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RAF Germany

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan discuss RAF Germany, the NATO Central Front and RAF’s tactical strike capacity.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Now, a little earlier when we were talking about the development of the strike force, Ross quizzed me as to the aircraft that were available in Germany, and I forgot to mention the Lightning. Bad me. But let’s actually start talking about what became a very important role after 1968, which is RAF Germany, the central front, and if you like, the tactical strike role that the RAF start to perform. And this was really the front line for NATO in the Cold War through this latter period of the course.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, of course, if the Cold War had gone hot, almost certainly it would have been central Europe, attacks by the Soviets potentially through the Fulda Gap, for example, or across the North German Plain, which is primarily where British forces were focused in terms of that division. And so yeah, after 1968 when the RAF hands over the strategic nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy, the RAF’s major focus becomes two related areas.
One is the defence of the United Kingdom, one of the air defence regions of NATO, but also deployment of forces to RAF Germany in Germany to support NATO and command what’s by now referred to as the second allied tactical air forces, so the air forces in what relates to the north German section of the command structure in Germany.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: And the RAF developed a number of very specific tactics to support NATO forces in the event of any hot war during that period.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, so the 1970s and 1980s sees the RAF re-equipped with a variety of equipment, which perform a variety of roles, of course. Behind us we have a Harrier GR Mark 3, which is deployed in Germany, of course. Has the advantage that in the case of hot war, it could be deployed to advanced landing grounds, it could be deployed out of airfields. Other aircraft that come in to service the Lightning is replaced in the air defence role by the Phantom once the Phantom is taken out of the strike role. When the Jaguar comes into service, then the Jaguar is deployed in the strike role to RAF Germany.
And then, of course, in the 1980s, the Tornado is introduced into service and forms the core of the RAF’s deployment in the region. And the RAF primarily is a low-level strike force. There’s some interesting debates in the 1970s and early 1980s over NATO doctrine and the differences between the second allied tactical air force in the north and the fourth allied tactical air force in the south, which is primarily led by the Americans, and how they would deliver strike packages to somewhere in between.
But the RAF also prefers, let’s say, low-level but also small strike packages– couple of aircraft at high sortie rates, compared to the Americans, who primarily at this time are operating at the medium level with large strike packages, combined strike packages with different aircraft such as Wild Weasels and electronic warfare aircraft. In terms of the technology that’s supporting that, of course, the RAF become very, very proficient at this, especially in terms of introduction of weapons systems such as JP233 , an aerial denial in the interdiction role that the RAF increasingly are tasked with by NATO in the course.
So the RAF come up with a variety of tactics to support the conduct of war at the operational level, which is something else that’s quite interesting about this period, is it’s argued that the British military rediscover or discover, some people suggest, the operational level of war. I would suggest it’s rediscover. They’ve always understood the operational level, it’s just not necessary to be written in that way. But the RAF do very well at what’s its new role, which is conducting war at the operational level.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: And in this context, the RAF’S role within the central front means that it would be absolutely a critical player should any conventional war break out between east and western forces.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, of course there are significant forces deployed into Germany. The bulk of the Tornado fleet in the 1980s is centred on the clutch air bases, places such as RAF Brüggen. And that’s represented, the recognition and the importance of RAF Germany is highlighted in things such as the building of hardened air shelters against potential attack and this sort of recognition. But this is going to be the RAF’s main role apart from, of course, the air defence in the UK.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: So that’s consideration of the RAF in Germany, the central front of NATO, and if you like, where the Cold War battle lines were effectively drawn for the majority of the period we’re considering. Thank you.

RAF Germany: The Central Front and Tactical Strike Capacity

In this video we consider the following statements:

  1. We previously neglected the English Electric Lightening as an RAF-assigned aircraft to defend Germany in the 1970s, but this was really the ‘frontline’ of NATO for the entire Cold War.
  2. The RAF developed a number of very specific tactics to support NATO forces in the Central Front.
  3. The Tactical Strike role meant that the RAF would have been a critical player in any conventional European war.

As ever, we would like to hear your views on these points, and others raised in the video.

RAF Germany

Germany is seen as being the main battlefront of the Cold War, certainly with regard to Europe, as two of the Cold War’s hottest moments happened here: the Berlin Airlift 1948-49, and the building of the Berlin Wall, 1961. The Berlin Airlift was a monumental achievement by the Allies, including the RAF that continued to provide supplies to the Western zones of Berlin following the Soviets blocking of all transportation links.

Therefore the Allied forces had to provide food, coal and raw materials to two million civilians by air. To recap, Operation Plainfare was the RAF’s contribution to this monumental achievement, and it lasted until the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949. Between 26 June and the end of July 1948, the combined US-British total was 70,410 tons of food, resources and coal in 14,036 flights; by December 1948, it had doubled in only 16,486 flights; while in May 1949, a record 250,834 tons were flown in 27,717 flights in the one month. The lifting of the blockade by the Soviets was a huge embarrassment for Stalin and it set up for long-standing conflicts.

It was a constant reminder of the superiority of the West and, more importantly in the Cold War context, it was an illustration of the Allied commitment to West Germany, and West Berlin. Considering this, it is hardly surprising that not only did West Germany become a full member of NATO, but consequently received the RAF and air support that was part of the package deal of being a NATO member.

The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 is probably the most important flashpoint of the whole Cold War in the European context, and is arguably the event that ended the Cold War in Europe. The Wall divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989, and was constructed by the East German authorities on orders from Moscow.

It completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin, with only supplies from West Germany being allowed in. It would have been equivalent to declaring war to not allow these supplies in, and the Soviets would not have wanted to be embarrassed–as happened during the Berlin Airlift. Soviet propaganda painted the building of the Wall as a necessary measure in order to keep its socialist populations from the ‘fascist’ West. Away from this rhetoric, the real reason behind building the Wall was to stop high levels of migration from the poverty-stricken East to the prosperous West. It is estimated that before the Wall, around 3.5 million East Germans had escaped into the Western zones through West Berlin, which was highly embarrassing for Moscow.

It was also detrimental to the future of East Berlin, as a large proportion of this number were highly skilled workers that would have contributed to its future prosperity. The Wall was a highly effective preventative measure, and was heavily criticised by the West due to its restrictions on freedom of movement. Not only did the Wall provide a physical barrier to this problem, but also it served as a symbolic divide as well between the East and West, i.e. capitalism and communism. It seemed that Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ had finally been realised in physical form.

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

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