Flying Corps 1914-18
site provides an introduction to the history of the Royal Flying
Corps and its aircraft during the First World War, together with
links to other related sites and suggestions for further reading.
Subsidiary sites look in more detail at four squadron histories and
the experiences of a number of RFC officers; links to these are on
the page "A Pilot's War" tab above.
American engined Vickers Gunbus in 1915 - the J W Smith Static Motor
Charles Carter's photos of fellow drivers in the RFC and RAF
1918 (possibly MT Base Depot, Rouen, France)
on the RFC/RAF Personnel List
of those mentioned on this site.
s 100th Anniversary ...
Royal Air Force celebrates its 100th anniversary on 1st
April 2018. See link
for the Air Ministers remarks in 1918 regarding "our Flying
Men" together with contemporary comment and background.
brief history of the RFC
A BE2c of No 2
Squadron prepares to start off on a reconnaissance mission, Summer
1915, Hesdigneul, France.
the commencement of the First World War Britain had some 113
aircraft in military service, the French Aviation Service 160 and the
German Air Service 246. By the end of the war each side was deploying
thousands of aircraft.
RFC was formed in April 1912 as the military (army and navy) began
to recognise the potential for aircraft as observation platforms. It
was in this role that the RFC went to war in 1914 to undertake
reconnaissance and artillery observation. As well as aircraft the RFC
had a balloon section which deployed along the eventual front
lines to provide static observation of the enemy defences. Shortly
before the war a separate Naval Air Service (RNAS) was established
splitting off from the RFC, though they retained a combined central
RFC had experimented before the war with the arming of aircraft but
the means of doing so remained awkward - because of the need to avoid
the propellor arc and other obstructions such as wings and struts. In
the early part of the war the risk of injury to aircrew was therefore
largely through accidents. As air armament developed the dangers to
aircrew increased markedly and by the end of the war the loss rate
was 1 in 4 killed, a similar proportion to the infantry losses in the trenches.
much of the war RFC pilots faced an enemy with superior aircraft,
particularly in terms of speed and operating ceiling, and a better
flying training system. The weather was also a significant factor on
the Western Front with the prevailing westerly wind favouring the
Germans. These disadvantages were made up for by determined and
aggressive flying, albeit at the price of heavy losses, and the
deployment of a larger proportion of high-performance aircraft. The
statistics bear witness to this with the ratio of British losses to
German at around 4 to 1.
the RFC deployed to France in 1914 it sent four Squadrons (No.s
2,3,4 and 5) with 12 aircraft each, which together with aircraft in
depots, gave a total strength of 63 aircraft supported by 900
men. By September 1915 and the Battle of Loos, the RFC strength
had increased to 12 Squadrons and 161 aircraft. By the time of the
first major air actions at the first Battle of the Somme, July 1916,
there were 27 Squadrons with 421 aircraft plus a further 216 in
depots. The RFC expansion continued rapidly thereafter putting
considerable strain on the recruiting and training system as well as
on the aircraft supply system.
home, the RFC Home Establishment was responsible for training air
and ground crews and preparing squadrons to deploy to France. Towards
the end of the war the RFC provided squadrons for home defence,
defending against German Zeppelin raids and later Gotha bomber raids.
The RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had limited success
against the German raids largely through problems of locating the
attackers and reaching the operating altitude of the Zeppelins.
RFC was also deployed to the Middle East, the Balkans and later to
Italy. Initially the Middle East detachments had to make do with
older equipment but were eventually given more modern machines. The
RFC (in relatively small numbers) was able to give valuable
assistance to the Army in the eventual destruction of Turkish forces
in Palestine, Trans Jordan and Mesopotamia (now Iraq).
the final days of the RFC, over 1200 aircraft were deployed in
France and were available to meet the German offensive of 21 March
1918 with the support of RNAS squadrons. From 1 April these forces
combined to form the Royal Air Force as an independent armed service.
From small beginnings the air services had grown by the end of the
war to an organisation of 290,000 men, 99 Squadrons in France (with
1800 aircraft), a further 34 squadrons overseas, 55 Home
Establishment squadrons and 199 training squadrons, with a total
inventory of some 22,000 aircraft.
General HughTrenchard as Commander of the RFC in France for much of
the war was the driving force behind the expansion of the air service
supported by the Director General of Military Aviation Major General
Sir David Henderson. General Trenchard was strongly committed to
supporting the ground forces and sharing their burden of attrition.
He convinced the Army Commander-in-Chief, General Haig, of the
contribution of the air service and won his support for the expansion
of the RFC in France (against the competing pressures for home
defence and a long range bombing force, which ironically, Trenchard
was later to command).
Pilot's war gives a more detailed insight into life in the RFC
from the perspective of a number of officers.
memory of Sgt Matthew Marmion, 4th Battn. Royal Fusiliers, killed in
action with the BEF on 24 August 1914 at Mons, an early casualty of
the Great War.
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