The Royal Air Force, Bomber Command and the use of Benzedrine Sulphate: An Examination of Policy and Practice during the Second World War

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This article explores the development of policy in the Royal Air Force (RAF) relating to the use of Benzedrine, a potent amphetamine, by aircrews during the Second World War. This policy evolved from total prohibition in September 1939 to cautious approval for the use of the drug on operations in November 1942. Such caution reflected the subjective evidence available about Benzedrine, the media profile of the substance, and wider social and cultural factors relating to the use of drugs during this period. This challenges our understanding of drug history, demonstrating that while amphetamines were framed as a ‘miracle drug’, more nuanced, functional interpretations of the substance were in evidence.

In turn, the article examines evidence from the operational context, including new data gathered from questionnaires and interviews with former Bomber Command aircrew and existing oral history material held by the Imperial War Museum. Both policy discussions and operational evidence allows for a re-evaluation of the arguments of Nicholas Rasmussen, who suggests the RAF made use of Benzedrine as a frontline ‘psychiatric medicine’. Such conclusions downplay the significance the RAF attached to the drug’s effects on wakefulness and concerns about the drug’s effects on wellbeing.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Early online date17 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Oct 2016


  • Amphetamines, Benzedrine, Britain, Drugs, Royal Air Force, Second World War