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

Explore the role that the Royal Air Force played in the Cold War through the collections of the RAF Museums at Hendon and Cosford.

9,344 enrolled on this course

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

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    5 hours

This free online course is a collaboration between the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museums and the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. It will introduce you to some of the major turning points in the history of Britain in the post-1945 era.

Explore the changing role of the RAF during the Cold War

Guided by Dr Ross Mahoney, Aviation Historian, RAF Museum, and Dr Emmett Sullivan, Senior Lecturer in History, Royal Holloway, the course will examine:

  • The role of the RAF in the early Cold War period;
  • RAF’s operations across the globe in an era of decolonisation;
  • Britain’s decision to develop a nuclear deterrent;
  • The development of the RAF’s strategic nuclear capability, the V-Force;
  • The role of the RAF in defending UK airspace;
  • The re-focus on NATO after East of Suez and the transfer of the strategic nuclear role to the Royal Navy;
  • The RAF’s contribution to NATO.

Consider how the RAF is remembered and memorialised

Finally, we will consider how the RAF has been remembered and memorialised through the Cold War and beyond, with the establishment of the RAF Museums at Hendon and Cosford, the National Cold War Exhibition, and the erection of statues and monuments after 1945.

The course makes extensive use of material from the archives of the RAF Museum to illustrate the Cold War history of the RAF and was filmed on site at RAF Museum Hendon and Cosford.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: We’re looking forward to you joining us for the Future Learn free online course– From World War to White Heat, the RAF in the Cold War. DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 21 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: We’ll be exploring the early period of the Cold War from the breakdown of the Grand Alliance in 1945 through to the Korean War, and the role that the RAF plays in this period. DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 30 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Much of this course is going to focus on the RAF’s role within NATO. But we want to consider what the RAF was doing further afield, whether it be in Malaya, Kenya, or ultimately, in the Falkland Islands. DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: We’ll be examining the evolution of the RAF’s strategic nuclear capability with development of British nuclear weapons, and ultimately, their deployment on the V-force. DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: We’re going to look at the responsibility of the RAF for defending the skies over Britain. DR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds ROSS MAHONEY: We’ll be examining the RAF’s changing role related to the refocus on NATO in the central front after 1968. DR.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds EMMETT SULLIVAN: Finally, we’re going to consider how the RAF is remembered by the public in statues and monuments, but also the establishment of the RAF Museum in Hendon in 1972. And then also, the establishment of the RAF museum in Cosford has allowed us very close-up inspection of some of the aircraft that played a pivotal role in Britain’s history.

What topics will you cover?

  • The role of the RAF in the early Cold War period;
  • RAF’s operations across the globe in an era of decolonisation;
  • Britain’s decision to develop a nuclear deterrent;
  • The development of the RAF’s strategic nuclear capability, the V-Force;
  • The role of the RAF in defending UK airspace;
  • The re-focus on NATO after East of Suez and the transfer of the strategic nuclear role to the Royal Navy;
  • The RAF’s contribution to NATO.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of the RAF at the end of the Second World War.
  • Assess the role of the RAF as it developed in the early Cold War years.
  • Compare the RAF’s responsibilities with respect to Britain’s nuclear deterrent before and after 1968.
  • Debate with educators and learners Britain’s motivation in holding a nuclear arsenal in the Cold War.
  • Develop a knowledge of the Government’s strategy in procuring RAF aircraft from British industry.
  • Discuss the responsibilities of the RAF in an era of decolonisation overseas and with NATO.
  • Evaluate what the Government’s priorities were for the RAF in defending the ‘Home Front’ in the Cold War.
  • Explain why the Royal Navy were destined to deploy Britain’s nuclear deterrent after the Nassau Agreement.
  • Identify key turning points in the Cold War, and how the RAF responded to these.
  • Reflect on the way the public considers the history of the RAF through its museums and public monuments.

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in 20th-century history, the Cold War or the history of aviation. It doesn’t require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject.

Who will you learn with?

Dr Emmett Sullivan: former researcher, tutor and lecturer at the ANU, La Trobe, Leicester, RHUL & VUW, specialising in economic history, policy & international relations.

Dr Ross Mahoney is the Aviation Historian at RAF Museum. Educated at the universities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton. His research interests include air power, leadership, military culture, and PME.

Who developed the course?

Royal Holloway, University of London

Queen Victoria presided over the grand opening of Royal Holloway in 1886. Since then the College has continued to grow in size and status to become one of the top research-led institutions in the UK.

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