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War Thunder Historical Board: RAAF Origins
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by Aaron Lentz

RAAF: on the eve of war.


During the 1920's the Australian Flying Corps officially became the Royal Australian Air Force and on 31st March 1921 assumed the role of national air defence. At this time the national defence was based on the concept of Forward Maritime Defence; the area intended for defence stretched from today’s Myanmar (known then as Burma) to New Zealand, with the Singapore naval base as the vital keystone.

The role of the RAAF was to cooperate and assist the navy in its mission of patrolling the air sea gap to the nation’s north; naturally the RAAF was to assist the Royal Australian Navy in its maritime strategy of close cooperation with the Royal Navy and the Imperial doctrine in the Far East.

This strategy dictated the RAAF’s organisation and the aircraft it would fly in the coming years. With a total compliment of 50 officers and 258 other ranks in 1921 and a total of no more than 500 men capable of flying aircraft across the entirety of Australia, the RAAF was to be a very humble venture.

March 1932 saw the Imperial armies of Japan proceed on the path of war which passed with little comment on the distant shores of Australia. The invasion of mainland China with the Japanese annexation of nearby islands began in earnest and little notice was given to the state of the RAAF which was at this time fighting for it's very existence. Several times during this period attempts where made by the army and navy with the support of government ministers for the RAAF to be broken down and split amongst the separate forces as naval air wings and army cooperation services. Major-General Sir William Glasgow, argued in favour of one coordinated force with the purpose of independent operations, army cooperation and naval cooperation - his passion on the subject generated much further debate on the matter. Ultimately these events did not come to pass and the RAAF would with considerable limitations on its funds and manpower continue to operate.

As the years passed by a slow trickle of aircraft where acquired by the RAAF and new bases and operational groups established around the nation. January 1934 saw the establishment of the iconic Qantas Empire Airways and soon after the linking of Australia to Britain via air, while the vast distances of the Australian land mass seemed to be mastered on a yearly basis by legendary airmen like Hinkler, Kingsford-smith, Hill and Nancy Bird-Walton. This period also saw the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctors Service, the likes of which had not existed anywhere in the world and has never been bettered since.

In July 1934 the RAAF acquired the purchase 18 Hawker Demon aircraft and 24 Supermarine Seagull MkV flying boats. By March 1936 Britain informed the government of the day that no further aircraft would be available for some considerable time. This turn of events shocked the sitting government into action, and soon the government declared it was absolutely essential that the Commonwealth should build its own aircraft and that it must be able to begin production within 12 months. On 17th October 1936 the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was formed, and the earnest effort to produce aircraft began. The design included features likely to become standard practice in the years to come. Features then regarded as novel but deemed sufficiently important in a future high performance aircraft included a stressed skin construction, an all-metal construction of low-wing monoplane type with hydraulically operated, retractable undercarriage landing gear, a variable pitch propeller and an air-cooled radial engine was selected as the most suitable type.

Based on the NA-33 the result was to be the CAC CA-1 Wirraway bomber. The Wirraway was openly dismissed by some as inadequate, inferior and a waste of valuable material and manpower, this diversion did not however stop the project and development continued under the watchful eye of Lawrence Wackett whose influence on the project can be seen with the use of American sourced material and Australian licence built equipment. Wackett’s ingenious solutions to many of the problems faced by the Wirraway’s production became used across the war industry as a whole, his use of machine tools and jigs allowed the use of unskilled labour to enter the aircraft production industry, and as Australia had no such industry previously this on its own was a vitally important step. Local solutions and products for all needs where sought and, when unattainable, various other methods where trialed and used. Most production of components took place in small businesses such as bike shops and local garages, whilst government annexes or the conversion of existing production lines where used mostly for the assembly or production of larger components. The Wirraway’s final production took place at the CAC headquarters and factory plant at Fishermens’ Bend in Melbourne, Victoria. The first Wirraway came off the production line and was flown on 27th March 1939, approximately two years and nine months after work had begun.


On 25th August 1939 a state of emergency was declared: on this date the entire disposition of the RAAF was 82 Ansons, 54 Demons, 7 Wirraways and 21 Seagulls. There were also 82 trainers of various types.

On 1st September at 5:30am Germany invaded Poland, and on 3rd September the RAAF went to war with 310 officers, 3,179 airmen and 164 operational aircraft. However, no sooner was war declared than the Australian population mobilised for war, indeed early on the armed forces proved unable to cope with the number of volunteers. By the beginning of 1940 however, 70,000 Australians had applied to the RAAF, though only a fraction of these had been trained. From a total population of 7 million men, women and children, the commitment of the Australian people to war was total. It would take some time and effort but Australian industry, manpower and tenacity would prove its worth in the coming years.   


From 4 pm 2nd of June Canberra time (6 am GMT, 11 pm PDT)   to 4 pm 3rd of June Canberra time (6 am GMT, 11 pm PDT) War Thunder presents Special Event:

30% special discount for the purchase, repair costs and modification costs for the following planes:

  • Beaufighter Mk.21
  • Beaufort Mk.VIII
  • Boomerang Mk.I
  • Boomerang Mk.II
  • Wirraway

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