Formal or informal, the language and procedures of the RAF in World War II may not be as familiar to the general reader as might once have been the case. Service terms, the necessary sea of abbreviations and acronyms, the ocean of Forms (various) and the breezy slang of mess and airfield are all represented here, with much else besides:
These formal terms were set out in the preamble to that fundamental document of RAF procedure, The King’s Regulations and Air Council Instructions. The terms and their meanings did not change over the course of the war. This set is from the KR&ACI 1943 edition, incorporating all Amendment Lists up to No 141 of April 1945.
No serviceman myself, I have tried in my own text to conform to this usage, although the distinction between reclassification vs promotion (or perhaps between officer and airman) may be opaque to many modern readers. In reproducing the KR&ACI text, I have chosen to show the original exactly, with its characteristically lavish capitalisation and punctuation.
“EXPLANATION of TERMS
(For the explanation of aeronautical terms used in these regulations reference should be made to the British Standard Glossary of Aeronautical Terms (Revised 1933). See also AMO A.234/33.)
AIR OR OTHER OFFICER COMMANDING.—The officer of air or lower rank who is appointed to command a R.A.F. command or group at home or abroad or who is in command of the command or group during the absence of the officer posted for that duty.
AIRMAN, OR AIRMEN.—These words, wherever they occur, will be held to include a warrant officer, a N.C.O., an aircraftman, an apprentice and a boy entrant, unless any rank or class of airman is expressly excluded in the context of the regulations, or unless the context is clearly repugnant to such interpretation.
APPOINTMENT.—When used in relation to an airman, applies only to the grant of acting rank, whether paid or unpaid.
BAGGAGE.—The personal and household effects of individuals. Articles of a similar nature belonging to a unit or part of a unit are included in the term “SERVICE BAGGAGE.”
BRITISH ISLANDS.—For the purpose of these regulations, the term “British Islands” is synonymous with the phrase “at home” and, unless otherwise stated, will be regarded as including Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Eire, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
COMPETENT MEDICAL AUTHORITY.—The Principal Medical Officer (P.M.O.) of a command, or the Senior Medical Outer (S.M.O.) of an independent group or wing, according to the circumstances to which the regulations are being applied.
DEFAULTER.—An airman confined to camp.
DIRECTOR OF SEA TRANSPORT.—The officer of the Board of Trade charged with the direction of all sea transport duties, including the Indian Trooping Service, carried out on behalf of the government.
EMBARKATION OFFICER.—The officer appointed to superintend embarkation and disembarkation of personnel and the loading and unloading of material at a port.
ESTABLISHMENT.—The establishment of a unit is the number of officers, airmen, civilians, aircraft, and transport included in its organisation as authorised, and indicates in detail
(i) numbers and ranks of officers and the duties on which they are employed;
(ii) numbers, ranks and trades of airmen;
(iii) numbers, grades and trades of civilians;
(iv) numbers and types of aircraft;
(v) numbers and types of transport vehicles and marine craft.
EXTENSION, PROLONGATION AND RE-ENGAGEMENT.—”Extension” is used, in relation to alterations of airmen's engagements, when the altered period of service (i.e. continuous service since last attestation) to be completed does not exceed 12 years, “prolongation” when it exceeds 12 years but is less than 24 years, and “re-engagement” when it is 24 years.
FORCED LANDING.—Any obligatory or precautionary landing, on or off a recognised aerodrome or landing ground, not premeditated when the flight commenced. Examples of obligatory landings are those made because the pilot can no longer remain in the air owing to airframe or engine failure or impossible weather conditions; precautionary landings include those made to ascertain location or on account of unfavourable weather conditions.
FREIGHTSHIP.—See PUBLIC VESSEL.
FREIGHTSHIP (STORES).—A ship wholly or partially loaded with government stores on terms for the voyage or according to the amount of stores conveyed.
“GREAT WAR”.—The words “Great War” wherever they are used in these regulations in reference to a period of time will be held to mean the period 4th August, 1914, to 31st August, 1921, inclusive, unless any other period is specifically stated.
INDULGENCE PASSAGE.—A passage granted to a non-entitled passenger in a transport, or in one of H.M. ships.
INVALIDED.—When used in relation to an airman, will be held to mean “discharged as medically unfit for further service.” When used in relation to an officer, it will be held to mean “retired or gazetted out of the service as medically unfit for further service.”
MEDICAL ATTENDANCE.—Denotes the professional advice and treatment during sickness or injury afforded by a medical officer or by a civilian medical practitioner engaged for attendance on air force personnel. Those entitled to “medical attendance” or allowed it as a privilege may be treated under certain conditions (i) in quarters or at their residences or (ii) as out-patients at service medical establishments. The term includes vaccination and inoculation, lymph, vaccines and sera being supplied for the purpose from service sources; also the supply of medicines and surgical materials prescribed and ordered from the public stock by the medical officer or civilian medical practitioner in charge of the case. It does not include in-patient hospital treatment.
MUSTERING.—The term used to denote the rank, group and trade in which an airman is placed on first joining the R.A.F., or (for an apprentice or a boy entrant) on passing out of the training establishment.
NON-PUBLIC FUNDS, ACCOUNT FOR.—An account recording the financial activities of any station or unit organisation such as a mess, an institute, a club, a sport, a benevolent association, etc.
NOTIFIABLE DISEASES.—All diseases which, under the Manual for Medical and Dental Officers of the R.A.F. (A.P. 1269), must be notified immediately to higher air force authority.
ORDINARY PAY.—The term “ordinary pay” of an airman, for the purposes of the application of Sections 44(6), 46(2)(d), 73(1) and 138 (1) and (2), Air Force Act to "forfeitures"of pay, will be held to mean pay of the rank (including progressive pay) and group (but see para. 3470 as to forfeiture of other emoluments in similar circumstances).
PACKET PASSAGE.—A passage booked for an individual in a scheduled passenger-carrying vessel.
PROMOTION.—The term used to denote a rise in substantive rank. It therefore does not apply to an aircraftman, 2nd class, rising to aircraftman, 1st class, or an aircraftman, 1st class, rising to leading aircraftman. (See RECLASSIFICATION.)
PUBLIC CLAIM.—See para. 7, clause 2.
PUBLIC VESSEL.—A ship engaged under the Regulations for H.M. Sea Transport Service as a transport, i.e. a ship engaged exclusively for government service under time charter, or as a freightship, i.e. a ship not exclusively so engaged but in which accommodation or space is engaged by the government. Exceptionally, H.M. ships may be regarded as public vessels.
QUARTERLY, ONCE A QUARTER, EACH QUARTER.—1st January, 1st April, 1st July, 1st October, unless otherwise indicated.
RECLASSIFICATION.—The term used to denote any transition, either upwards or downwards, between the three classes (aircraftman, 2nd or 1st class, or leading aircraftman) of aircraftmen.
REDUCTION.—The term used to denote the compulsory placing of a substantive or temporary Warrant officer or N.C.O. in a lower substantive rank, or in the ranks, by sentence of court martial or by other competent authority.
REGULATED MEDICAL AUTHORITY—The Director-General of Medical Services or a board of medical officers and qualified civilian practitioners, as may be desirable.
REMUSTERING.—The term used to denote a change in the trade of an airman.
REVERSION.—The term used to denote
(i) the return of a warrant officer or acting warrant officer or N.C.O. or acting N.C.O. to a lower rank, or class in the ranks, either compulsorily, automatically or voluntarily. Reversions may be from substantive, temporary or acting rank.
(ii) Also, where the context so requires, the return of an airman to his basic or former trade on relinquishment of a non-substantive or additional mustering. In this event no loss of rank is normally involved.
SEA TRANSPORT OFFICER OR SUPERINTENDING SEA TRANSPORT OFFICER.—The officer appointed to take charge of sea transport duties and to act as representative of the Director of Sea Transport at a port.
STRENGTH.—The strength of a unit at any particular time is the number of officers, airmen and civilians who are actually borne on its muster roll at the time, exclusive of any attached. Strength is subdivided into—
The effective strength of a unit at any moment is the number of officers, airmen and civilians on its strength who are actually serving with the unit (including those on ordinary leave) and available for duty at that moment. The non-effective strength at any moment is the number of officers, airmen and civilians on the strength of the unit who are not available for duty for any of the following reasons:
(i) In hospital or station sick quarters.
(ii) Absent without leave
(iii) Under or detention, or in prison.
(v) Sick leave.
Officers and airmen attached to a unit are not part of its establishment nor on its strength. They remain on the establishment and strength of the unit from which they are detached.
(i) An officer commanding a unit who is subordinate to the C.O. of the station for disciplinary purposes (in accordance with para. 1138, clause 6);
(ii) an officer placed in command of a flight, section or other sub-division of the unit who is subordinate to the C.O. of the unit for disciplinary purposes; also
(iii) the officer who by appointment or by the custom of the service discharges the functions of either of the officers above mentioned, in their absence.
TRANSPORT.—See PUBLIC VESSEL.
UNIT.— 1. Includes—
a command headquarters;
a group headquarters;
a wing or station headquarters;
a headquarters unit on board an aircraft carrier; a squadron;
an armoured car company;
a school or college;
an experimental establishment; a hospital;
a record office;
a flight which acts independently of a squadron for all purposes;
a pay office which is not part of the establishment of another unit.
2. These units do not cease to be so designated even though they appear in establishments as part of a larger formation or unit, e.g. a squadron or independent flight may be included in the establishment of a station. Detachments from units, e.g. a flight from a squadron, are not units, but a flight for which a separate establishment exists, such as a flight of the Fleet Air Arm, is a unit. A depot is a unit; a section of a depot is not a unit unless it is expressly made so for a particular purpose, e.g. a squadron at No. 1 R.A.F. Depot for disciplinary purposes, but a section for which a separate establishment exists, such as the “Air Ministry Wireless Section,” is a unit. It does not follow that units, as just defined, are in all cases units for accounting purposes. Self-accounting units for equipment and cash accounts are approved as such by the Air Ministry; units not so approved are affiliated to a self-accounting unit for either equipment or cash accounting purposes, or both.
3. Formation.—A formation consists of one or more units grouped under a headquarters unit, e.g. a wing is a formation, and consists of a wing headquarters and one or more squadrons, and may include a park, depot or other units as required.
4. Command or Group.—A command or group is a formation set up for the purpose of decentralising the command of units and lower formations from the Air Ministry.
5. It should be noted that a unit consists of a definite number of officers, airmen, &c., and that its composition is filed and only changes if its authorised establishment is amended. A formation, on the other hand, is a flexible organisation which is liable to alteration according to circumstances: changes in formations merely affect the grouping of units and make no difference in numbers.”
RAF Abbreviations & slang
This list, though by no means exhaustive, does concentrate on those common to this history.
A1B: KR& ACI par 1434 medical class—fit for full flying duties (A1) and ground duties (B). The medical pre-requisite for entry to the General Duties Branch and for qualifying as aircrew.
A2B: As above—fit for limited flying duties, fit for ground duties
A3B: As above—fit for flying as combatant passenger, fit for ground duties
A4B: As above—fit for flying as non-combatant passenger, fit for ground duties
AC: Aircraftman or, in a Squadron title, Army Co-operation
AC1: Aircraftman first class (a rank or classification, one level above AC2)
AC2: Aircraftman second class (the entry level to the RAF)
ACdr: Air Commodore
ACC Armoured Car Company
ACDC: Aircrew Despatch Centre
ACH: Aircrafthand (a mustering or trade)
ACH/AG: Aircrafthand/Air Gunner
ACM: Air Chief Marshal
ACSB: Aviation Candidates Selection Board
ACSEA: Air Command SE Asia
ADC: Aircrew Despatch Centre; Aide de camp
ADME: Air Depot Middle East: pre-war supply point for all things RAF
ADW: Aircrew Disposal Wing
AFC: Air Force Cross
AFU: Advanced Flying Unit. (P) AFU: Pilot’s AFU
AhBh: KR& ACI par 1434 medical class—fit for Home service only
AIF: Australian Imperial Force (the Australian Army war-time volunteers overseas)
Airgraph: war-time microfilm airmail letter service for armed forces personnel
ALC: Air Letter Card
ALO: Army Liaison Officer or Artillery Liaison Officer.
AM: Air Marshal
AMES: Air Ministry Experimental Station (a radar cover-name)
AMO: Air Ministry Orders (formal procedures or events of the day not covered by KR&ACI)
ANS: Air Navigation School
AOC: Air Officer Commanding
AOCinC: Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief
AOS: Air Observers School
AP: Armour piercing (whether rounds or rockets) or Air Publication
ApBp: KR& ACI par 1434 medical class—permanently unfit
A/P/O: Acting Pilot Officer
ARC: Aircrew Receiving Centre (later Aircrew Reception Centre)
ARP: Air Raid Precautions
ASP: Air Stores Park
AtB: KR& ACI par 1434 medical class—temporarily unfit for flying duty (ie fit only for non-flying duties)
AtBt: KR& ACI par 1434 medical class—temporarily unfit for flying and ground duty (implies sick leave at least and possibly hospital)
ATC: Armament Training Camp (pre-war); or Air Training Corps (for Air Cadets)
ATP: Aircrew Transit Pool
AuxAF: Auxiliary Air Force, later Royal Auxiliary Air Force
AVM: Air Vice-Marshal
B: in a Squadron or Group title, Bomber
BAGS: Bombing and Air Gunnery School
BCATP: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. See EATS, JATP
BDF: Blenheim Delivery Flight
BGS, B&GS: Bombing and Gunnery School
BMH: British Military Hospital
BOR: British Other Ranks
BRD: Base Repair Depot, Base Reception Depot
BT: In a Squadron or Group title, Bomber/Transport
bumf: Forms, various, or paperwork in general. The derivation is indelicate and obvious.
C&B: Cook & Butcher
CCS: Casualty Clearing Station
CFI: Chief Flying Instructor
CGD: Clerk, General Duties
CI: Chief Instructor
CO: the Squadron Commanding Officer, whether W/Cdr or S/L in rank (or F/Lt in extremis)
Cpl: Corporal, the first NCO rank, above LAC.
CRA: Commander Royal Artillery
CSBS: Course Setting Bomb Sight—see Blenheim armament
CSU: Constant Speed Unit, the hydraulic governor controlling engine/propeller revs
DF: Direction Finding by radio, eg R1154
DFC: Distinguished Flying Cross
DFM: Distinguished Flying Medal
DOAS: Died on active service
D/Pet: Driver, Petrol
DSO: Distinguished Service Order
DTD 230: 1936 Air Ministry Specification no for the then-new 87-octane petrol, as opposed to the earlier c1935 DTD 224 spec 77 octane petrol.
EATS: Empire Air Training Scheme. See BCATP, JATP
ED: [Personnel] Embarkation Depot or in medical context, excused duty
ENSA: Entertainments National Service Association
F: In a Squadron or Group title, Fighter
FE: Far East
FEPoW: Far East Prisoner of War
FFI: Free From Infection check [ie the MO’s “short arm” parade]
Fit II: Fitter, Grade II (a trade or mustering, not a rank)
Fitter IIA: Fitter, Airframe, Grade II (a trade or mustering, not a rank)
Fitter IIE: Fitter, Engine, Grade II (a trade or mustering, not a rank)
F/Lt: Flight Lieutenant
F/O: Flying Officer
FMA: Flight Mechanic (Airframe)
FME: Flight Mechanic (Engine)
F/Sgt: Flight Sergeant
FTS: Flying Training School
GD: General Duties Branch of the RAF, to which eg all aircrew belonged
GP: General Purpose bomb series of low Charge-Weight ratio (under 30%) in RAF use c1938 to c1942
Grp Cpt: Group Captain
GRS: General Reconnaissance School
HC: High Capacity. HE Bombs of Charge-Weight ratio 80% plus, in RAF use to c1943 on. Cookies. Block-busters.
HE: High Explosive (vs AP, SAP)
HLB: High Level Bombing [10,000 ft to 15,000 ft in 1940 ME theatre]
HMAS: His Majesty’s Australian Ship (ie Royal Australian Navy vessels)
HMAT: His Majesty’s Australian Troopship, His Majesty’s Australian Transport
HMS: His Majesty’s Ship (ie Royal Navy vessels)
HMT: His Majesty’s Transport or Troopship (Hired Military Transport according to some)
HMSTS: His Majesty’s Sea Transport Service
IAS: Indicated Airspeed—the instrument reading (as opposed to TAS)
i/c: in charge
IE: Initial Equipment—up to about 1942, the number of aircraft on Squadron charge for immediate use.
IGH: Indian General Hospital
IO: Intelligence Officer
IR: Immediate Reserve—up to about 1942, the number of aircraft held in reserve by the Squadron
ITS: Initial Training School
JATP: Joint Air Training Plan. See EATS, BCATP
KIA: Killed in action
KAO: Killed in air operations
KR&ACI: The Kings Regulations and Air Council Instructions for the RAF AP 958 (the formal rules, procedures and entitlements of the RAF)
LAC: Leading Aircraftman, the next class above AC1
LFP: Low Flying Practice
LSC: Light Series Carrier (external bomb rack)—see Blenheim armament
LT: Local Time
MC: Military Cross or, HE bombs of Medium Capacity (Charge-Weight ratio 40% plus), replacing GP series from c1942
ME: Middle East
MG: Machine gun
MID: Mention in despatches
MOH: Medical Officer of Health
M/Rig: Metal Rigger
MS: Motor Ship
MT: Mechanical (Motor) Transport
MU: Maintenance Unit
MV: Motor Vessel
NAAFI: Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (the Services recreational canteens organisation)
Nav/W: Navigator and Wireless Operator
NCO: Non-commissioned Officer (ie Corporal, Sergeant or Flight Sergeant)
NFT: Night FLying Test, Night Flying Training
N/Ord: Nursing orderly
Obs: Observer (ie Navigator and Bomb-aimer)
OC: Officer Commanding—expression in signing documents “B Bloggs OC ’B’ Flight”
OIC: Officer in Charge (of a local allocated duty, eg Parachutes)
OPREP: Pro forma sortie reports compiled by CBI units as a formal ORB appendix
ORB: Operations Record Book
OTU: Operational Training Unit
PD: Personnel Depot (formerly Embarkation Depot)
PDC: Personnel Despatch Centre
P&JT: Palestine and Trans-Jordan
P&JTFF: Palestine and Trans-Jordan Frontier Force
PMO: Principal Medical Officer
P/O: Pilot Officer
POR: Personnel Occurrence Report (record of personnel movements etc)
PoW: Prisoner of War
PRC: Personnel Reception Centre
PTC: Personnel Transit Centre, Personnel Transit Camp
R1082: Radio receiver used for keyed Morse W/T in Blenheims. See T1083. See aslo R/T
R1153: Radio receiver used for R/T & W/T and Direction Finding in Beaufighters
RAAF: Royal Australian Air Force
RAF: Royal Air Force (the RAF regulars)
RAFMO: RAF Medical Officer
RAFO: Reserve of Air Force Officers (eg the pre-war Short Service Commission men, called up on expiry of their Commission)
RAFVR: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (the vast bulk of UK war-time RAF enlistments)
RASC: Royal Army Service Corps
RCAF: Royal Canadian Air Force
RNZAF: Royal New Zealand Air Force
RP: Rocket projectile—that is, a rocket as aircraft armament
RMS: Royal Mail Ship
RSU: Repair and Salvage Unit
RTP: Recruit Training Pool
R/T: Radio telephony (ie voice transmission)—see TR9. See also W/T, R1082, T1083
S/Ldr, S/L: Squadron Leader
SAAF: South African Air Force
SAP: Semi armour piercing
SLAIS: Special Low Attack Instruction School
SSB, SSBL: Standard Small Bomb load—see Blenheim armament
SBC: Small Bomb Container—see Blenheim armament
Screened: tour expired, leading to a non-operational posting for 6 months
SMLE: Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (rifle)
SMO: Senior Medical Officer
SOC: Struck off charge. An aircraft or airframe, at end of service life and no longer accountable to the unit, scrapped or reduced to components/produce
SSQ: Station Sick Quarters
T1083: Radio transmitter used for keyed Morse W/T in Blenheims. See R1082. See also R/T
T1154: Radio transmitter used for R/T & W/T in Beaufighters
TAF: Tactical Air Force eg 3rd TAF in Burma
TAS: True Airspeed—air distance flown over time
T/B: Turn back
TR9: Transmitter-Receiver Type 9. The 1940-standard aircraft HF radio-telephone for voice transmission, whether intercom, air-to-air or short-range air-to-ground. See R/T
Two-Six: Call to airmen for all hands (to push an aircraft, eg)
u/s: Unserviceable—in need of repair or maintenance, unfit for operations. Damaged or broken but not necessarily unflyable, nor irreparable.
VD: Venereal disease. See FFI above
VE Day: Victory in Europe celebration 8 May 1945
Very light: Coloured signalling flare: cartridge for the Very pistol
Very pistol: Large bore pistol to fire signal flares
VGO: Vickers Gas Operated machinegun: the Vickers K .303in machine gun
VP Day: Victory in the Pacific 15 August 1945. Sometimes referred to as VJ Day.
Vne: “Never exceed” speed—the IAS which should never be intentionally exceeded, in a dive or other manoeuvre, in smooth air.
WAAF: Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, or member thereof
WAGS: Wireless and Air Gunnery School
W/Cdr, W/C: Wing Commander
wef: with effect from
WEM: Wireless & Electrical Mechanic
WOp/AG: Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (sometimes seen as WAG)
W/O: Warrant Officer
WS&D: Wind Speed and Direction
W/T Morse-keyed wireless telegraphy. See R1082, T1083. See also R/T, TR9
XX Call: request for immediate air assistance from ground forces in Palestine
There are a number of modern collections of WWII slang, however, as meanings changed over time and from group to group, it might be interesting to give a war-time source, even a slightly “safe” version with some patently plain errors. There are other terms, and other meanings, than those shown here from the 1943 edition of the officially sanctioned booklet The ABC of the RAF, “useful to all those who hope themselves to enter the Service”. Interestingly, the list omits the very common term prang. A word with meanings beyond the simple crash, a wizard prang might mean a terrific wild party, or even a highly successful bombing raid, depending on context.
“Balbo, A: A large formation of aircraft.
Bale Out: To take to one's parachute.
Bind, A: People who obstruct one.
Black, A: Something badly done, a “bad show.”
Blitz, A solid lump: Large formation of enemy aircraft.
Blonde job: A young woman with fair hair.
Bomphleteers: Airmen engaged on the early pamphlet raids.
Brassed off: Diminutive of “browned off.”
Browned off: To be “Fed up.”
Bumps and Circuits: Circuits and landings.
Bus driver: A bomber pilot.
Buttoned up: A job properly completed, “mastered.”
Completely Cheesed: No hope at all.
Cope: To accomplish, to deal with.
Crabbing along: Flying near the ground or water.
Deck, Crack down on: To “pancake” an aircraft.
Dog Fight: Aerial scrap.
Drill, The right: Correct method of doing anything.
Drink, In the: To come down into the sea.
Dud: Applied to weather when unfit to fly.
Duff gen: Dud information.
Dust bin: Rear gunner’s lower position in aircraft
Erk, An: A beginner in any job.
Fan: The propeller.
Fireworks, Mr: Armaments Officer.
Flak: Anti-aircraft fire.
Flap: A disturbance, general excitement.
Fox, To: To do something clever or rather cunning.
Gen (pron. jen): General information of any kind whatever.
George: The automatic pilot
Get Cracking: Get going.
Gong, To collect a: To get a medal.
Greenhouse: Cockpit cover.
Hedge-hopping: Flying so low that the aircraft appears to hop over the hedges.
Hurryback: A Hurricane fighter.
Jink away: Sharp manoeuvre. Sudden evasive action of aircraft.
Kipper Kite: Coastal Command aircraft which convoy fishing fleets in the North and Irish Seas
Kite: An aeroplane.
Laid on, To have: To produce anything, such as supplies.
Mae West: Life-saving stole, or waistcoat, inflated if wearer falls into sea.
Mickey Mouse: Bomb-dropping mechanism.
Muscle in: To take advantage of a good thing
Office: Cockpit of aircraft.
Oozlebart: armed insurgent band, esp pre-war Palestine
Organize: To “win” a wanted article.
Pack up: Cease to function.
Peel off: To Break formation to engage enemy.
Play pussy: Hide in the clouds.
Pleep: A squeak, rather like a high note klaxon.
Plug away: Continue to fire. Keep after target.
Pukka gen: Accurate information.
Pulpit: Cockpit of aircraft.
Quick squirt: Short sharp burst of machine-gun fire.
Quickie: Short for above.
Rang the bell: Got good results.
Rings: Rank designation on officer's cuffs.
Ropey: Uncomplimentary adjective. A ropey landing, a ropey type, a ropey evening, etc.
Screamed downhill: Executed a power dive.
Scrub: To washout.
Second Dickey: Second pilot.
Shooting a line: Exaggerated tale, generally about one's own prowess.
Shot Down in flames: Crossed in love. Severe reprimand.
Snake about: Operational aerobatics.
Spun in: A bad mistake. Analogy from an aircraft spinning out of control into the ground.
Stationmaster: Commanding Officer of Station.
Stooge: Deputy, i.e. second pilot, or any assistant.
Stooging about: Delayed landing for various reasons. Flying slowly over an area. Patrolling.
Synthetic: Not the real thing. Also applied to ground training.
Tail End Charlie: Rear gunner in large bombing aircraft or rear aircraft of a formation.
Tear off a strip: To reprimand, take down a peg.
Touch bottom: Crash.
Toys: A great deal of training equipment is termed toys.
Train, Driving: the Leading more than one squadron into battle.
Type: Classification - usually referring to people. Good, Bad, Ropey, Poor type.
View: RAF Personnel always take a “view” of things. Good view, Poor view, Dim view, Long-distance view, Lean view, Outside view, Ropey view.
Wizard: Really first class, superlative, attractive, ingenious.”
Other good lists of Service abbreviations and terms are to be found on the Royal Air Forces Register of Associations site (http://www.associations.rafinfo.org.uk/). See the page Useful Sources, under the titles A Guide to Acronyms and Code Names & RAF Vocabulary. In print, see E Partridge’s Dictionary of RAF Slang.
A selection of Urdu terms in common use by RAF men serving in India and Bengal in the mid 1940s. Quite apart from the fact that differences between Hindi and Urdu have long been topics of avid dispute, scripted languages are really not very amenable to roman spelling, especially when picked up by ear on the run by English airmen in the field in the 1940s. For good measure, a couple of common Burmese and Thai terms are also included.
Attap: a type of palm tree, the fronds woven for wall panels or bundled for roof thatch
Basha: hutted quarters of local materials, usually a bamboo (occasionally teak) frame, and woven bamboo or attap wall panels, and thatched attap palm-leaf roof.
Bohot karab, Boke carab: very miserable, very bad, very annoying.
Char, cha, chai: tea
Chota: small, little. chota peg—a small drink, chota session—a few drinks. Also a nickname, equivalent to Shorty.
Charpoy: bed frame of bamboo strung with cordage. Hence charp, charping: a lie down, kip, lazing about.
Chaung: a creek or waterway in Burma.
Dekho, dekko: look.
Dhobi: washing, hence dhobi wallah—laundryman.
Doh Ek Ek: 2 1 1. The Squadron.
Gharry, Gharri: originally four-wheeled horse-carriage but in RAF slang, any conveyance including cabs, lorries or even aircraft. Ration gharry: ration truck. See also last below.
Kistie: river craft in Burma.
Klong, a canal in Siam.
Konna, conna: food.
Korab, karab: miserable, bad, annoying.
Lakri, lachri: wood, lumber.
Lakh: a counting unit of 100,000 and hence lots, much, plenty.
Pani, parni, pawni, pawnee: water, rain.
Pugli pani: silly-water—any alcoholic drink.
Punka: a fan, whether hand operated or electric. Hence punka wallah: man who operates a fan.
Pukka: genuine, first rate. Pukka gen—the good oil.
Ram Swami, Ram Sammi: religious festival.
Subcheese, Sub Chiz: everything, the lot, complete.
Tich Hi, Tik Hai: OK.
Tiffin: lunch, light lunch, packed lunch.
Tonga: two-wheeled horse-carriage
Wallah: man, fellow, person, eg an Indian civilian employed on station for laundry, tea and other batman like services.
Thus Char wallah, tea man, Tiffin wallah, man who brings packed lunches, but also Navigation wallah: the Squadron, Wing or Group Nav officer—an RAF man. And as the last word in this delightful assemblage, from Dennis Spencer:
Punka gharry wallah: “fan carriage man” (a pilot!).
Springing from the traditions of the Royal Navy, servicemen have customarily bestowed particularly persistent nicknames on comrades with certain surnames. Here is a brief selection of World War II era nicknames used in the RAF (and the in the RN and other Commonwealth services). Most are self-explanatory, some refer to historical characters still readily enough identified. There is no shortage of sources, additions, variations or explanations.
Bell Daisy, Dinger
Brown Buster, Bruno
Smith Smudge, Smudger
Walker Hooky, Johnnie
White Chalky, Knocker
Air Ministry & RAF Forms: Bumf
A million men in blue needed everything from singlets to semi-armour piercing rockets. There were forms for every item and for almost everything a serviceman was expected to do, either by the Air Force or the Air Ministry. A brief selection:
Form 78 Aircraft Movement Card. Records the service history for each aircraft taken on RAF charge, tracked by its serial number (L8531 for example). Strictly speaking, the serial number seen under the wings of pre-war RAF aircraft (or latterly in small letters on the rear fuselage), was the Air Ministry serial, not an RAF number. Not all cards still exist and for overseas commands few records were returned to the United Kingdom. In war-time, the serials were not issued in continuous sequence but with large, variable “black-out blocks” in the running order, to make production analysis harder for enemy Intelligence.
Form 1180 Accident Record Card: as above, a record of accidental damage or loss.
Form 1406 RAF Officers Record of Service: the double-sided double-foolscap form, completed in service acronyms, that is all that remains today of an RAF officer’s war record.
Form 64 Airman’s Service and Paybook
Form 96A Message Form
Form 414 Pilot’s Flying Log Book
Form 540 Operations Record Book—Summary of Events (Squadron diary, monthly)
Form 541 Operations Record Book—Detail of Work Carried Out (Squadron diary, daily)
Form 543 Record of Service for airmen, equivalent to the Officers AM Form 1406
Form 700 Aircraft Log record of flying, unserviceability and maintenance
Form 747 Casualty Form (Airmen)
Form 765A Operational Statistical Summary
Form 765B Return of Flying, Personnel and SAA
Form 765C Return of Forced Landing and Flying Accidents
Form 765D Return of Personnel and SAA Expenditure etc
Form 1580 Airman’s Record Sheet (Active Service) [Unit equivalent of Form 543 in the field]
Form 1767 Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book
Form 2715 Record of Service, Educational and Professional Qualifications (Candidate for a Permanent Commission)
RAF & RAFVR Branches
General Duties Branch (Flying—aircrew)
Technical Branch (Engineering, Electrical, Armament, Signals)
Equipment Branch (Stores etc)
Administrative and Special Duties Branch
(Administration, Intelligence, Ops Room, Photographic, Defence, Mech Transport, Marine, Catering)
RAF Ranks & Classifications
Commissioned officers (Air rank)
Marshal of the RAF
Air Chief Marshal
Commissioned officers (below Air rank)
Aircraftman First Class
Aircraftman Second Class (entry level)
Musterings: Trade Groups and trades
While Rank or Classification reflected level of responsibility (for self or in command of others), Trade reflected the vast array of groundcrew occupations (skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled) that the RAF required to manage or maintain its men and equipment. The individual trades or occupations of airmen were classified, according to either type or level of skill, into five Trade Groups. This table is transcribed from KR& ACI Chapter XXXIX—Pay, Section II—Airmen and relates to groundcrew trades.
Source: KR & ACI 1943 (amended to AL141 July 1945) para 3447 (7).
Air bombing instructor
Blacksmith and welder
Carpenter (boat builder)
Civil engineering assistant
Clerk of works
Coppersmith and sheet metal worker
Electrician, Grade I
Electrician (works), Grade I
Fitter, grade I
Fitter, grade II (airframe)
Fitter, grade II (engine)
Fitter (stationary engine)
High speed telegraphist
Instrument repairer, grade I
Link trainer instructor
Machine tool setter and operator
Wireless and electrical mechanic
Wireless operator mechanic
Armoured car crew
Armourer (bomb disposal)
Electrician, grade I
Electrician (works), grade II
Flight mechanic (airframe)
Flight mechanic (engine)
Foreman of trades
Instrument repairer, grade II
Mechanic (stationary engine)
Pattern maker (architectural)
Radio telephony operator
Safety equipment worker
Sheet metal worker
Air gunnery instructor
Hydrogen worker [sic]
ConcreterMotor boat crew
Safety equipment assistant
Clerk, equipment accounting
Clerk, pay accounting
Clerk (general duties)
Clerk (special duties)
Radio telephony operator
Aircrafthand (under trade training)
Flying control assistant
Physical training instructor
Medical orderly under training
Mental nursing orderly
Operating room assistant
Special treatment orderly
Dental clerk orderly
Dental orderly under training
The applicable pay rates varied in a rather complex manner but, simplifying greatly, Group V trades were paid at the lowest rates, Group I at the highest.
Aircrew trades and categories
In pre-war days, while NCO pilots were full-time aircrew, it was for a notional five year period before reverting to the ground trade in which they were still mustered. Non-commissioned observers and gunners were groundcrew working only part-time as aircrew, reflected in terms such as wireless operator (air gunner): the aircrew specialisation noted after their actual ground trade. Until 1939, then, trade was the appropriate term for non-commissioned aircrew. Those in use, with their rank or classification on qualification were
Pilot (Sergeant, or P/O and above)
Air Observer (AC1, LAC. Sergeant from October 1940)
Air Gunner ( AC1, LAC. Sergeant from May 1940)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (LAC. Sergeant from May 1940).
In January 1939, the airmen aircrew became a distinct group. Remustered on a full-time basis as either pilots, observers or wireless operator/air gunners, the three were listed in full in regulations, there being no need for a collective term. From mid-1940, Wireless Operators and Air Gunners were to be raised to the rank of Sergeant on qualification, whether by in-Squadron service or by appropriate course completion, and authorised to wear the appropriate single-winged flying badge.
While Observers had their own flying badge much earlier, by the arcana of Service practice, the formal authority for the rank of Sergeant followed only from October (AMOs A.17/39, A.416/40, A.803/40).
From late 1940, more specialised duties were being introduced: Flight Engineers and Airborne Interception operators among the first. Although the Flight Engineers were still treated as tradesmen who flew until 1942, from January 1941 the AI operators were recognised as a “new aircrew category”: from then on, category became the term for the increasing range of aircrew specialists.
In Observers and Navigators, Jeff Jefford has discussed the long history and complexity of these duties and their recognition in wonderful detail. Any errors or lack of clarity in this very short summary are mine and not Jeff’s.
The idea of a formal RAF operational tour of flying duty rose out of truly savage loss rates experienced early in the war. Recognising the risks and strains of operational flying in action, the aim was to avoid battle fatigue, and to give a clear chance of completing a tour.
For aircrew in units under RAF control, the length of a tour depended on period, theatre, and Command requirements of the time. Whether a man was of RAF, RAFVR, RAAF, RCAF, or RNZAF origin made no difference, nor whether he was in an RAF or a Commonwealth Squadron under RAF command. Tour length depended on the RAF policy of the period, the operational characterics of the various Commands, and varied according to local conditions or particular Squadron needs.
While the usually accepted figure was 30 completed trips for a Bomber Command “tour”, there was no official limit from 1939 to 1941 in either Home or Overseas commands. For some time, indeed, the practice was to withdraw whole units from the operational area for a period of comparative rest. A sound overall account is given by Terraine in The Right of the Line (p 522ff).
Some uncertainty about tours for individuals remained even in 1943, with the result that Air Ministry Letter of 8 May 1943 (AIR 20/2859) was issued:
"Bomber Command: first tour, 30 sorties; second tour, not more than 20 sorties.
Pathfinder Force: a single continuous tour of 45 sorties.
Fighter Command: Day Fighters, normal maximum 200 hours.
Night Fighters, 100 hours or a maximum of 18 months.
Army Cooperation Command: 200 hours.
Coastal Command: Flying boats and four-engined land-plane crews, 800 hours*.
Twin-engined general reconnaissance squadrons (including meteorological squadrons and flights), 500 hours.
Photographic Reconnaissance squadrons, 300 hours.
Fighter torpedo and other squadrons employed offensively, 200 hours."
*For Coastal Command, at least, it has been said elsewhere that the tour was 800 hours or 18 months, whichever came first.
At the end of a tour of operational duty, the intention was to “screen” crews: that is, to post them to a non-operational unit for a period of duty out of combat, with the aim of allowing them time to rest and, for many, to pass on their experience to others by a period of instructing, commonly at an OTU. It is certainly the case that aircrew found ways to extend their time on operations, either individually or together. Others were successful in dodging the intended "rest" at an OTU between first and second tour altogether. Some lucky and determined few survived three or more tours.
Tour expired vs tour survival
Two different considerations arose. The chance of men completing an operational tour (and fit for further operational duty) had visible, tangible effects on Squadrons, on comrades, and on aircrew training. For Home Commands in January 1943, when tour lengths were in the main set still at 200 hours, the chance of completing one tour was 16% in the heavy bomber Squadrons, 18% for medium bomber Squadrons, and 13% for twin-engine intruder and bomber reconnaissance Squadrons.
The actual survival rate after one tour on heavy bombers to January 1943 was rather better, when the wounded and those who fell PoW are taken into account: the rate of survival then reached some 46%, though of course PoWs at least were lost to the Service for the duration.
Taken together, these results led to some reduction in tour limits, in the case of Bomber Command to the well-known first tour limit of 30 completed sorties from mid-1943. The chance of completing such a tour was then estimated at 25%, the actual survival rate including wounded and PoWs then being rather better than 50%. See: AHB Narrative: Flying Training Vol I Policy and Planning Ch 15 (Air Publication 3233, Air Ministry 1952).
211 Squadron tours
In the Middle East of 1940 and 1941, 211 Squadron was stood down as a unit in June 1941 after 12 months on operations—a once common practice, then falling into disuse in favour of screening the individual after a defined period. By 1941, surviving crews of the Squadron had somewhere between 40 and 100-odd operations to their credit.
In the Far East, tour length was reduced from 300 hours to 200 hours c October 1944, at least as far as the Beaufighter Squadrons were concerned.
Money, money, money...
£1 (pound) was 20s (shillings) of 12 pence, in total 240d (pennies, pence). 1gn (guinea) was £1 1s or 21 shillings, equivalent to $A2.10 in modern Australian coin, or £1.05 (£1 5p) in modern British currency. In Britain, the pound as a sum of money would today be worth 50 or more times the 1939 amount.
Although the golden guinea ceased issue as long ago as 1816, the term still survives in some circles: in the titles of certain horse races, for example. In commercial pricing, it passed from use in Australia with the switch to decimal currency in 1966. The gold sovereign, the “Jimmy O’Goblin” of one pound sterling face value, is still minted and used in certain areas though not in general circulation.
At the outbreak of war, male wages in Australia averaged £4 15s 3d per week ($A9.52 in current coin). In May 2007, average weekly ordinary time earnings, a roughly comparable measure, stood over 100 times higher at $A1059.10.
In July 1940, average weekly earnings for British male manual workers (broadly, non-managerial employee wages) stood at £4 9s. Again roughly comparable, in April 2007 median earnings of full-time male employees was £498, almost exactly the same relative increase as that in Australia.
The differing increase of money values vs wage rates is the result of the differing cumulative effects of inflation vs rising productivity over the decades.
In the war-time RAF, volunteers and conscripts entered the RAFVR in the lowest rank, Aircraftman 2nd Class (AC2), in Group V, the mustering of the least qualified trades.
In March 1938 the daily rate of pay for a Group V AC2 on entry had been just 2 shillings (14/- a week or £36 8s a year). By 1943, the lowly AC2s rate stood at 3 shillings per day (£1 1s a week or £54 12s a year), including 1/- per day war pay but excluding the accruing post-war credit of 6d per day. The base pay rate for a qualified Sergeant pilot or observer in 1943 was 13/6 per day (£4 14s 6d a week or £245 14s a year).
Substantive pay tables (KR&ACI par 3447) show these base daily rates, before "non-substantive" additional amounts (qualification pay, duty pay, hard-lying money and so on), before any family or other allowances, and before Income Tax and any Service deductions (“stoppages”). Examples of "stoppages" could include:
Allotment to family
Damage to equipment
Deficiency in kit
Fines arising from disciplinary action.
All these complexities were brought together and resolved in the Pay Ledger and recorded in each airman’s personal Pay Book, to arrive at the actual cash in hand to be paid to an airman at pay parade. These were normally held weekly on Fridays, although there was provision for fortnightly parades (KR&ACI par 2830). In the field, a period of rapid redeployment, advance or withdrawal might result in a delay of some time before a parade (and the necessary moneys) could be organised.
Some illustrative UK prices from 1939 to 1945
The Daily Express (12 page broadsheet in 1939) 1d
The Daily Telegraph (6 page broadsheet in 1944) 1½d
The Sphere Illustrated Weekly (30 page large format news magazine 1941) 1/-
King Six cigars: 8d each (8s a dozen)
Summit business shirts: 12/6d each
Vita-Weat crispbread: 1/6d a carton.
Accommodation (clearly expecting officers on leave etc and inclusive of meals)
Fuidge Manor, Devon: from 5gns/week
Redcliffe Hotel, Paignton: from 4½gns to 12gns/week.
The cost of living index in the UK rose by 33.5 per cent over the course of the war, according to Gardiner, Wartime Britain 1939—1945.
Examples of rising prices in late 1939
Butter rose from 1/3d per lb to 1/7d
Salt rose from 1/- to 1/6d.
Rationing of petrol began in Britain almost as soon as war was declared. Food rationing followed in January 1940, clothing in June 1941. Ration Books of coupons, for each person, were to be registered at particular shops, where the coupons were exchanged (or later, struck out) on purchase of the rationed amount. From 1941, points coupons were added to the rationing system, offering somewhat more flexibility in both supply and over-the-counter sale.
Food rations varied considerably over time, for a variety of reasons not least the U-boat offensive against merchant shipping convoys, which was at its fiercest in 1941 and 1942.
In 1940, the meat ration was set at 1/10d per person per week but was reduced by almost half to 1 shilling in 1941. With fresh meat prices over 1/- per pound, the ration allowance didn't go far, and there were concerns about whether working people were getting enough nutrition.
Milk was 4d a pint, tuppence (2d) for pregnant or nursing mothers and children under 5. The milk ration was cut repeatedly and by March 1942 it had fallen to 3 pints per person per week.
Bacon: the ration rose from 4 oz to 8 oz per person by late January 1940 at a time when the price, at 2 shillings per pound, was too expensive for most people (and concern about rising stocks of such a perishable led, incongruously, to the ration rise).
There were severe penalties for cheating by shoppers or shopkeepers, and for stealing or counterfeiting Ration Books. Over 30,000 British merchant seamen lost their lives over the course of the war, in keeping Britain supplied by sea.
In Australia, rationing regulations were gazetted in May 1942, to begin on 13 June 1942. Ration books were to be used from the start, on issue to “each holder of a civilian registration card” (that is, an identity card). By VP Day in 1945, JB Youngs of Canberra were advertising a half-price clothing sale in the Canberra Times, with singlets at 4/- (3 clothing coupons) and underpants at 4/3 (4 coupons) while at Snows, pyjamas were going for £1.
To describe a notionally 250lb bomb of the 1940s RAF as one of 113.4kg sounds faintly ridiculous, like trying to convert guineas to $A. Imperial measure is used throughout and can be converted using the standard factors:
Imperial to metric— multiply by:
Personal correspondence with author: Spencer, Walters, Jefford.
Air Ministry The King’s Regulations and Air Council Instructions 1943 AP 958 (HMSO 1943)
Air Historical Branch Narrative: Flying Training Vol I Policy and Planning AP 3233 (Air Ministry 1952).
Australian Bureau of Statistics Yearbook Australia issues
Butlin War Economy 1939—1942 (AWM 1955)
Butlin & Schedvin War Economy 1942—1945 (AWM 1977)
Calder The People’s War Britain 1939—1945 (Pimlico 1992)
Central Statistical Office Fighting with Figures—Statistical Digest of the Second World War (HMSO 1995)
Dept of Employment & Productivity British Labour Statistics Historical Abstract 1886—1968 (HMSO 1971)
Gardiner Wartime Britain 1939—1945 (Headline 2004)
Hammerton (ed) ABC of the RAF (Amalgamated Press c1943)
Hasluck The Government and the People 1939—1941 (AWM 1952)
Hasluck The Government and the People 1942—1945 (AWM 1970)
Jefford Observers and Navigators (Airlife 2001)
Terraine The Right of the Line (Hodder and Stoughton 1985)
Daily Express wartime issue facsimiles
The Daily Telegraph wartime issue facsimiles
The Sphere Illustrated wartime issues
Illustrated London News wartime issues
Australian War Memorial Encyclopedia www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia
Federal Capital Press Canberra Times at NLA TROVE http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper
Measuring Worth www.measuringworth.com
www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 2014
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 24 Aug 2014. Page created 31 Jul 2007, last updated 31 Jul 2013
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