On this day in 1918, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was created from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, making it the oldest independent air force in the world, free from army and navy control. At the time of its conception, it was the largest global air force. After the First World War, however, the service was drastically cut and its inter-war years were relatively quiet, with the RAF only undertaking a few minor missions for the British Empire.
It wasn’t until the Second World War that the RAF really came into its own, fighting its most famous campaign in the Battle of Britain. In this battle in 1940 the RAF, supplemented by two Fleet Air Arm Squadrons, Polish, Czech and other multinational pilots and ground personnel, defended British skies against the German Luftwaffe, which vastly outnumbered the number of aircraft employed by the RAF. They succeeded in delaying Hitler’s plans to invade the United Kingdom, and went on to strategically bomb Germany.
Since 1990, the RAF has played major roles in the Gulf War of 1991, the 2011 intervention in Libya and most recently, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. It celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2008.