Fighter Squadrons Branch

Warries and Stories

Going Solo - RAAF - 1946 to 1971

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FOREWORD The Royal Australian Air Force has in recent years undergone significant change. Change is, of course, not new, as the RAAF's size, structure and effectiveness has ebbed and flowed between peace and war, and in response to new technologies. Where the recent change differs from the past is that, for the first time, the RAAF has been able to reduce its number of uniformed personnel while preserving, and in some cases improving, its operational capability. The RAAF is now a more potent and professional fighting force than it has ever been before in peacetime. Achieving the current level of effectiveness has been a long and tortuous business. Too often, the lessons of the past have had to be relearned because our history has been inadequately recorded. In particular, until recently, there has been little historical analysis of the RAAF's evolution. Recording and analysing institutional progress is essential, firstly to acknowledge great achievements and to establish proud traditions; and secondly, to ensure that the many hard-won lessons can be used to guide the future. Chris Coulthard-Clark's The Third Brother, which details the RAAF's evolution from 1921 to 1939, was the start of redressing the gaps in the RAAF's history outside the world wars. Alan Stephens has now closed the gap further with this superbly researched, comprehensive and readable account of the Air Force from the end of World War II to our Golden Anniversary in 1971. By adopting a holistic approach, Dr Stephens has explained how the Air Force of today is the product of many and varied forces in the past. The successful application of air power involves a number of essential elements, including people and their training, platforms and their associated weapons, bases and their supporting infrastructure, and guiding principles. Many books on military aviation focus predominantly on the aircrew and their machines at the expense of those other vital elements. That is not the case here. Alan Stephens thoroughly examines each of the components of RAAF air power, but at all times ensures that his emphasis is placed firmly on the people. He shows that while operations may be an air force's lifeblood, the flow, direction and sustenance of that lifeblood are determined by many individuals. Going Solo analyses the difficult decisions which had to be made after World War II regarding which capabilities should be retained, the level of force required and the number of people needed. The impact of many of those decisions is still with us today, one notable example being the development of the strategic air bases in the north. Also examined is the professionalism of the people. For much of the period under review, standards varied, ranging from the determination to succeed which won David Evans the right to stay in the post-war RAAF, eventually to rise to become chief of the air staff, through to the casual attitude which permeated too many units. From my own experience at my first maritime squadron in 1960,1 would never wish to see any return to the so-called 'good old days', a myth which still mistakenly persists in RAAF lore. The book consistently highlights one of the most important aspects of air power, and one which is often overlooked by authors—the need to invest in people. The RAAF today is the beneficiary of the many far-sighted decisions made immediately after the war to develop a highly professional workforce based on an extraordinarily extensive, diverse and high-quality system of in-service training and education. Also acknowledged is the contribution made by women, and the slow recognition of their right to professionally rewarding careers. Particular attention is paid to the men who commanded Australian air operations between 1946 and 1971. As the author notes, it seems that too many of those commanders tended to regard flying as an end in itself rather than as a means to achieve a military objective. This is a vital observation which military aviators cannot afford to ignore. Nor should present and future Air Force commanders ignore the lessons which emerge on inter-service cooperation. Alan Stephens carefully shows that, notwithstanding the generally exemplary support provided by the RAAF for the Army, misunderstandings caused by a few poor decisions and unfounded prejudice on both sides regrettably were allowed to sour the relationship on several critical occasions. Given the importance of air power to Australian defence, we must not allow any similar disharmony in the future. These and many more stories are presented with insight and an underlying affection for the RAAF. The end result should satisfy all readers, from the casual to the serious. To use the author's apt metaphor, by 1971 the RAAF had 'gone solo' and had 'done it well'. This book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the development of military aviation in Australia and the influences which shaped the RAAF. I commend Dr Stephens for providing us with this thoroughly enjoyable, authoritative and comprehensive account of the RAAF's development from the end of World War II to 1971.1 believe that Going Solo will become the yardstick against which World War II to 1971.1 believe that Going Solo will become the yardstick against which future books on the RAAF will be measured.

L.B. Fisher

Air Marshal

Chief of the Air Staff


August 1995