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Background - Air Power in Wales Pre-1919With the era of flight ushered in first by balloons and later by heavier than air machines, Wales lagged behind the rest of Europe. The Generals in the War Office refused to see the military use of balloons and with the first aircraft being launched they could not see the potential in them either. It wasn't until Milwraid (Colonel) Vaughan, an up and coming officer in the Welsh Royal Artillery pushed for a balloon spotting company to be formed that Wales possessed any form of military air application. Number 1 Balloon Company (Rhif 1 Cymdeithas Balwn) was formed at the Caerodor Barracks on the 10th Dec 1908 and would be the sole "air unit" of the Welsh Military until the official formation of the Air Force some 11 years later. Under Colonel Vaughan the Balloon Company would continue to exist but it was highly scorned in the higher reaches of the Welsh Army. From 1908 until 1916 air power was the reserve of rich businessmen and the nobility with several owning various aircraft. With the outbreak of the European War of 1914-18, however, things began, finally, to change. Whilst Wales was officially allied to the United Kingdom, she failed to send men to the front. The War Office, looking to exploit the chance for glory, sent men to France via the Catrawd Cyfandirol Gwirfoddolwr Gymreig (CCGG or Welsh Continental Volunteer Regiment WCVR), which was under the command of the by now Cadfridog Uchgapten (Major General) Vaughan. His reports sent back to Caerfilli soon had the High Command increasingly looking with favour on the use of aircraft over the battlefield. In 1916, the War Office put in an order for 20 SPAD VII aircraft whilst the king purchased ten Morane-Saulnier P reconnaissance aircraft. The Army aircraft where put through their paces both in France under Cad-Uchgapten Vaughan and back home, while the king formed the Cymdeithas Awyrenneg Frenhiniol Gymreig - Royal Aeronautic Society of Wales (which would provide the Air Force with many of its early pilots). In the autumn of 1917 the Navy began to be interested and purchased ten Sopwith Pups.
With the conclusion of the war, the CCGG returned home and Vaughan was plunged straight into the political arguments surrounding the best usage of aircraft. Whilst the senior General's and Admiral's were still biased against the use of aircraft, both commands wanted to ensure that any further use of them would determined by the separate departments (Swyddfa Rhyfel & Y Morlys - War Office & Admiralty). The King and Vaughan were increasingly against such an idea, especially with the formation of the independent Anglo-Scottish Royal Air Force in 1918. With the political capital provided by the English having such a body, the aging Generals and Admirals were forced into a corner. Finally submitting to both Royal and political brow-beating they consented to the creation of a Welsh Air Force independent of either the Admiralty or the War Office. The Weinyddiaeth Awyr - Air Ministry was formed in the November of 1918 and then yet more political squabbling occurred over the post of "General of the Air Force". In the end, Vaughan's close friendship with the King, formed during 1918 after Vaughan had returned to Wales (Feb 1918) whilst flying with the king was a telling weapon in his arsenal. With reluctance, Vaughan was frocked to the rank of Cadfridog Is-Gapten and given the command of the 40 Government owned aircraft (the 20 aging SPAD's, the Morane Saulnier and the Pups).
Birth of an Air ForceWith the Air Force now established and with an Air Ministry to fight the political battles, Vaughan was able to proceed with building the Air Force. The first purchase was of 40 Sopwith Snipes and 40 Sopwith Salamanders. Forming four Squadrons (initially called Nos 1-4 Sqn) these were all based in the Aerodrome at Llanilltyd Fawr, before Ty Dewi Aerodrome was opened in 1920 (which housed 3 & 4 Sqn). The first years of the Air Force were busy ones. No sooner had the Air Force been formed than Wales found itself involved in two international conflicts.
During the Irish War of Independence, the Welsh Air Force did not take part. Although Welsh ships were present in the Irish Sea and some of these had been retrofitted with catapults to launch ship-borne aircraft, the aircraft themselves did not fly over Ireland.
The Greco-Turkish War, however, saw a much larger commitment of Welsh troops overseas, and Nos 1, 2 and 3 Squadrons all saw action in this conflict, operating out of the Anatolian battlefield airfields. The Air Force had a reasonable war, gaining valuable experience of conflict in combination with the Greek forces. With the war’s conclusion, the Welsh forces returned to Wales. Vaughan was hopeful that with a successful war under the Air Forces’ belt, he would be successful in gaining further financial aid from the Senedd, but the Army and Navy both had powerful friends within the Senate, and their political executives were determined to maintain a grip on military funds, limiting the Air Force’s access.
As the 1920’s came to a close, the Air Force found itself with five main bases, the main base in Llanilltyd Fawr (Llantwit Major), then Ty Dewi (St Davids), Llanllieni (Leominster), Rhuddlan (North Wales) and Tref-y-clawdd (Knighton). All bases looking to England as the source of any air threat.
During this period, the Navy and the Army both operated their fledgling air units separately of the Air Force and this was a source of frustration to Vaughan as General of the Air Force and was an anomaly that he and his successors would argue against (setting the Army’s control of all infantry based fighting units as the example) until the successful acquisition of the Naval and Army air units during the 1930’s. By 1928, Vaughan had been promoted by Iago to the rank of Llu Awyr Cadlywydd (Marshal of the Air Force), raising him to the same level as the commanders of the Navy and Army. He also made Vaughan a Viscount or Is-Iarll, raising him to be Is-Iarll Vaughan of Caerllydan (Ledbury, Herefordshire), gifting the title in perpetuity. Is-Iarll Vaughan would continue as head of the Welsh Air Force until his retirement in 1929 at the age of 64, though he himself would live on until his death in 1938 age 73.
Vaughan was replaced in Air Force House (the building housing the Air Ministry) by a far younger brasher operator. Meurig Panerian was a naturalised Welshman, born on the continent his family had moved to Wales in the late 1890’s. Panerian himself started his military career in the Army, serving in the Powys Light Infantry until 1919 (age 30), transferring to the infant Air Force. Serving in No 2 Squadron, he flew in the Greco-Turkish war and upon his return to Wales he had been invalided from active flying so accepted a promotion to Capten and a desk job in Air Force House. His placement at the centre of the Welsh Air Force helped him rapidly rise through the ranks. Gaining his majority in 1925, he was placed as the liaison officer to the Senedd Air Committee; as such Vaughan promoted him again in 1926 to Lt Colonel and in 1927 to full Colonel. He was recognised by his peers for his active service history, both in the Army and the Air Force, and he was well liked in Court and the Senedd. By 1928 he had gained another promotion to Cadfridog Brigad and seemed destined for a place on the Air Force council. The retirement of Is-Iarll Vaughan in 1929 looked to end his meteoric rise. The commonly held successor to Vaughan was Llu Awyr Cadfridog Preece, who had taken a dislike to Panerian and his rapid rise through the ranks. Preece, however, was not liked by Iago, whereas Panerian had flattered Iago and had laid solid ground work with the Court officials. When Preece was hospitalised just weeks before Vaughan’s retirement, Iago announced that his preferred new head of the Air Force would be Panerian. At only age 40 Panerian was the youngest head of a service in Welsh history.
A Parting of the Ways
As has already been documented during the 1930s the Welsh began to allow German advisors from all three Services access to the country. With the signing in 1933 of the Treaty of Berlin, the Luftwaffe sent a delegation to the Welsh Air Force under Generalmajor Leopold Von Flockenstein along with technical advisors and also examples of more modern German aircraft. In 1934 the Welsh Air Force, still flew many Bi-Planes and its focus was more on defence of the Motherland rather than offensive operations. As such it possessed mainly fighters bought from the A-S kingdom and France. The mainstay from around 1922 were still Sopwith fighters and Bristol F2s. Very few newer models were being purchased and the Air Force found itself the poor cousin to the Navy and Army.
In 1925 the first new aircraft for the fighter squadrons were bought from the A-S kingdom. 25 Gloster Gamecocks arrived to equip 1 Squadron. The Sopwith Snipes being passed to 2, 3 and 4 Squadrons. In early 1926 22 more arrived and replaced the Snipe with 2 Squadron. 3 and 4 Squadrons re-equipped in 1927. The Bristol F2s of 5 and 6 squadron soldiered on until 1928. Whilst these performed magnificently they were beginning to show signs of age by the early 1930’s. Hawker Harts provided a stopgap until 1935 when the Germans arrived.
In the spirit of the Treaty of Berlin, Adolf Hitler sold the Welsh a number of modern aircraft. Heinkel He-112 fighters replaced the Gamecocks and the first modern Bomber, the He111 was brought into service. Rapides had been used for transport but these were also replaced with JU-52 (Tante Ju's/ Auntie Ju in Welsh Modryb Ju). The JU-52’s serving for many years in their transport capacity.
In November 1937 the Welsh Air Force had expanded beyond all expectations with new air bases being opened. LAFG Sylfaen (RWAF Base) Llandwrog outside Caernarfon, LAFG Sylfaen Penrhos in Llyn, were open by 1935 with the expansion of LAFG Sylfaen Llanilltyd Fawr in the south.
Under the enthusiastic command of Panerian coupled with the militarily sound advice of Von Flockenstein the period of 1933 to 1939 saw the Air Force enjoying a period of calm, with training continuing apace despite the gathering political storm.
The Great War
As the 1930’s went on, the Welsh Air Force under Panerian drew ever closer to the Luftwaffe. The Senedd still favoured the Navy and Army over the Air Force, and it was largely Panerian’s close friendship with King Iago that ensured an adequate flow of funds to furnish the air force. As a result, Von Flockenstein was able to foster a close relationship with the top echelon of the air forces officer corp. He arranged regular training sessions in Germany, covert placements within the Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War as well as ensuring that there was a regular flow of aircraft and material from the Reich to Wales. When war between England-Scotland and Germany broke out in 1939, the Air Force became suddenly strategically vital and Iago ensured that a sudden flow of funds were placed at Panerian’s disposal. As a result of the close friendship Panerian enjoyed with Von Flockenstein and his youth compared to the other service heads, Panerian was not close to Maeslywydd Thomas and was not trusted by him either. With the removal of Chancellor Bychsten, the movement of the Senedd to Machynlleth and the declaration of Hitler as Welsh Chancellor, Thomas began moves to stage a coup, opening secret negotiations with the English and forming the Gwrthwynebaid Gymraeg (Welsh Resistance). He also sounded out the Navy high command to ensure that they had not been too Nazified. He didn’t attempt to sound out the Air Force high command. The separation of military specialities meant however that Thomas commanded the Catrawd Gwarchod Llu Awyr - Air force Guard Regiment which gave him some leverage over both the air force itself and the air bases. Panerian saw the direction Iago was taking Wales, and despite his close friendship with Von Flockenstein, did not see Wales’ future as being subservient to the Reich. He was powerless however to prevent control of all airbases in Wales falling to the Germans just prior to the 1st January 1940 announcement.
It’s at this point that Panerian lost control of his air force. With Thomas in Gwald yr Haf beginning the planning which would lead to his successful coup de tat, several squadron commanders, ousted from their air bases, contacted him, pledging support of several squadrons to the resistance should it be required.
The Golden Dawn (Gwawr Aur) coup was launched on the 7th July 1940. Within four hours of the order being given, Welsh Army and Naval units had engaged the Germans throughout Wales. Panerian had been in council with Von Klinkerhoffen, Von Flockenstein and Iago on the 6th July just before Klinkerhoffen’s leaving for Llwydlo and had spent the remainder of the evening with the king making plans for the air forces strikes against the potential rebels. Panerian was totally unaware of the events outside Caerdydd on the 7th as the rebels had cut the phone lines to the capital. When Thomas issued the Nythu Eryr - Eagles Nest order at 10am on the 7th July, the rebellion spread to the air force bases throughout Wales. With this order, a special unit (No 2 Ground Defence unit) acting alongside the regular Air Force Guard regiment struck to retake control of the air bases. There resulted over the next 24 hours fights and battles all over Wales, some of them between Welsh units loyal to different sides, and the air force was not immune to this, with dogfights taking place between squadrons as well as against German units stationed on Welsh bases. Panerian and Von Flockenstein were arrested in Tŷ Llu Awyr (Air Force House) in Caerdydd and held by men loyal to Maesllywyd Thomas.
Panerian himself was court-martialed by the Senedd following Thomas’ acquisition of the Chancellorship in August 1940. Found guilty of treason he was sentenced to death although the death sentence was commuted. He went on to commit suicide in 1941. Von Flockenstein was held in a prisoner of war camp until 1945 but upon his release he was asked to take up a position in the air force which he accepted, rising eventually to the rank of Llu Awyr Cadfridog (General of the Air force) before his death in 1962. It is an ironic twist of circumstances that sees a former Nazi Air General held in greater regard than a former head of service, but Flockenstein was memorialised after his death with an airbase named after him and a squadron using his badge as their crest and being unofficially nicknamed after him.
After joining the Allies the Air Force took its place in the defence of the island of Britain during the Battle of Britain, with the Welsh taking responsibility for the defence of South West England as well as the central midlands. The alliance with the English brought with it some rewards. As part of the Allied system, Wales had access to allied material and as the war progressed slowly replaced many of the German airframes with a mixture of English or American airframes as well as home grown airframes supplied by companies such as Williams Afioneg, Harlech Air Company, Preece & Prosser. In addition to the new airframes the English also expanded their radar network to include Wales, sharing the technology with the Welsh military after 1942. The Air Force itself would see action in all theatres where Welsh military assets were placed, so saw action in Central Africa, North Africa and the Pacific as well as Europe, although the bulk of the air action was in North Africa and Europe.
At the wars conclusion, the air force had grown to be over 40 squadrons strong, but the post war crash soon brought the air budget into focus, with the number of squadrons rapidly being diminished.
Air Bases in 1939
Air force Base List
Sylfaen LlAFG (RWAF Base) Shortened to S-LlAF
• S-LlAF Llanilltyd Fawr (Llantwit Major) – No 1 Sqn, No 6 Sqn, No 24 Sqn
• S-LlAF Caerdydd – No 66 Sqn, Royal Flight Sqn
• S-LlAF Ty Dewi (St Davids) – No 2 Sqn
• S-LlAF Llanllieni (Leominster) – No 4 Sqn
• S-LlAF Rhuddlan (North Wales) – No 3 Sqn
• S-LlAF Tref-y-clawdd (Knighton) – No 8 Sqn, No 12 Sqn
• S-LlAF Llandwrog outside Caernarfon – No 7 Sqn, No 9 Sqn
• S-LlAF Penrhos in Llyn – No 10 Sqn, No 11 Sqn
• S-LlAF Filton (Caerodor) – No 13 Sqn, No 14 Sqn, No 15 Sqn
• S-LlAF Caerllydan (Ledbury) – No 16 Sqn, No 18 Sqn
• S-LlAF Rhos Bicton (Bicton Heath, Shrewsbury) – No 17 Sqn, No 19 Sqn
• S-LlAF Y Dyffryn (Valley, Anglesey) – No 20 Sqn, No 21 Sqn
• S-LlAF Aberperyddon (Bridgewater, Somerset) – No 22 Sqn, No 23 Sqn,
Order of Battle July 1940
• No 1 Sqn - He 112 Fighter
• No 2 Sqn - He 112 Fighter
• No 3 Sqn - Bristol F2B/Hawker Hart Fighter Bomber
• No 4 Sqn - He 112 Fighter
• No 5 Sqn - Hawker Hart Fighter Bomber/Recce
• No 6 Sqn - He 111 Bomber (Later Ju 87)
• No 7 Sqn – Bf 109 Fighter
• No 8 Sqn – Dragon Rapid Transport
• No 9 Sqn – Ju 88 Bomber
• No 10 Sqn – Bf 109 Fighter
• No 11 Sqn – He 112 Fighter
• No 12 Sqn – He 111 Bomber
• No 13 Sqn – Ju 87 Bomber
• No 14 Sqn – Ju 86 Recce
• No 15 Sqn – Ju 86 Bomber
• No 16 Sqn – Bf 109 Fighter
• No 17 Sqn – He 112 Fighter
• No 18 Sqn – WA 19 Fighter (Williams Afioneg/Williams Avionics)
• No 19 Sqn – WA 20 Recce/Patrol
• No 20 Sqn - WA 19 Fighter
• No 21 Sqn – Ha 8 Fighter/Bomber (Harlech)
• No 22 Sqn – Ha 8 Fighter/Bomber
• No 23 Sqn – WA 22 Fighter
• No 24 Sqn – WA 22 Fighter
• No 66 Sqn - Ju 52 Transport
1945 to 1960
Following the conclusion of the war, Wales was in a state of flux. The king, Iago, was held prisoner by the state, with Maesllwydd Thomas acting with almost dictatorial powers. The riots throughout Wales in the years after 1945 ensured that the army was maintained at strength, whilst the navy was required to fulfill treaty and empire obligations so was also maintained at almost its war-time strength. The Air Force suffered from a lack of obvious enemy. England was an ally, and Welsh freedom was being assured by the placing of significant numbers of American troops in the country, including elements of the USAF. As a result, the Senedd cut the budget for the air force considerably in the immediate years after 1945.
Like Welsh society in general and the military in particular, the Air Force struggled in these early post-war years with the rise in the Communist Party and supporters. In 1949, Rheged ap Seith, the Communist Party leader, gained the Chancellorship and with control over the Senedd he removed all three heads of service, replacing them with men who had Communist sympathies. When in 1950 he launched the Great Revolution, the Llu Awyr Sofietaidd easily took control of the air force, with the common airmen taking control. The American’s put down the attempt at forming a Peoples Republic, but the air force soviet survived and acted as a hostile ‘union’ along with the Army and Navy Soviets, looking to protect the common servicemen and women. In 1956, another attempt was launched with the Mutiny of ’56. Again the military Soviets attempted to take control of the Welsh military and again the American’s were forced to intervene to stabilise the situation.
One prime result of two Communist uprisings within six years was to see the Americans investing heavily in the Welsh officer colleges and in particular the Air Force College. Even in 1956 the college was seen in light of its previous influences such as Nazism during the 1930’s which saw many officers with suspect political leanings only to be radicalised in the opposite spectrum during and immediately after the war with the general rise of Communism within Welsh society. The Americans shut down the Air Force College in the wake of the 1956 mutiny and from January 1957 all air force officer candidates were sent to the US to study in either West Point or Annapolis. With the opening of Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 1959, Welsh air force officers were sent there instead. The Army and Navy also suffered a reduction in the intake to the Welsh colleges, but unlike the Air Force were not shut down in their entirety. The Air Force College remained closed from 1956 until 1970 when it was finally reconstituted and reopened in its new site at Amwythig. The purge of the old college and the training of the new officers in America, however, paid off. Whilst the lower ranks still suffered from frequent pulses of Communist intransigence, officer corp from the graduating class of 1960 onwards had been thoroughly indoctrinated with American military values.
1960 – 1970
This period coincided with the start of Arthur’s reign and the decision to re-invigorate the air force. As a result, the Senedd voted for an increase in the budget, allowing an increase in the aircraft available. Due to the close ties with the American’s the Welsh air force tended to fly only American aircraft during this period although the small Welsh aeronautics industry did provide some final models for use by the air force, primarily the WA 220 fighter-bomber which was powered by a Preece & Prosser engine and the Harlech P190 which was a maritime patrol aircraft. During the 1950's the air force had purchased from the Americans the P80 Shooting Star as its initial front line jet fighter, with funds limited and the air force riven by Communist dissent it was not until later in the decade that it expanded its operational rota of aircraft. The F-86 Sabre and the F-100 Super Sabre were both purchased as part of the re-invigoration of the air force under Arthur. As the Vietnam War escalated, the Americans called on their allies to support them. The air force, by now in line with American operational procedure and equipped along American lines, sent units to support the offensive. Sqns, 2, 5, 10, 14 and 16 were sent to South Vietnam, with additional troop transport capability. During the term of the conflict, the air force lost several aircraft to enemy action although some pilots also scored some air-to-air kills. With the increasingly anti-American and anti-war protests at home, the Welsh Government started to limit Welsh actions in the later period of the conflict although the air force would continue to have a presence in the theatre until 1971.
Domestically, the 1960's saw the air force settle with a stronger administration. The Air Minister, Caradoc ap Tomas Caradog, had seen action in the war with the army and had come to the air ministry with low expectations of the the air force. The air force had since its inception been the poor neighbour of the army and navy, had been infiltrated by Nazis in the 1930's, it had been by far the most divided of the services during 1939-40 with many more units acting in support of not only the king but the Germans than in either the army or navy, it had come through the Great War with some small glory, but then became riven again by conflicting loyalties in the Communist Great Revolution. Minister Caradoc was appointed in the spring of 1961 and would continue to be air minister until the fall of Chancellor Fychan's government in 1968. During that time he saw the difference in the air force from having an all American trained officer corp, and working closely with these new officers he helped develop a highly professional air force by the end of his time in office.
The 1970's saw stagnation across all three services. The Senedd with divided with the Communist Party and other left wing parties holding sway. This coupled with the economic crash and crisis of the decade saw budgets for the air force again cut back. What marked the 1970's out however was that for the first time since the 1930's a major political crisis faced Wales with no marked political action by the armed forces. The purge of both Nazis and Communists from the air force ranks and the indoctrination of the officer class within the American military model had finally produced a politically neutral air force and whilst the air force Soviet still existed it was weaker with fewer members, officers were barred from being members and anyone from the rank of Is-Rhingyll (Corporal) upwards had by and large attended training in America. The existence of a Communist government in the Senedd did empower the Soviet but not enough to undo the work of the previous decade.