Royal Auxiliary Air Force Vignettes

The Battle of Britain

At the outbreak of the war, all of the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) Sqns were mobilised and became, de facto, part of the RAF. Notwithstanding, they retained much of their auxiliary provenance and identity and, for the purposes of this article will be referred to as AAF Sqns. Moreover, many of the aircrew on these AAF Sqns were not former members of the pre-war AAF and came from the RAF, RAFVR and other air arms.

The Battle of Britain took place from 10 July 1940 to 7 September 1940. It ranks amongst the most momentous events in the history of warfare and is arguably the most significant in the history of aerial combat. It marked the first defeat of Nazi forces and was a decisive turning point of WWII. Not only did it force Hitler to postpone his planned invasion of the United Kingdom but, as a consequence, it allowed Britain to become a vital stronghold from which the Nazi war machine could then be engaged at sea, on land and in the air, and, in 1944, from which the liberation of Western Europe could be launched.

   

   

Above: 501 Sqn Hurricanes, 600 SqnBeaufighters, 602 Sqn Spitfire and 604 Sqn Blenheim.

The AAF Sqns played a major role in the Battle, and their contribution to its successful outcome was both considerable and indispensable. For instance:

  • Of the 52 Fighter Sqns that took part in the Battle; 14 (27%) were from the AAF. Click here
  • 11 of the 14 AAF Sqn COs were from the former pre-war AAF. Click here
  • 3,038 aircrew flew in the Battle; 725 were on AAF Sqns of whom 188 (8%) were from the pre-war AAF.
  • 176 of the 188 pre-war AAF aircrew were pilots, 11 were wireless operators/air gunners and 1 was a radar operator. 150 of the pilots, the 11 wireless operators, air gunners and the sole radar operator flew only on AAF Sqns, 1 pilot flew on both an AAF Sqn and an RAF Sqn, and the 25 other pilots flew only on RAF Sqns.
  • 1,740 enemy aircraft were destroyed in the Battle; the AAF Sqns accounted for 634 (36%) of which 187 (11%) fell to AAF pilots. A further 9 aircraft were destroyed by AAF pilots serving on RAF Sqns. Also, 29 aircraft were destroyed by former AAF personnel who had remustered as RAFVR sergeant aircrew and who served on both AAF and RAF Squadrons.

  • 4 of the top 10 scoring Sqns were from the AAF; 501 Sqn was in 2nd position with 99.5 kills, 607 and 609 Sqns were both in 3rd= position each with 84 kills and 602 Sqn was in 7= position with 65 kills.
  • Pilots who destroyed 5 or more enemy aircraft in the Battle were considered to be ‘Aces’. Altogether, there were 164 “Aces” of whom 15 were pre-war AAF Squadron pilots.
  • Of the leading top 10 ‘Aces’, 3 were from AAF Sqns, 1 of whom was a pre-war AAF pilot (Sqn Ldr Archie McKellar of 605 Sqn in 2nd position with 19 accredited kills).

  • Of the 448 Fighter Command aircrew killed during the Battle, 35 (8%) were from the AAF Sqns.

Commenting on the successful outcome of the Battle, Winston Churchill’s words “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. applied in full measure to the vital contribution made by the AAF Sqns and the pre-war AAF aircrew and ground crews. Their successors in the RAuxAF, including those serving today, have inherited a legacy of which they can be immensely proud.