We know the age of the majority of Portsmouth airmen who were killed during the Second World War. Most of them were incredibly young when they were killed, and also the vast majority of them were killed serving in Bombers.
3 – 18 (0.73%)
14 – 19 (3.41%)
264 – 20’s (64.39%)
51 – 30’s (12.44%)
11 – 40’s (2.68%)
6 – 50’s (1.46%)
1 – 60’s (0.24%)
The age of 60 airmen – 14.63% – is unknown.
Airmen in their Twenties
That such a large percentage were in their 20’s warrants more detailed examination:
40 – 20
62 – 21
39 – 22
31 – 23
16 – 24
26 – 25
9 – 26
9 – 27
14 – 28
18 – 29
As we can see, the majority of Portsmouth airmen were in their early twenties. Overall, 46% of RAF servicemen from Portsmouth who were killed during the war were 23 or younger.
Another feature of RAF service is that men could reach quite senior rank whilst still relatively young. For example, Wing Commander Guy Gibson was 23 at the time of the Dambusters raid in 1943. By contrast, to command a Battalion an officer would have to be in their 30’s, and a major naval ship older still. But as the junior service, the RAF perhaps was less wedded to tradition and more open to promotion on merit rather than seniority.
It will be interesting to look at what parts of the RAF men came from, and whether, for example, Fighter Command or Bomber Command had younger aircrew.
Types of Aircraft
Of the 410 members of the RAF from Portsmouth who died during the Second World War we know what aircraft 267 of them were flying in at the time of their death.
Bombers – 208 (77.9%)
78 – Avro Lancaster (Bomber)
32 – Handley Page Halifax (Bomber)
29 – Vickers Wellington (Bomber)
19 – Bristol Blenheim (Light Bomber)
15 – Short Stirling (Bomber)
6 – Armstrong Whitworth Whitley (Bomber)
5 – Martin Baltimore (Bomber)
4 – Fairey Battle (Light Bomber)
4 – Consolidated Liberator (Bomber)
4 – De Havilland Mosquito (Light Bomber)
3 – Bristol Beaufort (Bomber)
2 – Douglas Boston (Light Bomber)
2 – Boeing Flying Fortress (Bomber)
2 – Vickers Vincent (Light Bomber)
1 – Avro Manchester (Bomber)
1 – Martin Marauder (Light Bomber)
1 – Lockheed Ventura (Bomber)
That such a large percentage of airmen died serving in Bombers is not surprising. Bomber Command was by far the largest part of the RAF, in terms of manpower and aircraft. Each aircraft had up to seven crew members, whereas most fighters had only one. And – particularly from 1943 onwards – Bomber Command launched hundreds of thousands of sorties over Germany and occupied Europe, leading to an incredibly high attrition rate. Research suggests that for every 100 airmen in Bomber Command 55 would be killed on operations, 3 would be injured, 12 would be taken Prisoner, 2 would evade capture, and 27 would survive the war unscathed. Sobering statistics indeed.
The statistics above also suggest the prime importance of the RAF’s big workhorse Bombers – the Lancaster, the Halifax and the Wellington.
Fighters – 22 (8.24%)
9 – Hawker Hurricane (Fighter)
8 – Supermarine Spitfire (Fighter)
3 – North American Mustang (Fighter)
1 – Boulton Paul Defiant (Fighter)
1 – Gloster Meteor (Jet fighter)
On first impressions, we might be suprised that such a small percentage of airmen were killed flying Fighters – after all, we all associate the Spirtfire with the RAF more than any other aircraft, do we not? Yet it is important to remember that Fighter Command was much smaller than Bomber Command. Also, while Bomber Command was in action virtually every night, Fighter Command experienced short periods of frenetic activity, intersersed with defensive patrolling. It would be accurate to think of Fighters as a smaller, more specialised force than Bombers, hence the lower losses – Fighter Pilots were indeed ‘the few’.
Between 1939 and 1945 Fighter Command lost 3,690 men killed. 4,790 aircraft were lost. During the same period Bomber Command lost 55,573 men killed.
Transport – 11 (4.12%)
6 – Douglas Dakota (Transport)
2 – Westland Lysander (Special Ops)
1 – De Havilland Albatross (Transport)
1 – Avro Anson (Transport/Trainer)
1 – Avro York (Transport)
Transport Command was one of the unsung parts of the RAF. Transport Command itself was formed in 1943 from Ferry Command, and other Transport aircraft also served with Army Co-operation Command. Although Transport Aircraft did not routinely go into action in the same manner as Fighters or Bombers, long-laul flying in various theatres meant that accidents were bound to occur.
Coastal/Maritime 11 (4.12%)
7 – Lockheed Hudson (Maritime Recce/Bomber)
2 – Consolidated Catalina (Flying Boat)
2 – Short Sunderland (Flying Boat)
Coastal Command played a crucial but little-known role in the Second World War, particularly in the defeat of the U-Boat menace. Coastal Aircraft flew over 240,000 sorties, sinking 212 U-Boats. 1,777 aircraft were lost, and 5,866 men were killed. Its interesting that these losses were higher than those of Fighter Command, yet perhaps Coastal Command’s less glamorous role has led to it being overlooked.
Ground Attack 7 (2.62%)
4 – Bristol Beaufighter (Ground Attack)
2 – Hawker Typhoon (Attack)
1 – Vultee Venegance (Dive Bomber)
The RAF also played a role in supporting Army operations – this can be seen to a lesser extent at Dunkirk, but the practise was pioneered by the Desert Air Force in North Africa and then the Second Tactical Air Force in North West Europe after D-Day.
Other units and roles
Of the 143 men and women of whom we have no aircraft details, we do have information about some of them. 1 was serving in an Airfield Construction Squadron, 3 with Barrage Balloons, 1 with Bomb Disposal, 3 with maintenance units, 1 was an Officer Cadet in training and 1 other man was serving with the RAF Regiment.