History of War

THE FORGOTTEN MANY

“ON-THE-SPOT REPAIRS OF DAMAGED AIRCRAFT WERE CARRIED OUT BY OUR OWN GROUND CREWS, WHO WERE MAGNIFICENT”
– Flying Officer Al Deere, No. 74 Squadron

First, let us get one thing straight: the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain. It is true that many other organisations played their part, and would have played a larger one should the Germans have ever attempted to invade. But that invasion never came because the principal precondition established by the Germans themselves – air superiority over the English Channel and southern UK – was never met. The RAF, and primarily Fighter Command, made sure of this.

However, while pilot confronted and defeating the enemy in the air, their continuing efforts were only made possible by an extensive and complex ground organisation that had been carefully built up since the very earliest days of the RAF’s existence.

This organisation fed, equipped and cared for the pilots on the ground and directed their efforts in the air, while also keeping their aircraft in flying condition and providing the fuel, ammunition and spare parts they needed to get off the ground.

Flying Officer (later Air Commodore) Al Deere of No. 74 Squadron recalled, “On-the-spot repairs of damaged aircraft were carried out by our own ground crews, who were magnificent. All night long, lights burned in the shuttered hangars as the fitters, electricians, armourers and riggers worked unceasingly to put the maximum number on the line for the next day’s operations. All day too they worked, not even ceasing when the airfield was threatened with attack. A grand body of men about whom too little has been written but without whose efforts victory would not have been possible.”

Growing from some 230,000 personnel in June 1940 to over 350,000 by the end of the Battle of Britain, these men and women are the ‘Forgotten Many’.

Foundations of an air force

Through the 1920s, the RAF was struggling to survive in an age of stringent financial restrictions. Despite the many calls on the RAF and Air Ministry’s purse, the chief of the Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard, resolutely implemented his plans to invest in the future. He established technical schools and apprentice schemes to ensure the long-term flow of adequate numbers of well-trained and educated young men into his noncommissioned ranks – a novel idea, unheard of in either of the other services. In fact, the apprentice schemes were actually quite revolutionary across the whole of society. Apprenticesfamilies) usually had to pay their employers, reimbursing them for taking the time and effort to train their students in the mysteries of their trade. However, the members of the Aircraft Apprentices Scheme at No. 1 School of Technical Training, based at RAF Halton, not only received first-class tutoring in a range of engineering and technical trades, they also received pay. Particularly for working class applicants, this made the apprentice scheme a unique opportunity to secure their future, and competition for the 1,000 or so places each year was intense. It made the scheme expensive, but through it Trenchard was laying solid foundations and ensuring the quality of his rank and file for decades to come.

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