THE RAF CEN­TE­NARY

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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.

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