RAF Ferry Command

RAF Ferry Command was the secretive Royal Air Force command formed on 20 July 1941 to ferry urgently needed aircraft from their place of manufacture in the United States and Canada, to the front line operational units in Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East during the Second World War.

Royal Air Force Ferry Command
Active20 July 1941–25 March 1943
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchEnsign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
RoleAircraft delivery
EngagementsWorld War II

It was later subsumed into the new Transport Command on 25 March 1943 by being reduced to Group status.


RAF Darrell's Island during World War II. This base was used throughout the war for trans-Atlantic ferrying of aircraft such as the Catalinas to the rear of photo. Transport flights (such as those flown by the Coronados in the foreground) moved, in 1943, to the British section of the airfield built by the US Army Air Forces, Kindley Field.

The practice of ferrying aircraft from US manufacturers to the UK was begun by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Its minister, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian by origin, reached an agreement with Sir Edward Beatty, a friend and chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, to provide ground facilities and support. MAP would discretely provide civilian crews and management. Previously, aircraft were being assembled then disassembled and then transported by ship across the Atlantic, and were subject to long delays and frequent attacks by German U-Boats.

Former RAF officer Don Bennett, a specialist in long distance flying and later Air Vice Marshal and commander of the Pathfinder force, personally led the first test delivery formation flight in November 1940.[1] The mission was so successful that by 1941, MAP took the operation out of the hands of CPR to put the whole operation under the Atlantic Ferry Organization ("Atfero") which was set up by Morris W. Wilson, a banker in Montreal. Wilson hired civilian pilots of widely different backgrounds and nationalities to fly the aircraft to the UK. Because the planes were now being flown on their own, each aircraft required specially trained navigators and radio operators. These crews were then ferried back by ships in convoys. "Atfero hired the pilots, planned the routes, selected the airports [and] set up weather and radiocommunication stations."[2][3]

Aircraft were first transported to Dorval Airport near Montreal, and then flown to RCAF Station Gander in Newfoundland for the trans-Atlantic flight.[1]

The organization was passed to Air Ministry administration though retaining civilian pilots, some of which were Americans, alongside RAF/RCAF pilots, navigators [4]and radio operators. The crews were briefed by local meteorologists including R. E. Munn. After completing delivery, crews were eventually flown back to Canada, returning to Dorval for their next run.[5]

Ferry Command was formed on 20 July 1941, by the raising of the RAF Atlantic Ferry Service to Command status.[6] Its commander for its whole existence was Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill.[6] Dorval, near Montreal, continued as its base of operations.

As its name suggests, the main function of Ferry Command was the ferrying of new aircraft from factory to operational unit.[7] Ferry Command Originally did this over only one Northern area of the world, rather than the more general routes that Transport Command later developed, including routes over the jungles of South America and Africa and the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Ferry Command's operational area was initially the North Atlantic, and its responsibility was to bring the larger aircraft that had the range to do the trip over the ocean, with the addition of extra fuel tanks, from American and Canadian factories to the RAF home Commands.[7]

This was pioneering work. Before Ferry Command, only about a hundred aircraft had attempted a North Atlantic crossing in good weather, and only about half had made it. Over the course of the war, more than 9,000 essential aircraft were individually ferried across the ocean and the aircraft played a significant role in the outcome of the war. This was accomplished without radar by using primarily Celestial Navigation by specially trained navigators.

By the end of the war, crossing the Atlantic had become an almost routine operation, presaging the inauguration of scheduled commercial air transport services after the war.[1]

Ferry Command was subsumed into the new Transport Command on 25 March 1943 by being reduced to Group status as No 45 (Atlantic Ferry) Group.[6] No. 45 Group still retained responsibility for Atlantic aircraft ferrying operations, but Transport Command was a worldwide formation, rather than a single-mission command. Bowhill became the first commander of Transport Command.[6]

In mediaEdit

Above and Beyond (2006), a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) four-hour mini-series, was inspired by the true story of RAF Ferry Command, recounting the delivery of aircraft across the North Atlantic to the Royal Air Force. The film concludes with the departure of Don Bennett and the handover of control to RAF Command. The Lockheed Hudson is the primary aircraft portrayed in the mini-series, in the form of a real life example alongside numerous CGI Hudsons.[8]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c "Ferrying Aircraft Overseas". Juno Beach Centre.
  2. ^ "World War In the Air: One Way Airline". Time. 20 October 1941. Archived from the original on 5 August 2009.
  3. ^ Davis, Jeffrey (January 1985). "ATFERO: The Atlantic Ferry Organization". Journal of Contemporary History. 20 (1). doi:10.1177/002200948502000104.
  4. ^ Stitt, Robert M. (2010). Boeing B-17 Fortress in RAF Coastal Command Service. Mushroom Model Publications. ISBN 978-8-38945-088-3.
  5. ^ "Atlantic Ferry". Flight. XL (1719): e–g. 4 December 1941.
  6. ^ a b c d Barrass, M. B. "RAF Home Commands formed between 1939–1957". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation.
  7. ^ a b "Flying the Secret Sky: The Story of the RAF Ferry Command". VanDerKloot Film & Television. 2008. Archived from the original on 12 August 2013.
  8. ^ "Above & Beyond". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2010.


External linksEdit