On April 13, 1912, King George V signed a royal warrant establishing the Royal Flying Corps. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the air arm of the British Army prior to and during WWI until it emerged with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1st, 1918; at that time, it became the Royal Air Force.
The Flying Corps’ initial permitted strength was 133 officers, and by the end of that year it had 12 manned balloons and 36 aircraft. The RFC originally was the responsibility of Brigadier-General Henderson, the Director of Military Training.
In 1915, the RFC underwent expansion and, as a result, brigades were created; each was commanded by a brigadier-general. Further expansion led to the creation of divisions, with the Training Division being established in August of 1917 and RFC Middle East being raised to a divisional status in December of the same year. The air raids on London and SE England led to the creation of the London Air Defence Area under the command of Ashmore; this was done in August, 1917.
The regulation RFC roundel national insignia was in use in late 1915. Early in the war, RFC aircraft weren’t marked with national insignia. Union flag markings in varying styles were painted on the wings (and at times on the fuselage sides and/or the rudder) at a squadron level. However, the large red St. George’s cross was likely to be mistaken for the markings of German aircraft. As a result, the RFC, in late 1915, adopted the familiar French roundel marking, but with its colours reversed (blue circle outermost). This was applied to the fuselage sides as well as the wings. To avoid friendly attack, the rudders were painted to match the French, with the blue, white, and red stripes (going from the forward to aft) of the tricolour. Later in the war, a night roundel was used for night flying aircraft, omitting the conspicuous white circle of the day marking.
Some of the roles and responsibilities of the RFC included: wireless telegraphy and photo-reconnaissance, artillery observation, covert operations, aerial bombardment, ground attack (army support), and home defence.
The Canadian Connection ~ The Royal Flying Corps Canada was established by the RFC in 1917 to train aircrews in Canada. Air Stations were established in southern Ontario at the following locations: Camp Borden (1917-1918), Armour Heights Field (1917-1918 for pilot training and as a school of special flying to train instructors), Leaside Aerodrome (1917-1918 as an Artillery Cooperation School), Long Branch Aerodrome (1917-1918), the beach at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island (1915-1918, used as a main school, airstrip, and metal hangar facilities), Camp Rathbun, Deseronto (1917-1918 for pilot training), Camp Mohawk (1917-1918) for pilot training, Hamilton (1917-1918 for an Armament School), and Beamsville Camp (1917-1918 for a school of aerial fighting).
By the end of a 22 month period of time, approximately 16,663 cadets, mechanics, and support personnel had been recruited and 3,135 pilots graduated; 2,539 of the pilots had gone overseas. As well, 137 observers had been trained, with 85 of those being sent overseas.
During WWI, some 20,000 Canadians served in the Imperial Flying Services (including the RFC, the Royal Naval Air Service, and the Royal Air Force). Approximately 1500 lost their lives.