RAF Intelligence

Intelligence services in the Royal Air Force are delivered by Officers of the Royal Air Force Intelligence Branch and Airmen from the Intelligence Analyst Trade and Intelligence Analyst (Voice) Trade. The specialisation has around 1200 personnel of all ranks posted to operational air stations, HQs and other establishments of the British Armed Forces, both in the United Kingdom and overseas.

RAF Intelligence Branch
Agency overview
Dissolved1964 (as an independent agency)
Superseding agency
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom


The RAF Intelligence Branch dates back to 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War, however personnel have been employed in intelligence duties since the formation of the RAF in 1918. At the time, officers of the General Duties (GD) Branch (mainly trained pilots on a ground tour or who for medical reasons could no longer fly) performed the duty of Squadron Intelligence/Protection Officer, or aircrew on ground tours in the Air Ministry Intelligence Department. By the late 1939 there was a dedicated Intelligence Branch, called the GD (Admin) branch which later evolved into the Administrative and Special Duties Branch (for Intelligence duties), also adopted by other commonwealth nations. Additionally, in 1939, the Secret Intelligence Service established a dedicated Air Intelligence Section under the command of Group Captain F. W. Winterbotham (Chief of Air Intelligence, MI-6). During the Second World War, the Intelligence Branch became larger to encompass the Signals Intelligence staff at Bletchley Park and the Imagery Intelligence staff at RAF Medmenham.[1]

At the outbreak of war, the Air Ministry recognised the requirement for formalised Intelligence training and established a number of courses to teach Volunteer Reserve Officers the art of Intelligence analysis. Much of this early training was very simplistic and did little more than introduce those to be employed in intelligence duties to the structure of the secretive organisation and where sources came from. The first series of courses were held at Hibbert Road in Harrow starting on 20 Nov 1939. These were short courses of 7 days duration, giving a broad picture of intelligence in Commands, Groups and Stations. After 5 of these courses had run, the training was moved to 14 Ryder Street, St James, London. September 1940 saw another move, back to Harrow to Fisher Road School, Wealdsden. Incorporated into the syllabus was the Advanced Intelligence Course, designed for Senior RAF Intelligence Officers from operational commands, and certain Naval and Army Intelligence Officers. The first of these courses started on 28 October 1940 and was 3 weeks in duration. This series continued without interruption and in 1942 developed into the RAF Intelligence School.[2]

In September 1942, the training school moved to Caen Wood Towers (Caenwood Towers), Highgate (this building was later renamed Athlone House). By this time it was clear to the Air Staff that intelligence was a positive and vital element affecting Air Ministry policy, strategy and planning, so the RAF Intelligence School was officially constituted and given a proper home at Caen Wood Towers. The site was set up as Royal Air Force Station Highgate around grounds and outbuildings of the Caen Wood estate. This included accommodation, messing, equipment stores and a medical centre. Because of the sensitivity of intelligence and covert operations during the war, the site was not made fully public and it operated under the guise of an RAF convalescence hospital. A number of different courses were run lasting between 3 weeks and 5 days, teaching Air Intelligence, Escape and Evasion, and Basic Intelligence Analysis for direct entrants to intelligence work. The majority of the instruction was given by visiting specialists (from Air Ministry, MI-6, MI-9, Central Interpretation Unit Medmenham and Station "X" at Bletchley Park.)[3]

The unit was soon awarded a badge (crest) as a proof of the high official regard for the value of the school. The badge consisted of a Sphinx, denoting wisdom, backed by a sun in splendour, depicting elucidation, with the motto Praemonitus Praemunitus which translates as "Forewarned is Forearmed".

In 1943, the Unit was transferred for administrative purposes to No. 28 Group RAF under RAF Technical Training Command. Additional courses were added for Security, Air Intelligence for RAF Bomber Command, a Far East Course and Air Intelligence for Senior Officers. During the period from November 1939 to September 1945, 7,086 Officers of the British Services (including dominion and Allied Forces attached to the RAF) attended over 372 courses. In late 1944, the school was hit twice by German V-1 flying bombs causing damage to the buildings and injuring a number of staff.[4]

Following the end of the war, training continued at RAF Highgate until 1948 when the Air Ministry decided that the School should move to the Air Ministry building as they were de-requisitioning the property. The Branch was split up into Administrative and Special Duties Branch (Photography) and Administrative and Special Duties Branch (Signals), with no dedicated Air Intelligence specialisation.

In 1965, the three service intelligence departments were amalgamated in the new Defence Intelligence Staff at the Ministry of Defence.[5]

Training at the RAF Intelligence School continued until 1969, teaching non-specialist Officers (GD and Administrators) the basics of Intelligence. The role of Squadron or Station Intelligence Officer was filled by members of the Administrative Branch as a sub-specialisation. On 2 August 1969, the RAF Intelligence School was officially closed and intelligence training was transferred to the School of Service Intelligence (SSI) at Ashford, Kent. In the 1950s the Photographic Interpretation (PI) Branch was formed for commissioned officers to be employed at the reconnaissance intelligence centres attached to aircraft units, and also to work at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC) at RAF Brampton. By the start of the 1990s, the RAF could see the benefit of an independent Intelligence Branch, creating the GD (Intelligence) Branch. They required more information and warning on the potential enemies around the world in order to maintain the diminishing RAF's ability to react. In 1997, GD (INT) became the Operations Support (Intelligence) specialisation that is in existence today.[6]

However, training for officers focused on imagery analysis with general intelligence being taught at Ashford on a three-week course at the Defence Intelligence and Security School (DISS), the renamed SSI. The first professional Air Intelligence course (RAF Intelligence Course - RAFIC) was run in the Air Intelligence Wing of DISS in 2000, following the school's move to Chicksands in Bedfordshire. After the first two courses, the Royal Navy was invited to send officers to attend and the course was renamed the Joint Air Intelligence Course (JAIC). In 2005, DISS became part of the Defence College of Intelligence and the Air Intelligence Wing was renamed Horus Training Delivery Wing. Following a re-organisation in 2007, the structure was changed again and the Defence School of Intelligence (DSI) was set up with Air Intelligence Wing as a sub-organisation as the Phase 2 training unit (professional specialist training) for all RAF Intelligence Analyst Airmen, RAF Intelligence Officers, plus as a Phase 3 training unit (Continuation Specialist Training) for RAF Intelligence Analyst NCOs and Royal Navy and British Army Officers employed in air intelligence duties.[7]


Entrants to the specialisation undertake common training at RAF College Cranwell for officers and RAF Halton for airmen. Following initial training, entrants are posted to the Joint Intelligence Training Group (JITG) Chicksands, in Shefford, Bedfordshire for specialist training.

The Air Intelligence Wing of the Defence School of Intelligence (DSI) delivers the Joint Air Intelligence Course (JAIC) to officers and the Operational Air Intelligence Course (OpAIC) to airmen. These courses prepare the individual for posting to intelligence roles. After completion of the first tour of duty, airmen can choose to further specialise in Imagery or Signals Analysis. These Phase 2 specialist courses are delivered in the joint environment alongside intelligence specialists of the Royal Navy, British Army or Ministry of Defence civil servants.

Further training courses are provided throughout a career, in; Intelligence Mission Support, Collections Management, Cyber Warfare, Human Intelligence, PsyOps, ISR Management; including the QWI ISR Course and Targeting.

Staff roles and trades

Entrants to the branch are initially trained as general intelligence analysts and can later sub-specialise in one of a number of trades. Personnel in each sub-specialisation can be employed in a number of locations.

Officer sub-specialisation

  • Generalist Air Intelligence officer: Squadron Intelligence Officer, Station Intelligence Officer, Air Intelligence Centre (AIC) Analyst
  • Staff Officer (Intelligence): JFC, JFIG, PJHQ, Air Command, AWC, 1 Group, JFACHQ
  • Command Officer (Intelligence)
  • Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Manager
  • Collections Manager
  • Human Intelligence(HUMINT) Operator
  • Targeteer: Kinetic Targets and Information Operations

Airmen/Non-Commissioned Officer sub-specialisation

  • Generalist air intelligence analyst
  • Generalist Joint intelligence analyst
  • Imagery analyst
  • Mission Intelligence Coordinator
  • Signal intelligence analyst
  • Human intelligence operator
  • Linguist (Int An (V))

As with all RAF trades and sub-specialisations personnel can be employed in a range of locations within the trade or in the wider organisation. These can include:

Heads of RAF Intelligence

Heads of RAF Intelligence have been:[8]

Notable current members of RAF Intelligence

  • Cpl Ryan Wheal, UK Powerlifting Champion [9]
  • Sgt Paul Farthing, star of the RAF TV advert 'Be Part of the Story'[10]

Notable former members of RAF Intelligence

  • Constance Babington Smith MBE Legion of Merit FRSL, author & Journalist (WAAF Photographic Interpreter – credited with the discovery of the V1 Programme)
  • Noor Inayat Khan GC, WAAF Section Officer and SOE Agent during WW2, killed in Action in France, posthumously awarded the George Cross
  • Sarah Churchill (Baroness Audley), actress and Winston Churchill’s Daughter (WAAF Photographic Interpreter during WW2)
  • Peter Calvocoressi, British lawyer, historian and publisher (RAF intelligence officer at Bletchley Park during WW2)
  • Michael Bentine CBE, comedian & actor (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2)
  • Sir Christopher Lee CBE CStJ, actor (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2)
  • Pam Ayres MBE, poet, comedian, songwriter & presenter (WRAF Cartographer)
  • Alex Coomber, former British Olympic Women's Skeleton bobsledder - Bronze Medal at 2002 Winter Olympics (RAF Intelligence Officer)
  • Cecil Gould, art historian and former Deputy Director of the National Gallery (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2)
  • Sir Max Mallowan CBE, archaeologist and the second husband of Agatha Christie. (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2)
  • Dennis Wheatley, author (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2)
  • Tony Scannell, actor (RAF Intelligence Analyst)
  • Jackie Gunn, British bobsledder, Silver Medalist in 2005 World Championships (RAF Intelligence Analyst)
  • F.R. Chappell, author (RAF Intelligence Officer on a Wellington Bomber Squadron during WW2)
  • F. W. Winterbotham, author (RAF Intelligence Officer during WW2, responsible for devising the system for secure dissemination of Ultra)

Notable Former Military Members

Notable members of RAF Intelligence in Fiction

See also


  1. Downing, Taylor (2011). Spies in the Sky. Little Brown Hardbacks (A & C). pp. 80–81. ISBN 9781408702802.
  2. Pitchfork, p. 18
  3. "How Athlone helped Defeat Hitler". The Camden New Journal. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  4. "Royal Northern Hospital". Lost hospitals of London. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  5. Dylan, p. 184
  6. Duthel, Heinz (2014). "Global Secret and Intelligence Services II". Books on demand. ISBN 978-3738607789.
  7. "Advanced Apprenticeship in Intelligence Analysis" (PDF). Defence School of Intelligence. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  8. Mackie, Colin (April 2011). "Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence)" (PDF). Senior Royal Air Force Appointments. www.gulabin.com. p. 13. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  9. "Ryan Wheal".
  10. "RAF Advert". 2009.


Historical sources

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