RAF Coastal Command: Wikis


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Royal Air Force Coastal Command
Coastal Command crest
Founded 14 July 1936
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Role Anti-submarine warfare
Commerce raiding
Aerial reconnaissance
Air-sea rescue
Weather reconnaissance[1]
Part of –-69: Northwood
Motto Constant Endeavour
Engagements World War II

RAF Coastal Command was a formation within the Royal Air Force. The service came to prominence during the Second World War. It defended the United Kingdom from naval threats and countered them by air. Coastal Command was often referred to as the "Cinderella Service" as a result of the comments made by A. V. Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough, First Lord of the Admiralty.[2] Coastal Command did not gain the recognition received by RAF Bomber Command or RAF Fighter Command as a decisive offensive or defensive force. Its primary task was to protect British naval supply lines and convoys from the German Kriegsmarine's U-Boat force, known as the "Wolf packs". It also protected Allied shipping from the aerial threat posed by the Luftwaffe. The main operations of Coastal Command were defensive, defending supplies lines in the various theatres of war, most notably the Mediterranean, Middle East and African theatres and Battle of the Atlantic. It also served in an offensive capacity. In the Mediterranean theatre and the Baltic sea it carried out attacks on German shipping moving war materials from Scandinavia to Germany. The service saw action from the first day of hostilities until the last day of the Second World War. It flew over 240,000 operations, destroyed 212 U-boats and sank 478,000 tons of shipping. Coastal Command lost 1,777 aircraft, with 5,866 personnel killed in action. Whilst the latter figure for the number killed was given in the official History,[3] during 1940 - 1945 Coastal Command sank 366 German transport vessels and damaged 134. The total tonnage sunk was 512,330 tons.[4]





Prior to the formation of Coastal Command in 1936, the role of the command was carried out by the Coastal Area organization. Coastal Area existed from 1919 to 1936. Before that the role was carried out by No. 10 Group RAF.[5]


In its early days, other arms of the RAF had priority and Coastal Command had to make do with mostly obsolescent planes and weapons. Coastal Command had 224 aircraft and only 24 of these were modern types suitable for all its roles; these 24 were 12 Lockheed Hudsons and 12 Short Sunderlands. The remaining 200 were mostly aging Avro Ansons. Supplies of aircraft were so short, many units were in fact "on loan" from the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. The primary weapon was a small 100 lb anti-submarine (A/S) bomb which required perfect accuracy, and did not have enough power to damage a U-boat.[6] Another problem with this weapon was its tendency to skip off the water and in one case hit and destroyed the plane that dropped it. Early operations were mostly ineffective, often ending with the U-boat the victor on the occasions they could be found by the aircraft. Even upon finding a submarine the chances of scoring a hit were still low because of flawed tactics employed. Aircraft were required to get on the stern of the U-boat and make a longitudinal 'along the track' attack.[citation needed] It took too long for the aircraft to get into position and gave the U-boat ample time to quickly dive and change course. There were also 250 lb and 500 lb anti-submarine bombs; both still required high accuracy and could be effectively carried only by the Sunderland flying boat.

In 1940, experiments were begun by the Admiralty on a 250 lb depth charge, modified to be dropped from the air, for use by Fleet Air Arm and later Coastal Command. After a successful series of tests, the antisubmarine bomb was replaced with the depth charge in 1941 but due to shortages, A/S bombs were not completely removed from service until 1942. (Somewhat later, an operations research group led by Professor Patrick M. S. Blackett discovered setting the depth charges to explode at a shallow depth, rather than the earlier deep setting, improved success; this required the development of a new firing pistol capable of working so shallow.) In the same year, a number of newer aircraft being introduced into RAF Bomber Command allowed their older bomber designs to be sent to Coastal Command, including numbers of Vickers Wellingtons. These had much longer range, making them more effective. The introduction of the Leigh Light in 1942 allowed accurate night attacks, denying U-boats the freedom to recharge their batteries under cover of darkness.

The introduction of the de Havilland Mosquito freed the Bristol Beaufighter for Coastal Command use. The Beaufighter became one of their most effective short-range aircraft, operating with rockets and depth charges against U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. These planes were also used in attacks on other German shipping, even attacking the German flak boats.

Far more important to Coastal Command were the long range VLR Liberator and Short Sunderland. Continued wrangling with Bomber Command meant it was into 1942 before even a few dozen VLRs were released and much later still before a lonely squadron was posted to Gander Newfoundland, covering the crucial Atlantic choke point and the Mid-Atlantic gap and finally allowing Coastal Command to cover all the North Atlantic. In the middle of 1942, 45 B-17 Fortress IIAs were transferred to the RAF. Likely because of the shortcomings of the Fortress I (B-17C),[citation needed] the RAF decided not to use the Fortress IIA (B-17E) as a daylight high-altitude bomber, the role for which it had been designed. Rather, they were transferred to the Coastal Command for anti-submarine patrol. By the start of 1943, the improvement in aircraft and tactics, and the introduction of electronic aids such as centimetric radar, vastly improved the effectiveness of the Command, and as the U-Boat kill rate rose, shipping losses plummeted. It was not so much the number sunk as the constant harassment that made the planes effective (in conjunction with direction finding), as submarines were unable to approach to contact in daylight or run in on the surface at night to attack, meaning many convoys were unmolested.


Coastal Command controlled many formations during WWII. At the start of the war it had four Groups under its control, one of which, No. 17 Group, was a formation dedicated to training aircrews. The other three had responsibility for different geographical sectors of the British coastline. No. 16 Group was responsible for the eastern half of the English Channel and the southern half of the North Sea. No. 18 Group covered the remainder of the North Sea and areas to the north and west of Scotland, north of a line running north west from the Mull of Kintyre. No. 15 Group covered the remainder of the coast of the United Kingdom, principally the South West approaches.

Coastal Command's tally of U-Boat kills as the percentage of total U-Boat losses

In February 1941, this geographical arrangement was altered with the activation of No. 19 Group. The boundary between No. 18 Group and No. 15 Group was shifted northwards so that it ran along a line heading north west from Cape Wrath and No. 19 Group was made responsible for the southern part of the area formerly under No. 15 Group. In the Irish Sea No. 19 Groups's remit ran south of a line approximately in the middle of Cardigan Bay. In the eastern Atlantic, the boundary ran slightly north of that line.

Further important additions were made to Coastal Command's remit when squadrons based outside the UK were also placed under its control. In November 1940, No. 200 Group at Gibraltar was transferred to the control of Coastal Command, from that of RAF Mediterranean. Apart from a brief period under the operational command of Allied Forces Headquarters during Operation Torch and its aftermath, RAF units in Gibraltar remained under Coastal Command control for the rest of the war. No. 200 Group was raised from Group level to Command level within Coastal Command in December 1941 as RAF Gibraltar, and remained a Command until again reduced to Group level in 1953 as AHQ Gibraltar. With the British occupation of Iceland, RAF units were also based there, and as their work was almost exclusively ASW, Coastal Command again assumed control. At first, No. 30 Wing RAF was the formation controlling units in Iceland. However, in July 1941, No. 30 Wing was raised to Command status as RAF Iceland. The final addition to the clutch of overseas units controlled by Coastal Command was No. 247 Group RAF. In mid-1943, Portugal granted Britain basing rights in the Azores, and ASW aircraft were duly sent there. As with Gibraltar and Iceland, Coastal Command was the controlling authority for the aircraft based there.

During the war Coastal Command flew over 240,000 operations, sunk 212 U-boats and destroyed 478,000 tons of shipping. 1,777 aircraft were lost, with 5,866 personnel killed in action. Whilst the latter figure for the number killed was given in the official History[3], the Coastal Command & Maritime Air Association gives 10,875 lives lost. It is possible that the former figure may not have included missing personnel, who were later assumed killed, nor those killed who were allied and dominion personnel serving with the RAF. According to Chaz Bowyer however[7], the discrepancy can be explained by the number of aircrew killed in action versus the total number of casualties of both air and groundcrew to all causes.

Four Coastal Command pilots received the Victoria Cross during the war. Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, Flight Lieutenant David Hornell, and Pilot Officer Lloyd Trigg were killed in action while Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank survived.[8]


After WWII Coastal Command continued in its anti-submarine role. The Avro Shackleton was a heavily modified Avro Lincoln bomber. With the introduction of nuclear powered submarines, newer planes needed to have considerably more electronics on-board. In 1969 the special-purpose Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod, based on the de Havilland Comet airliner, was introduced into RAF service for this role, and Coastal Command duties were passed onto general squadrons. The command itself ceased to exist on 28 November 1969, when it was subsumed into the new RAF Strike Command. Today there are three active Nimrod squadrons based at RAF Kinloss, part of RAF Air Command.

Commanders in Chief

Name From To
Air Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore 14 July 1936 1 September 1936
Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté 1 September 1936 18 August 1937
Air Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill 18 August 1937 14 June 1941
Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferte 14 June 1941 5 February 1943
Air Marshal Sir John Slessor 5 February 1943 20 January 1944
Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas 20 January 1944 30 June 1945
Air Marshal Sir Leonard Slatter 30 June 1945 1 November 1948
Air Marshal Sir John Baker 1 November 1948 1 January 1950
Air Marshal Sir Charles Steele 1 January 1950 8 June 1951
Air Marshal Sir Alick Stevens 8 June 1951 8 November 1953
Air Marshal Sir John Boothman 15 November 1953 5 April 1956
Air Marshal Sir Brian Reynolds 5 April 1956 1 June 1959
Air Marshal Sir Edward Clifton 1 June 1959 10 August 1962
Air Marshal Sir Anthony Selway 10 August 1962 22 January 1965
Air Marshal Sir Paul Holder 22 January 1965 2 September 1968
Air Marshal Sir John Lapsley 2 September 1968 28 November 1968


The work of Coastal Command was immortalised in a 1942 wartime propaganda documentary named Coastal Command with a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

See also



  1. ^ Saunders, Hilary Aidan St. George; Denis Richards. Royal Air Force, 1939-1945. Volume III: The Fight is Won, pp. 72–79. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1975. ISBN 0117715948
  2. ^ Hendrie 2006, p. 60.
  3. ^ a b Royal Air Force 1939-1945, Vol. III, HMSO, London, 1954
  4. ^ Goulter 1995, p. 353.
  5. ^ Bowyer 1979, p. 157.
  6. ^ Hendrie 2006, p. 48.
  7. ^ Bowyer 1979, p. 158.
  8. ^ Bowyer 1979, pp. 124-132.


  • Bowyer, Chaz. Coastal Command at War. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-7110-0980-5.
  • Goulter, Christina. A Forgotten Offensive: Royal Air Force Coastal Command's Anti-Shipping Campaign, 1940-1945. Frank & Cass. London. 2005. ISBN 0-714-64147-2
  • Hendrie, Andrew. The Cinderella Service: RAF Coastal Command 11939-1945. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2006. ISBN 978-1-84415-346-6
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London, Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.

External links

Preceded by
Coastal Area
Coastal Command
Succeeded by
Strike Command


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