RAF Ferry Command

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Royal Air Force Ferry Command
Active20 July 1941–25 March 1943
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchAir Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Air Force
RoleAircraft delivery
EngagementsWorld War II

RAF Ferry Command was a Royal Air Force command formed on 20 July 1941 to ferry aircraft from the place of manufacture or other non-operational areas, to the front line operational units, e.g., the squadrons. It was subsumed into the new Transport Command on 25 March 1943 by being reduced to Group status. It had a short life, but it spawned, in part, an organisation that lasted well beyond the war years during which it was formed.


RAF Darrell's Island during World War II. This base was used throughout the war for trans-Atlantic ferrying of aircraft such as the Catalinas to the rear of photo. Transport flights (such as those flown by the Coronados in the foreground) moved, in 1943, to the British section of the airfield built by the US Army Air Forces, Kindley Field.

The practice of ferrying aircraft from US manufacturers to the UK was begun by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Its minister, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian by origin, reached an agreement with Sir Edward Beatty, a friend and chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, to provide ground facilities and support. MAP would provide civilian crews and management. Former RAF officer Don Bennett, a specialist in long distance flying and later Air Vice Marshal and commander of the Pathfinder force, led the first delivery flight in November 1940.[1] In 1941, MAP took the operation off CPR to put the whole operation under the Atlantic Ferry Organization ("Atfero") which was set up by Morris W. Wilson, a banker in Montreal. Wilson hired civilian pilots to fly the aircraft to the UK. The pilots were then ferried back. "Atfero hired the pilots, planned the routes, selected the airports [and] set up weather and radiocommunication stations."[2][3]

Aircraft were first transported to Dorval Airport near Montreal, and then flown to RCAF Station Gander in Newfoundland for the trans-Atlantic flight.[1]

The organization was passed to Air Ministry administration though retaining civilian pilots, some of which were Americans, alongside RAF pilots, navigators [4]and British radio operators. The crews were briefed by local meteorologists including R. E. Munn. After completing delivery, crews were flown back to Canada for the next run.[5]

Ferry Command was formed on 20 July 1941, by the raising of the RAF Atlantic Ferry Service to Command status.[6] Its commander for its whole existence was Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill.[6]

As its name suggests, the main function of Ferry Command was the ferrying of new aircraft from factory to operational unit.[7] Ferry Command did this over only one area of the world, rather than the more general routes that Transport Command later developed. The Command's operational area was the north Atlantic, and its responsibility was to bring the larger aircraft that had the range to do the trip over the ocean from American and Canadian factories to the RAF home Commands.[7]

This was pioneering work: before Ferry Command, only about a hundred aircraft had attempted a North Atlantic crossing in good weather, and only about half had made it. Over the course of the war, more than 9,000 aircraft were ferried across the ocean and, by the end of the war, crossing the Atlantic had become a routine operation, presaging the inauguration of scheduled commercial air transport services after the war.[1]

Ferry Command was subsumed into the new Transport Command on 25 March 1943 by being reduced to Group status as No 45 (Atlantic Ferry) Group.[6] No. 45 Group still retained responsibility for Atlantic aircraft ferrying operations, but Transport Command was a worldwide formation, rather than a single-mission command. Bowhill became the first commander of Transport Command.[6]

Notable mentions in media[edit]

  • Above and Beyond (2006), a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) four-hour mini series, was inspired by the true story of the RAF Ferry Command, recounting the daring plan to deliver aircraft across the North Atlantic to the beleaguered Royal Air Force. The Lockheed Hudson is the primary aircraft portrayed in the mini series in the form of a real life example alongside numerous CGI Hudsons.[8]



  1. ^ a b c "Ferrying Aircraft Overseas". Juno Beach Centre.
  2. ^ "World War In the Air: One Way Airline". Time. 20 October 1941.
  3. ^ Davis, Jeffrey (January 1985). "ATFERO: The Atlantic Ferry Organization". Journal of Contemporary History. 20 (1). doi:10.1177/002200948502000104.
  4. ^ Stitt, Robert M. (2010). Boeing B-17 Fortress in RAF Coastal Command Service. Mushroom Model Publications. ISBN 978-8-38945-088-3.
  5. ^ "Atlantic Ferry". Flight. XL (1719): e–g. 4 December 1941.
  6. ^ a b c d Barrass, M. B. "RAF Home Commands formed between 1939–1957". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation.
  7. ^ a b "Flying the Secret Sky: The Story of the RAF Ferry Command". VanDerKloot Film & Television. 2008. Archived from the original on 12 August 2013.
  8. ^ "Above & Beyond". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2010.


External links[edit]