Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Airborne Operations

Since the middle of the First World War air warfare has revolutionised military conflict. Airborne supremacy is now a key element to success on the battlefield. In this page we consider aerial activities.

Biographic research into RAF personnel is discussed on RAF Service Records. Army personnel such as the Parachute Regiment and the Glider Pilot Regiment were also involved in airborne operations. Biographic research into these Army personnel is constrained as the service records for these servicemen are still held by the Ministry of Defence and they have not been released to the public domain (see Post 1921 Service). Only next of kin can apply to the MoD to get copies of service records.

Research into air / airborne warfare tends to revolve around the following framework:

First World War (1914 - 1918)

The Inter War Period (1919 - 1939)

World War 2 (1939 - 1945)
a) High Command
b) Air Policy
c) Expeditionary Forces
d) Commands
e) The main operational records
f) Bomber Command
g) Fleet Air Arm and Naval Aviation
h) Army Aviation and Combined Operations
i) Polish RAF Squadrons
j) Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Units
k) South African Air Force Units
l) Other Commonwealth Squadrons
m) RAF Regiment

Post Second World War Operations

Aircraft Production

Military Airfields

RAF Historical Society

First World War (1914 - 1918)
The Royal Flying Corps was created by Royal Warrant in 1912 and had military and naval wings. They were re-united in 1918 under the title "Royal Air Force". Most of the pre-WW1 and WW1 records are located in the Air Historical Branch records and there are few surviving Operational Record Books (ORBs). Some airship log books have also survived and the Official Histories are very informative.

The Inter War Period (1919 - 1939)
In this period the RAF saw action in minor campaigns in India and the Middle East. For this period the main sources of data are the records of the Chief of Air Staff, Air Publications, Squadron ORBs and intelligence papers.

World War 2 (1939 - 1945)
The records for the RAF in World War 2 are very extensive. They cover:

a) High Command - War Cabinet Minutes, (Defence) Cabinet Committees, Chiefs of Staff papers, Combined Chief of Staff Committee papers, War Cabinet daily situation reports and Secretariat Files.

b) Air Policy - the direction and conduct of the war, conduct of operations and administration

c) Expeditionary Forces - RAF Records for France 1939-40, Air Component North West Expeditionary Force (Norway 1940), the British element of Allied Expeditionary Force (North West Europe 1944-45) and North Africa (Operation Torch 1942).

d) Commands - Records for Balloon, Bomber, Coastal and Fighter Commands have survived. In addition some records for non-combative commands such as Maintenance, Training, Ferry and Transport, and Army Co-operation Command are available.

e) The main operational records for the RAF are Operations Record Books (ORBs) (consisting of a "Summary of Events" and "Details of Work Carried Out"). There are ORBs for all levels of command, stations and miscellaneous units. In addition there are Combat Reports and a limited selection of aircrew Log Books.

f) Bomber Command - There are operational records for the European bombing campaign conducted by Bomber Command. These include night and day reports, post-attack reconnaissance photographs 

g) Fleet Air Arm and Naval Aviation - The FAA was formed in 1924 and control of this force was split between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. In 1937 total control passed to the Admiralty. Some of the FAA's ORBs for April 1933 to September 1943 are filed with RAF records. The main series of FAA ORBs are with Admiralty records.

h) Army Aviation and Combined Operations - During the Second World War there was close co-operation between the Army and the RAF. Records for Glider Pilots Regiments and Air Observation Posts (1939-45) are filed with the Army War Diaries for the respective theatres of operations. Recently an excellent book on the creation and evolution of UK's airborne troops has been published and a review is at Churchill’s Spearhead – The Development of Britain’s Airborne Forces During World War II.

i) Polish RAF Squadrons - Some Polish men served in Polish RAF Squadrons and these squadrons were numbered 300 to 309, 315 to 318 and 663. There is an official history of these units.

j) Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Units - The RAAF Historical Section have compiled histories of these units covering fighter, bomber, maritime and support units and training units.

k) South African Air Force Units - The surviving records for South African Air Force are in AIR 54.

l) Other Commonwealth Squadrons - There is a series of ORBs for Commonwealth Squadrons (AIR 27)

m) RAF Regiment - The RAF Regiment was formed in 1942 and its ORBs are located in AIR29.

Post Second World War Operations
The Post War RAF kept many of the wartime record series well into the post-war era. In addition to the ORBs the "Registered Files", Chief of Air Staff Papers and Air Historical Branch (Unregistered Papers) are likely to prove useful sources of information. The ORBs for the Army Air Corps Squadrons dating from 1957 are located in WO 295. ORBs for the RAF which are less than 30 years old are held by the Air Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence. Bona fide researchers can apply to the Branch for the release of information from such books.

Aircraft Production
The responsibility for aircraft, their armament, equipment, repair and research & development originally laid with the Air Ministry. In 1940 it was passed to the new Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Military Airfields
Records of airfields have been kept since 1912. There are maps and descriptions of airfield in use by the RAF in November 1918. For WW2 airfields there are photographs, maps and descriptions. Detailed plans are held by the RAF Museum.

RAF Historical Society
This Society was formed in 1986 and is devoted to the study of the history of the RAF and providing a forum at which such research can be discussed. It is a registered charity and hosts two annual seminars. Further details can be found at