Royal Auxiliary Air Force History
Up to 1935
The history of the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces dates back to 1907 when the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act was passed. In 1917 Gen Jan Christian Smuts was appointed by Lloyd George to examine the organisation of the air services. He recommended the establishment of an Air Ministry and the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service to create the Royal Air Force (RAF) on April 1, 1918.
In November 1917, the Air Force (Constitution) Act was passed, which made provision for the creation of an Auxiliary Air Force (AAF). The formation of such a force was first suggested by Hugh “Boom” Trenchard (later Chief of the Air Staff and Marshal of the RAF, Lord Trenchard) in a memorandum dated November 27, 1919, at the instigation of Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for Air.
On December 11, 1919, Churchill presented to Parliament a White Paper prepared by Trenchard on the permanent organisation of the RAF. Churchill and Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes, who had succeeded Trenchard as Chief of the Air Staff in April 1918, opposed the concept of part-time service. Trenchard became Chief of the Air Staff again on November 1, 1919, and was, therefore, able to see through his proposal for an AAF. Trenchard realised that a fighting service must have a non-regular branch with its roots firmly set in the civilian life of the country. Churchill, perhaps galled by his own failure to learn to fly in his spare time, exclaimed to Trenchard: “Weekend flyers, Boom? Never!”
By 1922 Trenchard had laid down his proposals for the formation of reserve squadrons in the form of a draft Bill. Subsequently, in 1923, the Salisbury Committee, a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, recommended that the Home Defence Air Force should consist of 52 squadrons and be organised in part on a regular and in part on a territorial or reserve basis. This would have the effect of increasing the strength of the RAF by 34 squadrons.
An Act of Parliament followed, dated July 14, 1924, which extended to the AAF the provisions of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907 and allowed for the organisation and conditions of service of the AAF. The Act also provided for the formation of County Joint Associations and AAF Associations.
FORMATION OF THE FORCE
Sir Samuel Hoare (later Viscount Templewood) was the Air Minister responsible for authorising the first squadrons. Referring to the first experiment with non-regular units in military aviation, he said in the House of Commons on February 26, 1925: “We are in the ensuing year starting the experiment of introducing into our programme two types of non-regular unit.
Later, in his autobiographical book Empire of the Air: The Advent of the Air Age 1922- 1929, Templewood wrote: “The first step was to interest the local authorities in the centres where we planned to form the first units, and particularly to gain the support of the Territorial Associations, with which the squadrons were to be affiliated. The complete plan was for 20 squadrons, but we wisely decided to proceed by cautious stages and to begin with five. The City and County of London were to have one each, Warwickshire one in the industrial Midlands, and two in Scotland based on Edinburgh and Glasgow. In addition, there were to be one or two Special Reserve squadrons, composed half of regular and half of the non-regular personnel, the first of which was to be stationed at Waddington, near Lincoln.”
Under the provisions of the AAF and Air Force Reserves Act 1924, there were to be seven Special Reserve squadrons (allocated 500-series numbers) and six Auxiliary squadrons (allocated 600-series numbers), with 20 Auxiliary squadrons as the target.
The primary difference between Reserve and Auxiliary squadrons was in the composition of squadron personnel and the way in which the units were administered. Special Reserve squadrons comprised a nucleus of one-third of their strength who were regulars, including officers, airmen and the Officer Commanding, and were administered directly by the RAF. In contrast, the Auxiliary squadrons had a very much higher proportion of locally-raised volunteers, including the OC, who was administered by the County Territorial Associations.
Both the Special Reserve and Auxiliary squadrons were raised around centres of the population with a suitable RAF airfield in the vicinity. A town headquarters in the city centre provided the focus for recruiting, training and social activity, while operational training was carried out at the airfield, which would become their war station in time of national emergency.
On May 15, 1925, No 502 (Ulster) Squadron made history when it began forming at Aldergrove as the first Special Reserve Squadron. This was followed on September 15, 1925, by the formation of the first Auxiliary squadron, 602 (City of Glasgow). On October 14 that year a further three Auxiliary squadrons were formed: 600 (City of London) at Northolt, 601 (County of London) at Northolt and 603 (City of Edinburgh) at Turnhouse, all as light bomber squadrons.
CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
To be eligible to join a squadron an early Auxiliary pilot had to hold a Private Pilot’s Licence and, in addition, be prepared to make time from his employment and private life to attend courses and flying training to RAF standards to gain his wings. Most of the original Auxiliary pilots had already qualified on D.H. Moths, Avro Avians or Blackburn Bluebirds at local civilian flying clubs. To assist their conversion and instruct raw recruits, a nucleus of RAF flying instructors was posted to each squadron. Avro 504Ns, and then Avro Tutors, were the basic trainers from which the pilots progressed to the more powerful D.H. 9 As, Westland Wapitis and Wallaces and, eventually, Hawker Harts and Hinds.
On enlistment, other-rank recruits were assured that they would never be called upon to serve further than five miles from their home airfield (an assurance that must have sounded somewhat hollow in later years, when the Auxiliaries found themselves serving in all theatres of war from Europe to the Far East). Volunteers and Auxiliaries were expected to reach and maintain a high standard of efficiency by regular attendance at evening and weekend training sessions and exercises. To provide a period of more intensive training and assess operational standards, an annual summer camp was held at an RAF station away from each squadron’s normal locale.
Both officers and airmen were engaged for a minimum of four years and had to attend a minimum number of parades and lectures at their town headquarters or airfield. Provided an Auxiliary had fulfilled the required number of attendances and training, he qualified for an annual tax-free bounty of no less than £3, rising to £5 in later years. In due course, and grudgingly, travelling expenses were also granted to Auxiliaries and volunteers. (Similar conditions apply to today’s RAuxAF.) Then, as now, most Auxiliaries regarded any financial return as a bonus. Being a member of the AAF and being in support of the RAF was reward enough.
GROWTH AND EXPANSION
Aviation was the craze of the 1920s and 1930s, and the AAF did not find itself short of volunteers. Right from the inception of the Auxiliaries, home defence was very much their raison d’etre. This meant flying, and the weekend flyers loved it! On April 3, 1933, Sqn Ldr the Marquis of Douglas and Clydesdale and Flt Lt D. F. McIntyre, the Officer Commanding and flight commander respectively of 602 (City of Glasgow) Sqn, undertook the first flight over Mount Everest at 31,000ft in modified Westland Wallace G-ACBR and Westland PV.3 G-ACAZ as part of the Houston Expedition. Each was subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross. The Auxiliary squadrons caught the public eye and delighted the crowds in the RAP Displays at Hendon in the late 1920s and 1930s and the Empire Air Day displays of the 1930s with their airmanship and skill and their colourful squadron markings. They were also conspicuous participants in the 1935 Silver Jubilee Review at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk.
The first significant expansion of the Special Reserve (SR) and AAF squadrons took place in 1926-35. Four more SR bomber units were formed: 503 (County of Lincoln) at Waddington in 1926, 504 (County of Nottingham) at Hucknall in 1928, 501 (County of Gloucester) at Filton in 1929, and 500 (County of Kent) at Manston in 1931. AAF squadrons formed as day-bomber units were 605 (County of Warwick), at Castle Bromwich in 1926, and 604 (County of Middlesex) at Hendon, 607, (County of Durham) at Usworth and 608 (NorthRiding) at Thomaby, all in 1930. In 1933 the AAF had 1,335 personnel.