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Royal

Royal Air Force uniform

Current uniforms

Official numbering

The RAF currently numbers the various uniforms which may be worn. The following table summarizes the numbering:

Number

Name

Notes on use

No 1

Service Dress

In temperate regions.

No 2

Service Working Dress

In temperate regions.

No 3

Operational Clothing

Different patterns for different climates.

No 4

Interim Mess Dress

For personnel without No 5 dress.

No 5

Mess Dress

In temperate regions.

No 6

Service Dress

In warm weather regions. In stone colour, except for 6A (full ceremonial) which is white.

No 7

Service Working Dress

In warm weather regions. In stone colour.

No 8

Mess Dress

In warm weather regions. Jacket in white.

No 9

RAF Music Services uniform

For Directors of Music, bandmasters and musicians

No 10

RAF Music Services uniform

For Directors of Music, bandmasters and musicians

No 11

RAF Music Services uniform

For Directors of Music, bandmasters and musicians

No 12

Physical Training Instructor Dress

Various patterns

No 13

Physical Training Instructor Dress – Parachute Jump Instructor Duties

With helmet or beret

No 14

Flying Clothing

Various patterns. Consists of a flight suit and optional jacket

Service dress

Air Commodore Scarlett wearing 1920s service dress

The RAF’s service dress is worn on formal and ceremonial occasions. In temperate regions, it is the most formal uniform in use at present. It remains essentially unchanged from the service dress uniform adopted in the early 1920s. It consists of a blue-grey jacket and trousers (or skirt for female personnel). A great coat may be worn at ceremonial events when the weather is cold.

In 1947, the temperate officers’ services dress jacket was altered. The lower side pockets were removed and the single slit was replaced by two hacking jacket style slits. The lower button was moved up to a position behind the belt and silk embroidery flying badges were replaced with ones in bullion embroidery. These changes were unpopular and in 1951, with the exception of the lower button move, the former uniform style was re-adopted.

Service dress takes the following forms:

No. 1 Service Dress, for temperate regions. Blue-grey colour.

No. 1A Service Dress (Ceremonial Day Dress), for temperate regions and for air officers only. As per No. 1 Service Dress. Air vice-marshals and above wear a ceremonial sash and shoulder boards. Entitled air commodores only add the ceremonial sash.

No. 6 Service Dress, for tropical regions. Stone colour.

Service working dress

Sir Barry Thornton in service working dress (short sleeve order)

Service working dress, officially designated Number 2 Dress, is the routine uniform worn by most RAF personnel not on operations. It is analogous to the Army’s barrack dress. RAF service working dress comes in a number of variations:

No 2: Long sleeve shirt with jumper, tie optional

No 2a: Long sleeve shirt with tie, jumper not worn

No 2b: Short sleeve shirt without tie, jumper optional

No 2c: Long sleeve dark blue shirt without tie, jumper optional (certain trades only)

The RAF stable belt may be worn with all forms of service working dress, except for No 2c.

Operational clothing

Flying duties

Aircrew-specific uniforms are officially designated as Number 14 Dress by the RAF. Aircrew on flying duties wear an olive drab flying suit in temperate regions or a khaki flying suit in desert regions. A leather flying jacket, purchased at individual expense, may be worn with the flying suit but only while the wearer is on the ground.

Ground duties

Desert Combat Dress, as worn by Air Commodore Bryan Collins

RAF personnel either on operations, on exercise or in certain formed units wear a disruptive pattern material uniform which is essentially the same as the British Army’s operational uniform. In temperate regions Combat Soldier 95 uniform is worn and in desert regions, Desert Combat Clothing is worn.

In order to distinguish RAF personnel from Army personnel, in 2006 an operational clothing identity patch was introduced with the text “ROYAL AIR FORCE” in black capitals on a green background. The patch is worn over the right chest pocket, the Desert Combat DPM dress also features this “ROYAL AIR FORCE” text but it is not mandatory to have this patch whilst operationally deployed.

Also in 2006 a 45mm squared tactical recognition flash was introduced for all personnel to wear on their operation clothing.

The operational clothing identity patch

The tactical recognition flash

Mess dress

In the RAF mess dress, officially designated Number 5 dress, is worn at formal evening functions. All regular officers possess mess dress whereas warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers wear mess dress if they choose to purchase it. The current mess dress for men consists of a high waisted blue-grey single-breasted jacket fastened at the front by a single link of two RAF buttons connected by a link clip, white marcella shirt, bow tie, waistcoat or cummerbund and blue-grey trousers. Rank, for officers, is indicated in gold braid on the lower sleeve.

The first RAF mess dress was introduced in 1920 and it featured a high waisted single-breasted blue-grey jacket which tapered to a point at the front below the waist. A blue-grey waistcoat, trousers and black shoes were also worn. Rank was indicated on shoulder boards in gold lace. This uniform was modified in 1928 when the shoes were replaced by boots and overalls with gold lace and bright blue stripes were introduced. This modified form of the uniform lasted until 1934 when it was replaced by a version similar to the current mens’ mess dress. The wearing of mess dress was suspended during World War II.

For women, mess dress currently consists of the same style high waisted blue-grey single-breasted jacket and white marcella shirt as men, a small bow tie and cummerbund and a straight ankle length blue-gray skirt, worn with patent-leather court shoes and barely-black tights or stockings. From the 1970s and prior to the introduction of current women’s mess dress in 1996, female officers wore a royal blue “Empire line” dress made of crimplene material with a loose mandarin neck, long sleeves and an ankle length hem. Rank was indicated on a small enamelled brooch worn near the neck.

Officers serving at Scottish stations may wear the RAF tartan with their mess dress. The tartan was designed in 1988 and it was officially recognised by the Ministry of Defence in 2001. The tartan is also worn by the RAF’s voluntary pipes bands, although not as part of an official RAF uniform.

RAF personnel without No 5 dress, such as airmen, junior officer cadets and some non-regular officers, wear No 1 dress with the blue shirt and tie replaced with a white marcella shirt and black bow tie should the need to wear mess dress arise. This dress pattern is officially designated Number 4 Dress and was previously known as (Interim) Mess Dress.

Historic uniforms

Initial uniform

With the establishment of the Royal Air Force as an independent service on 1 April 1918, orders were issued detailing new uniform patterns. Major General Mark Kerr designed the first officer uniform which was largely pale blue with gold braid trimmings. Additionally, the Royal Flying Corps’ use of khaki was continued. It has been suggested that the pale blue colour was adopted as the cloth had been intended for use by the Imperial Russian Cavalry and, following their disbandment after the Bolshevik Revolution it became available at low cost. As it was the responsibility of officers to buy their own uniforms, a wearing-out period for old uniforms was allowed and the change-over to the air force uniform was slow.

The ‘wearing out’ period also applied to other ranks. Former members of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service continued to wear their old uniforms. New recruits into the newly formed Royal Air Force were often issued with the khaki Army Pattern General Service Tunic. Later in 1918 a belted khaki uniform was adopted for other ranks, and it was these tunics that first carried the RAF eagle badges on each shoulder.

The pale blue colour for officers’ uniforms was unpopular and impractical and John Slessor who was later promoted to Marshal of the RAF described it as “a nasty pale blue with a lot of gold over it, which brought irresistibly to mind a vision of the gentlemen who stands outside the cinema”. A little over a year after its introduction, the pale blue colour was discontinued. On the 15 September 1919, Air Ministry Order 1049 replaced it with the blue-grey colour which has remained in use to this day. The khaki uniform continued to be worn until 1924 when it too was replaced by a blue-grey colour.

Full dress

Air Vice-Marshal Lambe wearing full dress

In April 1920 Air Ministry Weekly Order 332 detailed a full dress uniform. It consisted of a single-breasted jacket in blue-grey with a stand-up collar. Rank was indicated in gold braid on the lower sleeve and white gloves were worn.

Initially the full dress uniform was worn with the service dress cap. However, in 1921 a new form of head-dress was introduced. It was designed to resemble the original flying helmet and it consisted of a leather skull cap trimmed with black rabbit fur. The helmet also featured an ostrich feather plume which was connected at an RAF badge. This helmet was never popular and junior officers were eventually permitted to wear the service dress hat on full dress occasions.

Group Captain HRH the Duke of York (later King George VI) wore RAF full dress at his wedding to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. The Duke wore or carried the full dress headgear rather than the service dress cap.

Today the blue-grey full dress uniform is no longer worn, except in a modified form by RAF bandsmen.

There is also a full dress uniform for use by officers in the tropics, officially designated as No.6A Full Ceremonial Dress (Warm Weather Areas). It consists of a white tunic with stand collar, matching trousers, blue-grey peaked cap and black leather shoes. It is only issued to specific appointment holders (e.g. aide-de-camp and air attach), and even then these are hardly ever worn. Other officers may purchase the uniform at their own expense but few choose to do so.

Air Chief Marshal Tedder wearing war service dress

War service dress

War service dress, also known as battle dress, was introduced in 1940 as a blue/grey version of the British Army’s battle dress. Initially, war service dress was only worn by air crew. However, in 1943, its use was authorised for all ranks and trades. War service dress continued to be worn after the end of World War II. It was significantly altered in 1948 and not phased out until 1973.

1972 pattern service working dress

During 1973 the wartime “Hairy Mary” working dress uniforms were replaced for all ranks with the 1972 pattern No 2 uniforms. Made of a smooth woollen and man-made fibre mix material the jacket was a loose blouson design with a front zip fastener and epaulettes. Earlier RAF blue crew-necked woollen pullovers were replaced with a new V-neck design featuring blue-grey cloth elbow and shoulder patches plus a pen holder patch on the left sleeve.

Introduced at the same time was an RAF blue nylon foul weather jacket and overtrousers. Although not initially intended it quickly became standard practice for officers and other ranks to attach rank badges to the lapels and wear the nylon jacket in place of the uniform raincoat, as a more practical modern wear.

References

Hobart, Malcolm “Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force”, ISBN 0-85052-739-2

Royal Air Force – uniforms

External links

Royal Air Force – uniforms

See also

Aircrew brevet

Notes

^ Royal Air Force 1947 Uniform

^ http://www.kamrafa.co.uk/

^ a b M E F Kerr_P

^ Royal Air Force 1918 Light Blue Uniform

^ http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcms/mediafiles/F21C6257_ABD1_7132_E8716B8C2DA98948.pdf

^ http://www.britairforce.com/imagepages/raf_uniform_music.htm

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Categories: British military uniforms | Royal Air Force | Air force uniforms

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