Question about British ranking system...

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Maestro, Apr 9, 2010.

  1. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

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    Greetings ladies and gentlemen.

    I was watching an interview with a WWII veteran of the RCAF, who served as a bomber gunner in Africa, Italy and North-West Europe.

    During his interview, he stated that he owe his promotion to Commissionned Officer only to the fact he was Canadian and that the Canadian gouvernment was in need of him badly enough to promote him. He also stated that if he had been British, he would never had been promoted as he was not part of the "nobility". He was giving in example his wife's family (English farmers), whose father and every uncles fought during WWI, but were never promoted to Commissionned Officer ranks.

    Now, I know that the British Army used to appoint "noblemen" as commanders back in the 1800s, but did it really last until the end of WWII ?
     
  2. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    British peacetime officers in the early years of the 20th century were taken from the wealthier strata of society as was the case with all armed forces. However the Nobility consisted of approximately 400 families in Britain not enough to provide officers for more than a few regiments. During both world wars many well educated men from outside the normal officer class became officers. You only have to look at the list of officers of 617 squadron "The Dambusters" to see that country or class of birth was no barrier to promotion in the RAF.

    Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier Royal Canadian Air Force DSO, DFC

    John Emilius Fauquier - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
  3. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    What do you mean
    until the end of WWII? :)

    There's more than a few arrogant b*stards in the Army who still think that way.
    The Household Division, notably the Blues and Royals, still demand a certain 'lifestyle' as entry requirements.
     
  4. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    The RCAF commissioned all aircrew and the RAF didn't I'll expand on this after work
     
  5. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    I think it’s true to say that at the start of WW2 newly qualified pilots who were from more influential parts of society were more likely to be Pilot Officers rather than Flight Sergeants but this soon changed. Many people from the ranks were commissioned during the war.

    Its worth mentioning that in RAF bomber crews the Pilot was the person in charge of the aircraft. This often led to the pilot being a Flight Sargeant wheras the crew would contain officers who did as they were told without question.

    I read once of a US navigator who flew for a while with an RAF squadron. He was from the south and initially found it difficult to relate to the Sargeant Pilot who was from Fiji. To his credit he soon got overr it.
     
  6. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Eh
    are you serious, look the background of Mannock and McCudden for example. And the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (the highest military officer of the Empire, IIRC) most of the WWI was Field Marshall Robertson, who still tended to drop his Hs which showed his bckground and who had begun his career as a ranker. Of course at that time, especially in cavalry, “gentlemen” were preferred but that didn’t prevent advance of capable commoner.

    Juha
     
  7. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Yes I am serious. No one doubts the potential of promotion from within the ranks of all the British Armed Forces to a commissioned officer, but you did have a better chance of starting as an officer if you had position or money.

    I have mentioned before that my father was a conscientious objector when called up and finished as an RSM. When the war was over he was offered a commission but didn't accept it, so I am well aware of the potential for promotion.

    Promotion through the ranks has always been possible in the UK indeed one of Nelsons captains at Trafalger started a a pressed man, but that was pretty exceptional.
     
  8. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Hello Glider
    I didn’t mean you but Maestro. I have thought that Mannock and McCudden are very well known amongst the aviation buffs in Commonwealth countries. But of course Canadians have Bishop.

    Anyway, thanks for the story of your father.

    And of course Robertson’s career was exceptional, from private to field marshal, IIRC the only one who have done that in British army. But after all he could have sung one of my teenage favourites, The Animals’ “The House of Rising Sun” “My father was a taylor…”

    Juha
     
  9. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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  10. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    #10 pbfoot, Apr 9, 2010
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2010
    From the book "Right of the Line" The RAF in the European War

    "It is perhaps appropriate here to look a few months ahead at another
    aspect of the matter of aircrew; it was in May 1942, at the United
    Nations' Air Training Conference in Ottawa, that the Canadians
    raised the highly debatable issue of the commissioning of all aircrew.
    The Canadian voice was by now one which had to be heard with
    attention,rs and what it said made a great deal of sense. Canada's
    position was straightforward and clearly expressed:

    Rank commensurate with duties should be granted to all aircrew personnel,
    there being no justification for the commissioning of certain individuals
    whilst others are required to perform exactly the same duties but in N.C.O.
    rank. The responsibility resting upon the individual in aircrew capacitv
    is sufficient iustification for commissioned status. N.C.O. rank is not
    compatible with the heavy responsibilities imposed in commanding large
    and erpensive aircraft.le

    This was the nub of the argument, expressed with the bluntness of
    a young country. It was not, of course, by any means all there was to say.
    The Canadians drew attention to the sense ofunfairness, "damaging to
    morale", at inequalities in pay, transportation, travel allowances and
    messing, and made a telling point by mentioning the effect of these
    inequalities on those unfortunate enough to become prisoners ofwar.
    They said it was unfair that an NCO training instructor should find
    himself serving under a former pupil, and equally unfair that an officer
    could be operationally under an NCO. They dwelt on the iniury to
    the team spirit when "the crew, as an entity, is not able to live and
    fraternise, the one with the other, during leisure and off-duty hours."
    They believed that automatic commissioning on successful graduatim
    would encourage aircrew enlistrnent. They said it was iniurious to
    discipline (especially overseas) that aircrew sergeants should hsve a
    senior status in the Sergeants' Mess -whereas aircrew officers "ar€
    very junior members of the Officers'Mess and are aware of the fact"
    pt 2 later
     
  11. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    So what determined whether a guy was a Sgt-Pilot, or a Pilot-Officer, I've always wondered?
     
  12. vanir

    vanir Banned

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    From what I know,

    Ostensibly the distinction between enlisted and commissioned personnel is formal education.
    In practise among imperial nations the formal requirements were fast tracked for aristocrats and prohibitive for commoners.

    Even in the USAF you could apply for officer training as a pilot based on formal entry requirements, and if you flunked out on that you'd still wind up in aircrew as enlisted.

    Also during wartime necessity breeds pragmatism, so enlisted men could be commissioned where they were commended by action or experience, and enlisted men would be given the role of officers where you simply needed to but backsides in pilot seats irrespective of any other consideration, it's not unusual to have warrant officer (NCO) fighter pilots in WW2 but the peacetime requirement is generally commission for fighters (ensign, second lieutenant or pilot officer).

    Then there is a secondary issue in imperial air forces never really experienced in the US, that of title. A ship's captain doesn't necessarily relate to the rank of the individual, in the Luftwaffe the title and duties of staffelkapitain, gruppenkommandeur, geschwaderkommodore or General der Flieger all had nothing to do with rank.
    Similarly in the RAF the flight leader (ships captain) had nothing to do with rank. In Germany the Chief maintenance NCO actually "owned" the aircraft, which the pilot "borrowed"

    Canada probably had some American influence, so wanted rank to reflect title, which is basically the American system. What you'll probably find is among career militarists within the RAF it wasn't nearly as much as a problem as claimed, or as it might've been among drafted personnel.

    All part of the fun and games of military cultures.
     
  13. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    Heh. Now my head hurts. It does make sense, though, with the imperial nations' propensity to require a certain level/style of education for officers....seems to me, though, that if everyone is educated in exactly the same way, it would be VERY hard to find an officer who could break out of the "established" conventions and bring some innovations to the military way of thinking. Also would be hard for the military in general to change its approaches to carrying battle to the enemy...too much "tradition", too deep a rut. ...seriously, though, my head is killing me, so I hope I'm making sense!!!

    I know that on my first sub, we had a Mechanic who qualified for and stood watches as Throttleman, which was an Electrician's Mate watchstation, simply because we were undermanned and short one qualified Throttleman. He was kinda ticked when I qualified and started standing Throttles, though, because he had to go back out into the Engineering spaces where there was just one guy per compartment, instead of being able to chat with three other guys for the duration of the 6-hour watch. Heh. So, yeah, I get it that there were more plane seats in need of a butt than there were qualified officer-butts to go around.

    Okay, off to find the Excedrin and quit rambling.
     
  14. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Really I'm surprised that Canadians thought that they needed to give officer rank to all pilots to get enough volunteers.
    Of our 5 top aces, 1st, 4th and 5th were warrant officers/chief warrant officers ( FAF had more NCO ranks than RAF so what I meant was that those 3 had the highest NCO rank of FAF) And those professional WOs were very highly regarded in sqns, seen by sevaral sqn commanders/wing leaders as the backbone of their units. Also LW, JAAF and JNAF relied heavily on NCO pilots with good results.

    One example from FAF, Kirjonen began his combat career as lance-corporal (one chevron), after he had participated of downing of 2 bombers (½+½) he was promoted to corporal (2 chevrons), after he shot down 4 more a/c and became a ace he got his 3rd chevron. Later he became officer after 5 months training in officer school, but I doubt if that made him any better fighter. Our top ace Juutilainen simply refused to go into officer training.

    Juha
     
  15. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    My father was a Corporal Instrument technician RAF. Chatting to him on this subject he says a lot of sergeants and warrant officers wouldnt have accepted a commision if offered. A pilot officer (lowest commisioned RAF rank) only earned a small amount more than a flight sergeant but had to pay mess bills, buy his own No 1 dress uniform and stand duties that NCOs were excused.

    Dad tells a story of when he hitched a lift in a Short Sunderland from Malta to Gibraltar for a spot of leave, the pilot was happy to oblige as dad looked after the aircaft instruments. An Air Commodore also hitched a lift and Dad who was sitting in the Flt/Engineers seat said he nearly swallowed his dog tags when the A/C asked if he could sit in the right hand seat but was told by the Flt/Sgt pilot that it was not possible flight crew only in the cockpit sir. The A/C meekly went and sat in the radar operators section to the great relief of my dad.:lol:
     
  16. vanir

    vanir Banned

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    somebody give the man a cigar. this was the initial German strategic advantage in the field, and it was all they had. I guess similar could be said for Japan using the carrier force as a main striking arm (at the time they were regarded secondary to the surface action group elsewhere). hell this is the point which made the brilliant strategists of ww2 brilliant.
     
  17. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    All military arms (indeed all large organisations) have some accepted concept of the attributes which constitute an effective leader and all attempt to imbue their future leaders with those attributes. This is done through basic training, professional training, "standard operating procedures", formal and informal mentoring etc. In peacetime, these factors do tend to lead to personnel with broadly similar values and hence, to an extent, an inability to "think outside the box".

    Wartime conscription tends to throw the peacetime process into File 13 (the trash for the uninitiated!). You end up forcing people from all backgrounds to don uniform and defend their homeland. The result is a huge spectrum of people wearing uniform who have absolutely no affinity for the military, be they binmen, actors, charity workers, brain surgeons or milkmen. In the British experience, while education did play some part in the eventual role conscriptees played, there were plenty of degreed people who ended up being basic soldiers, sailors and airmen. Conversely, there were many who only achieved only moderate education who ultimately proved highly able leaders.

    Interestingly, one of the outcomes of this wartime "class warfare" in the UK was a move away from relying on degree-level qualifications for officers unless their future careers demanded it (eg engineering officers). It often confused our American brethren that an officer in the British military only required 5 'O' Levels, which is a pretty basic level of education. All this came about when the rank of NCO Pilot was abolished after WWII because, in the age of nuclear weapons, it was decided that only officers should bear the responsibility of launching such weapons.
     
  18. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    PT 2
    The RAF response also opened with its ace, and reflects the differences in the background of those concerned, and the differences of the two societies. It said:
    "A commission is granted in recognition of character, intelligence (as
    distinct from academic qualifications), and capacity to lead, command and
    set a worthy example. Many aircrews, though quite capable of performing
    frcir duties adequately, have no ofhcer qualities. The policy proposed by
    Canada would have the effect of depreciating the value of commissioned rank


    In support of_this view, which embodies traditional beliefs going. into the distant pasts of the two older Services, the RAF spokesman claimed that wholesale aircrew commissioning would have serious repercussions among long-senice, highly skilled ground crewwould lead to "a general lowering of discipline". It iwould also,they said, cause trouble with the other Services. They rejected the notion that all men undergoing the same risk should have the mc status; pay "must be determined on the basis of the personal
    qualities . . . and not on the amount of risk incurred". Team spirit they said, was essential, "but it is not agreed that this spirit can-only be secured by granting the same status to all member of a team.
    Thcy alluded (very perfunctorily) to the comparison with tanks and submarines, and insisted that it would be wrong to assume that flying and fighting in the air necessarily makes a man into a superrnan
    The RAF denied that more commissions were needed in order to attract men of the right type; it repeated that "officer-like qualities are what mattered, and said in conclusion that the policy was that
    every aircrew member "who is suitable and is recommended for
    commissioning by the responsible authorities shall be commissioned/ The reply does not speak the same language as the Canadian case. It certainly did not meet the Canadian objections to the existing system which had both logic and humanity on its side. The RAF was still in 1942 speaking the language of a smallregular service recruited in a country where inequalities found a readier acceptance then in the overseas Dominions
     
  19. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

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    Thanks for the info, guys.
     
  20. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    I think the British Army Air Corp still had Sergeant Pilots into the late 1970's.
     
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