Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Welcome back. We’re going to continue our discussions about the RAF in 1945. And I’d like to ask, Ross, about the logistics that presented problems for the RAF at the point that it is covering an occupying role in Germany, and has responsibilities across the globe. I’m thinking specifically in terms of Britain’s ability to actually maintain its armed forces at the time that the Labour government, when it comes into power, finds that the economy is heavily in debt. And of course, we have to hand back our responsibilities in Greece and Turkey to the Americans fairly early on in the piece. So what were the logistical problems facing the RAF in 1945? DR.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: Of course, as you say, I mean, the major problem for Britain on a grand strategic level is, for the lack of a better description, it’s broke. The Second World War has cost a lot of money to fight. Britain has borrowed heavily from America. And as you quite rightly point out, we attempt to fight the anti-communist campaign in Greece, but we hand it over to the Americans, and so forth. In terms of operations, globally, first, one of the advantages the RAF has is it’s already been fighting a campaign globally anyway. So it has resources around the world. already And it planned to continue the campaign in Japan.
Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds The war was supposed to continue, or the planning was supposed to continue to at least 1946, if not possibly 1947. So there were resources dotted around the empire, so when the imperial role comes back, aircraft, such as the Tempest 2 behind us, are in places such as India. And other aircraft are dotted around. One of the other things to remember is that, certainly in terms of the equipment coming into service, for operations out in the empire, you didn’t need the latest equipment.
Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds So you see aircraft, some of which have varying success, such as the Bristol Brigand and the de Havilland Hornet, are deployed out into the empire because in a counterinsurgency context, they’re the right piece of equipment for the job. So you can deploy your latest technology, your jet fighters, your de Havilland Vampires and Gloster Meteors– you can increasingly deploy them in metropolitan UK and then into the occupation force in Germany as tensions with the Soviet Union begin to increase, and you realize that you’ve got to re-equip forces there.
Skip to 2 minutes and 40 seconds So there is a balance, if you like, between strategic priorities and the recognition that you can, arguably, get away with certain things, in terms of the equipment deployed and therefore logistics behind that is you’ve already got resources deployed around the world. So it’s a challenge, and it’s clearly a challenge that the RAF have to deal with, especially as the force decreases. So as the RAF demobilises, and actually, equipment is handed back. We’re stood here by a Tempest 2, but, behind us is a Republic P47 Thunderbolt, which is a lend lease aircraft, so it goes back. So there is still some redeployment going on. And it is a challenge for the RAF.
Skip to 3 minutes and 23 seconds It’s a challenge for the Army and Navy, as well. But eventually one that is overcome, despite Britain’s financial state. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 31 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: And you mentioned demobilisation. Thankfully, we weren’t immediately involved with a hot war. What were the difficulties involved with demobilisation and paring back some features of the RAF after the Second World War? DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 47 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: So there’s effectively a phased system in demobilisation. And the RAF, by 1947, has dropped to 300,000 personnel deployed around the world. And of course, one of the challenges is that, as more people are demobilised, the RAF still has responsibilities around the world. There’s a need to maintain that strength. And again, that’s something that affects the Army and affects the Navy. And the eventual decision by the Labour government is to introduce national service. Initially, there’s the bill passed in 1947. And as it’s due to be introduced in 1949, it’s amended. In order to keep the level– the numbers up– that’s one way of coping with the need to maintain, for the time being, a relatively large Air Force. DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 38 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: And just coming out of 1945, into the early Cold War period, can you give us an idea of the size of the professional Air Force, and how large that was intended to be, given the changes that were taking place? DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 52 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: Well, as I say, I mean, the intention was to keep the Air Force at 300,000. And the core of that would be the professional volunteers, the airmen, the pilots coming through permanent commissions and short service commissions, but topped up with National Service personnel. DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. Well, on that thought, we’ll sign off here with the RAF in 1945. And we’ll pick up again in consideration of one of the major points of conflict, which is the Berlin Airlift.
The RAF in 1945 - part III
We had three main questions in mind for this video:
What were the logistical difficulties associated with the RAF’s geographic coverage - Britain was heavily in debt in 1945.
What problems did demobilizing an air force of the size of the RAF create?
What size was envisaged for the RAF in 1945 - its role and complement of aircraft?
In the video we endeavour to answer these questions - please comment on them if you wish, but we were thinking of these as a way of structuring our discussions on this topic.
© Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon