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Forces

Entries are listed alphabetically. The first line (in bold) is the term used to describe the subject, which is also a hyperlink to every item in the IBCC Digital Archive described with that tag. The second line (in italics) contains alternative forms, such as spelling variants, abbreviations or colloquialisms. Each entry is supplemented with a definition, background information, applicability, and links to related concepts.

Indentations are used to denote a parent/child structure, in which the main entry is a broad category followed by sub-categories. This allows for users to either narrow or expand the focus of their searches.

Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana
Used for: National Republican Air Force, ANR

Following the Italian Armistice in September 1943 the Italian Air Force split into two factions. The Regia Aeronautica in the south became allied to the Anglo-American forces whilst the northern component of the Italian Air Force was known as the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) and remained aligned with German forces. The two components of the Italian Air Force never fought each other. The ANR was mainly used against Allied bombing raids in Northern Italy.

British Army
Used for: BA

In September 1939 the British Army had fewer than 900,000 soldiers. By 1945 almost 3 million soldiers had served in the British Army of whom 300,000 had been killed. The British Army fought in many global campaigns including France, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Crete, the Middle East, the Far East, the Normandy Campaign, Arnhem and the Rhine crossing. Specialist units were formed during the war including the Parachute Regiment, the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Commandos.

Home Guard
Used for: HG; parashots; Local Defence Volunteers; LDV

Armed citizen militia supporting the British Army. Its main role was to act as a secondary defence force, in case of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany and their allies. In 1940 male volunteers were requested to join the newly formed Local Defence Volunteers. The name was changed to the Home Guard and, at its peak, it comprised 1.7 million volunteers ineligible for conscription through age, health or as members of a reserved occupation. Half of the Home Guard was below 28 years old. They guarded sites, reported observations and manned anti-aircraft guns. 1206 members were killed on duty. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dainippon Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūbutai
Used for: Imperial Japanese Army Air Service, Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, IJAAS, IJAAF

Dainippon Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūbutai was the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. It was the aviation arm of the Imperial Japanese Army with its primary role being air support and reconnaissance for ground forces. Its counter-part, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, was responsible for bomber and attack aircraft as well as air defence. It was only very late in the war in 1945 that the two aviation branches were combined to defend mainland Japan from Allied attacks.

Polskie Siły Powietrzne
Used for: Polish Air Force, PSP

The Polish Air Force had just under 600 combat aircraft at the start of September 1939 but most of these were destroyed during the German invasion. Many pilots escaped, first to France and then to Great Britain. Polish squadrons were formed in Fighter Command, where they made a significant contribution in the Battle of Britain and later campaigns. In Bomber Command four Polish squadrons were formed: 300 Squadron, 301 Squadron, 304 Squadron and 305 Squadron.

Regia Aeronautica
Used for: Royal Italian Air Force, RA

Regia Aeronautica was the Italian Air Force 1923 - 1946. Italy entered World War Two in 1940 aligned with Germany and the Regia Aeronautica was involved in the campaigns in the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Eastern Front. Following the Italian Armistice in September 1943 the Regia Aeronautica split into a component in Southern Italy aligned with the Allies and the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana in Northern Italy still aligned with Germany. The two components never fought each other.

Royal Air Force
Used for: RAF

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed in April 1918. By 1939 the RAF was organised into functional Commands: Fighter Command, Bomber Command, Coastal Command, Training Command and Balloon Command. At its peak in 1944-45 the RAF had 9,200 aircraft on charge and over 1.2 million personnel of whom over 193,000 were aircrew, more than the total RAF at the start of the war. During the war the RAF lost over 70,000 men & women, the overwhelming majority of whom were aircrew.

Royal Air Force. Balloon Command

Balloon Command was created in November 1938 to control the balloon barrages around UK cities, industries and ports. Based at RAF Stanmore it operated under the direction of Fighter Command. The Command was organised into regional groups each with multiple balloon squadrons. By 1939 about 800 balloons were operational, increasing to over 2,000 by 1942. Flown from a winch to a maximum height of 5000 ft. the balloon cable, if hit, was designed to bring down an attacking aircraft.

Royal Air Force. Bomber Command

Bomber Command was formed in 1936 primarily as a daylight strategic bombing force. Unacceptable early losses resulted in switching to mainly night operations. Originally a force of largely twin-engined aircraft with basic technology Bomber Command evolved and expanded into a mainly Lancaster, Halifax and Mosquito force equipped with modern technology. During World War Two over a million men and women served with or supported Bomber Command of whom almost 58,000, mostly aircrew, were killed.

Royal Air Force. Coastal Command

Coastal Command was formed in 1936 as the RAF’s maritime branch. Working closely with the Royal Navy Coastal Command’s roles included anti-submarine patrols, North Atlantic and Russian convoy escort, reconnaissance of German warships, offensive attacks on German coastal shipping and air-sea rescue. Detachments also operated in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Coastal Command aircraft were involved in sinking over 200 German submarines and sank or damaged over one million tons of German shipping.

Royal Air Force. Fighter Command

Fighter Command was formed in 1936 to defend the United Kingdom. The Headquarters at RAF Bentley Priory became the focal point of the ‘Dowding System’ which enabled control of the Battle of Britain in 1940.  In June 1943 many Fighter Command units were transferred to the newly formed Second Tactical Air Force in an offensive role. In November 1943 the remaining defensive element of Fighter Command was renamed the Air Defence of Great Britain. However in October 1944 the name again reverted to Fighter Command, which helped defend Britain against the V-1.

Royal Air Force. Training Command

In 1936 the flying training units at RAF Cranwell and the School of Technical Training at RAF Halton were merged into Training Command with the overall responsibility for flying and ground training. Training Command was disbanded in May 1940 and its functions split into Flying Training Command and Technical Training Command. Flying Training Command had the responsibility for aircrew selection and training and Technical Training Command had responsibilities for training ground personnel.

Royal Air Force. Transport Command

Transport Command was formed in March 1943 not only to coordinate the increasing number of aircraft being ferried from America but also to include the growing need for transport to support operations. The Command was responsible for air dropping of troops, towing gliders, supply of equipment and materials as well as the evacuation of casualties. Transport Command played critical roles during the Normandy, Arnhem and Rhine campaigns as well as the post-war Berlin Airlift.

Royal Australian Air Force
Used for: RAAF

During World War Two the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) served in the Pacific and south-east Asia theatres against the Japanese. It also contributed 17 Squadrons to the RAF of which eight served in Bomber Command; 455, 458, 460, 462, 463, 464, 466 and 467 Squadrons. Australians also served throughout the RAF. In total about 215,000 personnel served with the RAAF during World War Two. Approximately 10,000 were killed of whom just over 4,100 were from Bomber Command.

Royal Canadian Air Force
Used for: RCAF

During World War Two the Royal Canadian Air Force performed three significant roles; Canadian mainland defence, British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which contributed over 130,000 trained aircrew, and provision of men and equipment overseas. Many Canadians joined the RAF in all operational Commands. In particular Bomber Command 6 Group was formed in 1942, paid for by the Canadian Government and manned mainly by Canadians. A total of 15 Canadian squadrons served in Bomber Command with almost 10,000 aircrew killed.  

Royal Indian Air Force
Used for: RIAF

The Indian Air Force (IAF) was formed in October 1932 as an Auxiliary Air Force of the RAF. The IAF expanded rapidly during the Second World War and was heavily involved in halting the Japanese advance. In 1945, in recognition of its contribution to the war, King George VI conferred the prefix ‘Royal’ to the name of the air force but this was dropped in 1950 when the newly independent country became a republic.

Royal Navy
Used for: RN

In September 1939 the Royal Navy had the largest fleet the world. Notable World War Two actions included the Dunkirk evacuation, engagements against German capital ships and the Fleet Air Arm attack on the Italian Navy at Taranto. The Royal Navy played a vital role in protecting Atlantic and Russian convoys and, in coordination with RAF Coastal Command, combated German submarines in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Royal Navy played a key role in the Normandy campaign.

Royal Netherlands Air Force
Used for: RNethAF, RNETHAF

The Royal Netherlands Air Force was known during World War Two as the Army Aviation Brigade. In May 1940 it was defeated within five days of the German invasion. 320 Squadron was formed in June 1940 with escaped Dutch aircrew. The squadron was originally in Coastal Command but in March 1943 it was transferred to 2 Group Bomber Command. In June 1943 it transferred to the Second Tactical Air Force for the rest of the war.

Royal New Zealand Air Force
Used for: RNZAF

In September 1939 the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) comprised just over 1,100 personnel. At its peak in 1944 it had more than 42,000. The RNZAF served in the Pacific and south-east Asia theatres against the Japanese. In 1940 it contributed men and Wellingtons for 75 Squadron in 3 Group Bomber Command. Later six other New Zealand RAF squadrons were formed, including 487 Squadron in 2 Group Bomber Command. Just under 1,800 New Zealanders died serving with Bomber Command.

South African Air Force
Used for: SAAF, SALM

The South African Air Force (SAAF) operated in several theatres and campaigns during World War Two. These included East Africa, North Africa and the Western Desert, Madagascar, Sicily, the Mediterranean, Greece and the Balkans. Under the Joint Air Training scheme South Africa trained over 33,000 aircrew for the Royal Air Force, the SAAF and other Allied air forces.

United States Army Air Force
Used for: USAAF

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was the aviation arm of the United States Army 1941-1947. By 1944 the USAAF had 2.4 million personnel and 80,000 aircraft. As well as operating against Japan in the Pacific the USAAF had two forces in Britain. The Eighth USAAF operated from 1942 in a daylight strategic bombing role which, together with Bomber Command, created the combined bomber offensive. The Ninth USAAF was a tactical air force supporting the Normandy campaign.

United States Army
Used for: US Army

Approximately 11 million personnel served as part of the United States Army during World War Two. As well as operating in the Pacific against the Japanese the United States Army was heavily engaged in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Normandy campaign, Arnhem, the Battle of the Bulge and the Rhine crossing. The United States Army Air Force was part of the United States Army and combined Army and Air Force casualties were more than 318,000 killed and over 565,000 wounded.

Waffen SS

The Waffen SS was the military branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) or the Nazi Party's political army. Initially formed in 1925 as Hitler's personal bodyguard the SS expanded after 1929 under the overall command of Heinrich Himmler to eventually run the concentration camps, the forced labour populations and the extermination camps. They also formed up to 39 Divisions of combat troops operating alongside the regular Wehrmacht Army (Heer). The SS was directly involved in the Holocaust and other war crimes and in 1946 it was declared a criminal organisation.

Wehrmacht

The Wehrmacht is the commonly used name for the German Army but was in fact the combined armed forces of Nazi Germany 1935-1945. It comprised the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force) and Kriegsmarine (navy). The Army was the largest component with 13 million serving during the war, the Luftwaffe had 3 million and the Kriegsmarine 1.5 million. The Wehrmacht’s ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics of close co-ordination of infantry, tanks and close air-support brought military successes in the early part of the war.

Wehrmacht. Kriegsmarine
Used for: KM

The Kriegsmarine was the naval branch of the Wehrmacht, which were the combined German armed forces in World War Two. 1.5 million personnel served in the Kriegsmarine which had two main forces. The capital ships such as Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were restricted to commerce raiding during limited deployment. The German submarine fleet was however widely used in attacking Allied North Atlantic and Russian convoys, countered by the Royal Navy and RAF Coastal Command.

Wehrmacht. Luftwaffe
Used for: LW

The Luftwaffe was officially established as part of the overall German Wehrmacht armed forces in 1935, although it had been secretly building since the 1920s. The Luftwaffe was a tactical air force supporting the army and was a key factor in early German successes, with the exception of the Battle of Britain. Subsequently the Luftwaffe suffered increasing losses from the combined Allied bombing offensive and in the latter stages of the war it was further constrained by oil and fuel shortages.