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Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service


          During the early part of the Second World War the discovery of an aircraft which had crashed in the mountains was often a matter of chance, Royal Air Force stations near mountainous areas were left to make their own arrangements for the organisation of search parties and used whatever equipment was available to search for, and rescue.

          The subsequent treatment and evacuation of any survivors proved to be both difficult and dangerous.

          Early in 1942, one such search was organised by Flt Lt Graham the station Medical officer at R.A.F. Llandwrog in North Wales.      It quickly became apparent to Flt Lt Graham that the equipment and personnel at his disposal were inadequate to deal with aircraft crashes in the mountainous areas of Snowdonia, close to R.A.F. Llandwrog to undertake search and rescue operations.

          The increase in wartime aircraft operations from 1942 onwards inevitably led to a sharp increase in the number of aircraft crashes occurring within mountainous areas.

          This ensured that Flt Lt Graham and his volunteers, known as the R.A.F. Llandwrog Mountain Rescue Section, had far too many opportunities to put their equipment and training to the test.

          Elsewhere in the UK others had also recognised the need for some form of organised mountain rescue organisation.

          At R.A.F. Millom on the fringes of the Lake District the increasing number of aircraft crashes led to the setting up of an unofficial Mountain Rescue Section made up to 10 volunteers. The Section was allocated two drivers with Bedford 3 ton trucks as transport.

          At R.A.F. Harper Hill near Buxton in Derbyshire Flt Lt David Crichton, the station medical officer, without any previous mountaineering experience, had gathered together a group of inexperienced volunteers to search for crashed aircraft. At one stage the Air Ministry received a grateful letter from the U.S. Army Air Force, thanking them for the services of the Mountain Rescue Section at R.A.F. Harpur Hill who had rescued a downed American Pilot, this was the first time that the Air Ministry had heard that such a service existed.

          The unofficial Mountain Rescue Sections at R.A.F. Llandwrog, R.A.F. Millom and R.A.F. Harper Hill were all formed entirely from unpaid volunteers who continued to perform their other duties as well as attending Mountain Rescue callouts and training exercises. The Mountain Rescue Sections had to use whatever equipment and clothing they could find or adapt and the lack of specialised equipment in 1942 would seem unbelievable to any contemporary mountaineer. On many occasions members of the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Sections risked their lives going into mountains in appalling conditions without adequate clothing or equipment to search for injured aircrew. Footwear in particular was a problem with only gum boots or standard issue “Ammo” boots available.

          Likewise there was no specialist provision of cold weather clothing, only ordinary battledress, great coats and gas capes together with limited access to maps, radios, climbing or medical equipment.

          It is hard to imagine the early R.A.F. Mountain Rescue personnel manhandling a general service stretcher along a knife edge ridge, in a gale wearing gas capes and gum boots.

          Courageous, determined and highly motivated they may have been experienced well trained and well equipped they certainly were not.

          Between 1942–1943 aircraft crashes became increasingly frequent and the need for a properly equipped and trained Royal Air Mountain Rescue Service quickly became apparent to several senior officers. In North Wales alone there were ten aircraft crashes in the letter half of 1943, five of these between November 8th and December 26th 1943. From the date of it’s inception in 1942 until the end of 1943 the R.A.F. Llandwrog Mountain Rescue team had rescued thirty three survivors from twenty two crashes.

          Throughout this period Flt Lt Graham had identified weaknesses in the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue organisations these included inadequate communications between unsuitable vehicles, unsuitable stretchers and difficulty searching at night or in poor weather.

          Flt Lt Graham therefore drew up a proposal for establishing an official R.A.F. Llandwrog Mountain Rescue Team which would be properly equipped, trained and on regular stand by. Much to the annoyance of his commanding officer Flt Lt Graham repeatedly contacted the Air Ministry requesting official recognition for the work of the “unofficial” Mountain Rescue Sections together with demands for proper equipment and training.

          By the end of 1943 Flying Training Command had decided that the service provided by the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Sections (now operating at several R.A.F stations throughout the UK) deserved official status.

Four of the existing “unofficial” R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Sections, including R.A.F. Llandwrog and R.A.F. Millom were designated official Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Teams.

In January of 1944 the Air Ministry recognised the need for the work of the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Teams to be coordinated and accepted the need for specialist equipment and adequate training for the volunteers.         The Air Ministry therefore announced the official formation of Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service. In 1943 alone 220 military crashes had accounted for 571 aircrew deaths on the mountains of Britain. There was therefore a rapid expansion of the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Service and by February 1945 Mountain Rescue Teams had been established at R.A.F. Kinloss, R.A.F. Topcliffe, R.A.F. Wick, R.A.F. Millom, R.A.F. Llandwrog, R.A.F. Montrose, R.A.F. Wigtown, and R.A.F. Madley. Surprisingly the Team at R.A.F. Harper Hill remained “unofficial” until April 1945 despite having been operational for nearly three years by this time.






The Mountain Rescue Service Headquarters is based at R.A.F. Valley and supports the R.A.F. four MRT’s based at Kinloss, Leuchars, Leeming and Valley. Each team consists of 7 full time personnel and up to 30 volunteers. The unpaid volunteers give up their spare time for training on at least two weekends in four, as well as one evening a week. Each team trains regularly with its civilian counterparts for the best possible cooperation and effectiveness.

Their high standard of training and fitness enables them to search difficult terrain rapidly and effectively in adverse conditions.

Apart from their mountaineering prowess R.A.F. MRT personnel are specialists of aircraft sites. Once an accident site is located, they can provide first aid to any survivors, assist with evacuation and guard the area until crash investigators and assistance arrives.

Submitted By Martin Worsley

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