History of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

I am about to launch into another 3 days with the special event callsign of VK100AF to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). I decided to do a little history on the RAAF. It is not a definitive history, but will give you a bit of an idea on the formation of the RAAF.

I have been asked on air a few times whilst operating as VK100AF or VI100AF, what is th oldest Air Force in the world. It appears that the Finnish Air Force is the oldest, having been founded on the 6th day of March 1918. This was about one month prior to the forming of the Royal Air Force in Britain on the 1st day of April 1918.

What about the United States? The United States Air Force (USAF) was initially formed as part of the United States Army on the 1st day of August 1907. It was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on the 18th day of September 1947.

The South African Air Force was formed on the 1st day of February 1920, while the Royal Australian Air Force formed shortly afterwards on the 31st day of March 1921. The Royal New Zealand Air Force was established in 1923. The Royal Canadian Air Force was proclaimed on the 1st day of April 1924.

The Royal Australian Air Force can trace its roots back to the Imperial Conference which was held in London between the 23rd day of May 1911 and the 20th June 1911. The Imperial Conferences were periodic gatherings of government leaders from the self-governing colonies and dominions of the British Empire. This particular Conference was held to mark the occasion of the Coronation of George V on the 22nd day of June 1911.

At the conference it was decided that aviation should be developed within the armed forces of the British empire. Australia was the first dominion to implement this decision and approved the establishment of the Central Flying School (CFS) in 1912. The initial proposed location of the School was to be at Duntroon in the Australian Capital Territory. In July 1913, Point Cook, Victoria, was announced as the preferred location.

Above:- part of an article from the Age (Melbourne), Tues 23 Sept 1913. Image c/o Trove

The Point Cook Aviation School was established on the 15th day of February 1914, under the supervision of Major E. H. Reynolds, assisted by Captain Henry Petre (an Englishman) and Lieutenant (to become Captain) Eric Harrison (an Australian). It was reported that ‘all of whom received a thorough training in England‘.

Above:- Harrison and Petre in a B.E.2. at the Central Flying School, 1914. Image c/o Wikipedia.

In March 1914, the first flights by CFS aircraft took place at Point Cook. Lieutenant Eric Harrison made the first flight in a Bristol Boxkite. Lieutenant Petre flew a Deperdussin later that day and crashed it after snaring his tailplane in telephone wires.

Above:- A Bristol Boxkite over Point Cook, c. 1916. Image c/o Wikipedia.

Below is a short video on the history of Point Cook.

The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) were subsequently formed.

Above:- Article from the Brisbane Courier, Fri 5 July 1912. Image c/o Trove

World War One broke out in 1914, and shortly afterwards the Australian Flying Corps sent aircraft to what is now north-east New Guinea to assist in capturing German colonies in that region. But before the planes were even unpacked, these colonies surrendered.

The first operational flights of the Flying Corps occurred on the 27th day of May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was asked to assist the Anglo-Indian forces in providing air support during the Mesopotamian Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. This is in current day Iraq. The Mesopotamian Half Flight consisted of four Officers, and 41 men

Australian Flying Corps, c. 1918. Image c/o Wikipedia

The Flying Corps subsequently saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front for the remainder of the war. It was said at the time that the airman’s life was….

‘one of comparative ease interspersed with moments of intense fear’.

During the First World War, a total of 800 Officers and 2,840 men served in the Australian Flying Corps. A total of 175 lost their lives.

The Australian Flying Corps remained part of the Australian Army until 1919. It was disbanded at this time. The Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook. In January 1920, the Australian Flying Corps were replaced by the Australian Air Corps (AAC).

They were succeeded by the Australian Air Force which was formed on the 31st day of March 1921.

In May 1921, King George V approved the prefix of ‘Royal’, and this became effective on the 13th day of August 1921. As a result the Royal Australian Air Force became the second Royal Air Arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth. This was following the British Royal Air Force which was founded on the 1st day of April 1918.

It is interesting to note that then the RAAF was formed, it had more aircraft that it did personnel. The RAAF had a total of 153 aircraft, with 21 Officers and 128 other ranks.

The first Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force was Air Marshall Sir Richard WIlliams KBE, CB, DSE (b. 1890. d. 1980). He was one of the first trainees at Point Cook.

Above:- Air Marshall Sir Richard Williams. Image c/o Wikipedia.

During the Second World War, Australian air and ground personnel from the RAAF saw service in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, over the North Atlantic, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the Mediteranian, India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, China, the Netherland East Indies. New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, and Borneo.

During late 1944, the RAAF had a total of 182,000 personnel and 6.200 aircraft in 61 squadrons. In 1945, the RAAF was the fourth largest Air Force in the world, after the USA, USSR and the United Kingdom.

Over 215,000 men and women served with the RAAF between 1939-1945. A total of 9,870 Air Force personnel lost their lives. About 55% of these deaths occurred in the war against Germany, in the air over Europe.

Following the Second World War, the RAAF has served in the Berlin Airlift, Korean War, Malayan Emergency, Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, Vietnam War, East Timor, Iraq War, Afghanistan and the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Since 1945, over 60 RAAF personnel have lost their loves in various conflicts or during operational accidents.

Today, the RAAF has about 259 aircraft, of which 110 are combat.

The video below was made by the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1971 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the RAAF.

The video below is the RAAF’s 100 year fly over in Canberra.

References.

  1. RAAF, 2021, <https://www.airforce.gov.au/about-us/history>, viewed 18th July 2021.
  2. Wikipedia, 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Air_Force>, viewed 18th July 2021.
  3. Wikipedia, 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Conference>, viewed 18th July 2021.
  4. Wikipedia, 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Australian_Air_Force>, viewed 18th July 2021.
  5. Wikipedia, 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Air_Force>, viewed 18th July 2021.
  6. Wikipedia, 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_force>, viewed 18th July 2021.

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