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RAF releases trove of photos to mark centenary

A collection of photos capturing the development of the Royal Air Force (RAF) across the decades has been released to mark the centenary of the world's first independent air force.

It was 100 years ago on April 1, 1918, that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the Royal Air Force.

Harrier jump jets take off in 2010. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA

At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the Royal Flying Corps had 146 officers and around 100 aircraft, while the Royal Naval Air Service had over 700 personnel, 93 aircraft, two balloons and six airships.

By the end of the war in November 1918, the Royal Air Force had grown in strength to 27,000 officers and 260,000 other personnel operating more than 22,000 aircraft.

Air Transport Auxiliary women pilots in their flying kit during the Second World War. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA
A fighter plane over the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA

To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has collated and released 100 images - including early shots, aerial views of Mosul in the 1920s, through to the Second World War and Cold War.

The pictorial history also includes images from the RAF's most recent operations and equipment such as the F-35 stealth fighter jet, as well as never-before-seen photos.

The Latin motto of the RAF, "Per ardua ad astra", translates to English as "through adversity to the stars".

The Queen reviews the RAf following her coronation in 1953. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA
Central Flying School staff and pupils in 1912. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA

Soon after its creation the force again made history, when, in 1919, a converted out-of-service RAF Vickers Vimy heavy bomber, a type of aircraft used during the First World War, was flown by former RAF pilots Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown from Newfoundland to Galway, Ireland, on the first non-stop transatlantic flight.

Another key moment in the RAF's history was the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

It was the first major battle to be fought entirely by air and was a critical factor in preventing a Nazi invasion of Britain.

The Battle of Britain lasted from July 10, to October 31, 1940, and saw the RAF's 1,200 fighter and bomber planes pitted against the Luftwaffe's 3,000.

The RAF victory led to Winston Churchill's famous remark that "never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".

A Tornado F3 fires defensive flares in 2003. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA
RAF airmen crowd the decks of a boat as they are evacuated from France in 1940. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA

The British-designed Harrier Jump Jet entered RAF service in 1969, making the RAF the first in the world to use its revolutionary vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

The idea behind the plane was that if World War Three did break out, there would be nuclear devastation, and aircraft would be required that could take off without a runway, and be placed or hidden anywhere.

RAF airmen are taught to use sub-machine guns in 1942. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA
WAAF (the female auxiliary of the RAF) plotters at work during the Second World War. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA

Figures show that as of April 2017 there were 828 RAF aircraft - a figure which includes tri-service training aircraft.

As of January 2018 there were more than 36,963 service men and women in the RAF - both regular and reserves.

Members of the RAF play football with children in Basra, Iraq, in 2009. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA
An RAF Chinook creates a dust storm in Delhi, India. Credit: Air Historical Branch-RAF/PA