EMMETT SULLIVAN: Now you mentioned peace, but one of the things that we’re dealing with, clearly, is the Cold War. And there’s an arc from 1945 to 1950, where historians will describe the beginning of the Cold War. I personally take it from the Trinity test, some will leave it as late as the beginning of the Korean War, and there are a number of events in-between where you could reasonably talk about the beginning of the Cold War. Now do you have a feeling that the RAF had an inkling of what was ahead of them, and the confrontation with the Soviets was going to be their next conflict? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: I think there are two things there. First is, when does the Cold War start? We can go back as far as 1917– the revolution in Russia, the emergence of the Soviet Union. Much in the 1920s until the early 1930s, the Soviet Union is perceived to be the greater threat. That changes as Nazi Germany arrives, but that feeling, I don’t think, ever leaves. I don’t think it ever leaves Churchill, for example. And, of course, as we get to 1945, there is an inkling– certainly from Churchill, certainly with the British Chiefs-of-Staff committee– that the next enemy is going to be the Soviet Union. And actually Germany plays on this in its surrender negotiations.
They basically said, we’ve got a ready made force here, to help you fight the Soviets. And there is a plan that emerges, ironically enough, called Operation Unthinkable, because it is unthinkable. Britain has been fighting a war for over five years. It’s exhausted. It is essentially broke, for lack of a better description. But Churchill orders several plans to be examined, to consider how Britain and the Western Allies may confront the Soviet Union. With the perception being that the war against the Soviet Union will start on the 1st of July, 1945– just under two months since the end of the war in Europe.
And we’re still fighting the Japanese in Europe, and there’s an offensive plan– which is basically considered madness– which would include, potentially, Germans. Former Wehrmacht soldiers. But the problem is that the Red Army outnumbers the Western Allies quite significantly, in terms of numbers. There is then a defensive plan, which for the British is quite heavily reliant on the RAF and air power. If the Soviets decide to attack, how do we respond? What do we have? We have a large strategic bombing force that is capable of just about reaching strategic targets on the edge of the Soviet Union. But actually, if you based them in Germany, quite capable of reaching Moscow, and places like that.
So the RAF and the other services are thinking about it, but they’re clearly not very keen on it. They’ve got Japan to defeat, and there is this hope that the end of the war will bring an end to that. But of course, as we move into 1946-1947, and eventually 1948, that relationship with the Soviet Union breaks down. The Grand Alliance, by 1948, is essentially dead. And we see the Berlin Blockade, and the Berlin Airlift And eventually, we see the formation of NATO. And the RAF is quite central to helping provide the basis for the majority of Air Forces in northern Germany, for what will eventually, in the 1950s, become known as RAF Germany.
So there is a recognition that things have changed. What once was perceived as quite a rosy relationship in the middle of the Second World War, by the end of it, it’s over. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Given the planning for this future conflict, we still have an RAF which is covering a global role. So could you talk a little bit about where in the world the RAF was actually having to cover its responsibilities? Planning for potentially a Soviet war? Planning to help the defeat of Japan? So 1945, there’s still a global reach for the RAF. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yes, and the RAF, of course, is still operating in the Far East. It is planning to operate against the, Japanese, so there is planning for building air bases in Okinawa. So just after the Americans liberate– or take– Okinawa, there are discussions between the British and the Americans to build airbases there, for the base of a Tiger Force. And, of course, when the war ends in Japan, there are a series of nationalist movements that arise in what will become former British colonies. So by 1948, for example, we see the emergence of what’s referred to by historians as the Malayan Emergency.
So the Communist Party in Malaya rise up against the British, and we spend 12 years fighting a small war counterinsurgency against the Communists, which becomes the pattern for operations in the ’50s and ’60s. Both as the Western Allies attempt to contain Soviet expansion, but also as countries such as Britain, and also laterally, France, withdraw from their former empires– or because France try to hold onto their former empire, the British at least recognise that it’s time to hand it back. But there is a decision to try and hand them back in the most peaceful way possible, arguably to a government that is sympathetic to the West.
And in doing so, Britain becomes quite closely involved in campaigns in places like Malaya, and other parts of the empire, as we withdraw. That’s all part of the planning, or the operations, against communism as a perceived threat to the Western way of life. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Thank you very much, Ross. Ross has picked up on a number of things that we’re going to be dealing with for the rest of this week’s part of the course, and for next week’s. But we will sign off here, and give you an opportunity to move over to the next stage, which is the supporting material for what we’ve just discussed. Thank you.