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Royal Australian Air Force Reserve

The Royal Australian Air ForcePrior to and during the first World War Australian military aviation was primarily the domain of the Army with some minor involvement by the Navy. After serving with distinction in the Middle East and France the Australian Flying Corps returned to Australia in 1919 and was disbanded shortly thereafter.

On 29 April 1919 Major General J.G. Legge had produced his "Outline Policy for the Military Air Force of Australia." In this he confirmed ideas that had been put forward before WWI with the following statement; "The Military Air Force of Australia should mainly be composed from Citizen Forces with a proportion of Permanent Troops. The latter to provide for the instruction of the force and the maintenance of the equipment. Thus it was, from the very outset of the new service. Reservist or Citizen Airmen would play a major part in the subsequent formation of the Australian Air Force.

The Commonwealth Gazette of 31 March 1921 announced the formation of the Australian Air Force. The prefix Royal was granted soon after and promulgated on 31 August 1921. Financial restrictions held back the formation of the Reserve elements for some time, even after approval was granted in November 1921. By sheer hard work and determination the reserve elements of the Permanent squadrons came into being and in April 1936 several autonomous Citizen Air Force Units were raised in the major cities of the East Coast and in Perth.

  The 1930s go to top of page

By sheer hard work and determination the reserve elements of the Permanent squadrons came into being and in April 1936 several autonomous Citizen Air Force Units were raised in the major cities of the East Coast and in Perth.

During the years leading up to World War II the CAF squadrons were the mainstay of training within the RAAF. So much so that by the outbreak of war approximately two thirds of those in uniform were Reservists. This proportion tallied well against the original expectations at the time of formation.

At the outbreak of war the CAF members were called up " for the duration" and most transferred to the PAF in order to overcome the constitutional restriction which prevented their being used outside Australian Territory.

  World War Two go to top of page

As an example it is interesting to note that No 22 Squadron was formed from two thirds of the Permanent Air Force personnel of No 3 Sqn in 1936. This amounted to 24 PAF personnel who were later joined by a little over one hundred CAF members. By the time No 3 (Fighter) Sqn departed for the Middle East early in 1940 the debt in manpower had been amply repaid. More than three hundred of the Squadron's four hundred odd personnel had received their training in, or had been transferred from. No 22 Sqn.

Throughout WWII the CAF squadrons retained their identity, though of necessity the personnel had become PAF due to the constitutional restriction. No 21 (City of Melbourne) Sqn served with distinction despite inadequate equipment, in Malaya prior to the fall of Singapore. Later the unit reformed to fry first, Vultee Vengeance dive bombers in New Guinea and then Consolidated B24 Liberators from the Northern Territory. No 22 (City of Sydney) Sqn served in Papua New Guinea and followed the Pacific war. up to the invasion of the Philippines. The most notable distinction of this unit was the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to one of their Douglas Boston pilots. Flight Lieutenant W.E. (Bill) Newton.

No 23 (City of Brisbane) Sqn and No 24 Squadron (Later to become the City of Adelaide Squadron) were formed in Feb 1939 and June 1940 respectively. They became bomber squadrons operating B24 Liberator bombers out of bases in the Northern Territory. From here their missions ranged as far as the Philippines.

No 25 (City of Perth) Sqn provided the backbone of the air defence forces along Australia's Western coast throughout the war.

At the cessation of hostilities most of the previously CAF units were brought back to Australia and disbanded, though some continued as PAF Units. Some prewar Reservists served on to take part in the British Commonwealth Occupational Force in Japan following the surrender.

  The Flying CAF go to top of page

In 1947 the Australian Government passed an Act to reform the Reserve Forces which had been disbanded at the end of the war. Though this was primarily aimed at the Citizen Military Forces, of the Army, it also meant the return of the CAF. Those units that had not been disbanded were renumbered and became PAF units thus freeing the original CAF Squadron numbers for reformation.

Winjeel TrainerOn 1 April 1948 No 21(City of Melbourne) Sqn reformed at RAAF Laverton, No 23 (City of Brisbane) Sqn reformed at RAAF Archerfield and No 25 (City of Perth) Sqn reformed at RAAF Pearce. No 22 (City of Sydney) Sqn followed on 19 April 1948 at RAAF Bankstown. These were to undertake a role similar to their pre-war training of fighter pilots and ground crew. The equipment in each case was the Australian built CAC Mustang fighter. This was a licence built North American P51 Mustang that was considered to be the finest fighter of WWII. De Havilland Tiger Moth and CAC Wirraway aircraft were provided for initial and advanced flying training.

Many wartime pilots opted to utilise the skills that they had learned, to train the newcomers who flocked eagerly to become members. Pilot training was available to both Officer and Sergeant pilots. As it had done in the mid thirties the romance of aviation drew many people into the CAFs quadrons. University Squadrons provided many of the officer corps and the ground crew came from a diverse background. Qualified motor mechanics joined as low level aircraft mechanics in order to train up to aircraft fitter standard. Truck drivers trained to operate the crash tenders and fuel trucks. Others did anything they could to serve near aeroplanes. All the while they were aware that should any hostility arise, they would probably be the first to face it. The tax free pay (A feature of reserve service which continues today) was handy but seldom identified as being as important as the opportunity to serve on or to be near aircraft. Others simply wanted to continue what they had started before the war. The CAF personnel were distinguishable from their PAF counter parts by the wearing of colour patches on the shoulder of their uniform. This was the same colour patches as worn by the "Mesopotamia Half Flight" the first unit of the Australian Flying Corps to serve overseas in WWI.

Over the next few years No 22 Sqn moved from Bankstown to RAAF Schofield and then to RAAF Richmond. All the CAF squadrons trained hard though the training was often hazardous. Proficiency levels increased but the reality of military service was driven home by the loss of a number of pilots in accidents resulting from the unforgiving nature of aviation.

At the outbreak of the Korean war the RAAF was thrown into the fray, flying Mustangs from Japan. Again a number of CAP personnel transferred to the PAF and were transferred to combat duties. It was during this conflict that the RAAF started flying Gloster Meteor jet fighters.

On 30 April 1951 No 24 (City of Adelaide) Sqn was reformed at RAAF Mallala. The aircraft flown were the same as the other squadrons. With the exception of replacing the Wirraways with CAC Winjeels, these were operated throughout this squadron's flying life, which ended in 1960.

About this time the CAF squadrons joined the RAAF in their entry into the jet age. Nos 21,22, 23 and 25 Squadrons received the single seat fighter and two-seat trainer versions of the twin-tailed, De Havilland Vampire jet. Both Mustangs and Vampires were operated for a while until the Mustangs began to be withdrawn from service in the mid fifties. During the later stages of operation the Mustangs had been limited mainly to the ground attack role. No 22 Sqn added the twin engine Gloster Meteor to its operational strength in 1956. No 21 and No 22 squadrons also took part in the beginning of the "Helicopter Era" when they began operating the Sikorsky S51 Dragonfly in the early fifties. No 22 also took part in the trialing of the New CAC Winjeel.

Former Reservist FLGOFF John Pearson 22 Sqn (City of Sydney) RAAF in a Meteor (1957) and alongside a Vampire (1955).

The Reserve Forces Day Council, helped the RAAF celebrate its 90th anniversary, invited all serving and former members of the RAAF to attend and take part in the 2011 spectacular Reserve Forces Day Parades.

  Ground Crew go to top of page

In early 1960 it was announced that the CAF squadrons would cease to be flying squadrons and would be restructured as (Auxiliary) squadrons. Throughout their flying career the CAF squadrons had operated more than twenty types of aircraft and made considerable contribution towards the overall operational efficiency of the RAAF.

Though the future from this point did not appear to be as glamourous, the contribution was to remain. The ground crews were transferred to the role of maintenance support for PAF units. Lockheed P2V Neptunes of No 10 Squadron were supported by No 22 (A) Squadron while No 21 (A) supported the Neptunes of No 11 Sqn and the CAC Sabre Jets of Nos 75 and 76 Squadrons.

Following the return of Nos 35 and 38 Squadrons from Vietnam the technical flights of No 21 and 22 Sqns were transferred to the support of these units in 1972. No 38 Sqn at both, RAAF Laverton and RAAF Richmond and in the case of No 35 Sqn during annual camps at RAAF Townsville. A small number of CAF personnel served tours of duty in Vietnam after signing on for periods of service in the PAF.

In 1981 the Active Citizens Air Force was renamed RAAF Active Reserve (RAAFAR). About this time it began accepting female members. Aircrew members were also accepted for continuation of their flying duties if they left the PAF prior to attaining mandatory retirement age. This mainly occurred within the Airlift Group.

Other areas throughout the range of activities of the RAAF were also supported to varying degrees. By the mid eighties the Reservists included almost every mustering available to RAAF members plus, one that was not. This was that of the "Operations Officer" which was peculiar to the Reserves and whose job it is to plan and coordinate maritime operations. The medical and dental areas of the RAAF were particularly well represented by Reservists.

Aircrew support was provided to the C130 Hercules aircraft operated by Nos 36 and 37 Sqns and the Boeing 707 aircraft of No 33 Sqn at RAAF Richmond. All these aircraft were maintained by No 486 Sqn which received technical support. During this period rather than operating as autonomous reserve flights, the reserve technical personnel were integrated into the parent PAF unit to work along side its full-time members, as part-time members. The duties mainly involved providing personnel for weekend duty crews. Similar activities at RAAF Amberly provided support for No 481 Sqn maintaining Fill, Boeing Chinook and Caribou aircraft. At RAAF Edinburgh support is provided for the Lockheed Orions via 492 Sqn. At RAAF Pearce No 25 looks after and flies the Macchi MB326Hs in the flying training role.

The expansion of the eighties also saw additional RAAFAR Squadrons formed. These were No 26 (City of Newcastle) at RAAF Williamtown, No 27 (City of Townsville) at RAAF Townsville and No 28 (City of Canberra) at RAAF Fairbairn. No 28 Sqn for some time had a detached flight at RAAF Wagga Wagga. No 22 Sqn had a similar detached flight at Dubbo in the late fifties.

The eighties also saw a strengthening of the Equal Employment Opportunity culture within the RAAF and a resultant increase in the number of female members and the importance of the role they play.

Further restructuring in the early nineties saw the the formation of a RAAFAR unit at Darwin. This was No 13 Sqn, a reformation of the unit that served in Darwin and the Northern Territory during WWII.

Ground CrewThroughout this period the Reservists were administered and trained by their RAAFAR unit while supporting and receiving "On the Job Training" at the unit that they supported. RAAFAR training centred around "working weekends" during which lectures, re engagement medicals, physical fitness testing and various other forms of basic training were carried out. Additionally, annual camps were undertaken to provide support for major defence exercises or, to provide specialist training in leadership, survival and ground defence subjects. Technical and promotion training courses were also undertaken during extended periods "in camp." Some members served extended periods of full-time service in support of their PAF units. A small number of Reservists have served overseas while involved in United Nations operations or for the purposes of undertaking exchange training with overseas forces. Others have travelled overseas as part of the Prince Of Wales Award scheme which affords the opportunity for reservists to study both their military and civilian occupations in foreign countries.

This period also afforded the opportunity for reservists to carry out extended periods of service on a full-time basis. This was in order to support specific RAAF requirements such as providing technical expertise for procurement projects.

Along-side the RAAFAR members there is a corps of Specialist Reservists who provide professional services in the fields of Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering Health and Safety or whatever the RAAF may identify a need for.

  Today go to top of page

Following a Defence Efficiency Review, a Defence Restructuring Programme was implemented in 1997. It is intended that the size of the Permanent Air Force is to be reduced and that of the RAAFAR increased. Part of this plan is to increase the number of training days available to Reservists and to streamline the way in which they provide a surge capability for the restructured permanent force. This, in turn, will provide greater opportunity for Citizens to play their traditional role in the defence of the Nation.

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Reserve Forces Day Council Inc
Patron in Chief His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
National Chairman the Honourable Tim Fischer AC
National Executive Officer and NSW Chairman Lieutenant Colonel John Moore OAM RFD ED Retd

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