Royal Auxiliary Air Force History
1945 to 1979
RE-FORMATION AND DISBANDMENT
The AAF was reconstituted on 10 May 1946 within Reserve Command, and the 20 AAF flying squadrons re-formed some2 months later. Officers who had reached senior rank during the war applied to rejoin the Auxiliaries at any lower rank, and aircrew were prepared to re-enlist in ground trades. The squadrons returned to their pre-war ancestral homes, where they were issued with Spitfire Mk XVIs and F.22s and Mosquitoes, followed by Vampires and Meteor F.8s. In addition, each AAF squadron had either two Airspeed Oxfords or two North American Harvard IIBs for use as trainers. A new transport squadron, No 622 with Vickers Valettas, was formed at Blackbushe in November 1950. It had only a brief existence, being disbanded in September 1953. Details of the aircraft flown by the AAF/RAuxAF squadrons are given in the table on tbd
AIR OBSERVATION POSTS
At the same time, 5 Air Observation Post squadrons were formed, as were 12 Field and Light AA squadrons of the RAuxAF Regiment, followed by a total of 29 Fighter Control Units and two Radar Reporting Units.
By this time, recruiting to Auxiliary squadrons was open to women. However, when the WAAF became the WRAF in 1947, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was formed within the RAuxAF.
Significantly, trades that embraced new technology and which were highly manpower intensive, such as radar reporting and plotting, could not be manned by the regular Service and had to rely on volunteer reserves to sustain them.
Change of Title
In December 1947, in recognition of the AAF’s wartime achievements, the prefix Royal was bestowed by HM King George VI and it became the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF).
FIGHTER CONTROL AND RADAR REPORTING UNITS (1948-61)
Thirty of these units, originally known as air defence units (ADUs), were formed. Their personnel were trained to plot the movements of enemy aircraft and direct interceptions by defending fighters. Many of the units were affiliated with RAuxAF flying squadrons, and the unit number plate prefixed by a 3. A large proportion of the Fighter Control Unit (FCU) establishment comprised WAAFs, many with valuable wartime experience.
LIGHT ANTI-AIRCRAFT REGIMENT SQUADRONS (1948-57)
Twelve squadrons were formed, of approximately 20 originally planned. The primary role of a regiment squadron was airfield defence using light anti-aircraft guns against attack by low-flying aircraft. Their secondary role was local ground defence. The squadrons were affiliated with RAuxAF fighter squadrons and the unit number plate prefixed by a 2.
When the wartime 40mm L60 Bofors gun was to be replaced by the more complex 40mm L70 version, it was decided that the new weapon posed too great a training task for the undermanned Auxiliary squadrons. As a result, the RAuxAF Regiment squadrons were converted to the field role in 1955, and this proved to be a more attractive option for recruiting than the LAA role had been.
AIR OBSERVATION POST SQUADRONS – 1949-57
The Air Observation Post squadrons were re-formed Army Air Corps squadrons, and were equipped in the main with the Auster AOP.6, although de Havilland Tiger Moths and Chipmunks were also on the strength of some squadrons. These squadrons were manned mainly by Territorial Army pilots, but had RAuxAF engineering and administrative personnel. Classified as Type A (Air Observation) and Type B (Air Observation and Photographic), they were composed of several Flights in the 1900 series of numbers (1951 to 1970). Their role was artillery spotting and air observation in direct support of the Army. Unlike the RAuxAF squadrons, they did not have county or town affiliations.
During the Korean War of 1951-53 some 2,300 personnel of the RAuxAF fighter squadrons were called up for a three- month period of extended training.
AIR INTELLIGENCE UNIT
This unit was formed in the RAuxAF in November 1955, taking over the role of No 1 Air Intelligence Unit, RAFVR, which had formed in 1950. The unit operated in the London area until its disbandment in 1957.
In 1957 the decision was taken to disband the flying squadrons of the RAuxAF, including the AOP squadrons. Many reasons have been given for this decision, which came when a Defence White Paper predicted the replacement of the manned bomber by the guided missile, there consequently being a reduced need for fighter aircraft. Furthermore, training and remaining current on the more sophisticated fighter aircraft coming into service was becoming increasingly complex, the numbers of wartime-trained pilots serving in the Auxiliary squadrons was decreasing, and regular units took priority.
The date of disbandment was March 10, 1957, and at Buckingham Palace on March 16 Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh received Commanding Officers and other senior Auxiliary officers of the squadrons being disbanded. Each officer, on leaving, was given a signed copy of a message of farewell from The Queen, which read in part:
“The association of the force with my family has always been close. I was proud to become Honorary Air Commodore of Nos 603,2603 and 3603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadrons in 1951 and to succeed my father as Honorary Air Commodore-in- Chief of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in 1952. Members of my family have always treasured their association with Auxiliary squadrons as honorary air commodores.
“I wish as Air Commodore-in-Chief to thank officers, airmen and airwomen of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force for all that they have given to the service of the country by their enthusiasm, their spirit and their devotion in peace and war. It is a sad day when it is necessary to tell so many that it is no longer possible to use their services, on the duties they have assumed so willingly. I wish them to know that they can look back with pride and satisfaction to service well done.”
By 1961 it had also been decided to disband the FCUs and RRUs. Again, the impact of modern technology had rendered the Air Defence reporting system less manpower intensive. By this time the Regiment Light AA squadrons had already been disbanded.
THE MARITIME HEADQUARTERS UNITS
While the Auxiliary element of Fighter Command was fast disappearing, the force was kept in being by the foresight of Air Marshal Sir Edward Chilton, then AOC- in-C Coastal Command. Three Maritime Headquarters Units (MHUs) were formed between November 1959 and January 1960. First to form was No 2 (City of Edinburgh) MHU, followed by No 1 (County of Hertford) MHU and No 3 (County of Devon) MHU. These MHUs provided reinforcement in the operations rooms, intelligence sections and communications centers at the Command HQ and its subordinate Group HQ, all of which had a major NATO role, while a fourth unit undertook similar duties at RAF Aldergrove from 1960 to 1965.
Thus the RAuxAF was reduced at a stroke to some 500 personnel, a state of affairs that was to last for 20 years, during which a generation of regular RAF personnel virtually ceased to be aware of the Auxiliaries’ existence.