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Thread: Royal Colonial Air Forces

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    Default Royal Colonial Air Forces

    Gents
    On the Imperial Conference of 1911 it was decided that Colonies should develop their own Air Forces. Nonetheless the process was rather slow, with reasonable effects, until WWII. What was the reason? Was it, because Colonies felt safe, and considered aviation a waste of money or where there any other reasons?
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    Franek

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    At the end of WW1 air forces were established in the Empire by means of the Imperial Gift, a supply of appropriate aircraft. Given the lack of international tension, these forces were not increased - why should they have been? Come the late 20s and early 30s the Great Depression had its effect on the whole world, and increasing force sizes were on few people's list of aims. It was only in the 30s, with fears of Nazi Germany and an expanding Japan, that there was any pressure on Empire, primarily Dominion, governments to expand their militaries.

    I don't think that aviation was seen as a waste, as it played a considerable part in the internal development and communications of these countries, but a matter of financial priorities. Few of these countries had a large tax base. India had a large Army: Australia, for its size, a large Navy. Britain herself was financially crippled by the Great War. The key advantages of an Air Force, in mobility and firepower, were still largely theoretical between the wars, and indeed those air forces that did exist were very limited in real capability. Fine for limited "peace-keeping" operations.
    Last edited by Graham Boak; 1st March 2017 at 07:52. Reason: typo

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    Graham,

    I think you intended to say WW1, not WW2?

    Errol

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    Thank you, corrected.

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    Thanks.
    The question is because Australia responded almost immediately, before WWI, while most of the other countries formed their military aviation in 1920s, and India only in 1932.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Franek Grabowski View Post
    Thanks.
    The question is because Australia responded almost immediately, before WWI, while most of the other countries formed their military aviation in 1920s, and India only in 1932.

    For India, first considerations to start an IAF was around May 1928 when requests went out to RAF Cranwell to start reserving spots for INdian cadets. the first Cadets could enter training only in 1930 and they took two years to get commissioned - and thus for the formation of the unit.

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    It is still 17 years after the initial suggestion. Where there any considerations before that date?

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    I believe that the lack of funding throughout the UK and Dominions military structure was responsible. It was not a planned delay, it was imposed by the impossible burden of the war. For example, the UK government felt forced to renege on war loans from the USA despite the backlash in threats of lost markets. The RAF was doing ‘good work’ in India cheaper than the army could have alone but the RAF was having to fight the Royal Navy for every penny so it does not surprise me that the Dominions air forces were not a priority until the Japanese threat emerged.

    Bruce
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    So it is all about money, as usual.
    I find a rather elusive and short living Indian Flying Corps (very little on it), so perhaps there was a will, but limited possibilities.

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    I think this thread is based on a somewhat false premise, and all was not what some appear to think it was. The same could be said of the formation of separate Navies in the self-governing Dominions (although India was never strictly in this category in the time scale under discussion - in fact India was a rather special case).

    New Zealand, for instance, had some interest in forming a Flying Corps pre the Great War, and went so far as to send two officers to the UK to learn all about "aviation", at a time when military aviation barely existed anywhere in any form, and was very much in an era when even such things as moderately reliable aeroplanes were in their extreme infancy. Strategies, tactics and specialised weapons and other vital equipment necessary for military operations as we understand them today, were still being formulated or developed and the only real role for aircraft at the time seemed to be reconnaissance. Of course, many other people were dreaming up all sorts of fantastic ideas for the employment of aircraft in war, most totally impractical at the time with the aircraft available, although some would lead to greater things. Aircraft were certainly a case of "work in progress, but wait till you see what we can come up with by NEXT year!"

    New Zealand was in the rather typical position of the time in being constantly reminded that any thoughts of this country being imperilled by hostile powers (eastern or western) were unnecessary so long as the Royal Navy was pre-eminent on the seas of the World, and that New Zealand should do her bit to support this mighty force by continuing to pay its annual fee ("subsidy") to the Imperial Government which would help finance the presence of the local RN Squadron in this part of the World. Aircraft at this time were so feeble that they presented absolutely no fears to anybody, anywhere, apart of course in the minds of the extreme visionaries. For this reason, the British Government also opposed the formation of Dominion navies, and suggesting that Naval subsidies were the safe and logical way to ensure continuing security and prosperity. New Zealand had been paying these subsidies since, I think, the 1880s, as had Australia in this part of the World, supporting the Australian Squadron based on Sydney (which also had responsibilities to New Zealand). Australia, however, in its great prosperity at this time, was determined to form its own Navy, and ordered a fleet of new ships including a battlecruiser, cruisers, etc, to this end. New Zealand also raised a loan to build a brand new battlecruiser (HMS NEW ZEALAND) at this time (1909), although as operating such a ship without a major naval dockyard, let alone without a Navy, was way beyond New Zealand's ability as this time. However we did have the Admiralty-owned graving dock at Auckland which could handle cruisers, etc., although battlecruisers were beyond its capabilities. With the Australians' decision to form their own Navy, the Australian Squadron had become largely redundant, so a new Admiralty plan for the defence of the Pacific included the formation of a new British Pacific Fleet, which would incorporate the old China Station and Squadron, and also provide protection for New Zealand and the Pacific Islands of interest to the UK. The Admiralty assured NZ that HMS NEW ZEALAND was to become the Flagship of the new Pacific Fleet, and all would be well. New Zealand was also offered the sweetener of sending selected promising young lads to the UK for training as sailors, or even as naval officers, for service aboard RN warships, which would provide further ties between the two countries. Unfortunately, within a couple of years the great Naval race in the northern hemisphere put paid to the grand vision of the new British Pacific Fleet, which was put on hold so that the Grand Fleet in British home waters could be strengthened, including delivery of the NZ battlecruiser directly to the Grand Fleet. This greatly upset the NZ government, who considered that they had been betrayed, but there was really nothing they could do about it, short of cancelling the order, which would have been politically unacceptable in both New Zealand as well as the UK. However the NZ Govt did decide to follow Australia's lead and form a small local Navy for local self-defence purposes. The RN was not very happy about this, saying the formation of such a fleet was a waste of money, and that NZ would be better served by continuing to pay an increased naval subsidy which would assure RN assistance in time of emergencies. Amazingly there seemed to be no real co-ordination or even any talks at all between the Australian and NZ governments on these arrangements. However New Zealand did insist that it was going to form its own Navy for local defence only, but would require British assistance to do so. Britain reluctantly agreed, probably silently cursing Australia for initiating this rebellious behaviour, and offered the loan of some officers as well as instructors to oversee the formation of the new Navy, and the loan of the obsolete (1890s style) cruiser HMS PHILOMEL, plus two other obsolete cruisers (already on the about-to-be disbanded Australian Station) were to remain in the vicinity and were to be transferred to the planned New Zealand Station. The training cruiser was delivered to New Zealand prior to the outbreak of the Great War, and had just embarked on its first training cruise in the Marlborough Sounds with a complement of boys and young men when the arms race of the previous fifteen or so years came to a head, and Europe was at war. PHILOMEL was immediately recalled to duty with the RN (as were the other two old cruisers) and New Zealand had to await another seven years before this ship could finally form the New Zealand Division in 1921, by which time it was in even worse condition. Likewise any plans for the formation of a NZ Flying Corps were abandoned on the express suggestion of the UK Government very early in the War, which stated unambiguously that what was required from the self-governing Dominions was complete Divisions of infantry in particular, plus large drafts of young volunteers for the RN. For the overall defence of the Pacific, the RN would be the ultimate guarantor, utilising what ships could be spared from Europe. No doubt similar messages were conveyed to all corners of the Empire, although the two largest self-governing dominions (Canada and Australia) could undertake the raising of national navies and air forces, but only to the extent of not impacting on the general build up of the overall armed forces of the Empire available for fighting in ongoing operations in the various operational war theatres, with the Western Front being of first importance. For instance, much of the new Australian Navy was despatched for service in the Mediterranean and Europe.

    I hope that this quick post, typed furiously without recourse to my reference material, gives my reasons for stating that the premise which started this whole thread is based on a rather erroneous understanding of the situation in 1911, and subsequently. If I have erred in the accuracy of certain statements, I apologise. All comments on any part of it are welcome!

    David D
    Last edited by David Duxbury; 4th March 2017 at 20:50.

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