Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation
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The basic command structure of the RAF has remained almost unchanged throughout its history and is exercised at a number of levels.
Air Council and Air Staff
Ultimately under the control of Parliament, political control was delegated to the Air Ministry (Ministry of Defence from 1964). Until 1964 the overall controlling body was the Air Council, composed of both military officers and politicians. The Air Staff is responsible for the planning and policy making. Senior Air Officers are in charge of each the main policy making functions, under the overall control of the Chief of the Air Staff. In 1964, with the establishment of the Defence Council, the Air Council was abolished but its members remained the heads of the Air Staff Departments. The Air Staff is responsible for setting policy and procurement.
Operational control is delegated to Command level. Because Commands may control subordinate formations commanded by Air Officers these formations are usually commanded by an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, although smaller commands without subordinate formations commanded by Air Officers, may only have an Air Officer Commanding. Commands have been and remain to be formed on both a geographical and a functional basis.
Each Command usually has an Air or Senior officer, responsible to the AOC(-in-C) for operational matters known as the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) and another responsible for admin and organisation known as Air or Senior Officer i/c Administration (AOA/SOA).
Further operational control is delegated to Group level, usually commanded by an Air Officer Commanding. Being subordinate to Commands, Groups usually reflect the role of their parent Command, although when a Command is formed on a geographical basis, Groups may assume a functional role. Some Establishments responsible directly to the Air Ministry/Ministry of Defence operate at Group status and their details are available below. The senior post of many of these Establishments is often referred to as Commandant. Like Commands, Groups usually have a SASO and a AOA.
Groups usually control a number of stations and/or Establishments. These stations will have other subordinate units based there. These units may be responsible to their controlling Group either directly or through the station commander, who holds the appointment of Officer Commanding. Whilst many RAF unit locations are referred to as 'stations', they are only classed as stations by the RAF if they are 'self-accounting and have a dedicated OC and station HQ.
Prior to the RAF expansion in the 1930's very few RAF locations were classed as stations, for instance in 1922 there is only one unit listed as a Station in the Air Force List, Hinaidi in Iraq. By 1925 Hiniadi has been joined by six more Station HQs, namely Andover, Bircham Newton, Duxford, Kenley, Northolt and Spittlegate. Other locations, whilst being known by the as RAF 'X' or RAF 'Y' were listed in the Air Force Lists by the name of the unit based there, e.g. No 1 Stores Depot was at RAF Kidbrooke but personnel posted to the unit were posted to No 1 SD not RAF Kidbrooke.
With the build up of the mid-late 1930's it became necessary to increase the number of units at locations and the establishment of separate Station Headquarters was increased. Another factor here was probably the realisation that squadrons/units would need to be more mobile and therefore the various RAF locations around the world needed dedicated organisational structures and staffs to administer them, regardless of the units stationed there. During WW2, the expansion of Bomber Command was such that there were insufficient senior officers with the relevant experience to command all the new stations and the BASE system was therefore adopted. This grouped three or four stations together with a Base Commander, who was an Air Commodore.
Wings can be a sub-division of a Group acting independently or can be a sub-division of a station or establishment and these are usually sub-divided further into Squadrons. These are commanded by officers holding the appointment of Officer Commanding. Today, stations usually consist of three Wings, Operations/Flying, Administrative and Engineering.
Originally subordinate to Groups, these units were later directly controlled by Command HQs (1970's). The station Commanding Officer usually also being the Officer Commanding, the FTS.
There are two types of Squadrons, Squadrons of the RAF, which whilst subordinate to higher authority are technically independent, in that if the station on which they are based is closed down, they can continue to operate by moving to a new base. They equate to an Army Regiment, in that they can be awarded Standards and Battle Honours. However, stations can also have squadrons (e.g. Catering Squadron, Mechanical Engineering Squadron and MT Squadron), but these only exist whilst the station is operational. They are all commanded by officers holding the appointment of Officer Commanding.
Prior to WW2, aircrew completed their operational training on their squadrons, however, once war had broken out and operations begun, it became obvious that this duty could not effectively be carried out by units and personnel actively engaged on operations. The first solution to this was to remove some squadrons from operations and allocate them the task of preparing new crews for operations. It was not long before it was decided to formalise this arrangement by redesigning these 'training' squadrons as Operational Training Units. These units were usually larger than a squadron and were commanded by officers holding the appointment of Officer Commanding.
With the drawdown in the size of the RAF towards the end and after WW2, the need for new aircrew reduced dramatically and The OTUs were gradually reduced in size and many were disbanded. However, the concept had proved its worth and it was decided to continue the idea of separating type conversion and crew familiarisation from operational activities and OCUs were established. These were of squadron size and each unit trained crews for a specific aircraft or role. Final training is still carried out on the squadron but it can be more specifically aimed at squadron operating techniques rather than type conversion. Many OCUs were allocated 'Shadow' Squadron designations in order to keep Squadrons of the Line alive and in time of war they would have operated under these squadron designations. Like squadrons they were commanded by officers holding the appointment of Officer Commanding. Some of these units later changed their designations to indicate more clearly their actual role or new units were formed with named rather than numbered designations
Both types of Squadron can be further sub-divided into Flights, although occasionally Flights are formed to act independently in the same way as Squadrons of the RAF. In the early days of the RAF Squadrons were formed from grouping independent numbered flights, these flights retaining their original numbers, however, it soon became more common to simply designate Flights as 'A', 'B', 'C' etc. Flights are usually commanded by an Officer in charge.
Listings of Flights are currently not included on this site.
This page was last updated on 25/05/14 using FrontPage XP©