Day chaff was laid at precise locations and intervals to give German radar the false impression that a large invasion fleet was heading towards Calais.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Window/Chaff

        "On D-Day chaff was laid at precise locations and intervals to give German radar the false impression that a large invasion fleet was heading towards Calais."

        It was dropped by 617 Squadron "The Dam Busters", who by that point in the war had become the 'special ops' squadron. By all accounts they found it incredibly boring, flying back and forth at a specific speed and altitude, although at one point the Germans did try and shell the fake invasion convoy with long range artillery.

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Hugh Dowding and Keith Park were very unfairly put aside by Leigh-Mallory's maneuvers when they were the ones who made Battle of Britain victory possible. It's good to see they do now get the honors they deserve (at least one of the two!)

    1. GrumpyKiwi

      von Leigh-Mallory

      Leigh Mallory should have been awarded the Iron Cross for his services to the Luftwaffe.

      A bigger dribbling idiot you'd be hard placed to find. His ideas about copying the Luftwaffe and wasting fighter aircraft over northern France meant that the RAF was running the Battle of Britain in reverse, losing hundreds of aircraft in pointless sweeps while the Middle and Far East were both crying out for Spitfires.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I say, spiffing Ginger, chocks away

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry old chap - having a bit of trouble understanding your banter

      1. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

        See if this helps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=375i3JU-B_o

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    My Grandfather was in the RFC during WWI he was a plumber so military logic made him a flight engineer, he flew on I think Handley Page Bombers among others. When the RFC became the RAF he automatically transferred, a short while later he was demobbed.

    At the beginning of WWII he volunteered and was taken on as a Flight Sergeant but driving the Queen Mary recovery lorries, driving them both in the UK and Africa.

    When he died he was one of the last few to have served in both wars and in both the RFC and the RAF so permission was given to the RAFA to have an RAF standard bearer and to play the last post at his funeral.

    Both my father and his youngest brother served in the RAF, my father in the Western Desert in Marauders and his brother in the Western Desert as a ground crew engineer. One of my brothers is an officer running an Air Cadets unit. So Happy Birthday to the RAF it has played quite a big part in my family history.

    1. Address Incomplete

      Funny how WWI produced odd combinations. Grandfather:

      - joined Army at start of WWI

      - transferred to Royal Naval Air Service*

      - demobbed from RAF

      - ordained CofE

      - RN chaplain**

      - rejoined Church

      - bishop (of Pompey) during WWII

      * DSC as pilot sinking a boche sub in the Western Approaches (flight mechanic had to climb on wing and bullet plug hole in fuel tank, stayed on wing all way home - rightly got a gong too). Bombs were carried in an old milk crate under pilot's legs, dropped by hand using homemade wire handles. Not a laser in sight...

      ** A legacy from this was when a later a bishop, all new curates had to play at least one sport and were plied with very strong home-brew ale at interview to check they were safe to got to pubs/working mens clubs in 'uniform' and not disgrace the Church. Not quite today's pasty style of vicar...

      Makes life today all seem a bit uneventful by comparison. My own remembrance of the Crabs is them dropping our mail in the ocean rather than bother to come finds us. I had a cheque in that delivery. I'll get my coat...

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: Grandfathers / Grandpa

        > Funny how WWI produced odd combinations.

        My Grandpa saw Blériot flying over the channel and became interested in the idea of flying, joined the navy as they were starting to take an interest in aeroplanes hoping for the chance to learn to fly, as the son of farm labourer he had no other chance. Joined the Royal Naval Air Services when it was born and flew throughout WW1. Due to the general shortage of planes and experienced pilots his squadron assisted the army and flew over the trenches where he was shot down but survived and made it back over our lines where he then got caught up with the ground war before he was able to get back to his squadron. When the RAF was formed he was given the choice of staying in the Navy or transferring to the new service and he chose to move to the RAF where he continued to server until after the end of WW2. He managed to get decorated by all three services in his time. Things were all a bit more mixed up back then.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
        Coat

        "dropping our mail in the ocean rather than bother to come finds us."

        If your address is incomplete what else did you expect. Is that my coat?

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      And another grandfather...

      Joined the RFC in WWI, learned to fly (I have some lovely photos, including one of an unidentified aircraft nose down in the mud with him next to it) - he was at Brooklands (think Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines) and I have a photo of him in some racing car by one of the stands.

      He must have been a good pilot as he seems to have never seen active duty, but stayed on at the Flying School as an instructor. At least one of his pupils became quite famous.

      <rambling anecdote mode>

      Many years ago I was watching something on telly about George VI and his stammer. "It's funny", pipes up Mam, "When Papa knew him in the war he never stammered" - quick double take - "Yes, they used to go for long walks in the country together. Got on really well" Whut?

      Next part of story - discovered from an odd source that the Duke of York (later Geo VI) was the first member of the Royal Family to learn to fly, in 1918. So, I wonder who taught him? One day I may contact the Royal Archives.

      <off>

      Tadcu served until 1919, then went off to do other things - including a failed attempt to re-open a Welsh lead mine - before returning to the RAF in 1939. He was based at St Athan throughout the war and had the amazingly dangerous job of flying damaged aircraft back to St Athan for repairs, and then back to base once they've been (hopefully) fixed. After the war he notionally stayed in the RAF for a few years but was transferred to the Allied Control Commission, and was based in Solingen in Germany, supervising the destruction of weapons and the conversion of industry back to civil work.

      Fascinating career, but he sadly died in 1963 when I was but a lad. I wish I'd known him better.

      In pride of place on my wall are his commissioning certificates as an officer in the RFC and the RAF (twice), plus my own father's RAF commission.

      I'd include a link to some of the photos, but that would give away my secret identity!

    3. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

      My Grandfather was in the RFC

      My grandfather was an ostler in an artillery battery in northern France during the early part of WW1, in charge of a team of six or eight horses hitched to a limber used to drag the guns to and from their firing positions and keep them supplied with shells during barrages. He was invalided out and, after recuperating, joined the RFC as a "Labourer", ie, ground crew. On the 1st April 1918 he was automatically transferred to the new RAF with the rank of Private, 2nd Class. He was demobbed in 1919 and returned to his previous occupation as a tea roundsman with Lyons' Tea Houses, delivering tea and other supplies around east London from a horse drawn van, later replaced with a motorised van. He often used to reminisce about his active service on the Front during 1914 - 1915, but never told us anything about his time in the RAF, we only found out about that when we found his medals after he passed away. They were the War Medal and the Victory Medal, inscribed "Charles Purvis, 238950 Pte 2nd class, RAF".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is said that the Me-262 would have caused serious damage as a pure fighter. Apparently Hitler saw that as a defensive mentality. He would only allow production of the offensive light bomber version - which had no justification at that stage of the war.

    The Me 163 Komet rocket-plane was used in a defensive role - but was apparently not a success and many pilots died.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The British radar apparently arose from a question about whether the boffins could devise a "death ray".

    The proof of concept involved flying a plane through a broadcast radio signal and showing the reflected disturbances on an oscilloscope.

    A major invention on the British side was the magnetron - nowadays used in microwave ovens.This allowed for more compact radar - particularly in submarine hunting planes.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "This allowed for more compact radar - particularly in submarine hunting planes."

      The shorter wavelength was significant as well when looking for smaller targets such as snorkels.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      major invention on the British side was the magnetron

      Isn't the Magnetron a US invention (Hull), which British improved to generate higher frequencies?

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: major invention on the British side was the magnetron

        Famously, an American scientist said, "Oh. It's a whistle."

      2. GrumpyKiwi

        Re: major invention on the British side was the magnetron

        One of the last things the French did in June 1940 was to hand over to the UK the data on their experiments in the cavity magnetron. Which they also kept secret from the Germans for the next four years along with their work on cracking Ultra.

  9. Arbeebee

    What about Martin Baker?

    All that and you failed to mention Martin Baker's contributions to aircraft safety?

    1. John 110

      Re: What about Martin Baker?

      The same Martin Baker that knew about a technical flaw since 1990 and didn't bother to mention it?

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: What about Martin Baker?

        The same Martin Baker that knew about a technical flaw and told everyone, but only one user then 'lost' the information.

        https://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/584971-martin-baker-prosecuted-over-death-flt-lt-sean-cunningham.html

        1. John 110

          Re: What about Martin Baker?

          @skippybing

          Interesting thread you linked to. Thanks.

          Having read the first couple of pages, the reaction to the prosecution seems mixed, but the consensus seems to be that it was the right thing to do.

          [disclaimer] I was too lazy^h^h^h^hbusy to read the whole thread, so opinion may have shifted towards the end.

        2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: What about Martin Baker?

          https://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/584971-martin-baker-prosecuted-over-death-flt-lt-sean-cunningham.html

          Thanks for that link. A fascinating, if long, read.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Headmaster

      Re: What about Martin Baker?

      All that and you failed to mention Martin Baker's contributions to aircraft safety?

      Can I be a pedant here. Martin Baker have done nothing for aircraft safety. Lots for pilot safety mind. But the aircraft do tend to crash once the drivers have left...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some of my 1950s childhood books showed the future of VTOL for aircraft. The Rolls Royce "Flying Bedstead" was one that presumably was part of the Harrier's development path.

    However - jet VTOL large passenger aircraft were given very optimistic development timescales.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Somewhere I think, buried in a box, I have some old publicity brochures that my father was given in the 1960s(?) about the P1127 - the Harrier prototype. They may be of interest to a museum somewhere if I can find them.

  11. eldel

    For a historical perspective

    May I suggest "Britain's Wonderful Air Force". Published 1942. Given to me when I were but a lad in the late 50s. As you might understand it's not exactly a 'balanced' narrative but it makes clear just how influential they were.

    1. IceC0ld Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: For a historical perspective

      For a historical perspective

      May I suggest "Britain's Wonderful Air Force". Published 1942

      still around too

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Britain%27s+Wonderful+Air+Force

  12. IWVC

    Marine Craft Section

    The bit of the RAF that is less known is the Marine Craft Section. Formed in 1918 it owed its existence to the RNAS and the support vessels for the float planes and sea planes incorporated into the RAF. The Navy didn't appreciate the "competition" so only transferred clapped out vessels. After witnessing a fatal accident where the cumbersome and slow vessels could not reach a crashed aircraft in time to save the crew, Lawrence of Arabia, who had entered the RAF as Aircraftman Shaw, was heavily involved in the devlopment of high speed launches. However the RAF did not have an organised rescue service for downed pilots until after the Battle of Britain (unlike the Germans who had a very good system in place). By the end of WW2 the RAF MCS had about 600 vessels of various descriptions and a staff of around 6000. During the war the high speed vessels were out in conditions where the navy wouldn't use simlar vessels and carried out wider duties- for example acting as marker boats for the D day landings. Post war they continued search and rescue until superceded by helicopters and carried out target towing and torpedo / sonar bouy recovery as well as periodic dunking if aircrew to keep up ditching survival skills.

    1. IWVC

      Re: Marine Craft Section

      The MCS was disbanded in 1986 I believe.

  13. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Wha's with tha' upside-down trollyface?

    Ach, April Fewls day...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Pint

      Wha's with tha' upside-down trollyface?

      Ach, April Fewls day...

      It's also Easter Sunday, so probably a bit too much Communion Wine.

      I'll have a beer says the Archbishop of Canterbury...

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/01/justin-welby-interview-reimagining-britain-archbishop-of-canterbury

      ...at the Four Candles Pub!

      (can't link directly to the picture, it's the 3rd one down)

  14. Cederic Bronze badge

    sod the technology

    On 7th September 1940 the Luftwaffe attacked London with a force of over 950 aircraft. Scrambled to intercept the raid was 43 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. To quote Stephen Bungay from 'The Most Dangerous Enemy',

    "following past practice, three of them climbed in order to hold off the 600 fighters and the other six headed for the 350 bombers."

    That's what the RAF does for us.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: sod the technology

      That's what the RAF does for us.

      Well, we're certainly in a 1930's style pacifist disarmament phase again.

      And our verminous, cowardly, ungrateful, thieving twats of politicians are celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the RAF in the sort of style that we have come to expect, by announcing the withdrawal of the few remaining Tornado GR4 squadrons over the next year, even though we'll just have a single squadron of shitty, over-priced techno-junk F35s by then if we're lucky. And it'll have to be shared with the RN's needs.

      In the field of defence, when you look at the abject stupidity and wilful and repetitive incompetence of the executive and administrative branches of the British government, it is only possible to conclude that all decisions are made by Russian agents.

      1. peter_dtm
        Pint

        Re: sod the technology

        @ledswinger properly understated rant old chap

        do have a pint or 5

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: sod the technology

        @ledswinger

        In the field of defence, when you look at the abject stupidity and wilful and repetitive incompetence of the executive and administrative branches of the British government, it is only possible to conclude that all decisions are made by Russian agents.

        Don't mention the Cold War!

        At least the Cambridge 5+ were ideologically driven! Not that it makes them any the less a traitor of the State. The incompetence that you elude to is no far off being traitorous. May be there are other influences.

        Who needs Enemies of the State with the kind of Government and their Servants like we have

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least the Cambridge 5+ were ideologically driven! Not that it makes them any the less a traitor of the State. The incompetence that you elude to is no far off being traitorous. May be there are other influences.

    Well, another major malign influence has been the Yanks working hard to eliminate our domestic defence and aerospace industry, which has now largely been accomplished, thanks to the shit heads of the MoD.

    The Typhoon is likely to be the last largely British designed military aircraft. The UK is now dependent upon the Yanks for its future air defence and strike fighter (F35), for their AEW platform (E3-D), for future maritime patrol capability (P8), for attack helicopters (Apache), for heavy lift helicopters (Chinook), for strategic heavy lift (C17), for electronic surveillance (Rivet Joint, Sentinel, Shadow), for strike drones (Reaper), even basic flight training is a Yank product, the Beechcraft T6C.

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Well, should should anything kick off then at least we'll be able to rely on our many friends and allies in Europe, and of course our special relationship with the ever reliable United States.

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Radar information was "passed down to fighter squadrons"

    Oh...

    So it wasn't actually the carrots then?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Radar information was "passed down to fighter squadrons"

      That was one of the most clever (and long-lived) bits of disinformation ever dreamed up.

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