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Week 5 Conclusion

Emmett Sullivan sums up the major themes in week five of ‘The RAF in the Cold War’.

The end of the Cold War

Throughout the period looked at this week, it is clear that the role and structure of the RAF changed and developed continuously. This was in part a response to the ushering in of the new Cold War era, but was a more practical consequence of the economic conditions within Britain following the conclusion of the Second World War. From the beginning of our period, and the 1957 Sandys White Paper, up until the concept of ‘peace dividend’ in the early 1990s, the RAF, and the aerospace industry as a whole, is subject to strenuous interrogations about its need for finance and indeed additions to its arsenal.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the transference of Britain’s nuclear deterrent from the RAF to the Royal Navy with the development of the Polaris missile system. This was a consequence of costs spiralling out of control, and also highlights the dependence Britain had on the US at this point in time. Indeed, the Skybolt scandal raised serious questions in Parliament about the influence of Britain, and consequently led to the RAF putting their own stamp on any aircraft or missile imports from abroad. However, due to the changing nature of geopolitics and indeed Britain’s financial status, the need to co-operate on different programmes, be they aircraft or missile development, was a crucial element of our period.

Thank you very much!

Congratulations on reaching the end of Week 5.

This has been the last week in which we explicitly deal with the history of the Cold War. As you will have seen, twenty years on from the end of the Second World War, the British Government ended any real attempts to put British combat aircraft research and development at the very forefront of world developments. The eventual replacement for the Canberra, and the follow on from the TSR-2, was built in collaboration with Germany and Italy. The Tornado is a capable aircraft; but is among a number of similar aircraft which came out of the 1970s and 1980s. The RAF started to buy aircraft ‘off the shelf’ (the Phantom, the Sentry), or collaborate with other nations in design and production (e.g. the Jaguar, the Harrier II, the Eurofighter). The Nimrod, the first version of the Harrier and the Hawk trainer, perhaps represent the last of the original British aircraft developed for RAF service.

The transfer of the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy saw the RAF become a very effective tactical air force supporting NATO in Europe. However, as we noted in week two, perhaps the Falklands War was the last point when the RAF could mount a major campaign on its own overseas. With Gulf War I, the RAF showed how it could effectively contribute to a coalition force and draw on its Cold War training in a different environment.

For the final week of the course, we are still going to deal with the RAF in the Cold War (and beyond), but in a substantially different context: how the RAF was remembered through this period; and how the Cold War has been commemorated with the National Cold War Exhibition. The National Cold War Exhibition is part of the hangers displaying RAF History at Hendon and Cosford, and we will be looking at the development of both sites. However, we will also consider how the RAF is viewed through memorials in Runnymede and London established after 1945.

This course to a certain degree can be considered as a form of public history, and we will use the final week to consider how the history of the RAF was brought to the public though physical memorials and museums associated with the RAF.

We look forward to seeing you back for the final week.

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

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