During the Second World War aircraft mechanics were known as "groundcrew" as opposed to "aircrew".
Their job was to keep the squadron in flying condition. At the outbreak of war, aircraft mechanics had to spend about a year learning their trade. As the war progressed, mechanics were badly needed overseas so these courses were shortened to six months and sometimes even less requiring more "on the job training". Trade specialists varied as the aircraft became more sophisticated, but included engine mechanic, airframe, armourer, instrumentation and wireless radio.
Many lost their lives when the German forces bombed their bases. Others died from sickness attributable to the abominable conditions under which they had to work, as well as poor food and living conditions. But these mechanics continued on without complaint, and truly became the unsung heroes of the air war.
Royal Canadian Air Force Ground Crew
Today they are known as aircraft technicians, but during the Second World War, they were simply aircraft mechanics or more commonly "groundcrew" as opposed to "aircrew". On the outbreak of the war, these aircraft mechanics had to attend a basic trades training course of approximately one year duration. As the war progressed and mechanics were badly needed overseas these courses were shortened to six months and sometimes less with more emphasis required from "on job training".
The number of trade specialists varied as the aircraft became more sophisticated. In 1943, the groundcrew trades consisted of: Aero Engine, Airframe, Armourer (bombs), Armourer (guns), Instrument and Radio. These names are synonyms with their titles and are therefore self explanatory.
These trades were staffed by both men and women, most of which served on many fighter and bomber squadrons based throughout England. During the English winters, these highly skilled airmen and airwomen worked outside often under the most appalling weather conditions because there were very few airbases with hangars.
If possible they would move an improvised shelter over or around that part of the aircraft on which they were working to protect them from the elements. There was no such thing as an eight hour work day. They laboured as long as necessary to get their aircraft serviceable so the aircrew could get back in the air.
A mechanic had three levels of qualification. They were A, B, & C. For all intents and purposes, "A" level was equivalent to journeyman status, with "B" and "C" apprentice levels. During the war all "A" qualified mechanics wore a trade badge on each sleeve, one inch below the shoulder patch. This was to help identify them on the flight line, in case they were urgently needed to assist with a repair or problem related to the aircraft.
These mechanics were truly the unsung heroes of the air war. Many lost their lives when the German forces bombed their bases. Others died from sickness attributable to the abominable conditions under which they had to work, as well as poor food and living conditions.
But they continued on without complaint. Many medals were instituted and given out to the aircrew for their bravery in action. However, no medals were ever struck for the groundcrew for their bravery and outstanding dedication to duty.
Conversely on the other side of the English channel, the German air forces treated their mechanics as they did their aircrew, with respect and admiration. Adolph Galland, one of the top German aces of the war, always referred to his mechanics as his "angels in coveralls".