What Do You Know About the British Royal Air Force During WWII?

John Miller

Image: Baker L (Fg Off), Royal Air Force official photographer

About This Quiz

In the history of military throwdowns, few confrontations match the urgency and implications of the Battle of Britain in World War II. It was then that Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) came of age, blistering the skies above the English Channel in hopes of sending Hitler’s minions into the sea. In our RAF quiz, we’ll see what you know about the courageous pilots who manned Britain’s air force in the Second World War!

When the Allies learned of Germany’s illegal military buildup, they began arming themselves, too. As part of those defenses, Britain built more planes and trained more pilots for the RAF. Air power, they knew, would be critical in the event of German aggression. Do you know how the RAF prepared for the coming fight?

Just a few thousand strong at the war’s outset, the RAF bloomed into a much bigger – and much deadlier – force during the conflict. Some pilots survived the German onslaught and became famous. Other (unlucky) aircrews flew a single mission and then perished. How much do you know about RAF casualties in WWII?

The RAF flew both offensive and defensive missions. Armed to the teeth with Spitfires and Lancasters, they pummeled Nazi fighters and bombers night and day. Brave the deadly skies in our RAF WII quiz. Perhaps you will become a British ace … or maybe you’ll crash and burn in this tough World War II test!

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) played a major role in World War II. When was the RAF formed?

The RAF was founded at the end of the first World War. By the time the Second World War rolled around, the British knew they'd need every bit of aerial firepower they could muster.

The RAF was critically important during which famous WWII battle?

In 1940, Hitler realized that Britain was never going to surrender, so he began a merciless air attack on London and other cities. The Battle of Britain was a major air battle, and one that the Allies desperately needed to win.

In the Battle of Britain, the British were preoccupied with which German force?

Nazi Germany's air force was called the Luftwaffe, and it was a terrifyingly powerful weapon of the Third Reich. The RAF was in for a major test during the Battle of Britain.

When WWII broke out in 1939, the RAF had about how many aircraft ready for duty?

When Germany invaded Poland in in 1939, the RAF had just 2,000 aircraft ready to fight. By the end of the war, though, those numbers would skyrocket as the Allies frantically built machines for combat.

What was Operation Sea Lion?

Germany's Operation Sea Lion was the planned invasion of Britain, scheduled for August 1940. If the RAF failed to fend off the Luftwaffe, Operation Sea Lion would devastate England and her allies.

The Germans committed about 2,500 warplanes to the Battle of Britain. How many planes did the RAF have at its disposal?

The RAF was outnumbered from the start, with about 2,000 aircraft trying to beat back more than 2,500 Nazi planes. The RAF would need its pilots to perform amazing heroics in order to save the day.

Which plane was NOT a primary RAF weapon during the Battle of Britain?

The P-51s were an American plane that didn't come along until later in the war. The Hurricanes and Spitfires, though, became iconic during the Battle of Britain.

What was a RAF secret weapon during the Battle of Britain?

Radar technology was it its infancy during the Battle of Britain, and the British put it to good use. Their radar stations helped them anticipate where the Luftwaffe was going to strike, allowing the RAF to concentrate its fighters in the correct areas.

True or false, during the Battle of Britain, did pilots from other nations serve in the RAF?

Nearly 3,000 pilots fought for the RAF in the Battle of Britain, but only around 2,300 of them were of British roots. The others came from various Allied nations.

Pat Pattle was the deadliest RAF pilot in WWII. How many air victories did he have?

RAF ace Pat Pattle was credited with 51 victories in WWII, and he may have actually had even more. He was the deadliest RAF fighter pilot of the war.

Pat Pattle was a star pilot for the RAF in WWII. How did his flying career end?

Pat Pattle shot down dozens of Axis planes in WWII and survived the Battle of Britain. But in April 1941, at the age of 26, he was shot down and killed near Greece.

At the end of the war, how many men and women were in the RAF?

Britain greatly expanded the RAF during WWII. By the time the war ended, the RAF included more than 960,000 personnel.

What was "The Blitz"?

In the fall of 1940, the Nazis began The Blitz, a series of nighttime bombing runs against British cities. The RAF struggled to beat back Nazi bombers in the dark skies, and tens of thousands of British civilians died.

What feature made the Bristol Beaufighter a very useful weapon for the RAF?

Introduced in the summer of 1940, the Bristol Beaufighter eventually featured onboard radar. Then, it used that radar system to track and shoot down German bombers, even during nighttime attacks.

How did the civilian Observer Corps help the RAF in WWII?

Britain's civilian Observer Corps were critical line of defense -- its members spotted very low-flying German planes that had managed to evade radar. Then, the RAF used that information to deploy its fighters.

For what purpose did the British use the Spitfire?

The Supermarine Spitfire was one of the best interceptors of the war. More than 20,000 of these feisty fighters were built, and the RAF used them to cause the Nazis all sorts of grief.

What was the primary mission of RAF Bomber Command?

The RAF didn't just shoot down German bombers. Its Bomber Command sent aloft many heavy bombers, which flew eastward, bombing the lights out of Germany and its allies.

About how many RAF planes were lost during WWII?

The RAF suffered mightily at the hands of the Axis, losing more than 42,000 planes in the war. Still, the Allies pushed on, buidling more planes and training more pilots as quickly as possible.

The RAF used the Vickers Wellington for which kind of mission?

RAF Bomber Command put the Vickers Wellington to good use. It was the only bomber used for the duration of the entire war.

Did the Women's Auxiliary Air Force send some of its female pilots to serve in the RAF during combat?

The British Women's Auxiliary Air Force did not see combat with the RAF. However, some of its female pilots performed all sorts of vital jobs, like moving planes to an from certain locations, and they did come under fire.

What sort of plane was the Handley Page Hampden?

The Handley Page Hampden was a bomber that saw much action in WWII. By 1944, it had been phased out in favor of bigger planes like the Avro Lancaster.

RAF Bomber Command had a dangerous job, sending British crews flying above enemy territory. What percentage of crews died on their missions?

RAF Bomber Command crews had agonizing casualty rates of nearly 45%. They knew their lives were in jeopardy every time they took to the skies.

Later in the war, why did RAF Bomber Command begin executing its missions at night?

During daylight hours, Nazi air defenses stiffened, blasting many RAF bombers out of the skies. The British switched to nighttime bombing runs ... and then had to deal with navigational difficulties.

How many RAF aircrew were killed during WWII?

About 70,000 RAF personnel died during their service during the conflict. Almost all of those personnel were aircrew.

During one famous battle, an RAF pilot named Ray Holmes saw a German bomber heading towards Buckingham Palace … but Holmes was out of ammunition. What did he do next?

Holmes, out of ammunition, didn't give up the fight. He rammed his fighter into the Nazi bomber, destroying it. Then he managed to bail out of his own plane … and survived.

True or false, did the RAF lose more planes than any other country during WWII?

Not even close. Sure, the RAF endured tens of thousands of casualties. But the Soviets? They lost more than 100,000 aircraft to Axis aggression.

The Eagle Squadrons were squadrons of fighter pilots from which Allied nation?

In 1940 (notably before the attack on Pearl Harbor), three squadrons of American volunteer pilots formed as Eagle Squadrons. They destroyed dozens of enemy planes before they were absorbed into the American Air Force in 1942.

In May 1942, RAF Bomber Command performed a first. What was it?

In May 1942, RAF Bomber Command sent 1,000 bombers to smash Cologne, Germany, the first time it had ever flown that many bombers on a single raid. More than half of the bombers carried incendiary bombs intended to set the city on fire.

The RAF used many Spitfires as fighters, but the Spitfire also may have been even more valuable for what purpose?

The Spitfires are more famous as fighters, but the RAF used modified versions of this plane for critical photo reconnaissance missions. The pilots gathered important information on Nazi defenses all over Western Europe.

True or false, did the British conscription process force men to serve in RAF aircrews?

The British draft did force men into RAF service … but no one was pressed into the air. Aircrews were comprised of volunteers -- brave ones.

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