Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Now, a little earlier when we were talking about the development of the strike force, Ross quizzed me as to the aircraft that were available in Germany, and I forgot to mention the Lightning. Bad me. But let's actually start talking about what became a very important role after 1968, which is RAF Germany, the central front, and if you like, the tactical strike role that the RAF start to perform. And this was really the front line for NATO in the Cold War through this latter period of the course.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, of course, if the Cold War had gone hot, almost certainly it would have been central Europe, attacks by the Soviets potentially through the Fulda Gap, for example, or across the North German Plain, which is primarily where British forces were focused in terms of that division. And so yeah, after 1968 when the RAF hands over the strategic nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy, the RAF's major focus becomes two related areas.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsOne is the defence of the United Kingdom, one of the air defence regions of NATO, but also deployment of forces to RAF Germany in Germany to support NATO and command what's by now referred to as the second allied tactical air forces, so the air forces in what relates to the north German section of the command structure in Germany.

Skip to 1 minute and 47 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: And the RAF developed a number of very specific tactics to support NATO forces in the event of any hot war during that period.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, so the 1970s and 1980s sees the RAF re-equipped with a variety of equipment, which perform a variety of roles, of course. Behind us we have a Harrier GR Mark 3, which is deployed in Germany, of course. Has the advantage that in the case of hot war, it could be deployed to advanced landing grounds, it could be deployed out of airfields. Other aircraft that come in to service the Lightning is replaced in the air defence role by the Phantom once the Phantom is taken out of the strike role. When the Jaguar comes into service, then the Jaguar is deployed in the strike role to RAF Germany.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsAnd then, of course, in the 1980s, the Tornado is introduced into service and forms the core of the RAF's deployment in the region. And the RAF primarily is a low-level strike force. There's some interesting debates in the 1970s and early 1980s over NATO doctrine and the differences between the second allied tactical air force in the north and the fourth allied tactical air force in the south, which is primarily led by the Americans, and how they would deliver strike packages to somewhere in between.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 secondsBut the RAF also prefers, let's say, low-level but also small strike packages-- couple of aircraft at high sortie rates, compared to the Americans, who primarily at this time are operating at the medium level with large strike packages, combined strike packages with different aircraft such as Wild Weasels and electronic warfare aircraft. In terms of the technology that's supporting that, of course, the RAF become very, very proficient at this, especially in terms of introduction of weapons systems such as JP233 , an aerial denial in the interdiction role that the RAF increasingly are tasked with by NATO in the course.

Skip to 3 minutes and 44 secondsSo the RAF come up with a variety of tactics to support the conduct of war at the operational level, which is something else that's quite interesting about this period, is it's argued that the British military rediscover or discover, some people suggest, the operational level of war. I would suggest it's rediscover. They've always understood the operational level, it's just not necessary to be written in that way. But the RAF do very well at what's its new role, which is conducting war at the operational level.

Skip to 4 minutes and 14 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: And in this context, the RAF'S role within the central front means that it would be absolutely a critical player should any conventional war break out between east and western forces.

Skip to 4 minutes and 25 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, of course there are significant forces deployed into Germany. The bulk of the Tornado fleet in the 1980s is centred on the clutch air bases, places such as RAF Brüggen. And that's represented, the recognition and the importance of RAF Germany is highlighted in things such as the building of hardened air shelters against potential attack and this sort of recognition. But this is going to be the RAF's main role apart from, of course, the air defence in the UK.

Skip to 4 minutes and 59 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: So that's consideration of the RAF in Germany, the central front of NATO, and if you like, where the Cold War battle lines were effectively drawn for the majority of the period we're considering. Thank you.

RAF Germany

RAF Germany: The Central Front and Tactical Strike Capacity

In this video we consider the following statements:

  1. We previously neglected the English Electric Lightening as an RAF-assigned aircraft to defend Germany in the 1970s, but this was really the ‘frontline’ of NATO for the entire Cold War.
  2. The RAF developed a number of very specific tactics to support NATO forces in the Central Front.
  3. The Tactical Strike role meant that the RAF would have been a critical player in any conventional European war.

As ever, we would like to hear your views on these points, and others raised in the video.

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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