History of RAF SERE Training

RAF Survival Training

RAF Air Sea Rescue Crest The beginnings of Air/Sea rescue are to be found post WW 1 with the introduction of high speed rescue vessels crewed by RAF personnel, known as ‘The Sailors in Light Blue’. Amongst their ranks was no other than T E Lawrence – ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, who recognised the importance of this work and used his influence with the cabinet and senior officers to appeal for funding in order to support the Air/Sea rescue boat missions, thus planting the seed for further development in this field.

It was during the WW 2 and the battle of Britain that the importance of recovering aircrew, which had been highly trained at great cost and over a long period, was realised. The initial reaction of the RAF was to establish the post of station Air/Sea Rescue Officers in early 1942, whose duty was to train aircrews in the correct ditching and dinghy procedures. These officers enjoyed limited success as they possessed insufficient knowledge, had very little opportunity of undertaking training to acquire this knowledge and did not work to any official training strategy. Their function and duties had never been definitely clarified because of this lack of facilities for their training. In action, individual survival equipment was minimal and largely consisted of oversized normal uniforms with room for warm layers underneath.

A WW2 rescue float and launch

Towards the end of 1942, the increase in operations and the consequent number of forced landings at sea made it imperative to ensure that an officer on each station was fully trained in Air/Sea Rescue procedure. In February 1943, Air/Sea Rescue became a key interest for the Air Staff, when a suggestion was put forward that a special training wing should be authorised at a suitable station where practical exercises could be carried out by air and surface craft in conjunction with dinghies. In support of this argument it was stated that out of 1761 aircrew who came down in ‘The Drink’ (The Sea) in the last six months of 1942, 1166 were lost – Two thirds of all involved!

'Sailors in Light Blue' on board a RAF rescue Launch

Understandably, it was agreed that Air/Sea rescue was a good investment and would return good dividends, and so on 26 February 1943, the Assistant Chief of Staff (Operations) gave authority for the formation of a School of Air/Sea rescue. The school opened on 30 May 1943 at Blackpool, where it was accommodated at Technical Training Command’s station, and both practical and theoretical training was given to ensure all students has a thorough knowledge of rescue procedure and became thoroughly familiar with all types of rescue equipment.

Air sea rescue launch is a welcome sight to personnel onboard dinghy, 1960s

The school moved to Thorney Island, Hampshire in 1955 where it remained for four years before moving on again to RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth where it went through a metamorphosis to emerge with greater responsibility in the training of aircrew. The school’s name changed to emphasise this transformation, becoming the School of Combat Survival and Rescue. In addition it was at this point that a proposal was made for a true joint services combat survival training school.

Search and Rescue helicopters are now used over the rescue launch; wet drills training and practice of being winched

Another re-organisation saw the real estate upon which Mount Batten stood sold off in 1992 and a new home for the school was identified. A move across the Tamar into Cornwall and RAF St Mawgan was to be the new home, where it remains at present as part of the newly created Tri-Service, Defence SERE Training Organisation.

History of Royal Navy Survival Training

History of RAF St Mawgan

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