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This content is taken from the Royal Holloway, University of London & RAF Museum's online course, From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: This week, we’ve looked at the global role of the RAF in the developing Cold War period. And in many respects, the footprint that we’ve looked across the globe has a lot to do with Britain’s imperial role and the transition from imperial control to independence and some of the difficulties that were fraught with that. So whether we’re looking at Kenya, Malaya, or, right at the end, if you like, we might even consider the last imperial war the Falkland Islands. We see the RAF cast in a role of supporting democratic governments or defending British territory in that very broad sort of overseas definition of it.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds Now clearly, the RAF is retreating back during this period to a more considered NATO role. It still has an international role. And if you think about it, we have nuclear equipped Vulcans stationed in Singapore for parts of the 1960s. So this retreat back to, if you like, a British perspective when it comes to the RAF’s role is very, very late in the piece when we look at the way the Cold War goes together. Now for the next three weeks, we’re going to consider more actively what is happening with that NATO role. We’re going to consider the bomber force in two parts. And we’re going to consider the fighter force in terms of aerial defence in a single week.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds But the RAF has had to cover vast areas of the globe throughout the Cold War period, and not necessarily in an overt or aggressive way, either.

Week 2 conclusion

Reviewing week two.

Thank you very much for completing this week of study. We have considered the way the RAF operated around the world during the Cold War era, but beyond their specific NATO role. Decolonisation and fighting communist insurgents seemed to go hand-in-hand during the 1950s and 1960s. The Suez Crisis and the Falklands War represent different forms of imperialism, and with very different conclusions.

Peter Devitt discussed how the RAF incorporated and embraced Empire and New Commonwealth pilots and crew in a way which the service can be proud of. This is an important aspect of the RAF – as an employer – which is little considered. However, we are ultimately looking at a service which is having to adapt to changed world circumstances; and in employment terms we would consider the RAF to be progressive.

Britain itself began looking for a new world role after the shame of Suez in 1956. However, in the decade up to that crisis Britain was looking to cement its place in the new world order while moving away from an imperial role – the Suez Crisis was a distinctly retrograde step in that respect. Although a partner in the Manhattan Project, Britain found itself cut out of future United States atomic research from 1946. In Week 3 we are going to consider Britain and its development of atomic and then nuclear weapons, along with the central role the RAF was to play in that regard. In the Cold War world of the 1950s, being a world power meant having ‘The Bomb’ and a strategic bombing force to deliver them, and less so having an empire.

So we hope very much that you will re-join us to consider this absolutely pivotal role the RAF played in Britain’s efforts to deter the USSR in the 1950s and early-1960s.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London