Dwindling RAF: Written on 18 August 2017
I have written several times about my views on the current state of UK defence. Today I’m in nostalgic mood – but very sad about the future. When I left home on 18 August 1953, 64 years ago today, and started what turned out to be 47 years (17,382 days!) in the Royal Air Force I was, apparently, just one of 39,000 young men who signed on in 1953 alone. There were already 189,000 regular service male personnel in the RAF when I signed on, and in addition there were lots of National Service airmen – but I have no idea how many. Over 200 of us regular servicemen arrived at the recruit reception station at Cardington on 18 August 1953, and a similar number on the remaining four days of that week.
Here is a quote from the 1953 Defence Estimates that I discovered during my initial recruit training and recorded in my diary: “…….the Government are satisfied that, having regard to the present international situation, it would be impossible to allow a depletion of the armed forces and their reserves to the extent that would occur if the power to call men up for National Service on reaching the age of 18 were to be allowed to lapse at the end of 1953.”
One of the first things we had to learn, as part of what was called General Service Training, was the number of operational commands the RAF had. I seem to recall there were 12, each headed by a 3 or 4 star ranking officer who went by the grand title of Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief followed by the name of the command. The Commands when I signed on in 1953 were: Bomber, Fighter, Transport, Coastal, Flying Training, Technical Training, Maintenance, and Home Command, plus 4 overseas commands, Far East (FEAF), Middle East (MEAF), Near East (NEAF) and 2nd Tactical Air Force Germany (which became RAF Germany in 1959 and was then demoted to 2 Group within Strike Command in 1993). Over the years, the number of commands has been steadily dwindling so that there is now only one: Air Command, formed in 2007 with the merger of Strike and Personnel & Training Command.
Above: That's me operating the radar in a 38 Squadron Shackleton in 1959.
When I served in RAF Coastal Command in the late 1950s, it used to be claimed that there were more air officers (officers of one-star rank or higher) in Coastal Command than the total number of aircraft in the Command. I would guess that today there are more air officers in the RAF than the total number of operational aircraft.