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The Royal Air Force, or RAF, was the official air force of Great Britain. It, at the time, operated many successful and famous aircraft such as the Spitfire, Hurricane, and the Avro Lancaster. Their victory against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain was one of the major factors that led to defeat of Germany.


The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 through the merger of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), becoming the first independent air force in the world. To avoid duplication of squadron numbers, former RNAS Squadrons had the number 200 added to their previous number on this date, e.g. 1 (Naval) Squadron RNAS becoming 201 Squadron RAF.[1]

RAF Naval Aviation

Following the recommendations of the Balfour Committee of 1923, which examined cooperation between the Royal Navy and the RAF, it was decided to form the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force. This initially consisted of 5 squadrons belonging to RAF Coastal Area, which became Coastal Command in 1936.[2]

On 24th May 1939, flying units of the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force were transferred to the control of the Admiralty, becoming units of the Royal Navy.[1]

Preparation for war

Standard RAF Day fighter markings. [3]

In November 1938, the RAF responded to the Munich Crisis by adopting the practice of assigning two or three letter identification codes to flying units. These were usually applied to the forward side of the fuselage roundel, with an additional identification letter on the rear, although some units either applied them the other way around, or only used the individual letter.[N 1] By April 1939, coding allocations had been expanded to include authorised nameplates for squadrons which had not yet been formed, with the system being further extended, to cover all units, by an Air Ministry order issued on 3rd August 1939. Following the declaration of war, existing codes were withdrawn and reallocated. [N 2]

The Early War

The first week of the war witnessed the deployment of the Advanced Air Striking Force, which had reached France by 9 September 1940.[4]



  1. The RAF adopted camouflage at the same time.[1]
  2. Between August 1943 and July 1944, Coastal Command replaced the two letter coding system with a single numeral, which was used to identify the parent squadron.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lake, Alan. Flying Units of the RAF. Airlife Publishing. 1999. ISBN 1-84037-086-6
  2. Wragg, David. The Fleet Air Arm Handbook. Sutton Publishing ltd. 2001. ISBN 0-7509-2596-5 Page 6.
  3. Fritz The Fox
  4. Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War - A new history of the Second World War. Penguin Books. ISBN 978 0 141 02928 3. (2010). Page 22
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