Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS)
The Empire Air Training Scheme was the solution to the realisation that Great Britain did not have the capacity to produce aircrew in the numbers required to sustain combat operations in NW Europe in WW II. The plan provided for the coordinated recruitment and training of aircrew from around the British Empire, with basic training to be conducted in home countries and Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) with advanced aircrew training to be conducted in the UK or Canada, the latter because of its relative proximity to the 'front line' and aircraft production in Great Britain. The original plan was to provide up to 50,000 aircrew.
Until the creation of the Empire Air Training Scheme, the RAAF throughput of trainee pilots was only about 50 per year. In fact Australia alone graduated some 27,899 aircrew of a total of 37,000 plus Australians who were trained under the scheme.
RAAF aircrew training expanded dramatically following the outbreak of World War II, in response to Australia's participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS). The Air Force's pre-war flight training facility, No. 1 Flying Training School at RAAF Station Point Cook, Victoria, was supplanted in 1940–41 by twelve Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), eight Service Flying Training Schools (SFTS), and Central Flying School (CFS).
While CFS turned out new flight instructors, the EFTS provided basic training to prospective pilots who, if successful, would go on to an SFTS for further instruction that focussed on operational (or "service") flying.
The course at SFTS typically consisted of two streams, intermediate and advanced, and included such techniques as instrument flying, night flying, advanced aerobatics, formation flying, dive bombing, and aerial gunnery. The total duration of training varied during the war as demand for aircrew rose and fell. Initially running for 16 weeks, the course was cut to 10 weeks (which included 75 hours flying time) in October 1940. A year later it was raised to 12 weeks (including 100 hours flying time), and again to 16 weeks two months later. It continued to increase after this, peaking at 28 weeks in June 1944.
During 1940, other RAAF schools were also set up around Australia. These included Air Navigation, Air Observer, Bombing and Gunnery and Wireless Air Gunnery schools. Site selection was based primarily on weather and terrain that was conducive to maximise flying operations year round without risk of enemy intervention. Most bases were therefore inland in places such as Temora, Narrandera, Wagga Wagga and Tocumwal in NSW, Mildura in addition to established bases at East Sale, Point Cook and Laverton in Victoria . Port Pirie, Edinburgh and Malala in South Australia, and Cunderdin, Geraldton, Pearce and Bindoon in WA were also home to training bases. A full list can be found at the the link in the sidebar.
For a period, most RAAF aircrew destined for the UK or Middle East received advanced training in Canada. On 14 November 1940, the first contingent to graduate from advanced training in Canada embarked for the UK. From mid-1940, however, some RAAF trainees began to receive advanced training at RAF facilities in Souther Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
When war broke out with Japan in late 1941, many RAAF aircrews completed their training in Australia and served with RAAF units in the South West Pacific Theatre of Operations.
Australian personnel were also assigned from Europe and the Mediterranean to RAF squadrons in the South East Asia Theatre (Burma and India).
Some Article XV (identified by a squadron number in the 400s) squadrons were also transferred to RAAF or RAF formations involved in the Pacific War. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of RAAF personnel remained in Europe and RAAF Article XV squadrons continued to be formed there.
The 27,899 aircrew, who had qualified under the Empire Air Training Scheme, supplied approximately 9 per cent of all aircrew who fought for the RAF in the Mediterranean and European theatres in the air war against Italy and Germany. They flew in operations over German and Italian cities; they sank enemy ships and submarines; shot down many enemy aircraft; and RAAF bombers dropped many tons of bombs.
As the war progressed the Scheme was so successful that supply began to outstrip demand. Following a request by the UK government the Scheme was wound back significantly. Australian involvement was effectively terminated in October 1944. The EATS was formally wound up on 31 March 1945.
(c) Steve Larkins May 2013 (updated August 2020)
1. Gillison, Douglas (1962). Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Series Three (Air) Volume I – Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 2000369.
2. RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History. Volume 8: Training Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42800-7.