“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Winston Churchill’s description of the RAF’s role in the Battle of Britain in 1940 has become rightly famous. But it was a victory that might never have happened.
Had a single air force not been created with the merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service 100 years ago tomorrow, the UK might never have developed the highly integrated system of fighter defence that was able – just – to see off the threat of a Nazi invasion.
If Hitler’s then all-conquering armies had been able to land, we might be living in a very different world today.
Creating the RAF had not been certain given that, at the time, there were no other independent air forces in the world, but it became a model for many countries.
It may be known as the “junior service” due to the older pedigrees of the Army and Royal Navy, but by 1949 Churchill was clear about a different hierarchy. “For good or ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power, and fleets and armies, however necessary, must accept a subordinate rank.”