The World's First Independent Air Force

One hundred years ago, King George V authorised the creation of a new branch of the British military. It was formed in response to the growing role of airpower in warfare, and created by merging the aviation branches of the Royal Navy and British Army together into a single service, the Royal Air Force.

The use of aviation in warfare evolved rapidly during the First World War. What started off as a tool used solely for reconnaissance, quickly changed and adapted into new roles. Fighter aircraft were developed to shoot down enemy reconnaissance aircraft and other aircraft were adapted drop bombs on the enemy.

Across both sides the aviation branches of the Allies and Central Powers swelled and expanded and quickly employed new technologies. Yet warfare didn’t just impact the war in the trenches, it also bought the war to the Home Front.

Prior to the First World War the German Military started a Zeppelin building programme, equipping both its army and navy with airships. These airships were designed to conduct reconnaissance and for carrying out bombing attacks.  

Wreckage of German Zeppelin L33. Essex 1916

In 1915 the German military began using their Zeppelins to conduct raids against the British Isles. These raids were designed to destroy strategic British industry and weaken the ability of the Allies to fight the war. In response to the Zeppelin raids, Britain was forced to divert elements of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service back to the UK, in order to protect Britain from the threat of enemy air raids.

South African General 
Jan Smuts

In 1917 Germany deployed long range Gotha Aircraft, aeroplanes that were capable of carrying long range raids against the British Isles. In response to these raids and lobbying by Viscount French, South African General Jan Smuts was authorised by the Imperial War Cabinet to conduct a review of the British Air Services, a report that would later become known by another name, the Smuts Report.

Smuts recommended that air should be treated as a separate force, separate from the Royal Navy and the Army. Instead a new force should be created, that would be solely responsible for conducting warfare in the air.

Following the report, Parliament debated and passed the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917, which was given Royal Assent by King George V on the 29 November 1917.

A few months later on the 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps were merge together to create something new, the world’s first independent air force, the Royal Air Force.