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The RAF in 1945 – introduction

This video - and the next two - allow us to consider the RAF at the end of the Second World War.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Welcome back to the RAF in the Cold War. And for this section of the course, and the next, we want to deal with the RAF in 1945. Now we opened the course with our introduction and the Spitfire Mark 24 as the backdrop. At present, we have the Hawker Tempest II behind us now. And Ross, is it reasonable to describe those as the ultimate extensions of the Supermarine, and the Hawker design bureaus throughout the second World War? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Certainly in terms of piston engine aircraft, yes. So the Supermarine Spitfire Mark 24 that we stood by in the introduction is the last mark of Spitfire to be introduced, with only about 70 built, some of which are conversions of the Mark 22. The Hawker Tempest II behind us is, in some respects, the end of the lineage the Hawker Hurricane. Though, of course, the Typhoon– from which the Tempest is developed– it’s a very radical departure from the Hurricane. This is essentially a new design. But they’re the end of the piston engined fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force at this point in 1945. Of course, the Royal Air Force is introducing jet engined aircraft. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: So we have a really quite substantial change in the nature of the Air Force. How would you describe it in 1945? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: The Air Force as gone through some huge changes during the course of war. Both in terms of its personnel, how it’s structured, and the aircraft that it operated. The major change, of course, is the simple size of the Air Force. The Air Force reaches a peak of just over one million personnel in 1944, which is both men and women. And the scope of operations– the RAF is operating around the world globally. It’s conducted operations from the metropolitan UK, the strategic offence against Germany. Air defence of the UK, so, of course, the Battle of Britain. But then laterally in 1944, defence against– the UK against the V1 threat and the V2 threat.
And then, of course, it’s operated in the Mediterranean. Maritime air power in the Atlantic, defending Britain’s sea lines of communication against the U-Boat threat, to operating out in the Far East. The Tempest II behind us is essentially a long range fighter that is supposed to be used in the campaign against Japan, when the RAF deployed the Tiger Force. That never happens, the war ends, but the RAF is conducting global operations in the empire and outside of the empire. And that has really changed. Another thing to say is, the RAF is very adept at what does. It is arguably, at the tactical level, the best tactical Air Force in the world.
And also use of strategic air power vital to victory in the Second World War. Bomber Commands Campaign– which, of course, gets a lot of bad press when we think of raids such as Dresden in 1945– is a vital enabler to victory in the Second World War. German production is distorted. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: That’s very interesting, Ross. Because, of course, one of the things we’re going to deal with later in the this course is the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. And the fact that took 70 years, from the beginning of the strategic bombing campaign, for the brave crews to be memorialised in that way. But please give us a further picture about the RAF in 1945. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: So, of course, Bomber Command plays a really important role, a vital role, in the war against Germany. And, of course, in terms of 1945, the RAF is planning to send a strategic bombing force to take part in the campaign against Japan. Tiger Force. So the RAF, by 1945, is doing all the sorts of roles that we identify with what an air power is. To control the air, attack, situational awareness, reconnaissance that sort of thing. And air mobility. One of the things we don’t tend to realise is that the campaign in Burma, for example, is heavily reliant on air supply, and ability to resupply the columns marching forward into Burma.
So the RAF in 1945 is a really professional force that has developed techniques, is leading Air Forces. One of the other things to remember in terms of leading Air Forces, it’s the first Western Ally– first Ally, including the Soviets– to introduce jet engined aircraft into service. We will talk about the Gloster Meteor and the Havilland Vampire. The Meteor was introduced in 1944, the Vampire in 1945. This is before the Americans and the Soviets do so. Britain and the Royal Air Force is pushing the boundaries of their power in 1945. But, of course, all of that changes. Peace and– has to deal a different set of changing circumstances.

In this video, and the one after, we wanted to consider:

  • The status of the RAF in 1945;
  • its scope of operations;
  • and demobilization.

The questions we started out with were:

  1. After six years of war, how would we describe the status of the RAF – how had its role developed?
  2. Did the RAF in 1945 have an inkling of the coming Cold War and the threat from the Soviets?
  3. How extensive was the field of operation – the British Empire and beyond?

Each of the video steps in this course will feature a series of questions that we intend to answer in our filmed discussion. Please feel free to use the comments to share your own thoughts on these questions. Do you agree or disagree? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense? However, these questions were intended as our starting points, and the discussion on the video will be around them.

We will be looking at the discussions and responding where we can – but we also encourage you to respond to comments made by other learners. Remember, you can “like” comments you agree with, and “follow” learners that you find interesting.

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

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