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Humanitarian relief

The actions of the RAF overseas in relief of crises was one of their less-heralded roles during the Cold War. We consider this here.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Now considering further the RAF’s role across the globe, humanitarian relief has become quite an important part of what the RAF has become known for beyond its Cold War role, specifically. So Ross, in terms of seeing RAF Hercules is turning up in areas where disaster has struck, is this an understated aspect of the history of the RAF and the Cold War period?
ROSS MAHONEY: It certainly is an aspect to the RAF’s history that’s not as well known. It’s an important aspect. The RAF play roles in many humanitarian relief operations. But for the UK and further afield, it perhaps doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves. Why that is, well, one could postulate a couple of ideas. But it’s not as romantic as a– romantic is probably the wrong word, to be fair– but it doesn’t have the same sort of impact as operations in the Empire– or former Empire– might be, flying on the central front, flying a Vulcan. So yeah, it’s understated.
But it’s a crucially important aspect of the services role throughout the Cold War period and, of course, as we go into today.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. Could give you us an idea of the major theatres where the RAF has made a substantial impact when it comes to humanitarian relief?
ROSS MAHONEY: It’s global– from Honduras in 1961, Pakistan in 1970, various humanitarian relief efforts, Mali in 1973. So it’s going on around the world. But as I said, at home, so we can separate the humanitarian operation sort of into operations in Britain– air-sea rescue, for example, maritime control, when fishermen or people on their boats get lost, even the mountain rescue service because the RAF maintains a link to the search and rescue helicopters within the context of the UK. So humanitarian operation, it’s an aid to civil power. And then of course, more broadly, I’ve mentioned Pakistan, Honduras, and so forth. So there are two sides to this. The UK one is predominantly based on the search and rescue helicopters.
The more global operations use the transport fleets from what was Transport Command then it becomes Air Support Command. And you have aircraft such as the Hercules take part heavily in those operations.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: In terms of projecting a positive role for the RAF, have the involvement in humanitarian aid and relief, both domestically and internationally, been an important contributor for the RAF?
ROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, arguably it has. And one only has to look at the debate over, let’s say, essentially, the privatisation of search and rescue force of both the RAF and the Royal Navy in the UK. Why is this role being taken away from the military who’ve done it so well for so long? So it does. It has presented a lot of good press. One of the reasons is arguably is because it’s a non-kinetic operation. It doesn’t involve weapons. And it shows that air power is much more than just fighting, that actually the mobility and range afforded by aircraft means you can get to places quickly and fast and help people.
And you see this globally in the humanitarian operations, the ability to get relief out there and start helping people who are in need is a major advantage of air power. And one of the RAF’s key important roles in this period. So yeah, it does and did the RAF lots of good.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. Thank you, Ross. We’re standing in front of a Twin Pioneer at RAF Cosford. We’ll perhaps talk a little bit more about this aircraft in the next step and the written part that comes with this. But the ‘Tablet Twins’ will now sign off. And we’ll move on to the next section of the course.

Support in time of crisis.

In this video we consider the following questions:

  1. We see RAF Hercules transports providing support around the world where disaster strikes. Has this function of the RAF been understated in the history of the Cold War?

  2. Where have been the major theatres where the RAF have made a humanitarian impact?

  3. When we discuss the winning of ‘hearts and minds’, how important has this aspect of Transport Command’s actions been overseas?

If you have time, please comment on these and other points below.

The Twin Pioneer

In the video step we refer to the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer CCII, where it features as a backdrop to the video. Here is some background information on it, provided by the RAF Museum:

Known as the ‘Twin Pin’, the Twin Pioneer was a follow-up to the same company’s single-engined short take-off and landing (STOL) transport, the Pioneer, and like the latter required an area only 30m (99ft) by 275m (902ft) in which to operate. … Following the success of the Pioneer, the RAF ordered 39 of the new type, the first examples entering service in October 1958 with No.78 Squadron in Aden, air-lifting troops and supplies in the Protectorate. STOL characteristics and suitability for operations in tropical conditions were also demonstrated by aircraft based in Singapore (during the Borneo Campaign in the 1960s), in Bahrain (during the 1961 Kuwaiti crisis) and in Kenya (on internal security duties in the mid-1960s). A fifth unit to use the Twin Pioneer was No.230 Squadron at RAF Odiham which provided transport support for Army units. In 1965 an additional aircraft was acquired for use by the Empire Test Pilots School, though the last aircraft on frontline duties was retired in 1968.

Humanitarian Operations & Emergencies

In addition to the vital role played by the RAF in many limited brush fire actions around the world, it has been a traditional part of air operations since 1945 that the RAF has brought aid to the civilian population whenever it has been needed. The most obvious example has been the part played by the RAF Search and Rescue organization originally set up for the recovery of aircrew – which, mainly by helicopter but with the assistance of Mountain Rescue Teams and Marine Craft Units, saved thousands of people from rocks, cliffs, dinghies and ships around British coasts and brought injured climbers to safety from mountainous areas, particularly Snowdonia and the Highlands of Scotland. In a typical year, from the 9 stations where they maintained a readiness of 15 minutes by day and 1 hour by night, RAF helicopters responded to 924 incidents. For incidents beyond helicopter range, Search and Rescue was carried out by fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft such as the Shackleton. Further afield, the RAF was called upon to fly food, clothing and medical supplies into areas struck by natural disasters: hurricanes in British Honduras (1961): cyclones in East Pakistan (1970) which took 20,000 lives, earthquakes at Agadir in Morocco (1960) and Nicaragua (1972), and famine in Kenya and Somalia (1961-62), Nepal (1973) and Mali in West Africa (1973)….
The operational RAF of the post-1945 world had been in constant action at some time or other around the world but as in the inter-war years, peace was only relative. … [W]herever British forces were involved, the RAF was able to demonstrate the flexibility and mobility of air power as a vital part of success in limited war operations. In particular, the parts played by the helicopter and other air transport forces were often the most important contribution of the RAF. While this kind of flying did not have the same instant success or failure of more offensive air operations and was certainly seen to be less spectacular, it did place high demands on the endurance and skill of those engaged in it. Without that kind of skill, the ground forces would have found their task so much more difficult and costly. World-wide basing may have greatly diminished since the late 1960s, but the RAF can be justifiably proud of its peacetime achievements over this period.
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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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