Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Development of the RAF Command Structure 1936 - 1968

Command Development in the RAF (Home)

To be added

Command Development in the RAF (Overseas)

To be added

Re-organisation proposals - 7 Jan 1964

As the size of the RAF continued to contract through the 1950's and into the 1960's, the consequent reduction in the numbers of aircraft and personnel meant that each of the functional commands now were tending to become a little 'top heavy' and a need for change was evident.  Also the functional command system established in the late 1930's had witnessed a major change of emphasis on the various functions and roles they had originally been set up to fulfil.  As a result, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Operations), AVM Dennis Smallwood undertook a review of the command structure in late 1963 and made a number of interesting proposals in his report of 7 January 1964 contained in file Air 20/11465.  Briefly, these were as follows: -

Bomber Command

Owing to the general public opinion that the term 'bomber' was outdated and the fact that the command was becoming more tactical than strategic, it was felt that the name of this command should be changed to Strike Command.

It would provide the entire strike/reconnaissance force for both home and overseas and would consist of 140 aircraft with 72 being assigned to an Allied command (NATO).  It was proposed to allocate the units to two groups, one controlling the NATO assigned forces and the other the strategic reserve and those units available for use outside the NATO area.  It was likely that the two groups would be Nos 1 and 3 as well as the Central Reconnaissance Establishment.

Fighter Command

It was felt that the term Fighter Command was now obsolete and failed to clearly identify the roles now carried out by the command, namely the operation of Surface-to-Air missiles, early warning and the control of air-space as well as the active defence of Great Britain using fighters.  It was also noted that as part of the UK Air Defence Region, it had a much wider role within the defence of Europe and hence was now more tactical in nature and it was proposed to rename it Tactical Air Command.

It would consist of the existing elements of Fighter Command and would take over the Ground Attack/Recce aircraft of No 38 Group and that RAF Germany would become a subordinate unit to TAC as a group around 1968-69.

Transport Command

There were no plans to change the name or structure of Transport Command, other than to transfer the squadrons of No 38 Group to TAC.

Coastal Command

It was felt that as the range of maritime reconnaissance aircraft had increased and the command now covered far greater areas than merely around the coast of the UK, that its name should be changed to Maritime Command.

Few changes were proposed but those that were consisted of: -

  1. Concentrating force then split between Gibraltar and Mata at the former.

  2. That the command be given the 'housekeeping' responsibility for a number of non-operational units currently parented by Technical Training Command.

  3. The Maritime Group HQs should only be responsible for the operational control of forces.

Overseas Reinforcement

It had obviously been a consideration to form a dedicated command HQ to control units operating outside of NATO as reinforcements to the overseas commands but this was rejected.

Near East Air Force

The here situation would be reviewed as part of an inter-service appraisal into the future situation in Cyprus, but it was felt that a controlling formation would still be required.

Air Forces Middle East

At this point in time no changes were foreseen.

Far East Air Force

The only change foreseen at this point was the disbandment of No 224 Group and the establishment of a mobile tactical cell within HQ FEAF.

Hong Kong

No changes foreseen


It was proposed that Malta be transferred to the control of Maritime Command.


As previously stated, it was proposed that forces in RAF Germany would come under the control of a Group in the proposed Tactical Command


The training function having been split between Flying and Technical Training Commands since 1940, it was now felt that contraction of the service and the overlap of responsibility of the two C-in-Cs called for the amalgamation of the two under a single C-in-C as soon as possible.  This would be eased by the transfer of control of various miscellaneous units to Maritime Command.  It was proposed that the name to be adopted should be Training Command.

It was proposed that this command should consist of of one or two flying training groups, one or two technical training groups and establishments of group status such as the RAF College and RAF Staff College.

Maintenance Command and Signals Command

The paper confirmed the need to retain formations such these to continue to provide the specialist functions provided.  However, whilst it was felt that the amalgamation of these functions under a single command might be sensible, it was unlikely to provide any real financial savings or increased efficiency and it was proposed to leave them as separate formations directly subordinate to the Air Ministry. 

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