A Brief History of the RAF Regiment
The Royal Air Force Regiment was formed for the sole purpose of providing close defence of RAF Airfields. The catalyst for formation being the fall of France in 1940, with the Germans unique use of mobility and surprise, “Blitzkrieg”, revolutionised military strategy. “Blitzkrieg”, demonstrated the vulnerability of airfields long considered safe, deep behind enemy lines.
In January 1942 King George VI signed a Royal Warrant for “a Corps formed as an integral part of the RAF”, and the RAF Regiment was born.
The first Depot was opened in Filey with instructional staff seconded from the Brigade of Guards and the Royal Marines. The Depot has since moved 3 times, firstly to Belton Park, then to RAF Catterick in 1946 and most recently to the current “Home of the RAF Regiment” at RAF Honington in 1994.
The Corps first units were little more than platoons or “ flights” in strength and equipped with a variety of machine guns and 20mm Hispano cannon. From these beginnings the RAF Regiment developed 2 distinct types of squadron in response to the ground and air threats to RAF installations. The light anti-aircraft units were equipped with Bofors L40/60 guns; whilst the rifle or field squadrons deployed with the same variety of infantry weapons available to the Army. Squadron organisation varied and their armouries included 3inch mortars, anti-tank guns and armoured cars.
The RAF had operated armoured car companies in the Middle East during the inter-war years and these, together with the Iraqi Levies, provided the nucleus of the new Corps in that theatre. These units were the first in the Corps to see action within WWII. Throughout the North African Campaign, 5 field squadrons and 5 anti-aircraft flights earned reputations a robust hard-hitting force. During the “Torch” landings, the RAF Regiment moved inland from Algiers, Oran and Casablanca to undertake offensive operations, proving that the best form of defence is attack. In these operations the RAF Regiment captured considerable numbers of aircraft and some 3,000 prisoners.
The RAF Regiment was also heavily committed within mainland Europe indeed men of the Corps were also the first Allied forces to land in Greece. Following D-Day the RAF Regiment expanded to its peak strength of 85,000 officers and men organised into 240 squadrons.
The Corps played a significant role in the Far East, operating ostensibly in India and Burma. It was in Burma that the RAF Regiment fought the battle for which it had been raised. The airstrip of Meiktila was deep behind enemy lines, for 10 long days the Japanese soldiers were repelled in order to allow air operations to continue.
RAF Regiment units were deployed all round the world during the war years, Squadrons providing garrisons across the globe. At the end of WWII, RAF Regiment units were tasked with the occupation of areas previously occupied by the enemy.
These territories were generally highly unstable and RAF Regiment units found themselves in “Bush Fire” wars and on peacekeeping operations around the world since 1945. Turmoil in the Far East precipitated the formation of RAF Regiment (Malaya), manned by Malays but with officers and some SNCOs from the RAF Regiment. This force worked effectively during the Malayan Emergency and was also detached to Hong Kong for internal security duties.
The Corps also saw service in the Aden Protectorate, skirmishing with hostile tribesmen. Between 1949 and closer to home the RAF Regiment deployed to Northern Ireland as a last minute replacement for a Royal Marine Commando unit in 1969. Among the first security forces to deploy during the recent troubles, they have been providing a continuous presence in the Province for over 30 years. In 1972 the RAF Regiment deployed personnel to Belize, formerly British Honduras, in order to dissuade territorial claims on the region by Guatemala. Indeed members of the Corps maintained an official presence until withdrawal in 1991.
Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 RAF Regiment personnel were flown to reinforce the British Sovereign Base Area at Akrotiri. This augmented force protected RAF installations and evacuated British civilians from threatened areas to safety, in a divided island. RAF Regiment personnel remain serving in Cyprus to this day.
The invasion of the Falkland Island in 1982 prompted a rapid response, among the units to deploy to the islands were 63 Squadron, landing at San Carlos. The Corps has played an active role in the defence of the islands ever since.
During the Gulf War, RAF Regiment Squadrons provided air, ground and NBC protection at air bases used by coalition forces throughout the region. In particular No.1 Squadron RAF Regiment protected helicopter operations during the advance into Kuwait and Iraq. The Regiment remains an integral part of the defence of RAF assets in Kuwait to this day, supporting our continuing air operations against Iraq.
The RAF Regiment has been an active participant in Peace Support Operations in the Balkans; squadrons deployed to Bosnia following the onset of hostilities and in Kosovo the Corps was tasked with providing the ground defence of Pristina Airfield.
The start of the coalition operations in Iraq saw the RAF Regiment heavily involved with Op TELIC. 51 Squadron augmented by 63 Squadron were among the first to cross the border. In total five Squadrons were involved covering duties from Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) to Force Protection.
During 2003/4, 3 Squadron were deployed on two fronts undertaking operations in Ali Al Salem as part of Op TELIC 2 whilst continuing with counter terrorist and public orders in Northern Ireland as part of Op BANNER.
In July 2004 following the handover of the RAF Regiment Rapier capability to the Royal Artillery, it was announced that a Flight from the RAF Regiment would make up part of a new unit called the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) designed to support the Special Forces. As a result of the handover of the GBAD squadrons, 3 Squadron and 63 Queens Colour Squadron each received a manpower uplift, in order to match their operational capabilities with the four other field squadrons, while another two Force Protection Wing HQ’s were formed.
15 Squadron undertook its final Falkland Islands tour for the RAF Regiment in 2004/5 and begun its re-role deploying to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2006. The new Squadron would be formed through the amalgamation of the previous 15 and 26 Squadrons to be based at RAF Honington. The Squadron then returned to its Field Squadron origins for a further operational deployment to Afghanistan as the Resident Field Squadron at Kandahar in 2007/8.
The current high operational tempo in Afghanistan has put Op HERRICK at the forefront of deployments of the RAF Regiment post 2006/7. During this time the RAF Regiment has proved to be integral regarding operational success in conflict zone. The first RAF Regiment Squadrons to conduct operations within Afghanistan were 34 and II Squadron, closely followed by 51 Squadron. Essential operations continue in Afghanistan to the present day involving all the RAF Regiment Field Squadrons.