Daily Archives: 7 July, 2010

Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Air Force (part 1)

410 Airmen and women from Portsmouth died between 1939 and 1947. Analysing when and how they died tells us much not only about the war that the RAF fought, but also about the population of Portsmouth in the mid-twentieth century.

As with the Navy and Army we can analyse where in Portsmouth they came from, when they died, their ages, what ranks they held, and any decorations they were awarded. But RAF casualties also present us with some unique information – their roles, what aircraft they were flying, and even on what raids they were shot down.

Areas

96 – Southsea (23.41%)
47 – North End (11.46%)
40 – Cosham (9.76%)
25 – Copnor (6.1%)
15 – Fratton (3.66%)
11 – Stamshaw (2.68%)
10 – Drayton (2.44%)
9 – Milton (2.19%)
7 – Buckland (1.7%)
7 – Hilsea (1.7%)
6 – Paulsgrove (1.46%)
5 – East Cosham (1.22%)
5 – Farlington (1.22%)
4 – Eastney (0.98%)
3 – Mile End (0.73%)
2 – Portsea (0.49%)
1 – Wymering (0.24%)

49 men are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’ – 11.95%. The remainder of men are listed as coming from somewhere other than Portsmouth.

Firstly, most RAF men seem to have come from Southsea and outlying areas such as North End, Cosham and Copnor. Cosham in particular is an interesting case – with a relatively low population at the time, it contributed a much larger proportion of airmen than it did sailors and soldiers. Although it had a small population, Cosham woud have been home to more educated and middle class people. Given its more stringent entry requirements and need for specialist skills, its not surprising perhaps that many Cosham men joined the RAF – a case of round pegs in round holes. By comparison, much fewer airmen came from the inner-city areas such as Buckland and Fratton – and none at all from Landport.

When they died

When they died tell us an awful lot about the part that the RAF played in the war:

1 – 1939
36 – 1940
56 – 1941
48 – 1942
95 – 1943
110 – 1944
45 – 1945
14 – 1946
5 – 1947

The large numbers of men killed in 1943 and 1944 suggest that heavy casualties were suffered during Bomber Command’s Stategic Offensive over Germany. I will look more closely at these statistics in a future instalment.

Ranks

The RAF presents an interesting case where ranks are concerned, due to its unique structure.

100 of the Portsmouth Airmen who were killed during the war were commissioned officers – 24.39% of all airmen, a much higher proportion than either the Navy or Army:

2 – Group Captain
3 – Wing Commander
3 – Squadron Leader
20 – Flight Lieutenant
38 – Flying Officer
33 – Pilot Officer
1 – Officer Cadet

310 Portsmouth Airmen killed during the war were either NCO’s or other ranks:

12 – Warrant Officer
65 – Flight Sergeant
177 – Sergeant
16 – Corporal
22 – Leading Aircraftman
9 – Aircraftman 1st Class
7 – Aircraftman 2nd Class

Of these other ranks 270 – 87% – were NCO’s. This was due to the RAF’s unique rank structure. Virtually all air crew were promoted to NCO or officer rank, almost as a matter of course. Subsequently, few other ranks came into harms way during the war, and thus far fewer were killed. Whereas aircrew flying on Bombing missions night after night or were much more vulnerable. Obviously many thousands of ground crew – Aircraftsmen and Corporals, for example – would have been serving with the RAF during the war, but for the most part they would have been serving in relative safety compared to aircrew. The exceptions of course would have been theatres where ground crew were open to air attack or capture, such as at Singapore.

The RAF also had unique customs when it came to ranks. Whereas in the Navy and Army officers led and men followed, in the RAF ranks did not neccessarily correspond with roles. It was quite possible to have a crew made up completely of officers, and another crew made up completely of NCO’s. Therefore, in one aircraft a Flight Lieutenant might be an Air Gunner, whereas in the next plane the Pilot might be a Flight Sergeant.

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