1918: FormationOn 1 April 1918, the Royal Air Force came into being, by amalgamating the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
Major General Hugh Trenchard is appointed the service’s first Chief of the Air Staff. Here, a Bristol fighter flies over France on formation day.
1940: The 'few'In June, Winston Churchill warns of the beginning of the Battle of Britain. Between July and August, the Luftwaffe attacks radar installations and RAF airfields. On 18 August, both sides suffer their worst losses in one day. On 20 August, Churchill tells MPs in the Commons: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
1943: The DambustersOn the night of 16-17 May, 19 specially-modified Avro Lancaster bombers from 617 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, set off to attack dams on the River Ruhr in Germany.
They are loaded with "bouncing" bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis. Five Lancasters successfully breach the Eder Dam. Wg Cdr Gibson (centre) is awarded the Victoria Cross.
1945: DresdenOn the night of 13-14 February, Bomber Command begins what is considered to be one of the most controversial bombing campaigns of WWII with a raid on the German city of Dresden. 1,478 tons of high explosives and 1,182 tons of incendiaries were dropped on the city. A massive firestorm developed. It is estimated the raid caused up to 50,000 casualties.
1948: Berlin AirliftThe Soviet Union stops passenger and freight traffic to and from west Berlin. The RAF and its allies use aircraft to bring in supplies for the civilian population from western Germany.
The operation becomes known as the Berlin Airlift. 281,727 tons of supplies are flown in by the RAF on 50,000 flights.
1962: The V-forceHaving dropped the first British atomic bomb from an aircraft in 1956, the RAF assumes responsibility for the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
The "V Force" had an aircraft at 15 minutes’ readiness to launch a nuclear strike. The V-bombers, as they were known, were the Vickers Valiant, Avro Vulcan and the Handley Page Victor - shown here.
1982: The FalklandsFollowing Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands on 2 April, the RAF launches the UK’s first offensive action in the conflict.
Black Buck I would see a Vulcan bomber - like the one shown here - make an almost 16-hour round trip from Ascension Island to attack Stanley airfield. The Vulcan retired from service later that year.
1991: Desert StormFollowing Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the RAF deploys to the Gulf.
158 RAF aircraft deployed to the Gulf, flying more than 6,000 sorties. Five aircrew were killed, and six RAF aircraft destroyed. Here, the then Prime Minister John Major speaks to an RAF Tornado crew.
1994: Historic firstFlt Lt Jo Salter becomes the first woman combat jet pilot in the RAF, when she is posted to 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) flying the Tornado bomber.
She obtained her “combat ready” status the following December. Three years earlier, Flt Lt Julie Ann Gibson made history when she became the first female regular RAF officer to graduate as a pilot.
1999: Kosovo campaignNato launches an offensive against Serbia over Kosovo. Operation Allied Force begins with air raids against Serbian forces in Kosovo, as well as targets inside Serbia.
The RAF provides Harrier and Tornado ground-attack jets along with Puma and Chinook support helicopters. Here, UK paratroopers board a Puma ahead of the land invasion.
2001: AfghanistanThe US launches its campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks.
Since 2006, the RAF has been deployed in support of UK and Nato troops. As well as Harrier fighters, the RAF’s transport and helicopter fleet has played a vital role on the frontline. Here, soldiers board an RAF Chinook in August 2005.
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