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Thread: The role of the RAF

  1. #1
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    Default The role of the RAF

    I pieced this listing together to summarise the role of the RAF during the interwar years from snippets of information obtained from various sources:

    • air defence of Great Britain
    • policing the Empire
    • establishing Empire air routes
    • pioneering air power (longer, higher, faster flights)
    • increasing public awareness (and gaining financial support)


    I am now trying to do the same for the post war period, attempting to produce lists for the late 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

    1940s
    - post war clean up
    - air defence of Great Britain (or Western Europe?)
    - policing the Empire
    - jet age?

    1950s
    - air defence of Great Britain (or Western Europe?)
    - policing the Empire
    - nuclear deterrent
    - jet age?

    1960s
    - air defence of Great Britain (or Western Europe?)
    - policing the Empire
    - nuclear deterrent


    1970s
    - air defence of Great Britain (or Western Europe?)
    - nuclear deterrent

    1980s
    - air defence of Great Britain (or Western Europe?)
    - nuclear deterrent

    Can anyone help by having a stab at any of these lists or could anyone suggest any books which may assist with this process?

    Regards

    Pete
    Last edited by PeteT; 9th February 2018 at 13:33.
    Main areas of research:

    - CA Butler and the loss of Lancaster ME334 (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/ )
    - Aircrew Training (Basic / Trade / Operational / Continuation / Conversion)
    - The History of No. 35 Squadron (1916 - 1982) (https://35squadron.wordpress.com/)

    [Always looking for copies of original documents / photographs etc relating to these subjects]

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    Pete,
    The "Aeries" series of flights from (inter alia) Shawbury.
    The Canberra (et al) series of record breaking flights.
    VTOL development was partly to show that Uncle Sam wasn't the only chap who could make good aeroplanes?
    These were designed, partly I think, to demonstrate, politically, to the world that although The Empire may have been shrinking, the RAF could still reach round the world - and fast/accurately! There was still the policing aspect - Op CORPORATE was, in many respects, simply an extension of that.
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Thanks Peter

    I will add "pioneering air power" to the listing .... would that have been right through until the 1980's

    (Note: The only reason I am stopping in the 1980s is because No 35 Squadron was disbanded then and the idea was to try to relate the squadron activities with the RAF roles)
    Main areas of research:

    - CA Butler and the loss of Lancaster ME334 (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/ )
    - Aircrew Training (Basic / Trade / Operational / Continuation / Conversion)
    - The History of No. 35 Squadron (1916 - 1982) (https://35squadron.wordpress.com/)

    [Always looking for copies of original documents / photographs etc relating to these subjects]

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    Pete,
    A small point, but I think you should stop using the term "Empire" for the postwar RAF, as use of this word had become problematic. Also worth adding an added responsibility was to have the capability to react to unexpected events in any part of the World (regardless of whether this directly imperilled the security of the UK or not), even after withdrawing bulk of airpower back to the metropolitan UK. These sorts of reactions had always been within the RAF's remit of course, carrying out government policy. Expeditions of this nature which come to mind include the Russian civil war adventure, the Ethiopian crisis of 1935, and postwar the Malayan emergency, Suez crisis, Indonesian confrontation, Yemen, Falklands, and more recent wars in the Middle East, quite apart from other, more local emergencies in Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean area, often called "bushfire" wars. These usually required air reinforcements to be rushed to the theatre (aboard ships or under their own power), even if in the event their full striking power was not required. Generally permanent local air forces were maintained in many potentially troublesome areas around the world until the early 1970s, and sometimes later, although generally these only comprised small numbers of fighters or fighter bombers, and some tactical air transport capability. V-bombers, strategic air transport and maritime surveillance aircraft were always available from the UK to back up the small local forces. The local RAF forces were also able to request additional resources from the smaller air forces of other Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which was enabled by semi-annual deployments to appropriate theatres to constantly familiarise the personnel of their units with the local set-up. Various arrangements were entered into such that certain units of RAAF, RCAF and RNZAF were designated as permanent parts of the Commonwealth strategic reserve for their respective area (Far East in the case of RAAF and RNZAF), while some of these units were permanently based at these locations. The RNZAF in particular found it more expedient to actually lease RAF aircraft at these locations rather than ferry up their own, due to engineering differences between models, so the RAF maintained a sufficient pool of such aircraft at each location to enable such an arrangement, which also simplified standardisation and the carrying out of major inspections and incorporation of the latest modifications.

    As to the "pioneering air power" thread, the RAF often had the job of "proving" new technologies, but is was up to the service heads to request future weapons, systems,, etc., as well as calling for constant improvements in capabilities of engines and airframes from their respective (civilian) industries. Of course cannot discount the input of the service itself for evaluating and testing all these new developments, but it was the role of civilian companies to design all this new material, and produce it if found worth persevering with. Design and production of new aircraft, weapons and systems was a collaboration between all parties, including service evaluation, and hopefully ultimate integration of the new items into the service, but it was up to the civilian design teams (and the scientists, mostly civilian, backing them up) who designed and then produced them, as well as constantly refining the items throughout their service lives. Possibly also worth pointing out that in the mid-1950s, the United States taxpayer provided a lot of the funds required to re-equip the RAF with modern British aircraft (such as Canberras, Venoms and the like) as Britain was somewhat impoverished at the time, and simply could not have presented as a credible air force without this assistance. So far as I know, this funding did not require repayment, and I think the US Government figured that it helped prop up the national air force closest to the action in any future nuclear war, and was possibly cheaper than providing them with US-built aircraft, while Britain was permitted to retain some pretensions of remaining a world air power with some reach and bite. This particular discussion does not really challenge the assertion that progress was desired, and attained during these periods, but the equipment of the RAF cannot be divorced from the industries that designed and produced it.

    And I think that is quite enough of my rambling for today!

    David D

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    David

    Thank you for your time and effort .... your "ramblings" provide interesting pointers which will contribute towards me eventually coming up with some succinct bullet points which describe the role and put the activities of No. 35 Squadron in some sort of context.

    ..... so please feel free to keep rambling

    Regards

    Pete
    Main areas of research:

    - CA Butler and the loss of Lancaster ME334 (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/ )
    - Aircrew Training (Basic / Trade / Operational / Continuation / Conversion)
    - The History of No. 35 Squadron (1916 - 1982) (https://35squadron.wordpress.com/)

    [Always looking for copies of original documents / photographs etc relating to these subjects]

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    I think that in the period between 1950s and 1980s you miss "participating in OTAN" as a main role of the RAF. A significant part of the RAF was based in West Germany for the period. Or at least you can eliminate the question mark in "Western Europe?"

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    Thanks Laurent

    I did some more work on this yesterday and added "commitment to NATO (from 1949), SEATO (1954 to 1977) and CENTO (1955 to 1979)" to the list.

    I hope to produce a revised summary today, which I will post on the thread to see if there is any further feedback

    Regards

    Pete
    Main areas of research:

    - CA Butler and the loss of Lancaster ME334 (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/ )
    - Aircrew Training (Basic / Trade / Operational / Continuation / Conversion)
    - The History of No. 35 Squadron (1916 - 1982) (https://35squadron.wordpress.com/)

    [Always looking for copies of original documents / photographs etc relating to these subjects]

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    I apologise for 'drifting' this Thread but am reminded of an incident some years ago.

    I was attending a lengthy RAF course and we were receiving briefings from all sorts of people, both in the service and outside. We were being addressed by a very senior finance officer (AKA 'Top Finance Neddy' - TFN) and he posed the question: "what is the role of the RAF". At once one of the audience said: "To kill the Queen's enemies". I think TFN was expecting a response along the lines of: 'to manage budgets and resources with due regard to economy etc etc' and he opined that killing the Queen's enemies was indeed just one of the RAF's roles. My colleague, who was a bolshie so and so at the best of times, took umbrage at this and the rest of the session consisted of a squabble between these two, only stopping when the course director returned and restored peace. I never did get to hear what the TFN had come all the way from London to tell us but he declined to stay for lunch!

    Colin Cummings

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    Colin

    Thanks for the interesting feedback .... I will add that to my list!

    I have seen other one liners, including Churchill's inter-war statement that it was to provide "a garrison for the empire"

    Regards

    Pete
    Main areas of research:

    - CA Butler and the loss of Lancaster ME334 (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/ )
    - Aircrew Training (Basic / Trade / Operational / Continuation / Conversion)
    - The History of No. 35 Squadron (1916 - 1982) (https://35squadron.wordpress.com/)

    [Always looking for copies of original documents / photographs etc relating to these subjects]

  10. #10
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    On a more serious note than my previous post.

    The term: "flexibility is the key to air power" is frequently used as a reason to retain/enhance the air force. It is to great extent true, since many of the RAF's fleets of aircraft have been developed or enhanced to perform roles not originally ascribed to them. The Jaguar started its development as an advanced jet trainer but was quickly turned into an attack/recce and also nuclear capable aircraft. The Hastings was once pressed into a maritime recce role when the BCBS at Lindholme were deployed as such. Capability additions have also been added to existing fleets or complete role changes have been made eg Valiants and Victors into quite reasonable tankers and even a few Vulcans ended up with refuelling stuff hanging out the back ( a bit frightening behind one of those - but don't close your eyes!!). VC10s and Tristars fall into the same bracket. Attempts to make the Nimrod an AEW asset were not successful. Many helicopters still retain a winch as they will carry out SAR if needed. In other instances, military aircraft are diverted to do other things for which they are not funded but perfectly capable of carrying out - chucking bales of hay out the back of a Whirlwind helicopter was one way to spend a winter's afternoon.

    The RAF had a fleet of gyrocopters at the start of WWII and intended they should be used for artillery spotting but this was not a good idea in opposed airspace. The aircraft, fitted with a reflective ball suspended by a cable, made them very useful for radar calibration. Defiants, Battles, different types of Hawker bi-planes were all pressed into the training role in the early years of the war.

    What my ramblings are getting at, is that it actually very difficult to describe the real roles the RAF undertook/undertakes in - say - half a dozen 'bullet points'. It might be possible to describe these points as the intended role but reality suggests a greatly expanded list.

    Colin Cummings

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