AIR 78 and finding RAF Other Ranks Service Number

 

The AIR78 airmen index cards
The AIR78 airmen index cards

This information has been posted periodically on the board and can also be found using the Google search AIR 78 site:www.rafcommands.com

The National Archives at Kew, London are the eventual home of all the released RAF files held by then Ministry of Defence/Air Historical Branch.

All files are reviewed for suitability and censored before release to the TNA for inclusion in the AIR series.

Personnel files from 1918 to the early 1920s have already been released with only the files of personnel that returned to service 1939-45 being retained by MoD.

In preparation for the release of subsequent service files the card index to all RAF Other Ranks from 1918 to the mid 1970s has been transferred. Please note that this does not contain the service records but only the small, single sided postcard used to find the service number.

Each index card held the following information:

Surname (also nee in case of a married WAAF)
Known first names or Initials
Service number on enlistment
Date of Birth (Post war index cards only)

In addition prewar cards are stamped F in a circle denoting Class F reserve.

Wartime cards show if the service person was listed as Militia draft list.

Post war the bottom of the card contains a few letter groups which were used as a double check of service number (in a similar manner to CRC in modern computer communications).

The index cards were transferred to microfilm by placing in groups of about 8 arranged in two columns.

Indexed in last name alphabetic order followed by initial/name order. they are now stored in VERY LARGE pdf format in the AIR 78 series of TNA documents.

Each pdf is in excess of 250 MB so unless you have a very fast computer connection or are at the TNA they are best down loaded and viewed off line instead of browsing page by page.

To use find the AIR 78 piece number which covers the last name you are interested in then download for free using the TNA Discovery Catalogue. The download may be from 2 to 5 individual pdf files making up the complete AIR 78 piece.

Then using Acrobat free viewer scroll through the pages to find the name you want.

That is all there is to using the resource.

During the period 1939 to 1945 the bulk of the enlistment to all the branches of the RAF, RAFVR, AAF etc were via ACH rank so nearly all airmen/women will be listed in AIR 78. The exception is where a direct entry commission was used but this was very rare.

Where a serviceman was subsequently commissioned the OR service number given in AIR 78 and lastname can be used in conjunction with a Google search of the Online London Gazette to find the service number given on commission.

Some cards are very faint and difficult to read and some batches of cards have been misfiled before microfilming.

Despite these problems AIR 78 remains the best source of finding OR service numbers and a good source of obtaining full names if the service number is known.

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