Armed Services Aviation before 1918
In April 1912, following a report by a sub-committee, the Committee of Imperial Defence approved the formation of a Flying Corps, operated jointly by the Army and Navy. The new Royal Flying Corps (RFC) comprised separate Military and Naval Wings together with a Central Flying School and a reserve.
The Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, formed in 1911 by the War Office, was absorbed in the new Military Wing from which the Naval Wing was to diverge, becoming a separate Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) on 1 July 1914 and thereby leaving the RFC as an entirely Army service.
Airships and balloons, which had become the responsibility of the Admiralty's director of naval construction in 1916 remained an Admiralty responsibility until 1919 when this too passed to the Air Ministry. The Admiralty retained control of the aircraft carriers and of operations at sea, and naval officers and ratings were seconded to the RAF for training and service.
Air Boards 1916 to 1918
In February 1916 a Joint War Air Committee was appointed to co-ordinate the design and procurement activities of the the separate air services of the Admiralty and the War Office. In May 1916 it was superseded by an Air Board.
Following the New Ministries and Secretaries Act 1916 the Air Board was reconstituted as a ministry in January 1917. Its president was deemed to be a minister and it was given responsibility for aircraft design, requirements, and allocation. At the same time the Ministry of Munitions took over from the service departments responsibility for the supply and inspection of aeroplanes, seaplanes, engines, and accessories.
The Air Board was dissolved in January 1918 following the creation of an Air Ministry. Its function in regard to aircraft design, programme and policy passed to the Ministry of Munitions.
Air Ministry 1918 to 1964
On 3 January 1918 the Air Ministry was set up under a Secretary of State for Air advised by an Air Council. The Ministry's first task was to plan for the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, which was effected on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Air Force came into existence.
In February 1919 the ministry became responsible for civil aviation which, before the outbreak of war in 1914, had been the responsibility of the Home Office. In January 1920 it took over responsibility for aircraft production from the Ministry of Munitions and between 1919 and 1922 it took over, by stages, from the Treasury the Meteorological Office, into which its own meteorological service and those of the other service departments was absorbed.
In October 1921 the responsibility for the payment of service pensions, other than war pensions, was transferred from the Ministry of Pensions and in April 1927 the responsibility for research into atmospheric pollution, previously carried out under the Meteorological Office, was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
In January 1929 the Air Ministry took over control of the Observer Corps from the War Office; in August 1930 it also took over from that department work in connection with the sale, purchase and administration of Royal Air Force lands. In 1937, following the Air Navigation Act 1936, certain regulatory functions concerning civil aviation were delegated to a newly-constituted Air Registration Board.
From the outset relations between the Air Ministry and the other two services were uneasy, and this was particularly the case on the part of the Admiralty as regards the control of the Fleet Air Arm. In 1924 an accommodation was reached on this matter under the terms of the Trenchard/Keyes agreement. In 1925 the principle of a unified air service was reaffirmed by the Colwyn Committee, in spite of the misgivings expressed by both the Admiralty and the War Office.
In 1934 the underlying belief of the Admiralty that the efficiency of the Navy was being impaired because of its lack of control of the naval air service surfaced once again. By now, however, the Royal Air Force had developed sufficiently to enable it to operate independently of its naval arm and in July 1937 agreement was reached for the transfer (not completed until 1939) of the Fleet Air Arm to the Admiralty. The Air Ministry retained control of the shore-based aircraft of Coastal Command until April 1941, when operational control passed to the Admiralty.
Work undertaken for the Air Ministry by the War Office on an agency basis in connection with the supply of munitions, clothing and other stores in common use in the services passed to the newly-created Ministry of Supply in August 1939. In May 1940 responsibility for the design and production of aircraft passed to another new department, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which also took over a number of Air Ministry research establishments progressively from that date. The new ministry also took over technical, as distinct from administrative, control of Groups 41 and 43 of RAF Maintenance Command, which were responsible for the repair, modification, etc. of aircraft.
When the Ministry of Aircraft Production was dissolved in 1946 and its functions taken over by the Ministry of Supply, the technical control of Group 43 returned to the Air Ministry; a similar transfer in respect of Group 41 followed in 1947. On the disbandment of the Ministry of Supply in October 1959 and its reconstitution as the Ministry of Aviation, responsibility for the supply of equipment to the Royal Air Force was returned to the Air Ministry, except for the production and supply of aircraft and supply powers relating to guided missiles, radar and other electronic apparatus.
With the outbreak of the Second World War responsibility for pensions and grants for service after 2 September 1939 passed to the Ministry of Pensions. Work in connection with camouflage, the experimental side of which had previously been transferred to the Home Office at the beginning of 1939, was also transferred to the Ministry of Home Security. Towards the end of the war the Air Ministry's responsibilities for civil aviation passed to a newly-created Ministry of Civil Aviation under the Ministry of Civil Aviation Act 1945. In July 1959 joint responsibility was assumed with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for the newly-established Air Traffic Control Board.
Functions concerning the resettlement of Poles who had fought with the Allied Forces during the Second World War passed to the Assistance Board and other government departments in April 1947 under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947. A Polish Resettlement Corps (Royal Air Force) and a Polish Resettlement Section of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were set up in August 1946, for former members of the Polish Air Force who had elected not to return to Poland; both were disbanded in August 1949.
In October 1954 the Air Ministry took over responsibility from the Civil Service Commission for interview and selection test arrangements for commissions and cadetships, although the commission retained responsibility for written examinations, etc. In April 1963 the Air Ministry's works services, along with those of the other service departments, were transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
On 1 April 1964 the Air Ministry was absorbed in the unified Ministry of Defence.