University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > The British Commonwealth Air Training Schemes in World War II

The British Commonwealth Air Training Schemes in World War II

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Described as “the greatest concerted effort the nations of the British Commonwealth… ever made”, the Empire Air Training Scheme was a resounding success in facilitating British air strategy in the Second World War. Alongside the South African Joint Air Training Plan, the EATS made a global British air effort possible – something which was often as significant to land and naval operations as to the RAF ’s offensives.

Nevertheless the inauspicious Dominion air forces of the interwar period and failed pre-war proposals for cooperation in training had not suggested the vast air network which eventually spread throughout the Commonwealth would be possible. Furthermore some Dominion historians have viewed the results of the scheme negatively. Conflict over a national or “British” identity persisted through debates over the distribution of trained Dominion airmen, as well as through negotiations on the number and composition of Dominion squadrons within the RAF . Additionally political and military considerations meant South Africa did not opt to join the EATS at its initiation, instead choosing to create a separate training arrangement with the RAF .

Yet in spite of these problems the training schemes flourished due to the unique political, cultural and geographical environment of the British Commonwealth and became an indispensable part of the Allied war effort, providing a vital contribution to victory. The air training schemes form one of several areas of World War II historiography in which the importance of the Dominion contribution to the British war effort is seriously undervalued.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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