History of War

BIRTH OF   THE RAF

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“FOR A THOUSAND YEARS, IT WAS COMMONLY SAID, BRITAIN HAD BEEN SAFELY DEFENDED FROM ANY FOREIGN ATTACK BY THE ENGLISH CHANNEL”

The formation of the RAF was the culmination of issues and problems dating back to 1912, but the major catalyst for change was the start of a new German strategic bombing campaign against Britain in May 1917. The Germans had been using airships – popularly known as ‘Zeppelins’ regardless of actual manufacturer – to raid Britain since January 1915. These raids had been small-scale affairs, with a handful of ships acting largely independently to attack targets over a wide area. Target location and aiming were rudimentary, and bomb loads were small, so in military and material terms they had caused few casualties and little damage. However, they made a serious impact on public morale.

For a thousand years, it was commonly said, Britain had been safely defended from any foreign attack by the English Channel. Louis Blériot’s crossing of the Channel by air in July 1909 had provided a warning, but it was not taken seriously until the coming of the airships. For 20 months the British armed forces (commonly held to be the best in the world) seemed unable to stem the attacks, but this was not a completely fair view. The British were working from scratch to build an unprecedented air defence system.

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had originally followed the traditional role of the Royal Navy in protecting Britain’s shores. In February 1916 this changed, and while the RNAS retained responsibility for the seas and coast, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) took over the inland defences, attacking airships over the UK. However, actually intercepting Zeppelins was

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