Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force: Wartime Snapshot No. 31

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This education resource explores the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Australian military aviation began in 1914 as the Australian Flying Corps (AFC). In 1921, the RAAF was established. Although it was new, the RAAF took on the history and traditions forged by the wartime AFC. Use this Wartime Snapshot to encourage student-led inquiry learning about this period in our wartime history.

Series: Wartime Snapshots
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Australian military aviation began in 1914 shortly before World War I, when the Australian Flying Corps’ (AFC) Central Flying School at Point Cook admitted its first four pupils. By 1918 when the war ended, the AFC had four squadrons in the field and four training squadrons in England. The following year, it was disbanded and replaced by the Australian Air Corps, which in 1921 became the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Although it was a new establishment, the RAAF took on the history and traditions forged by the wartime AFC.

Background

During World War II, RAAF personnel served around the world. Many completed advanced training in Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) before serving with Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) in some of the war's most significant aerial campaigns, from the Battle of the Atlantic and the bomber offensive against Germany to the fighting over North Africa and the Mediterranean. After Japan entered the war, RAAF personnel defended Australia against air raids, contributed to important victories in Papua and New Guinea, flew long-range reconnaissance and bombing operations against targets as distant as Borneo and the Philippines, and transported men and equipment around Australia and the region, playing a key role in Allied operations across Asia and the Pacific.

RAAF aircrew flew in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, part of the successful effort to defeat a Soviet blockade of the city.

In 1950, the RAAF was one of the first of the United Nations' air forces to deploy on operations in Korea, going on to fly combat, reconnaissance, ground support, escort and medical evacuation operations through the 3 years of the Korean War.

On the other side of the world, RAAF personnel deployed to Malta as part of a British campaign to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Closer to home, the RAAF operated against communist guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency, flying bombing and transport operations.

In the Vietnam War, RAAF transport aircraft were at the vanguard of Australia's air operations, joined later by a squadron of bombers and another of helicopters. A handful of RAAF airmen also served in United States Air Force units.

Since the early years of the 21st century, RAAF personnel have served in wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan carrying out combat operations, maritime surveillance, and reconnaissance and intelligence flights alongside the air forces of allied nations. Along with service through wars and conflicts, for more than 70 years, RAAF personnel have also been involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations spanning the globe, from Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia, East Timor and the Pacific.

The RAAF has played a central role in Australian military operations for more than a century. Its personnel have served in every war and conflict in which Australia has been involved since 1921, but its traditions and history go back to the AFC and the airfield at Point Cook on the eve of the Great War.

Student inquiry questions

  1. This poster commemorates the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1921 and a century of service to our nation. Look at the images and read the text on the poster to respond to these questions:
    1. How many different types of aircraft can you see?
    2. What kinds of jobs can you see people doing?
    3. During which conflicts has the RAAF served over the past 100 years?
  2. Read the background information and answer these questions:
    1. When did Australian military aviation begin? What was the RAAF first known as?
    2. Name 5 countries where the RAAF flew during World War II.
    3. What kinds of roles does the RAAF carry out today?
  3. Using the background information and our Australian Flying Corps web page, find out who the first four pilots were to graduate from the Australian Flying Corps' Central Flying School in Point Cook in Victoria.
  4. RAAF Transport personnel served in the Malayan Emergency in the early 1950s. Answer these questions using our transport operations web page.
    1. Which RAAF squadron was involved in this campaign?
    2. What locations did it use for its operations?
    3. What kinds of activities did it carry out?
  5. The Vietnam War saw RAAF personnel serving in a range of roles. Using our RAAF personnel web page, find out what those roles were. Make a note of the roles that involved non-flying personnel and suggest why those roles were vital to RAAF operations in Vietnam.
  6. Imagine you were one of the first four pilots to undertake training at the AFC Central Flying School at Point Cook. Write a diary entry describing your thoughts and feelings about the training and your eventual move to the battlefronts of World War I.

Copyright

Department of Veterans' Affairs 2021

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