When was the RAF at its peak?

When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Andover on Tue 26 Jun 2018, 6:30 pm

In this centenary year of the RAF, it's now quite a small Air Force, so I was wondering if anyone has any facts 'n' figures as to when it reached it's greatest size - how many squadrons, aircraft, bases, etc. And also it's size at certain points up until the end of the cold war.

I have RAF yearbooks from the '80s, so will try to tot up squadron numbers, compared to now.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby FarnboroJohn on Tue 26 Jun 2018, 7:23 pm

Andover wrote:In this centenary year of the RAF, it's now quite a small Air Force, so I was wondering if anyone has any facts 'n' figures as to when it reached it's greatest size - how many squadrons, aircraft, bases, etc. And also it's size at certain points up until the end of the cold war.

I have RAF yearbooks from the '80s, so will try to tot up squadron numbers, compared to now.


RAF personnel (all time) peaked late in WWII at over 1 million: can't lay my hands on my copy of The Right of the Line (Terraine) to give an exact figure or date right now, sorry. I would be fairly certain that numbers of squadrons and aircraft peaked around the same time: at some point between 1/1/1944 and 8/8/1945. After that - and fairly quickly after that - squadrons were disbanding and aircraft types/Marks being rationalised and standardised.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Spiny Norman on Tue 26 Jun 2018, 8:36 pm

Would have to check numbers for personnel or squadrons but as an indicator of size, in 1951 the RAF had At Home days at 66 stations.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby st24 on Tue 26 Jun 2018, 11:34 pm

Some info here, only managed to get to the '60s and that was depressing enough...

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=75319
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Steve p on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 6:18 am

According to my copy of Owen Thetfords Aircraft of the Royal air force since 1918 eighth edition in June 1945 the RAF had 55.469 aircraft on its books including training aircraft and reserves, 9.200 of them was in front line sqns. A staggering 593 front line sqns!!. By 1947 front line strength had been reduced to around 1000 aircraft in 100 sqns. It seems cold war strenth reached its peak during the late 50s early 60s with around 2000 front line aircraft in 185 sqns, by 1988 the year the book was published numbers had been reduced to 57 front line sqns.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby speedbird2639 on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 6:51 am

It depends what you mean by 'at its peak'. Are we talking purely maximum number of personnel or aircraft or efficiency?

In terms of pure numbers the end of WW1 may well have been the peak but they were only wood and cloth planes of negligible capability and range.

In WW2 you had 1000 bomber raids but in the main these were highly inefficient with most of the bombs often falling (unintentionally) in civilian areas or even in open farmland.

Today's RAF maybe massively down on numbers but one or two aircraft can be sent on a mission in the near certainty that it will be successful and the crews will return safely.

So I would say on a basis of being 'fit for purpose' (ie to engage and defeat the enemy) a few dozen aircraft in the current RAF is of exponentially more use than 593 squadrons of pilots with little or no training bragging about who had the fluffiest moustache.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Ruislip Rustler on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 12:05 pm

Some First World War figures:

In August 1914, the mobilised strength of the RFC. was146 officers and 1097 other ranks. The RNAS had 130 officers and 700 ratings. The RFC had 179 aircraft while RNAS possessed 39 aeroplanes, 52 seaplanes and 7 airships. Of these totals, less than 100 were fit to take to war, the RFC taking 63 aircraft in four squadrons to support the British Expeditionary Force in France.

By the Armistice, the RAF had 27,333 officers (not much different to today!!) of which over half were trained pilots and 263,837 other ranks. The total number of aeroplanes and seaplanes on charge on 30 November 1918 was 22,647. Ninety-one squadrons and 7 flights were based in France, 14+1 in the Middle East, 4 in Italy and 16+7 across the Mediterranean, giving a total of 133 squadrons and 15 flights. At Home (ie the UK), there were 55 squadrons. There were also 56 Training Depot Stations (usually consisting of 3 training squadrons) and a further 19 independent training squadrons.

The total number of RAF stations on 11 November 1918 was 274 abroad and 401 at Home.

A year later there were just 4,000 officers and 31,500 other ranks serving.

As for the Second World War, my brain tells me it was July/August 1944 when there were 1.17 million men and women serving in the RAF.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Red Dragon on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 2:05 pm

In late 1944 there were roughly 650 RAF squadrons 1 - 650. 700 to 900 were all RN squadrons. 900 - 999 were all RAF barrage balloon squadrons, apart from 1435 all other RAF four digit squadrons were RAF Regiment/ Construction/ Bomb Disposal squadrons.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Spiny Norman on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 3:01 pm

speedbird2639 wrote:It depends what you mean by 'at its peak'. Are we talking purely maximum number of personnel or aircraft or efficiency?

In terms of pure numbers the end of WW1 may well have been the peak but they were only wood and cloth planes of negligible capability and range.

In WW2 you had 1000 bomber raids but in the main these were highly inefficient with most of the bombs often falling (unintentionally) in civilian areas or even in open farmland.

Today's RAF maybe massively down on numbers but one or two aircraft can be sent on a mission in the near certainty that it will be successful and the crews will return safely.

So I would say on a basis of being 'fit for purpose' (ie to engage and defeat the enemy) a few dozen aircraft in the current RAF is of exponentially more use than 593 squadrons of pilots with little or no training bragging about who had the fluffiest moustache.


Possibly the daftest thing anyone has ever written on here. And I've read most of the Vulcan threads.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby FarnboroJohn on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 3:05 pm

speedbird2639 wrote:It depends what you mean by 'at its peak'. Are we talking purely maximum number of personnel or aircraft or efficiency?

In terms of pure numbers the end of WW1 may well have been the peak but they were only wood and cloth planes of negligible capability and range.

In WW2 you had 1000 bomber raids but in the main these were highly inefficient with most of the bombs often falling (unintentionally) in civilian areas or even in open farmland.

Today's RAF maybe massively down on numbers but one or two aircraft can be sent on a mission in the near certainty that it will be successful and the crews will return safely.

So I would say on a basis of being 'fit for purpose' (ie to engage and defeat the enemy) a few dozen aircraft in the current RAF is of exponentially more use than 593 squadrons of pilots with little or no training bragging about who had the fluffiest moustache.


End of WW1 - not peak in personnel or aircraft.

End of WW2 - cities being genuinely smashed by genuinely accurate raids directed by radio navigation, radio master bombers and far more efficient equipment for causing destruction. At the same time the pursuit of pin-point accuracy allowed the destruction of Tirpitz, the mammoth V-weapon sites, viaducts such as the Bielefeld viaduct, Amiens prison etc. The first operational AEW aircraft were providing airborne radar direction to night-fighters. The first jet fighters were in service for home defence. While your picture of the pre- and early WW2 RAF is accurate in respect of Bomber Command (though I recall reading of them smashing the invasion barges in 1940 while the Few were scientifically defending the home islands with the world's first fully integrated air defence system), by its late war peak it is very far from a true picture.

Sadly today in strength relative to threat we are back to the mid 1930s, with our politicians saying we have the most efficient air force in the world but the fact remaining that even an F35 cannot be in two places at once....
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Steve p on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 9:08 pm

I still find it disgusting how the RAF has been denied a maritime patrol capability since the withdrawal of the Nimrod, i mean could the government not even purchase/borrow a few second hand P-3s just to fill the gap until the P-8s arrive, we did it before when we was cash strapped in the early 50s borrowing some Neptunes until the shacks arrived. What a farce.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Andover on Wed 27 Jun 2018, 9:35 pm

Steve p wrote:I still find it disgusting how the RAF has been denied a maritime patrol capability since the withdrawal of the Nimrod, i mean could the government not even purchase/borrow a few second hand P-3s just to fill the gap until the P-8s arrive, we did it before when we was cash strapped in the early 50s borrowing some Neptunes until the shacks arrived. What a farce.

The P-3 is what they should have bought instead of developing the MRA4, in my opinion.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby The Baron on Thu 28 Jun 2018, 5:14 am

Red Dragon wrote:In late 1944 there were roughly 650 RAF squadrons 1 - 650. 700 to 900 were all RN squadrons. 900 - 999 were all RAF barrage balloon squadrons, apart from 1435 all other RAF four digit squadrons were RAF Regiment/ Construction/ Bomb Disposal squadrons.


Don't forget that a lot of the 300 and 400 series squadrons were Polish, Czech, Belgian, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian etc.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Red Dragon on Thu 28 Jun 2018, 6:30 pm

The Baron wrote:
Red Dragon wrote:In late 1944 there were roughly 650 RAF squadrons 1 - 650. 700 to 900 were all RN squadrons. 900 - 999 were all RAF barrage balloon squadrons, apart from 1435 all other RAF four digit squadrons were RAF Regiment/ Construction/ Bomb Disposal squadrons.


Don't forget that a lot of the 300 and 400 series squadrons were Polish, Czech, Belgian, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian etc.


I've included them in there as the 300-400 were "Governments in Exile" and allowed to be placed under operational control of the RAF. The 400-500 were the Article XV squadrons of the RAAF, RCAF and RNZAF their CAS's were all assigned by the RAF. I have not included the SAAF in the numbers as from what I have read the SAAF squadrons were under the control of the SAAF, but the decisions regarding deployment of the SAAF Fighter/ Bomber wings were made by the RAF while under MAAF control.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Ouragan on Thu 28 Jun 2018, 6:54 pm

In terms of sheer all-round capability I would have thought that the RAF was its peak in summer 1945. In terms of the destructive capability that it could bring to bear on an enemy, then probably the late 1960s with the strategic and tactical nuclear weapons available to it.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby FarnboroJohn on Thu 28 Jun 2018, 8:05 pm

Red Dragon wrote:In late 1944 there were roughly 650 RAF squadrons 1 - 650. 700 to 900 were all RN squadrons. 900 - 999 were all RAF barrage balloon squadrons, apart from 1435 all other RAF four digit squadrons were RAF Regiment/ Construction/ Bomb Disposal squadrons.


1435 was and is a flight not a squadron, following the RAF habit of using three-digit numbers for aircraft squadrons and four-digit numbers for independent aircraft flights. 1312 Flight at RAF Mount Pleasant is another example, originally flying Ansons in 1944.

What we think of now as Army Air Corps squadron numbers (651+) were also originally formed as RAF Squadrons providing AOP services to the Army first in North Africa and later in Italy and Northern Europe, so some or all of 651 to 663 also belong in the 1944 count.

Edit: I also forgot that late in the war some of the conversion units also had 4 digit numbers.
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Re: When was the RAF at its peak?

Postby Red Dragon on Thu 28 Jun 2018, 10:39 pm

FarnboroJohn wrote:
Red Dragon wrote:In late 1944 there were roughly 650 RAF squadrons 1 - 650. 700 to 900 were all RN squadrons. 900 - 999 were all RAF barrage balloon squadrons, apart from 1435 all other RAF four digit squadrons were RAF Regiment/ Construction/ Bomb Disposal squadrons.


1435 was and is a flight not a squadron, following the RAF habit of using three-digit numbers for aircraft squadrons and four-digit numbers for independent aircraft flights. 1312 Flight at RAF Mount Pleasant is another example, originally flying Ansons in 1944.

What we think of now as Army Air Corps squadron numbers (651+) were also originally formed as RAF Squadrons providing AOP services to the Army first in North Africa and later in Italy and Northern Europe, so some or all of 651 to 663 also belong in the 1944 count.

Edit: I also forgot that late in the war some of the conversion units also had 4 digit numbers.


1435 Flight was raised to No. 1435 Squadron on 2 August 1942 on, Malta then disbanded in 1945 in Italy. The OCU's and HCU's were operated as Squadrons but many had twice the amount of air frames allocated to them for training duties than a front line squadrons would have had. As for the AOP Squadrons many were manned by Army personnel along with forming RAF/ RCAF and Polish AOP Squadrons.
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