Formed in the storm and stress of war in 1942, the RAF Regiment was born of the official recognition of the necessity for an indigenous and credible RAF ground defence force.
The success of German ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics during the opening years of the war had signalled the vulnerability of airfields to attack by a highly mobile enemy. RAF units attempting to withdraw from the Continent during the Battle of France in June 1940 were badly mauled by rapidly advancing German air and ground units. The subsequent intensive German air attacks on RAF bases during the Battle of Britain further strengthened the argument that the Service should look inwards for its own defence. The fall of Crete in 1941 was particularly disastrous for the RAF, with the Service’s main operating base at Maleme being swiftly overrun by German airborne forces and subsequently utilised by the Luftwaffe to reinforce the offensive.
The already considerable strain placed on the British Army by the demands of the war meant that it had scarce resources to dedicate to the defence of air assets. In the aftermath of Crete, the Findlater Stewart Committee was convened to find a solution to the problem of airfield defence. It recommended that a ‘Royal Air Force Aerodrome Defence Corps’ be formed, giving RAF commanders control over the defence of their own assets and releasing Army units for redeployment.
The new Corps, to be titled the Royal Air Force Regiment, was established by Royal Warrant on 1st February 1942. Its motto was to be ‘Per Ardua’, translated as ‘Through Adversity’, with its insignia crossed No.4 Lee Enfield rifles encircled by an astral crown.
RAF Regiment training schools were quickly established across the UK, with officers and Gunners being trained to operate as infantry, armoured car crewmen and air defence artillerymen. Ultimately, the Regiment adopted two distinct types of operational establishments, the Field squadron and the Anti Aircraft flight. All members of the Regiment, however, were initially trained as combat infantrymen, an arrangement that continues to the present day.
By the end of hostilities, the RAF Regiment had served in all theatres of the war and had gained an enviable reputation for tenacity and versatility. The Corps particularly distinguished itself at Meiktila in Burma, where it had suffered heavy losses repeatedly counter-attacking against Japanese forces attempting to capture the airstrip; at Monte Casino in Italy, where squadrons fought alongside Army units; and during the Normandy landings, when RAF Regiment wings were amongst the first units to come ashore at the Juno beachhead. In the post-war years the RAF Regiment found itself continually deployed on operations worldwide. The withdrawal from the British Empire and the associated small wars that followed placed increasingly large demands on the Corps. Service in Palestine, Aden, Suez, Cyprus, Malaya, Indonesia and Oman continued to hone the operational capabilities of squadrons and also developed a capacity for internal security and peacekeeping duties. The latter were to prove invaluable when RAF Regiment squadrons deployed to Northern Ireland in 1969. The Corps has maintained a continuous presence in the Province ever since.
The Falklands conflict of 1982 saw 63 Squadron RAF Regiment deploy to provide air defence for the San Carlos airhead. RAF Regiment Rapier squadrons continued to provide air defence for RAF assets assigned to the Falklands until 2008.
Operation GRANBY, the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, saw the largest deployment of RAF Regiment personnel since the end of the Second World War. The Corps contributed 19% of the total RAF force in theatre, with some units advancing into Kuwait with the lead elements of Allied forces.
In recent years the RAF Regiment has also been involved in operations in the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, as well as maintaining Force Protection for RAF assets deployed in the Middle East. The RAF Regiment returned to the desert in force in 2003, the majority of its squadrons being involved in the invasion of Iraq.