The RAAF in World War II
World War II started as it ended, with actions from the sky when Germany’s Luftwaffe attacked targets along the Vistula River in Poland on 1 September 1939. This began a conflict that engulfed the world for nearly six years.
Australian airmen were involved from the very beginning of the air war, when an Australian airman flew in the first Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing raids one day after the war began. British Blenheim and Wellington bombers attacked German naval ships at Brusbuttel and Wilhelmshaven. The RAAF’s contribution continued until the very last day of the war in the Pacific when, on 15 August 1945, 100 Squadron carried out a strike on Japanese positions.
The expansion of the RAAF during World War II included the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). Established in March 1941 to release men for service in forward locations, the WAAAFs demonstrated their invaluable service in many important roles but were prevented from serving overseas on operations.
In total 189,700 men and 27,000 women served in the RAAF during World War II, with 10,562 killed.
Participation in RAF Operations
From 1926 to 1938, the RAAF had already been providing trained pilots for service in Britain, however, by the end of 1939 a much larger system of training to provide aircrew for service was established. Known as the Empire Air Training Scheme, this system resulted in some 37,000 RAAF members being trained and sent to fly as part of RAF squadrons.
While some were to serve in notionally Australian squadrons, many more – the famous ‘Odd Bods’ – were sent to RAF Squadrons across the globe for service in Fighter Command, Coastal Command, Bomber Command, the Desert Air Force, India, the Far East and the 1st and 2nd Tactical Air Forces in Europe. As a result RAAF members actively took part in every major air campaign of World War II either as part of RAF or in RAAF formations.