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Oliver, Kingsley M. The RAF Regiment at War, 1942-1946. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2002. Distributed in the US by Casemate
Although far better known for Spitfires, the Battle of Britain, Bomber Harris, and night attacks over Germany, the Royal Air Force also fielded its own ground forces. While the Luftwaffe actually activated an array of ground combat divisions for use in the front lines, the Royal Air Force organized the RAF Regiment to provide ground security and anti-aircraft defenses for airfields.
Although the ground defence squadrons were based on the model of an Army infantry company, they had only personal weapons and lacked the heavier support weapons with which the infantry units were equipped. The anti-aircraft flights were scaled for between twelve and twenty-four .303" machine guns of various types on a variety of mountings, but these did not present a real deterrent, let alone a serious threat, to enemy aircraft attacking at anything other than very low level within a few hundred yards of a static anti-aircraft machine-gun position.
In February 1942 these more or less ad hoc formations were institutionalized with the official creation of the RAF Regiment, which was officially charged with supplying the manpower, weapons, and formations to protect RAF bases at home and in the war theaters abroad. This led to much expansion and reorganization.
The first attempts at structuring the establishments of the Regiment's combat units were obscured by the imagined need to match unit capabilities to a variety of roles and the results seemed to bear out the old adage that a camel is a horse which has been designed by a committee. There were to be no less than three types of field squadron: the 'standard' field squadron had an anti-aircraft flight, two rifle flights - only one of which was 'mobile' - a support flight and an armoured car flight; the 'higher' field squadron had a third rifle flight added, while the 'lower' field squadron had only the anti-aircraft flight and two rifle flights. There were also two other versions of the so-called 'independent' anti-aircraft flight: the 'special' flight consisted of half a rifle flight and two anti-aircraft half-flights, whereas the 'composite' flight was composed of three half-flights, each of riflemen, anti-aircraft guns and armoured cars.
The remainder of Kingsley Oliver's book covers the deployment of RAF Regiment formations in action in the UK (notably against the V weapons in the later stages of the war), during Operation Torch and the campaign in Tunisia, in the Middle East (with an especially interesting section on the RAF Regiment in the Aegean operations during 1943), in Italy, in Greece during 1944-1945, in North West Europe during 1944-1946, and in South East Asia. Although the RAF Regiment had been formed in response to what seemed to be an Army tendency to denude airfield defenses in order to support ground operations, Oliver shows time and again that RAF ground units found themselves in the thick of ground combat, and there was a constant attempt by not only Army commanders but also Air Force commanders to detach and scatter RAF Regiment units and to utilize them in roles for which they were not intended. The RAF Regiment also seemed like a ready reservoir of manpower, and trained officers and enlisted men from the Regiment were often transferred to "real" combat arms.
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Reviewed 6 October 2002
Reviewed 6 October 2002
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