the many supporting the few
Role 1… Ground crew
Each fighter plane was assigned its own ground crew team to re-fuel, repair and re-arm the aircraft between sorties. Crews would work tirelessly to repair aircraft and get them back into the battle.
Role 2… Radar operators
Dozens of manned stations positioned around the coastline made up Britain’s Chain Home Radar network. This acted as an early warning system to detect and report incoming enemy aircraft.
Role 3… factory workers
With thousands of men called up to serve, millions of women were called upon to power Britain’s war industry. Factory assembly lines worked around the clock to produce planes, tanks, shells, artillery, weaponry and other military materiel.
Role 4… Anti-aircraft
Over 1,790 light and medium anti-aircraft guns were on hand to engage enemy aircraft. Over 4,000 searchlights and 1,400 barrage balloons were also deployed to defend major cities.
unleashing The WHIRLWIND
In 1942, Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris stated that Nazi Germany would ‘reap the whirlwind’ in response to its devastating bombing campaigns throughout Europe. Between 1939 and 1945 Bomber Command carried out over 360,000 missions across Europe, targeting military installations, factories, infrastructure and eventually cities. These missions aimed to disrupt and destroy Germany’s war industry, as well as displace and demoralise its civilians.
Up to 1,000 bombers would take part in each of these raids in order to overwhelm air defences and enemy fighters. Waves of aircraft, most often Lancaster bombers, would be led by one or two smaller pathfinder planes, which would mark the target at which the rest could aim.
Throughout the war Bomber Command developed newer, deadlier payloads to deal with different targets. Industrial targets were showered with a combination of incendiary and 2,000-kilogram explosives, while reinforced submarine pens were hit with ten-ton bombs.
Several German cities suffered immeasurable damage in the whirlwind of Bomber Command’s raids. Estimates of civilians killed during the campaign range from 300,000 to 1 million, and many more were made homeless. Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden and other major cities suffered some of the worst destruction in the European theatre of WWII. Witnesses recalled flaming vortexes whipping through the streets as firebombs turned neighbourhoods into infernos. However, bomber crews did not escape unscathed, with over 55,000 killed, equating to a 44 per cent casualty rate for Bomber Command.
The jet Age
With the start of the Cold War, Britain and its allies continued to develop and adapt to the new era of warfare dominated by the threat of nuclear arsenals. Although Nazi Germany had already deployed the world’s first jet fighter during WWII, the RAF was not far behind with the Gloster Meteor, which took to the sky in the summer of 1944.
By the 1950s the air fleet had undergone its latest radical change, as the reliable old Spitfires and Hurricanes were phased out in favour of the high-speed strike fighter jets, such as the de Havilland Vampire, de Havilland Venom and Hawker Hunter. With top speeds of over 1,100 kilometres per hour, these aircraft were designed for much faster combat scenarios.
Bomber Command was also equipped with jet power, and its new bombers were capable of altitudes of over 16,000 metres. It was also tasked with operating Britain’s nuclear strike capability, and the new ‘V-force’ bombers (the Vulcan, Victor and Valiant) were kept in a state of constant readiness should war break out.
Although a nuclear strike was thankfully never required, during the Falklands War the Vulcan did take part in one of the longest-range missions in RAF history. Operation Black Buck was a series of bombing runs launched from
The Sopwith Camel was the RAF’S Wwi-era bi-plane. It was used to shoot down Zeppelin airships in 1918