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RAF Germany

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan discuss RAF Germany, the NATO Central Front and RAF’s tactical strike capacity.

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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