The Royal Naval Air Service, originally the naval wing of the flying service, had long competed for resources with others, including the Royal Flying Corps. The amalgamation was not a happy union to start with but the airmen soon became distracted by their developing role in the skies. The newly named Royal Air Force became the second independent air force in the world; the first had been in Finland with one man and one aircraft. Its overall purpose was to improve co-ordination and provide a balance between offence (bombers) and defence (fighters).
Royal Air Force Background
The role of the RAF developed significantly during World War I and initially carved a successful role in aerial reconnaissance. Facing considerable scepticism at first, the service steadily built a solid reputation, particularly so when cameras were added to aircraft. This significantly enabled the development of a detailed map of the Western Front.
As the war became graver, the aircraft began to range gunfire on enemy positions and report on the outcomes of their missions by Morse code. Then, instigated by experiments by the airmen, who tossed darts from the side of their planes, they progressed to participating in bombing campaigns, targeted at German cities. This fight for aerial dominance continued throughout the war.
Royal Air Force Pilots
Soon these planes would become fighting machines, like huge birds of prey, watching and waiting. In the early days, airmen were most chivalrous to each other waving to their adversary as they passed by but as the pressure increased, dog fights were soon commonplace.
Tactical fighting and highly skilled flying skills wooed the public and they became the heroes of the moment, the Knights of the Air. However, life expectancy for a new pilot at one point during the Battle of Arras fell to just 11 days and many pilots carried a revolver to take their own lives in preference to being burnt alive.
Role in World War 2 and Other Campaigns
During WW2, RAF commitments were stretched to their limits due to the extent of the operations and their role became primarily defensive. However, their success in aerial developments continued and during the Battle of Britain, Goering, threatened to wipe the service from the skies. The order was not successful. Increased developments, including new long-range aircraft, had provided an edge for Britain particularly in tackling the threats presented by U-boats. Life expectancy for British pilots was still low at four to five weeks, and the public remained in awe at their bravery and heroism in the face of adversity.
The RAF since its inception has participated in a number of other campaigns including the Berlin Airlift (1948), Suez Operation (1956), Falklands War (1982) and the Gulf War in (1990). Since the 1950’s its main task has been to provide a nuclear deterrent in the form of the V bomber and maintain operational efficiency within reducing resources. The service has undergone much organisation change since the early days of those brave young men, in their magnificent flying machines. They lead the way for modern warfare in a dangerous environment and fighting a battle for creativity and power in the air.