The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) traces its history back to the Imperial Conference held in London in 1911, where it was decided aviation should be developed within the Armed Forces of the British Empire. Australia implemented this decision, the only country to do so, by approving the establishment of the Central Flying School (CFS) in 1912. The location for the proposed school was initially to be at Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory, but in July 1913 Point Cook, Victoria, was announced as the preferred location. The first flights by CFS aircraft took place there in March 1914.
The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces. After an abortive deployment to German New Guinea at the end of 1914 as part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, it earned a most creditable reputation in both Palestine and France during World War I as a part of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The Australian Flying Corps remained part of the Australian Army until 1919, when it was disbanded along with the AIF. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The Australian Air Force was formed on 31 March 1921. King George V approved the prefix "Royal" in June 1921 and it became effective on 31 August 1921. The RAAF then became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, following the British Royal Air Force.
The service was rapidly expanded during World War II and at its height, it was the fourth largest air force in the world, consisting of 53 squadrons based in the Pacific and a further 17 in Europe.
In 1911, the Imperial Conference that was held in London determined that the armed forces of the British Empire needed to develop an aviation branch. At the time, aircraft were a newly emerging technology, but nevertheless Australia implemented the decision, the only country to do so. The first step taken by the government was to approve the establishment of the Central Flying School (CFS) in 1912. Initially, it had been proposed to establish the school at Duntroon, in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Royal Military College had been established in 1911, but in July 1913 it was determined that Point Cook, Victoria, was the preferred location. The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was subsequently formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces, and the first flights by CFS aircraft took place in March 1914.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the AFC sent aircraft to assist the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in capturing German colonies in what is now north-west New Guinea. These colonies surrendered quickly however, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until 27 May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq. The corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of World War I. By the end of the war, four squadrons – Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 – had seen active service; another four squadrons – Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8 – had also been raised to provide training in the United Kingdom. The AFC was disbanded along with the rest of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919, following the end of hostilities. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The following year, this was separated from the Army on 31 March 1921, when the Australian Air Force was formed as an independent service; in June that year King George V gave his assent for the service to use the prefix "Royal" and this came into effect on 31 August 1921.
Upon formation, the RAAF had more aircraft than personnel, with 21 officers and 128 other ranks, and just 170 aircraft. Initially, it had been planned to expand the force to 1,500 personnel – three-quarters permanent staff and one quarter reserves – who would serve in six squadrons: two of fighter aircraft, two of reconnaissance aircraft, and two squadrons of seaplanes. These plans were scuttled a year after formation due to budget constraints and until 1924, the service's strength remained steady at just 50 officers and 300 other ranks; of the six planned squadrons, only five had been raised, albeit cadre strength, and these were subsequently merged into a single mixed squadron until 1925. A slightly improved economic situation in 1925 allowed the re-raising of Nos. 1 and 3 Squadrons, which were initially composite units equipped with fighters and bombers. Later in the decade, they were reorganised with No. 1 Squadron becoming a solely bomber formation, while No. 3 focused on army co-operation roles; smaller squadrons – in reality only flights – of fighters and seaplanes were formed within the RAAF's flying training unit, No. 1 Flying Training School, which had been raised at Point Cook.
Throughout the inter-war years the fledgling RAAF focused on local defence and providing training opportunities to Australia's naval and military forces. It also undertook aerial survey missions, meteorological flights, public displays, and provision of defence aid to the civil community, undertaking search and rescue missions and bush fire patrols. In the late 1930s, the force was expanded amidst concerns about a future war in Europe. Additional squadrons were raised and bases established away from the south-east coast, including airbases in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This expansion saw the RAAF increase its personnel from under 1,000 in 1935 to around 3,500 in 1939, and the establishment of a force of 12 squadrons, with plans for a further six, by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.
Shortly after the declaration of war in Europe, although Australia's air force was small – consisting of just 246 aircraft – the Australian government offered to send six squadrons to Britain to fight, in addition to the 450 Australians who were already serving in the ranks of the Royal Air Force at the time. The RAAF already had one squadron in the United Kingdom, No. 10 Squadron RAAF, which had been dispatched earlier in the year to take ownership of nine Short Sunderland flying boats and return them to Australia. They subsequently took place in their first operational mission on 10 October 1939, when they carried out a sortie to Tunisia. To rapidly expand, Australia joined the Empire Air Training Scheme, under which flight crews received basic training in Australia before travelling to Canada or Rhodesia for advanced training. These crews were then posted to operational units. A total of 17 RAAF bomber, fighter, reconnaissance and other squadrons served initially in Britain, and/or with the Desert Air Force, in North Africa and the Mediterranean.
With British manufacturing targeted by the Luftwaffe, the Australian government created the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP), which was later known as the Government Aircraft Factories, to supply Commonwealth air forces and the RAAF was eventually provided with large numbers of locally-built versions of British designs like the Beaufort torpedo bomber.
In the European Theatre of World War II, RAAF personnel were especially notable in RAF Bomber Command: although they represented only two percent of all RAAF personnel during the war, they accounted for 23% of the total number killed in action. This statistic is further illustrated by the fact that No. 460 Squadron RAAF, mostly flying Avro Lancasters, had an official establishment of about 200 aircrew and yet had 1,018 combat deaths. The squadron was therefore effectively wiped out five times over.
The beginning of the Pacific War—and the rapid advance of Japanese forces—threatened the Australian mainland for the first time. The RAAF was quite unprepared for the emergency, and initially had negligible forces available for service in the Pacific. Its four squadrons based in Malaya – Nos. 1, 8, 21 and 453 – equipped with a mixture of Hudsons, Wirraways and Buffalos, were the first to go into combat, but they suffered heavily against Japanese during the Malayan Campaign and the subsequent fighting on Singapore, highlighting the fact that the Japanese held the upper hand in the air. The devastating air raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942 – launched from four aircraft carriers stationed in the Timor Sea – drove the point home. Defended by a small force of just 18 Wirraways and 14 Hudsons from two squadrons – Nos. 12 and 13 – the town was heavily damaged with the loss of 10 ships, 23 aircraft and a death toll of several hundred. In response, some RAAF squadrons – such as No. 452 Squadron. – were transferred from the northern hemisphere—although 15 remained there until the end of the war. Shortages of fighter and ground attack planes led to the acquisition of US-built P-40 Kittyhawks, and the rapid design and manufacture of the first Australian fighter, the CAC Boomerang. RAAF Kittyhawks, such as those operated by Nos. 75, 76 and 77 Squadrons, came to play a crucial role in the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns, especially in the Battle of Milne Bay and in the Kokoda Track campaign.
In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, imported Bristol Beaufighters proved to be highly effective ground attack and maritime strike aircraft. Beaufighters were later made locally by the DAP. Although it was much bigger than Japanese fighters, the Beaufighter had the speed to outrun them. The RAAF's heavy bomber force predominantly comprised 287 B-24 Liberators, which could bomb Japanese targets as far away as Borneo and the Philippines from airfields in Australia and New Guinea.
In September 1942 most Australian squadrons were grouped under RAAF Command. The only Australian air combat units in the SWPA not under RAAF Command were those based in New Guinea as No. 9 Operational Group RAAF, which was controlled by Fifth Air Force. RAAF Command was charged with defending Australia, except in the north-east, protecting the sea lanes to New Guinea, and conducting operations against Japanese shipping, airfields and other installations in the Dutch East Indies. Its role was thus "mainly defensive" at the outset, with the expectation that "in the event of developments in the North and North-West of Australia, this would be altered". Bostock was to exercise control of air operations through the RAAF area command system, comprising North-Western, Western, Southern, Eastern, and North-Eastern Area Commands.
By late 1945, the RAAF had received or ordered about 500 P-51 Mustangs, for fighter/ground attack purposes. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation initially assembled US-made Mustangs, but later manufactured most of those used. The RAAF's main operational formation, the First Tactical Air Force, comprised more than 18,000 personnel and 20 squadrons; it had taken part in the Philippines and Borneo campaigns and was scheduled to participate in the invasion of the Japanese mainland, Operation Downfall. So too were the RAAF bomber squadrons in Europe, as part of the proposed Tiger Force. However, the war was brought to a sudden end by the US nuclear attacks on Japan. As a result of the Empire Air Training Scheme, about 20,000 Australian personnel had served with other Commonwealth air forces in Europe during World War II. A total of 216,900 men and women served in the RAAF, of whom 9,780 lost their lives. At war's end, a total of 53 RAAF squadrons were serving in the Pacific and a further 17 in Europe. With over 152,000 personnel operating nearly 6,000 aircraft it was the world's fourth largest air force, after those of the USA, the USSR and the UK.
In the Korean War, Mustangs from No. 77 Squadron (77 Sqn), stationed in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, were among the first United Nations aircraft to be deployed, in ground support, combat air patrol, and escort missions. When the UN planes were confronted by MiG-15 jet fighters, 77 Sqn acquired Gloster Meteors, which enabled some success against the Soviet pilots flying for North Korea. However, the MiGs were superior aircraft and the Meteors were relegated to ground support missions, as the North Koreans gained experience. The air force also operated transport aircraft during the conflict.
During the Vietnam War, from 1966–1972, the RAAF contributed squadrons of Caribou STOL transport aircraft (No. 35 Squadron), UH-1 Iroquois helicopters (No. 9 Squadron) and English Electric Canberra bombers (No. 2 Squadron).
The Canberras flew a large number of bombing sorties, two were lost (in 1970 and 1971). Two crew members were killed, two squadron members died of disease, and three from accidents during the war. One of the Canberras lost (A84-228) was brought down by a surface-to-air missile from which the crew (including the squadron commander, W/C Frank Downing) safely ejected and were rescued by helicopter. The other (A84-231) was lost near Da Nang, during a bombing run. Its exact location and fate of its crew (FlgOff. Michael Herbert and Plt Off. Robert Carver) were unknown for 28 years, when it was located and their remains were returned to Australia.)
Military airlifts were conducted for a number of purposes in the intervening decades, such as the peacekeeping operations in East Timor from 1999. Australia's combat aircraft were not used again in anger until the Iraq War in 2003, when F/A-18s from No. 75 Squadron operated in the escort and ground attack roles.
On 29 September 1940, a mid-air collision occurred over Brocklesby, New South Wales, Australia. The accident was unusual in that the aircraft involved, two Avro Ansons of No. 2 Service Flying Training School RAAF, remained locked together after colliding, and then landed safely. The collision stopped the engines of the upper Anson, but those of the machine underneath continued to run, allowing the aircraft to keep flying. Both navigators and the pilot of the lower Anson bailed out. The pilot of the upper Anson found that he was able to control the interlocked aircraft with his ailerons and flaps, and made an emergency landing in a nearby paddock. All four crewmen survived the incident, and the upper Anson was repaired and returned to flight service.Air Board (Australia)
The Air Board, also known as the Administrative Air Board, or the Air Board of Administration, was the controlling body of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from 1921 to 1976. It was composed of senior RAAF officers as well as some civilian members, and chaired by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). The CAS was the operational head of the Air Force, and the other board members were responsible for specific areas of the service such as personnel, supply, engineering, and finance. Initially based in Melbourne, the board relocated to Canberra in 1961.
Formed in 1920, the Air Board's first task was to establish the air force that it was to administer. The board initially came under the control of another body, the Air Council, that included the chiefs of the Army and Navy; after the council's dissolution in 1929 the Air Board had equal status with the Army and Navy boards, reporting directly to the Minister for Defence. According to Air Force Regulations, the Air Board was collectively responsible for administering the RAAF, not the CAS alone. In 1976 the Air Board was dissolved and the CAS was invested with the individual responsibility for commanding the RAAF; the board was succeeded by the Chief of the Air Staff Advisory Committee, but the CAS was not bound by its advice.Australian contribution to the Battle of Normandy
The Australian contribution to the Battle of Normandy involved more than 3,000 military personnel serving under British command. The majority of these personnel were members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), though smaller numbers of Australians serving with the Royal Navy and British Army also participated in the fighting prior to and after the Allied landings on 6 June 1944. While all the RAAF units based in the United Kingdom (UK) took part in the battle, Australians made up only a small portion of the Allied force.
The Australians who supported the D-Day invasion included between 2,000 and 2,500 RAAF airmen in Australian squadrons and British Royal Air Force units, and approximately 500 members of the Royal Australian Navy serving on Royal Navy vessels, as well as a small number of Australian Army officers and merchant seamen. The army personnel and thousands of Australian airmen also took part in the subsequent Battle of Normandy between June and August 1944, and an RAAF fighter squadron operated from airfields in Normandy. Throughout the campaign, Australian airmen provided direct support to the Allied ground forces by attacking German military units and their supply lines, as well as forming part of the force that defended the beachhead from air attack and manning transport aircraft. Australians also indirectly supported the campaign by attacking German submarines and ships that threatened the invasion force. The 13 Australian Army officers who took part in the campaign filled a variety of roles in British units in order to gain experience that they could take back to Australia.
Australian personnel also took part in the invasion of Southern France in August 1944, and RAAF airmen continued to operate against German forces until the end of the war in May 1945. However, the relatively low casualties suffered by the Allied air forces during the fighting in Normandy and subsequent campaigns resulted in an over-supply of trained Australian aircrew in the UK, hundreds of whom were never assigned to a combat role. Australia's contribution to the fighting in Normandy is commemorated in memorials and cemeteries in London and Normandy.Aviation Heritage Museum (Western Australia)
The Aviation Heritage Museum is a museum created and maintained by the RAAF Association of Western Australia. It houses a large number of military and civilian aircraft, aircraft replicas and aircraft engines, of types that have served in the Royal Australian Air Force or have relevance to aviation in Western Australia. It is located in the suburb of Bull Creek in Perth, Western Australia.Bankstown Bunker
The Bankstown Bunker (Air Defence Headquarters Sydney) is a defunct Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operations facility, located on the corner of Marion and Edgar Street, Bankstown, New South Wales. After the arrival of General Douglas MacArthur in Australia during the Second World War, Bankstown Airport was established as a key strategic air force base to support the war effort. During this period the specially constructed bunker became an important RAAF headquarters from 1945 until its closure in 1947. The Bankstown bunker is currently buried under a public park which lies at the end of Taylor Street.Department of Air
The Department of Air is a former Australian federal government department. Created on 13 November 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War, it assumed control of the administration and finance of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from the Department of Defence. Following the war its functions were expanded to include responsibility for air defence as well as the organisation and control of the RAAF. The department was abolished by the Second Whitlam Ministry on 30 November 1973 when the single service departments were once again amalgamated, with its role assumed by the Air Office within the Department of Defence.Fighter Squadron RAAF
Fighter Squadron was a flying unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the early 1930s. It operated Bristol Bulldog single-seat fighters. Along with Seaplane Squadron, Fighter Squadron was a component of No. 1 Flying Training School, based at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria. As well as participating in training exercises, Fighter Squadron was frequently employed for aerobatic displays and flag-waving duties.Morotai Mutiny
The "Morotai Mutiny" was an incident in April 1945 involving members of the Australian First Tactical Air Force based on the island of Morotai, in the Dutch East Indies. Eight senior pilots, including Australia's leading flying ace, Group Captain Clive Caldwell, tendered their resignations to protest what they perceived as the relegation of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter squadrons to strategically unimportant ground attack missions against Japanese positions that had been bypassed in the Allies' "island-hopping" campaign. A government investigation vindicated the "mutineers", and three high-ranking officers at First Tactical Air Force Headquarters, including the commander, Air Commodore Harry Cobby, the Australian Flying Corps' top-scoring ace during World War I, were relieved of their posts.
George Odgers summed up the cause of the incident in the official history of the RAAF in World War II as "the conviction of a group of young leaders that they were engaging in operations that were not militarily justifiable—a conviction widely shared also by many Australian soldiers and political leaders." Odgers concluded that the ensuing inquiry "made it clear that almost everyone concerned acted from the highest motives, and was convinced that, in the crisis, he acted wisely".No. 1 Medical Receiving Station RAAF
No. 1 Medical Receiving Station (1MRS) was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) field hospital unit during World War II.North Western Area Campaign
The North-Western Area Campaign was an air campaign fought between the Allied and Japanese air forces over northern Australia and the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) between 1942 and 1945. The campaign began with the Japanese bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942 and continued until the end of the war.
While the Japanese attack on Darwin inflicted heavy damage on the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base there, the Allies quickly recovered. Darwin was reinforced to meet the perceived threat of invasion and additional airfields were built to the south of the town. By October 1942 the RAAF's North-Western Area Command had been built up to six squadrons, and was conducting daily attacks on Japanese positions in the NEI.The Allied force continued to expand in 1943 with the arrival of United States Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator heavy bomber units, Australian and British Spitfire squadrons and Australian and Dutch medium bomber squadrons. The Spitfires inflicted substantial losses on Japanese raiders as North-Western Area stepped up its attacks on Japanese positions. RAAF Catalina flying boats also successfully laid mines in Japanese shipping routes.Operation Pig Bristle
Operation Pig Bristle was an unusual transport task conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in May 1946. The operation was ordered by the Australian Government in response to a national shortage of paint brushes, which was hindering house-building efforts. No. 38 Squadron of the RAAF was given the task of flying 25 tonnes of pig bristles from Chongqing in China to Hong Kong, from where the bristles were shipped to Australia. The operation took place during the Chinese Civil War, with Chongqing cut off and at risk of capture by Communist forces. The squadron completed this task over a two-week period without loss.RAAF Museum
RAAF Museum is the official museum of the Royal Australian Air Force, the second oldest air force in the world, located at RAAF Williams Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. The museum displays aircraft of significance to the RAAF from its inception as the Australian Flying Corps to the present. At the direction of Air Marshal Sir George Jones, the RAAF Museum was formed in 1952 and fell under the administration of Headquarters Point Cook until 1988 when it became a separate unit of the RAAF. It is currently overseen by the force's Air Training Wing.RAAF Squadron Berlin Air Lift
The Berlin Airlift Squadron was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) transport squadron formed to participate in the Berlin Airlift. The unit operated for one year, between August 1948 and August 1949, and was raised specifically for the operation, drawing crews from two existing RAAF transport squadrons. It flew more than 2,000 sorties during the airlift, without loss.RAAF Wagga Heritage Centre
RAAF Wagga Heritage Centre (Originally known as the Wagga Wagga RAAF Museum but was officially, RAAF Museum – Wagga Annex) is a heritage centre located at the Wagga Wagga RAAF Base at Forest Hill located approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia on the Sturt Highway. The heritage centre has indoor and outdoor displays of aircraft, memorabilia and photographs relating to the RAAF in the Riverina.Seaplane Squadron RAAF
Seaplane Squadron was a flying unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) between the wars. It operated Supermarine Southampton flying boats from January 1928, as well as other types. Along with Fighter Squadron, Seaplane Squadron was a component of No. 1 Flying Training School, based at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria. Seaplane Squadron was responsible for coastal reconnaissance, training aircrew to operate seaplanes, and supporting the Royal Australian Navy. It also conducted survey flights over remote parts of Australia and mapped the Darwin–Sydney section of the Empire Air Mail Scheme route. Seaplane Squadron was disbanded in June 1939.Women's Royal Australian Air Force
The Women's Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) was formed in 1950, after the success of women serving in the Air Forces had been demonstrated by the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). The first recruits began training on 30 January 1951, with Wing Officer Doris Carter as the service's director. Group Officer Lois Pitman succeeded her in 1960, followed by Group Officer Dawn Parsloe in 1972. In 1972, the service achieved a pay scale equal to the male service. In 1977, the WRAAF was absorbed into the RAAF.
Category:Royal Australian Air Force