One of my relatives served with the Royal Flying Corps in WW1 as an engine inspector on domestic aircraft production and it was my research into his service records that sparked my interest. Having flown open cockpit aircraft for 15 or so years I also knew how tough it can be at certain times throughout the year, flying in all conditions. How did these early aviators cope with extreme cold for example? What equipment was available too them?
I started collecting RFC flying clothing, log books and ephemera about 3 years ago and alongside this started my research at the National Archives at Kew to see what information was available with regards equipment and issue to aviators. I found some fascinating information about the early air battalion of the Royal Engineers and also the early years of the RFC. Finding reference to flying equipment and clothing, badges and paperwork in established texts was no easy task and although there are some good references, you cant find it all in one location. My new book is a look at flying equipment, clothing, uniforms, badges and paperwork from the early years of military aviation around the time of the Air Battalion in 1912 through to the transition of the RFC to the RAF on the 1st April 1918, with a reference to transitional uniforms of the RAF too. I have placed photos of the kit alongside period images with a brief description of each as a reference to help all those with an interest in WW1 pilots and observers of the RFC on the western front.
Now out on sale !!!!!
New Book Series, launched at Tangmere, both of the Battle of Britain kit bags are now on sale.
In have always been interested in the events of the Battle of Britain and the aircrews on both sides who took part, but my personal focus is in the human story not the chronological or squadron histories. What was it like for the young fighter pilot during that period, what was the equipment like and what difficulties did the crews face. Having studied the story of the RAF with regards its development and issue of equipment it was also my desire to do the same thing with the Luftwaffe kit and compare and contrast. I have been fotunate that Pen and Sword have allowed me to produce both the RAF and Luftwaffe Kitbags in their new series.
The questions that I was keen to find answers for included, were the Luftwaffe more technologically advanced than the RAF, had they thought more about the equipment required for the fighter pilot of the day and was it fit for purpose?
It is obvious from the established research already carried out that certainly the Luftwaffe had thought long and hard about the flying equipment they had issued to their crews and they certainly had much more to choose from, even considering different types of equipment for different climates, with summer and winter flying suits, for wear over water and land.
They had also had chance to use the equipment in anger and learn from their experiences during the Spanish Civil war and Blitzkrieg in 1939 through Poland. This is particularly clear for example when you look at the flying goggles used by the Luftwaffe which pretty much centred around three types honed and developed from experience, whereas the RAF took quite a while and nearly 13 types, developed throughout the war to end up with a good set of goggles fit for most purpose.
What is clear is that the Luftwaffe fighter pilots certainly went for a more dashing look and were brasher if you like compared to their RAF counterparts, with their leather jackets, riding breeches and top boots or jack boots, looking like they were ready to mount their steed and ride into action. Often kit was worn against standing orders but for the fighter pilots this was often overlooked.
The RAF pilots were more reserved and stuck to smaller statement pieces of individual uniform adjustments mainly for practical reasons like the silk scarf that served a purpose. The only showmanship if you like was the unbuttoning of the top button on the tunic to signify the mark of a fighter pilot. The Luftwaffe pilots and crews were also supposed to remove their metal awards and flying badges before operations yet many POW photos show Luftwaffe crews being rounded up in the south of England showing them wearing both. It was thought that the metal flying badges and any sharp edges may cut or penetrate the life preserver rendering it useless.What has become apparent when looking at the uniforms and equipment used by both sides in the conflict is that most actually preferred to wear uniform, partly due to the hot summer, when flying. These first two books in the series explore the kit and the human aspects of using it.
© Copyright Mark Hillier