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About the RAF

Discover more about the history of the RAF, key Second World War operations and learn about some of the RAF's squadrons.

The story of the RAF – beginnings

RAF personnel in the 1930s

The RAF was founded on 1st April 1918 under the control of the British Government Air Ministry, making it the oldest independent air force. This brought together the Royal Flying Corps, who had been under the control of the British Army, and the Royal Naval Air Service, previously controlled by the Admiralty.

The creation of the new, independent air force came in response to the events of World War I, the first role in which air power played a major role. The newly created Royal Air Force was the most powerful in the world, with over 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel.

After World War I, the RAF was downsized, with the overall service being reduced to 35,500.

The years between the wars were relatively quiet for the RAF. They took on the role of policing the British Empire from the air. In 1921, they were given responsibility for all British forces in Iraq, policing tribal unrest, while in 1925, they were deployed to Afghanistan.

Second World War

Following the outbreak of war against Nazi Germany in 1939, the RAF underwent rapid expansion. As part of this expansion, British aircrews were trained in British Commonwealth countries under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Squadrons and personnel from Commonwealth air forces were also seconded to the RAF.

Key Second World War operations

Over the course of the summer of 1940, came the RAF's defining period – the Battle of Britain. This prolonged campaign saw the RAF hold off the Luftwaffe in one of the most complex air campaigns in history, contributing to the delay and eventual cancellation of Germany’s plans for an invasion of the UK.

The main role of the RAF during the Second World War was a strategic bombing campaign against Germany. On 31st May 1942, RAF Bomber Command started large-scale nighttime bombing raids with up to 1,000 aircraft. Key raids included Operation Millennium, Operation Chastise, Operation Gomorrah, and the Battle of Berlin.

On 16 - 17 May 1943, No, 617 Squadron, now commonly known as the Dam Busters, attacked German dams using a purpose-built bouncing bomb. The operation, known as Operation Chastise, resulted in the breach of the Möhne and Edersee dams. Factories and mines were also destroyed.

Present day

Today, the RAF maintains an operation fleet of aircraft and personnel, most of whom are based in the UK. Others are serving on operations in areas such as Iraq and Syria, while others are based at long-established overseas bases, including Cyprus, Gibraltar, and the Falkland Islands.

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The RAF Benevolent Fund is the RAF's leading welfare charity. We are proud of how we have been looking after our own, supporting all serving and former members of the RAF, as well as their partners and dependent children.

Your donation can do so much for an RAF Family member, from home care support for an elderly veteran to retraining, home adaptions, and so much more.

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An RAF family