RAF Advanced Air Striking Force

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RAF Advanced Air Striking Force
Fairey Battle.jpg
A Fairey Battle
Active 24 August 1939 - 26 June 1940
Country United Kingdom
Type Advanced Air Striking Force
Engagements Battle of France
Commanders
Current
commander
Air Vice-Marshal P H L Playfair
Aircraft flown
Bomber Fairey Battle
Bristol Blenheim
Fighter Hawker Hurricane

Before the Second World War it had been agreed between the United Kingdom and France that in case of war, the light bomber force of the Royal Air Force would move to airfields within France from which it could operate against targets in Nazi Germany. To achieve this, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) was formed on 24 August 1939 from No. 1 Group, and its ten squadrons of Fairey Battles dispatched to airfields in the Rheims area on 2 September 1939.[1]
It was an independent command from the British Expeditionary Force and at first reported directly to the Air Ministry. However this arrangement proved to be inadequate and on 15 January 1940 it was placed under the command of the British Air Forces in France headquarters. That headquarters also took the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force under its command. Air Vice-Marshal 'Ugly' Barratt commanded the British Air Forces in France.

Political considerations prevented the use of the AASF against Germany and it only saw action once the Germans attacked in the west in May 1940.

The Force[edit]

The AASF then consisted of eight squadrons of Battles, two squadrons with Bristol Blenheim medium (by the standards of 1940) bombers, and two squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighters, to be reinforced by a further squadron of Hurricanes in response to any major military action.[2]

Aircraft type Squadron number
Fairey Battle 12, 88, 103, 105, 142, 150, 218, 226
Bristol Blenheim IV 114, 139
Hawker Hurricane 1, 73, reinforced by 501

At the start of 10 May, the AASF had 135 serviceable bombers,[3] whereas the French Armee de l'Air had less than 100 bombers, only a quarter of which were not obsolescent.[4]

The operational instructions issued by BAFF had stated that

Bomber aircraft have proved extremely useful in support of an advancing army, especially against weak anti-aircraft resistance, but it is not clear that a bomber force used against an advancing army well supported by all forms of anti-aircraft defence and a large force of fighter aircraft, will be economically effective[5]

and indeed the AASF when used against German troops and key bridges rapidly suffered heavy losses in the face of the large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and highly effective light anti-aircraft units protecting the offensive.

The Fairey Battles of the command were known to be vulnerable to fighters attacking from below and therefore initially attacked at low level which brought fresh problems. Of eight Battles sent to attack German troops moving through Luxembourg on 11 May only one returned, its pilot having seen three Battles lost to ground fire.[6] But the Blenheims hardly fared better; seven out of the nine Blenheims sent against a German column on the Maastricht- Tongres on 12 May were shot down after encountering swarms of German fighters.[7] Consequently, by the end of 12 May the AASF had 72 serviceable bombers[8]
Not all missions were as disastrous; for example the first attack made by the AASF against the pontoon bridges thrown across the Meuse at Sedan by the Germans after their breakthrough there was by ten Battles bombing from high level in the early morning of 14 May; they did not encounter enemy fighters and returned without loss. However an attack on the bridges later that day found German fighter cover was by then in place and cost the AASF 40 out of 71 attacking aircraft.[9]

The AASF's original airfields were relatively close to the German line of advance to the Channel coast after breaking through at Sedan, and the AASF was forced to retreat further south into France.[10] However, whilst it had been anticipated that the Air Component would advance into Belgium and therefore was equipped with sufficient intrinsic transport to be readily mobile, the same was not true of the AASF. Three hundred lorries held by the French, but apparently remaining unallocated, were therefore 'borrowed' and the AASF moved (16 May) to stations in the Troyes area.[11] The two Blenheim squadrons were disbanded, and the nine surviving aircraft being reallocated to the Air Component. To make up losses in the Blenheims it flew in a reconnaissance role. Two Fairey Battle squadrons (No 105 and No 218) were disbanded, their four surviving aircraft being reallocated to the six remaining squadrons.[12]
which - in view of the heavy rate of lossses in daytime bombing- switched largely to night operations.[13]

Subsequently (reflecting the deterioration of the military situation) the AASF relocated to the Orléans -Le Mans area (where it was reinforced by two more Hurricane squadrons (No 17 Sqn and No 242 Sqn))[14] and then to Nantes. The remaining Battles returned to the UK on 15 June, with the fighters remaining at Nantes or relocated to the Channel Islands to give cover to the evacuation of British units from western ports. On completion of this the fighters returned to the UK on 18 June.[15] The headquarters was disbanded on 26 June 1940. From the start of the German offensive in the West to its final return to the UK the AASF had lost 229 aircraft.[16]

Air Vice Marshal P H L Playfair at RAF Headquarters in France

The AASF's only commander was Air Vice-Marshal P H L Playfair.[17]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Denis Richards, Royal Air Force 1939-45, Volume 1 The Fight at Odds, London, HMSO, 1974, ISBN 0-11-771592-1, p 37, an unrevised paperback reissue of a 'popular military history' first published in 1953; a link to an electronic version is given below
  2. ^ Richards op cit p109 says 2 squadrons, and a similar 2 Hurricane squadron reinforcement for the Air Component; in the event the reinforcements split 1: 3)
  3. ^ Richards op cit p119
  4. ^ Richards op cit p109
  5. ^ quoted in Richards op cit p110
  6. ^ Richards op cit p115
  7. ^ Richards op cit p116
  8. ^ Richards op cit p119
  9. ^ Richards op cit p120
  10. ^ Richards op cit p120
  11. ^ Richards op cit p120
  12. ^ Richards op cit p120
  13. ^ Richards op cit p127
  14. ^ 7th June Richards op cit p145
  15. ^ Richards op cit p149 The AASF would therefore appear to have been first in and last out of the British military effort in France 1939-40
  16. ^ Richards op cit p150
  17. ^ http://www.rafweb.org/Cmd_O1.htm

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]