Our Meetings

Swindon Society Meeting Review



14th February 2018

Steve Williams

This evening, our familiar friend, Steve Williams, gave us an interesting presentation about The Royal Flying Corps.

On 13 April 1912 King George V signed a royal warrant establishing the Royal Flying Corps. This initially consisted of 133 officers, and by the end of that year it was made up of twelve manned balloons and thirty-six aeroplanes.

At the start of World War I, the RFC, commanded by Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson, consisted of five squadrons – one observation balloon squadron (RFC No 1 Squadron) and four aeroplane squadrons. During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance. This led on to aerial battles with German pilots and then the strafing of enemy infantry and marked areas, and also the bombing of German military airfields and industrial and transport facilities.

The RFC aircraft were mostly helpful observing where artillery fire fell behind the enemy lines because this could not be seen by ground observers. The pilot could report back to the battery how much adjustment was required to their aim before they fired again. This process was repeated until eventually they hit the target. Aircraft were also engaged in ground attacks, disrupting enemy forces at or near the front line. Formal tactical bombing raids were generally planned, aiming at specific targets, but ground-attacks were usually opportunistic targets spotted by individual pilots. In the UK the RFC Home Establishment trained air and ground crews, preparing squadrons to deploy to France, but they also provided squadrons for home defence against the German Zeppelin raids.

Although parachutes were issued to the crews of observation balloons, The RFC were opposed to issuing them to aircraft pilots. It was felt that a parachute might tempt a pilot to abandon his aircraft in an emergency rather than fight on. It was not until 16th September 1918 that the order was given to issue parachutes to all single-seater aircraft.

On 1 April 1918, the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) which came under the control of the new Air Ministry. In 1914 there were 2,073 personnel, but by the start of 1919 the RAF had 4,000 combat aircraft and 114,000 personnel in some 150 squadrons.

The RFC's motto was Per ardua ad astra ("Through adversity to the stars"). This remains the motto of the RAF and other Commonwealth air forces.

The RFC's first fatal crash was on 5 July 1912 near Stonehenge. Captain Eustace B Loraine and his observer, Staff Sergeant R.H.V. Wilson, were both killed. An order was issued after the crash stating "Flying will continue this evening as usual", thus beginning a tradition.

Originally, RFC aircraft did not carry a national insignia. Union Flags were painted on the wings (and sometimes the fuselage sides and/or rudder) by squadrons. Unfortunately, during the war, the red St George’s Cross was often mistaken for the German aircraft’s insignia (the iron cross) which led to them being fired upon by friendly ground forces so, by late 1915, the RFC had adopted the familiar red, white and blue roundel marking.

Eleven RFC members received the Victoria Cross during the First World War. Initially the RFC did not publish the victorious exploits of their Aces (pilots with five or more witnessed kills). Eventually however, public interest and the newspapers' demand for heroes changed this and news of the feats of aces such as Captain Albert Ball raised morale, in the service as well as on the "home front".

Angie Phillips - February 2018