THE RAF CENTENARY
This year marks the RAF’S official 100 year anniversary, with a season of airshows and special exhibitions to mark the occasion.
On 10 July, one hundred days after the RAF’S official 100th birthday, thousands of servicemen and women will take part in a parade on The Mall, London for a centrepiece event, when up to 100 aircraft, representing the RAF’S history, will fly over Buckingham Palace. With a further season of airshows and special exhibitions to mark the occasion RAF Museum curator Julian Hale, and author of The RAF: 1918-2018 tells us more.
THE ROYAL AIR FORCE was born following the marriage of two parents in 1918– the army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the navy’s Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The catalyst for this was the emergence of a new threat in 1917: the new German Gotha bomber. Formations of these aircraft attacked London in broad daylight twice during that summer and the feeble defence of the capital by the RFC and RNAS caused a public outcry. The government was pushed into taking action and shortly afterwards, a report was published, which recommended in order to remove inter-service rivalry and duplication of effort. The necessary legislation was enacted and the following year, with a parent government ministry (the Air Ministry) to control it, the RAF came into being. Heading the RAF from 1918 into the 1920s was Lord Trenchard, today seen as the ‘Father of the RAF’, although this was a moniker he personally disliked. The RAF was politically vulnerable in the years after the First World War, with the army and navy pressing for its dissolution and incorporation into the two older services. By stressing the power of the RAF’S bomber deterrent and pushing the air force forward as a means of policing the British Empire, Trenchard succeeded in preserving service. However, by the mid-1930s, a new World War was looming and the RAF had little time to prepare for its gravest challenge. global war between 1939 and 1945 and the armed services fought ubiquitously, The RAF was no exception. It was in many successes and alas, a number ! over Dunkirk and then the south of England during the Battle of Britain; later, its bombers brought the war to the Axis heartland. Throughout the war, RAF aircraft assisted in the battle against the U-boats in the Atlantic while RAF units served in North Africa and the Mediterranean, India and Burma, and as the war in Europe came to a close, France and Germany. RAF units were even found in Scandinavia, Iraq and the Soviet Union. As one threat was overcome however, another emerged. East-west relations cooled when the Soviets attempted to take control of West Berlin in 1948 and an Anglo-american airlift saved the city from starvation. A few years later, Britain gained its own nuclear deterrent, which was wielded by the RAF’S V-force before it passed to the Royal Navy in 1969. By this time the withdrawal from empire was almost complete and the RAF was reoriented to become a more tactical air force, focusing on the possibility of a conventional encounter with Soviet forces in Western Germany. However, the Falklands War in 1982 not only proved the need for a long-range air force but also gave the Vulcan (the last of the V-bombers) an opportunity to be used in anger. By 1989 however, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union was crumbling and the last Vulcan had long gone.
Through the last hundred years the RAF has defended the UK and its overseas assets, supported its NATO allies and successfully overcome many and varied challenges... it has striven through adversity to reach the stars.”
Since the First Gulf War of 1991, the RAF has faced two major challenges: meeting a wide range of threats around the world with an evershrinking defence budget. As in the 1920s and 1930s, the RAF has operated widely in the Middle East, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria, operating as part of a coalition against terrorist organisations or dictatorships. In Iraq and Afghanistan this has not just involved strikes with precision guided munitions but also providing the army " " troops as well as casualties in and out of combat zones. In the 2010s there have been new dangers around the world, notably from the renewed threat posed by Putin’s Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea.