Royal Flying Corps

The British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the air force of the British Army before and during the First World War and was merged at the end of the war with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to form today's Royal Air Force (RAF).



Beginning of military aviation in the UK:

Britain, like most other major European powers, used balloons and zeppelins for reconnaissance and artillery support at an early stage. With the advent of the first aircraft and the growing interest in a cost-effective and effective alternative to balloons, the attention on the aircraft increased.

In November 1911, the British Ministry of Defense began forming a subcommittee tasked with investigating the military value of aircraft. On February 28, 1912, the committee presented its report recommending the establishment of a flying corps. This should be subordinate to the army and part of the Royal Navy, in addition, a flight school and aircraft production should be established.

The proposal was approved by the Ministry of Defense and on April 13, 1912, King George V signed a decree establishing the Royal Flying Corps. Since the Royal Navy their aircraft and balloons not subject to the army and thus exercise their own command, the Royal Naval Air Service was built, which the Royal Navy received their own air forces, but initially were integrated into the Royal Flying Corps. The official designation as Royal Navy Air Service and independent construction took place on 1 July 1914.

However, the Royal Engineer's balloons and personnel switched completely to the Royal Flying Corps. By the end of 1912, the RFC grew to a strength of 12 manned balloons and 36 aircraft. Major Sykes received the first supreme command.




Structure and Organization:

When it was founded, the Royal Flying Corps initially existed together with the Royal Navy Air Service. The structure and size initially allowed only the formation of three squadrons. It was not until the next few years that the air force grew and several restructurings had to be carried out. By the time the Royal Navy Air Service disbanded in 1914, the Royal Flying Corps had reached a size that required the creation of wings that consisted of several squadrons.

In October 1915, the Royal Flying Corps had once again reached a size that required the creation of brigades. The last restructuring took place in August 1917, when now also a division was introduced.



Construction of the Royal Flying Corps

Construction of the Royal Flying Corps


After the air raids on British cities by German bombers, the air defense was introduced in August 1917 as part of the Royal Flying Corps, but was held independently and used.



The size and equipment of a squad varied from its task and was regulated only conditionally uniform.

In addition to a commanding officer of the squadron there was a communications officer, an adjutant, two to three NCOs and up to 10 team service degrees in the administrative area. In addition to the pilots and the flying observers, the maintenance staff were joined by fitters, mechanics and technicians. These were commanded by a sergeant and consisted of up to 36 soldiers.

In addition, each squadron had an equipment officer, armaments officer and a transport officer to which up to 22 soldiers were available.

For transport, the squadrons usually had a car, five light tenders, seven heavy tenders, two repair trucks, eight motorcycles and eight trailers.

By the end of the First World War, the Royal Fling Corps had about 150 squadrons.



When the Royal Fling Corps was founded it was initially divided into the military wing and the naval wing.

After the separation of the naval wing and the size of the military wing, the Fling Corps was restructured and reused the term wing in which several squadrons were put together.

Initially, the squadrons deployed in France were combined into the 1st and 2nd wings, which were then assigned equal to the 1st Army and the 2nd Army.

On the 1st of March, 1915, the 3rd wing was set up, on the 15th of April, the 5th wing. In August followed the 6th wing, in November the 7th and 8th wing. By the end of the war, a total of 54 wings were set up.

With the renewed restructuring and the establishment of brigades, the wings, as well as before the squadrons, special tasks and were accordingly built up and received the necessary equipment.

Wings with artillery observation and ground contact duties were assigned to each army corps, the other wings were in
- Air combat
- Bomber
- strategic education
split and used. Up to 9 squadrons were finally incorporated into each wing.



The introduction of brigades went back to Sir David Henderson, who returned from France in August 1915 and submitted his experience and suggestions for improvement to the Ministry of Defense. One of the proposals was for the creation of brigades in which several wings should be put together. Henderson justified this proposal with the expansion of the Royal Fling Corps and its future size.

The proposal was accepted and implemented by Lord Kitcheners.

The brigades were divided into a army wing and a corps wing, each assigned to one army. The duties of the corps wing consisted in artillery support and reconnaissance, the army wing in aerial combat, bombardment and strategic reconnaissance. In addition, a balloon wing was added in November 1916 and the logistics in a military aircraft park, an aircraft munitions administration and a reserve truck park summarized.

Until shortly before the end of the war the following brigades were founded:
- I. Brigade on 16 January 1916
- II: Brigade on October 23, 1915
- III. Brigade on 16 January 1916
- IV. Brigade on April 1, 1916
- V. Brigade on 15 December 1915
- VI. Brigade on January 15, 1916
- Middle East Brigade on 1 July 1916
- Palestine Brigade on 5. October 1917
- VII Brigade in October 1917
- Training Brigade Middle East on December 14, 1917
- VIII Brigade on December 28, 1917
- IX. Brigade on 6th March 1918


Landing sites:

Landing areas of the Royal Flying Corps were officially named as the Royal Flying Corps station name. The station name usually always refers to the nearest city or train station, so that the airfield could be assigned accordingly.

A training airfield usually consisted of a square with a side length of about 610 meters. Next to the runway stood a huge hangar, built either of wood or brick. This had the dimensions 55 x 30 meters. In this the technical equipment and spare parts were stored. The planes themselves stood in hangers made of wood, wire and cloth. That should protect the aircraft from the weather.

The larger landing grounds were mostly L-shaped. The runways were around 400 to 500 meters long. In addition to the large hangers and the aircraft shelters, other buildings were often built to store the fuel or to accommodate the soldiers. The officers usually quartered themselves in country houses in the vicinity. The division of the Landing Grounds took place in four categories:

- First Class Landing Ground
Larger airfields with many buildings, hangers and multiple runways
- Second Class Landing Ground
Airfields that were used regularly but did not have that many buildings
- Third Class Landing Ground
Airfields with a runway and a smaller hangar
- Emergency landing terrain
Mostly fields and fields, where the farmers were called in advance when an airplane had to land, so that they could take their animals from the fields

At airfields that were also used for night landings, a gas lighting was built around the airfield. With torches was partially also in the area indicated the direction where the runway was.



Aerial view of Camp Rathbun, one of the Royal Flying Corps training camps near Deseronto, Ontario.


View from the Waddington airfield



The first pilots of the Royal Flying Corps were taken on the founding by the Royal Engineers or flew already in their spare time.

The ground staff consisted mainly of volunteers who had reported because of the aviation allowance to increase their pay.

In the initial phase, both the pilots and the observers were briefed and then had to fly themselves. This led to high losses at the front and also to many accidents in which the pilots died. Only with the help of former pilot Colonel Robert Smith-Barry could a training plan be created and the pilots trained properly.

For this purpose, the School of Military Aeronautics were founded in Reading and Oxford where the prospective pilots were given theoretical lessons and had to complete a certain number of flight hours. About 45 percent of the students did not make the first flights and were not used as pilots for disability. For the special training to fighter pilots appropriate schools were furnished in Turnberry, Marske, Sedgeforth, Feiston, East Fortune and Ayr, where the prospective pilots were taught by experienced front fighters.

At the beginning of 1917, another school was set up in Egypt to train the pilots for the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. With the US entry into the war, there was also a merger with Britain and Canada to center the training of pilots. For this purpose, Camp Borden was built and operated in Ontario, Canada, from April 1917 to January 1919, and Taliaferro Camp in Texas. Not only pilots from the USA, Canada and Great Britain were trained, but also from South Africa and Australia. The high number of Australian pilots during the war even led to them being able to form their own squadrons.

Through these training measures, although it was possible to significantly increase the quality of the pilots, nevertheless, it came to the war to about 8,000 dead, who were killed in the training or training flights.



Recruitment poster of the Royal Flying Corps


Ranks of the Royal Flying Corps:

  • Private 2nd Class
    Responsibilities: none
  • Air Mechanic 3rd Class
    Responsibilities: weaponsmith, acetylene welder, blacksmith, coppersmith, plumber, machinist, gear mechanic, electrician, locksmith, machinist, sailmaker
  • Private 1st Class
    Responsibilities: Pilot
  • Air Mechanic 2nd Class
    Responsibilities: weaponsmith, acetylene welder, blacksmith, coppersmith, plumber, machinist, gear mechanic, electrician, locksmith, machinist, sailmaker
  • Lance Corporal
    Responsibilities: none
  • Air Mechanic 1st Class
    Responsibilities: weaponsmith, acetylene welder, blacksmith, coppersmith, plumber, machinist, gear mechanic, electrician, locksmith, machinist, sailmaker
  • Corporal
    Responsibilities: Fitter
  • Sergeant
    Responsibilities: weapons master, mechanic, gear mechanic
  • Flight Sergeant
    Responsibilities: Chief Mechanic
  • Warrant Officer II
    Responsibilities: Quartiermeister Sergeant
  • Warrant Officer I
    Responsibilities: Sergeant Major
  • Cadet
    Responsibilities: Pilot in training, observer in training
  • 2nd Lieutenant
    Responsibilities: Pilot in training, pilot, observer in training, observer
  • Lieutenant
    Responsibilities: Pilot, observer, recording officer, armament officer, equipment officer, radio officer
  • Captain
    Responsibilities: Flight Kommander, recording officer, equipment officer, transport officer
  • Major
    Responsibilities: Squadron Commander
  • Lieutenant-Colonel
    Responsibilities: Wing Commander
  • Brigadier-General
    Responsibilities: Brigade Commander
  • Major-General 
    Responsibilities: Division Commander



Even before the First World War, the use of a parachute was possible and known. Especially occupants of the balloons and a few recreational pilots took advantage of this opportunity to survive a crash.

In early 1915, the inventor of the parachute Everard Calthrop also submitted an offer for the introduction of the parachute to the Royal Flying Corps, as this would probably allow many pilots to survive crashes. Eventually, these were trained which cost money.

The Royal Flying Corps declined the offer because in their opinion a parachute was not necessary. In an emergency, it would lead the pilots to give up their plane rather than continue fighting until the end. In addition, the parachute is very heavy and bulky and would cause problems on particularly light aircraft.

The first jump from a military aircraft by Captain Clive Collett, a New Zealand pilot, on January 13, 1917 could not convince the leadership of the Royal Flying Corps.

It was not until 16 September 1918 that the order was issued to parachute all pilots. By the end of the war, however, only a few pilots were equipped with one.



At the beginning of the war, most British aircraft were marked with different versions of the Union Flag. However, this meant that ground troops or other aircraft confused this symbol with the German cross and not a few British aircraft was shot down by their own troops.

Thus, the Ministry of Defense decided in late 1915 with the introduction of a uniform, similar to the French mark marking the aircraft. This was attached to both the bottom and on the top and side rudders to eliminate confusion.



British roundel marking of the aircraft




The Royal Flying Corps in World War I:

At the beginning of the war, the equipment of the seasons 2, 3, 4 and 5 began in the United Kingdom to translate to France. It came on 12 August 1914 to the first dead, as Lt. Robert R. Skene and Air Mechanic Ray Barlow flew their plane to the airfield at which they were to meet. The probably overloading plane crashed and both crew members died.

On August 13, the crossing to Dover from Amiens began. First, 60 aircraft were transported, the fifth season followed only a few days later.

After the squadrons arrived at the British Expeditionary Corps and were made operational, began on 19 August, the first reconnaissance flights. Just three days later, the first plane was shot down by the Germans. The pilot Lieutenant Vincent Waterfall and observer Lieutenant Charles George Gordon Bayly were with their Avro 504 on Belgium, as the aircraft was captured and hit by the machine gun German troops.

On the same day, however, the scouts were able to achieve a success. Captain Charlton and his pilot Lieutenant Vivian Hugh Nicholas Wadham sighted the 1st German Army, which marched on the flank of British troops. This message allowed Supreme Commander Sir John French to secure his flank and stop the German advance at Mons.

After the German army could still take Mons, the planes had to pull back to the Marne and start their flights from there. It was on September 7, the renewed advance of the German army to be spotted which led to the French army could adjust against the attack, which led to the Battle of the Marne.

Later in September, during the first battle, the Aisne observers were able for the first time to use wireless telegraphy with artillery to better adjust it to German positions. Aerial photos were also taken for the first time, which led to Lieutenant Colonel JTC Moore-Brabrazon 1916, the first practical aerial camera developed, which was later used as a standard camera. For this, the camera was usually attached to the fuselage of the aircraft and through a hole the observer could then operate them. The pictures taken were subsequently evaluated and transmitted for maps on a scale of 1: 10.000. Because of such maps, only the Somme offensive could be carried out from July to November 1916.

As on the Western Front from the war of movement became a war of position and began the famous run to the sea, the Royal Flying Corps relocated on October 8, 1914 its base to Saint-Omer and built next to the local race track the airfield. Until the end of the war, Saint-Omer remained one of the main bases on the Western Front for the British Air Force.

After Hugh Trenchard received the command of the Flying Corps from August 1915, he set priorities in artillery support and the tactical bombardment of German positions.

When preparations for British offensives began in 1916, the RFC assembled 421 aircraft with 4 Dragon Balloon Squadrons and 14 balloons to take part in the Battle of the Somme. From July to November, however, the Flying Corps lost 800 aircraft and 252 pilots were killed.

The year 1917 was particularly lossy for the Flying Corps, as the air superiority of German aircraft was particularly strong. The recently set up German squadrons with their Albatros aircraft were clearly superior to those of the British. Especially the April 1917 was very lossy when about 700 British aircraft were shot down.

Despite the German superiority began on April 9, 1917, the Battle of Arras, in which the RFC with 25 squadrons, involved about 365 aircraft. Of these, however, 245 aircraft were lost and about 211 pilots were killed.

Only in the summer newly introduced aircraft types SE5, Sopwith Camel and Bristol Fighter ensured that the balance of power with the German fighter aircraft could compensate.

The first use of infantry, tanks and aircraft took place in November 1917, when the fighters during the Battle of Cambrai in low altitude flight support the British soldiers and tanks and attacked German positions.

With the beginning of the German spring offensive in March 1918, the aircraft of the RFC were also used to stop the advance. In particular, the reports of the Enlightenment made sure that the Allies could retire ordered and knew where the next attack took place. Also by the bombardment of the German positions the airmen provided for a slowing down of the advance. In return, the RFC lost in this time around 1.000 aircraft and 400 pilots and observers.



Royal Flying Corps officers in front of a BE2b




Foundation of the Royal Air Force:

Already on 17 August 1917, General Jan Smuts submitted a report to the British Ministry of Defense, in which he presented possibilities for the future direction of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service.

Crucial to this report were the ideas of Smut, who saw in planes the potential of devastation of hostile countries and the destruction of industrial and populous centers on a large scale. For this purpose, a force should be created, which was equal in strength to that of the army and the Royal Navy.

In addition, competition between the RFC and the RNAS would negatively impact the pooling of resources. These two forces should be joined together, but they can operate independently like the army and the navy.

The Department of Defense approved most of the points in the proposal, and on April 1, 1918, the RFC and RNAS were merged into the newly-formed Air Ministry, and the Royal Air Force emerged as an independent force.




End of the war:

At the end of the First World War, 5.182 pilots were still in action.

From 1914 to 1918, the losses amounted to 9.378 dead or missing and 7.245 injured.

In addition to 6.942 tons dropped bombs and about 7.054 German aircraft, zeppelins and balloons were shot down.

11 pilots were awarded the Victoria Cross during the war.

With the establishment of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Great Britain set up a second important service in addition to the Royal Navy. The advantage of an island was used strategically by the Ministry of Defense, because the existing resources could be invested mainly in the navy and the aircraft and the army could be kept relatively small, which saved costs and raw materials. The construction of the RAF was to prove later in World War II as decisive for the war in the Battle of Britain.






You can find the right literature here:


Royal Flying Corps;Images of War

Royal Flying Corps;Images of War Paperback – October 3, 2012

This book contains selected images from three different Royal Flying Corps albums. Photographs include training in Canada and at Tangmere. There is a large variety of different aircraft featured, as well as images of pilots and officers. Also included are a number of photographs from the collection of the late Lieutenant William Shorter, who was shot down over German lines in 1918 at the age of twenty.

Click here!



The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914–1918

The Royal Flying Corps, the Western Front and the Control of the Air, 1914–1918 (Routledge Studies in First World War History) 1st Edition

By the middle of 1918 the British Army had successfully mastered the concept of ’all arms’ warfare on the Western Front. This doctrine, integrating infantry, artillery, armoured vehicles and - crucially - air power, was to prove highly effective and formed the basis of major military operations for the next hundred years. Yet, whilst much has been written on the utilisation of ground forces, the air element still tends to be studied in isolation from the army as a whole. In order to move beyond the usual 'aircraft and aces' approach, this book explores the conceptual origins of the control of the air and the role of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) within the British army. In so doing it addresses four key themes. First, it explores and defines the most fundamental air power concept - the control of the air - by examining its conceptual origins before and during the First World War. Second, it moves beyond the popular history of air power during the First World War to reveal the complexity of the topic. Third, it reintegrates the study of air power during the First World War, specifically that of the RFC, into the strategic, operational, organisational, and intellectual contexts of the era, as well as embedding the study within the respective scholarly literatures of these contexts. Fourth, the book reinvigorates an entrenched historiography by challenging the usually critical interpretation of the RFC’s approach to the control of the air, providing new perspectives on air power during the First World War. This includes an exploration of the creation of the RAF and its impact on the development of air power concepts.

Click here!



Reckless Fellows: The Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps

Reckless Fellows: The Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps Sew Edition

The Royal Flying Corps, later the Royal Air Force, was formed in 1912 and went to war in 1914 where it played a vital role in reconnaissance, supporting the British Expeditionary Force as 'air cavalry' and also in combat, establishing air superiority over the Imperial German Air Force. Edward Bujak here combines the history of the air war, including details of strategy, tactics, technical issues and combat, with a social and cultural history. The RFC was originally dominated by the landed elite, in Lloyd George's phrase 'from the stateliest houses in England', and its pilots were regarded as 'knights of the air'. Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire, seat of landed gentry, became their major training base. Bujak shows how, within the circle of the RFC, the class divide and unconscious superiority of Edwardian Britain disappeared - absorbed by common purpose, technical expertise and by an influx of pilots from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He thus provides an original and unusual take on the air war in World War I, combining military, social and cultural history.

Click here!



Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps (Vintage Aviation Series)

Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps (Vintage Aviation Series) Hardcover – October 19, 2009

The day-to-day insights of a brilliantly daring World War I ace that only ends with his death at the age of 23 . . .

James McCudden was an outstanding British fighter ace of World War I, whose daring exploits earned him a tremendous reputation and, ultimately, an untimely end. Here, in this unique and gripping firsthand account, he brings to life some of aviation history’s most dramatic episodes in a memoir completed at the age of twenty-three, just days before his tragic death.

During his time in France with the Royal Flying Corps from 1914 to 1918, McCudden rose from mechanic to pilot and flight commander. Following his first kill in September 1916, McCudden shot down a total of fifty-seven enemy planes, including a remarkable three in a single minute in January 1918. A dashing patrol leader, he combined courage, loyalty, and judgment, studying the habits and psychology of enemy pilots and stalking them with patience and tenacity.

Written with modesty and frankness, yet acutely perceptive, Flying Fury is both a valuable insight into the world of early aviation and a powerful account of courage and survival above the mud and trenches of Flanders. Fighter ace James McCudden died in July 1918, after engine failure caused his plane to crash just four months before the end of World War I. His success as one of Britain’s deadliest pilots earned him the Victoria Cross.

Click here!






This post is also available in: Deutsch (German) Français (French) Italiano (Italian) 简体中文 (Chinese (Simplified)) Русский (Russian) Español (Spanish) العربية (Arabic)

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!