1. Why use this guide?
This guide will help you find records of airmen and officers of the Royal Air Force (RAF). RAF records are kept in different places depending on when the RAF airman served.
2. Essential information
The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were amalgamated.
Officers and men of both services who continued service after this date transferred into the newly formed RAF and were joined by new entrants. From this date onwards the RFC and RNAS ceased to exist.
Someone who served in the RFC or RNAS as well as the RAF may have service records in more than one place. See the related guides in the right-hand panel for help with RFC and RNAS records.
The rank of the individual and dates of service determine where you need to look to find the relevant information.
Women served in the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF).
3. Service records
Use the advanced search tool in Discovery, our catalogue, to search AIR 79 by name of airman for service records of First World War RAF airmen. These are records of airmen with service numbers from 1 to 329,000. However, if the airman went on to see service in the Second World War his service record will still be with the RAF (see 3.3).
If your search by name is unsuccessful but you know his service number, try browsing through AIR 79, arranged by ranges of numbers, to find the range within which the airman's number falls. If you do not know his number, browse through the name indexes in AIR 78 to find it.
The records in AIR 79 usually contain the following information:
- date and place of birth
- physical description
- religious denomination
- next of kin
- spouse and children
- date of joining
- units served in
- award of medals
- date of discharge
RAF service numbers between 313001 and 316000 indicate that the airmen previously served with the Royal Navy and then subsequently the Royal Naval Air Service, before transferring to the RAF. If the airman's service number falls within this range there may be further records of his military service in Royal Naval Air Service records or Royal Navy records.
3.2 Officers 1918-1922
Search the Royal Air Force officers' service records 1918-1919 (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) online for officers who served in the Royal Air Force during the First World War (AIR 76). By the end of 1919, 26,000 of the 27,000 serving RAF officers had been discharged, and it is largely their service details which are held in this series.
3.3 Airmen and officers after 1922
Records of RAF airmen and officers who served after 1922, and of men whose service number was 329001 or higher, are still with the RAF. Look on the Veterans UK website to find out how to obtain service records.
4. Officers' commissions, promotions and locations
4.1 The Air Force List
You can trace the commissions and promotions of an RAF officer's career from March 1919 in the Air Force List, available at The National Archives at Kew and other specialist libraries and archives (see section 11). Up until 1938 the lists also provide details of where in the world an officer was posted.
From 1939 there is also the Confidential Air Force List, similar to the standard Air Force List but often with slightly more detail on the specifics of an officer's duties. Search it in the following sets of documents:
- for April 1939 to 1945 in AIR 10/3814-3840
- for 1946 to 1950 in AIR 10/5237-5256
- for 1951 to 1953 in AIR 10/5413-5421
- for 1954 in AIR 10/5581-5582
4.2 Air Historical Branch papers
For additional material on awards and promotions, as well as officers' correspondence, browse or search the Air Historical Branch (AHB) papers in AIR 1. Indexes and keys to AIR 1 are available with the printed version of our catalogue at The National Archives at Kew.
5. Medals 1914-1922
5.1 Campaign medals
If an individual in the RAF qualified for his medal(s) after 1 April 1918, the only place you will find details about his medal entitlement will be on his service record.
5.2 Gallantry medals
For information on gallantry medals awarded to RAF personnel, read our British military gallantry medals guide.
6. Officers' pension records 1916-1920
Look in PMG 42/13-16 to find payments made to invalided RAF officers from 1917 to 1920.
Browse by reference through PMG 44 to find records of pensions paid to relatives of deceased RAF officers from 1916 to 1920.
Look in PMG 43 for supplementary payments to RAF officers and their dependants from 1916 to 1920.
7. Courts martial 1918-1986
Browse AIR 21 for courts martial records from 1918 to 1965. These give:
- name of prisoner
- rank of prisoner
- place of trial
- nature of charge and sentence
8. Lists of RAF servicemen
8.1 Muster list from 1918
8.2 Rolls of Honour: First World War
Browse the first series of Air Historical Branch (AHB) records in series AIR 1 for nominal rolls of individual units for the First World War.
Indexes and keys to AIR 1 are available with the printed version of our catalogue at The National Archives at Kew. The second series of AHB records, in AIR 5, contains little on individuals.
Look at AIR 2/219, the Roll of Honour for men from the USA and Dominions who served with the British Air Forces in the First World War.
8.3 Rolls of Honour: Second World War
Look at AIR 14/2091, the Roll of Honour for No. 5 Group in Bomber Command. This is the only known Second World War nominal roll for the RAF in The National Archives.
9. Prisoner of war records
The AIR records do not contain detailed information about prisoners of war. Find a list of all aircrew known to have been held prisoner by Germany in AIR 20/2336. Browse other related files in series AIR 40 such as escape reports, and prisoner of war and internees files in series FO 916. See also our guides to British prisoners of war c.1790-1919 and British Prisoners of the Second World War and the Korean War.
10. Combat reports 1939-1945 and operational records 1918-1982
Though combat reports and operational records are not, strictly speaking, records of personnel, they can provide insights into what an airman or officer did during their time at war. Sometimes they will be mentioned by name, often they won't, but if you know which squadron they served with these records could help to tell a serviceman's story.
11. Records in other archives
For more information about the RAF, you may wish to visit the RAF Museum website.
Visit the RAF website to read about the histories of RAF squadrons.
12. Further reading
Some or all of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
William Spencer, Air Force Records for Family Historians (The National Archives, 2008)
Ian Tavendar, The Distinguished Flying Medal Register for the Second World War: With Official Recommendation Details (Savannah Publications, 2000)
Michael Maton, Honour the Air Forces: Honours and Awards to the RAF and Dominion Air Forces during the Second World War (Token Publishing Limited, 2004)
Find details of men who joined the RFC between its formation in 1912 and August 1914 (numbers 1-1400) by reading Jack V Webb and Ian McInnes, A Contemptible Little Flying Corps (London Stamp Exchange, 1991)
Nick Carter and Carol Carter, The Distinguished Flying Cross and How It Was Won 1918-1995 (Savannah Publications, 1998)