Empire Air Training Scheme – 29 April 1940
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Britain realised it did not have the personnel to maintain the Royal Air Force (RAF). Pre-war plans suggested the need of at least 50,000 trained aircrew, of which Britain could only supply 22,000.[i] The solution was the establishment of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), which would recruit aircrew from around the British Empire to be trained and implemented into the ranks of the RAF. Australia planned to provide 28,000 aircrew as part of the EATS.[ii]
1940 RAAF recruitment poster
Basic flying courses began in Australia under the scheme on 29 April 1940.[iii] RAAF aircrew training expanded dramatically in response – twelve Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), eight Service Flying Training Schools (SFTS) and a Central Flying School (CFS) were established to accommodate new recruits.[iv] The first Australian contingent embarked for Canada on 14 November 1940 to receive advanced training. Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa also housed some advanced training facilities from November 1940 onwards, but the majority was completed in Canada due to its proximity to the UK.[v]
A group of RAAF trainees bound for Canada aboard the RMS Empress of Russia to participate in the Empire Air Training Scheme
Article XV of the EATS agreement required the formation of distinct national squadrons for graduates of the scheme to serve within. Australia’s Article XV squadrons were numbered from 450-467(with no 465 raised), consisting of seven Bomber Command, four Fighter Command and a single Costal Command unit.[vi] In spite of Article XV and the 17 new Australian squadrons, majority of Australian graduates served within the RAF.
An aircrew from No. 458 Squadron pose in front of their Vickers Wellington aircraft
The EATS ultimately cost Australia £100,000,000. It saw 27,899 aircrew qualified for service.[vii] The scheme was so successful that, by 1944, Commonwealth air units were oversupplied. As such, the EATS was formally wound up on 31 March 1945.[viii]
[i] Australian War Memorial, Empire Air Training Scheme, [online] Available at: <https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/raaf/eats>.
[iv] Larkins, S 2017, Empire Air Training Scheme, Virtual War Memorial, [online] Available at: <https://vwma.org.au/explore/campaigns/13>.
[v] Australian War Memorial, Empire Air Training Scheme, [online] Available at: <https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/raaf/eats>.
[vii] Larkins, S 2017, Empire Air Training Scheme, Virtual War Memorial, [online] Available at: <https://vwma.org.au/explore/campaigns/13>.