This is a brief guide to researching records of Royal Air Force squadrons, as opposed to records of RAF personnel. Most RAF squadron records have survived and are fairly detailed. They are held in a variety of places, but the majority are at The National Archives.
What do I need to know before I start?
The Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, towards the end of the First World War. Most operational records of its predecessors can be found in AIR 1 and AIR 2.
Operations record books of squadrons (1911-c1960)
Search the operations record books (AIR 27) by squadron number and date range on Discovery, our catalogue (£).
‘Summary of events’ forms, also known as form 540, and ‘detail of work carried out’ forms, also known as form 541, can be found in operation record books. These forms are records of the daily events of all RAF units.
Operations record books for later years (c1960-1980) are not yet available online but can be viewed at The National Archives at Kew (see below).
Air Ministry Combat Reports (1939-1945)
Search and download Second World War RAF combat reports (AIR 50) in our catalogue (£). The records include reports from squadrons, wings and groups in Fighter, Bomber, Coastal Commands and Fleet Air Arm squadrons. They cover Commonwealth and Allied units based in the United Kingdom including the United States Army Air Force.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Operations record books of squadrons (c1960-1982)
Search AIR 27 by squadron number or name to find relevant operations record books.
Operations record books of stations and miscellaneous units (1911-1980)
Search our catalogue for operations record books of stations (AIR 28) and miscellaneous units (AIR 29) for details of the daily events and operations of any RAF unit. You can also add keywords such as training.
Records in other archives and organisations
Non-operational crashes and casualties (1918-present)
The Ministry of Defence Air Historical Branch can provide information on RAF aircraft accidents which occurred over 15 years ago to members of the public in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
Browse the RAF website for a list of current and historic squadrons and information on their histories, badges, aircraft, and battle honours.
Visit The National Archives’ bookshop for a range of publications on tracing your military ancestors. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Air Force Records for Family Historians by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008)
The Second World War: A Guide to Records in the Public Record Office by J D Cantwell (PRO, 1998)