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Course introduction

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan discuss their motivation for putting this course on.
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Dr Emmett Sullivan: Greetings and welcome to “From World War
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to White Heat: The RAF in the Cold War.” I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you from the RAF Museum in London. And I’d like to introduce you to the aviation historian at the RAF museum, Dr. Ross Mahoney. Hi Ross.
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Dr Ross Mahoney: Hi, Emmett.
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Dr Emmett Sullivan: We thought about how to actually approach the topic of the RAF in a broader context. And decided the Cold War period was one that works for both of our interests. I teach a course at Royal Holloway, University of London,
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under the title of “The Bomb: Atomic Weaponry and Society in the 20th Century.” And there are aspects of this course which are going to feed into that broad course for my students as well as for yourselves. Ross pointed out with the National Cold War exhibition RAF Cosford, we had a very good basis to develop something around the Cold War for this course. Ross.
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Dr Ross Mahoney: Yes, of course the Cold War, a major period in the RAF’s history. Half of the RAF’s history, if we think about it in that respect. 50 years of preparing for a war that never happened. And of course, from my own personal perspective, starting some research on the Royal Air Force in Germany and its place in Britain’s defence landscape and that changing role, especially as Britain moves from– the RAF moves from having a strategic nuclear deterrent to focusing on the central front with NATO. So, the Cold War is a really, really interesting period of history from my perspective, but also that of the service.
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Dr Emmett Sullivan: Thank you. Now, one of the themes which is going to be underlying this course is the idea of memorialisation. So in the last week, we’re going to be dealing with the museums, and to a certain degree, the exhibits in London in particular that commemorate the RAF and other air forces. And that’s something that we will touch upon in the earlier weeks. But, we’d like to think about how in the Cold War, the establishment of this museum and then later, RAF Cosford as a Royal Air Force Museum helped to bring the RAF into the public’s mind from a public history perspective.
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Dr Ross Mahoney: Yeah, of course the museum itself is an active memorialisation and commemoration. It’s eventual opening in the 70’s. A really important point for understanding how we commemorate the RAF and its antecedents, the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service. And of course, more recently, the opening of the National Cold War Exhibition at the museum in Cosford is all about how we commemorate the Cold War. And the RAF’s involvement in that sort of aspect such as the the Berlin air lift, life in Germany during the Cold War, but also more broadly, the RAF’s operations around the globe, which is a theme we’ll come back to more and more as we go through the course.
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Is that the RAF during the Cold War is not just focused on delivering nuclear weapons or operations in the central front in Germany, but the withdrawal from empire and the role that the RAF plays there in counter – what today we call counter-insurgency campaigns. But more commonly, small wars, especially in places such as Malaya and Kenya.
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Dr Emmett Sullivan: And we’re going to be picking up on those themes from next week. Principally, we’re going to be dealing with this week the period from 1945 and the early years of the Cold War, including the Berlin Air Lift. And then next week, to make sure the course doesn’t have too much of a eurocentric focus, considering the wider role of the RAF, including Malaya and its humanitarian function, as you mentioned. Thereafter we will be concentrating on some of the central Cold War events.
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The development of the independent nuclear deterrent, the V-force, defending Britain, and ultimately from 1965– and of course, the second part of the quote comes from Harold Wilson’s speech in 1963 about having Britain at the technological forefront of the white heat of technological change. And actually seeing what happens after 1965 to government policy and then the role of the RAF in that regard. So we are looking to develop those themes, and then to round off the course by considering how the RAF is represented within the public sphere. So thank you very much. My name is Emmett Sullivan. And we are going to move on from this point.
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The first topic we’re going to be dealing with in depth is actually in the RAF in 1945. Thank you very much.
Welcome to the course!
Dr Ross Mahoney and I will be hosting the discussion for the six weeks of the course. Ross is the Aviation Historian for the RAF Museums, and he is based in Hendon, London. I am a Senior Lecturer in History at Royal Holloway, University of London, based in Egham, Surrey.
We conceived of this free online course as a way of exploring the role of the RAF in the Cold War for the public more generally. Ross is developing a research project around the topic; and I teach a University of London Special Subject (a final year undergraduate double unit) under the title ‘The Bomb – A History’, which deals in part with the development and deployment of Britain’s atomic and nuclear deterrent during this era. We have tried to make the course as accessible as possible, and we hope you enjoy learning more about the RAF and its role in this period.
Please feel free to view our profiles and “follow” us if you would like to stay up to date with the comments we make in this course:
Dr Ross Mahoney
Dr Emmett Sullivan
As well as Ross and myself, Kim Zinngrebe will be the discussion manager for the course in the first three weeks. Kim is currently finishing her PhD at SOAS, Univeristy of London (she has just submitted her doctorate), and has degrees from Royal Holloway, the LSE and Oxford. Kim has worked on both of the previous Department of History free online courses, and appears in my earlier course. Kim is based in Germany, her homeland.
Periodically during each of the weeks we will be interviewing a range of people who have an association with the topic. Here, in the first week, we will be talking to Flight Lieutenant Roger Wilkins about his experiences in the RAF under National Service. Roger stayed on to fly Meteor and Hunter jets around the world in the service of the UK. We will have other guests popping up as the weeks go on.
There is a Facebook page for the course, where we will adding some additional material as we go along; and there is also a Twitter account as well. The hashtag for the course is #FLcoldwarRAF.
We hope you enjoy the course, and please engage with the discussions whenever you can.
Emmett Sullivan
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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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