RAF Centenary 1918–2018

This came to me from The Churchill Centre, as it may have to some of you, by Robert Courts

The Mall leading from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch is alive with red, white, and blue. Union Jacks combined with sky-blue RAF ensigns hang from every lamppost. The centenary celebration of the first air force to become a fully independent branch of any nation’s military is underway in London.

On the roof terrace above the House of Commons, the first aircraft appear: a lumbering phalanx of Chinooks, the distinctive rumble from their double rotors beating off the office blocks below. Next come the big stars passing the London Eye, roaring behind the scaffold-clad Elizabeth Tower, and zipping around the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings with their proudly displayed RAF station flags. The audience audibly gasps at the music of nine Rolls-Royce Merlin and Griffon engines powering the Lancaster, Spitfires, and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The national DNA stirs within every watching person.

The flypast slowly speeds up. The heavy transports from West Oxfordshire’s RAF Brize Norton lead the secretive intelligence aircraft from the old Bomber County of Lincolnshire before the brand new Anglo-American F-35s roar in to lead the centrepiece: twenty-two Typhoons—the backbone of the RAF’s modern fleet—forming a “100” figure in the sky. And as a finale, the world-famous Red Arrows slide in effortless formation across the grey sky, trailing red, white, and blue smoke as they go.

In Parliament Square, Whitehall, and Trafalgar Square, tens of thousands of people wear RAF roundel rosettes while their eyes search skyward. They clutch the augmented reality app to “collect” aircraft types as they appear. The iPhone app illustrates how far the RAF’s aviation has come. On Horseguards Parade, the RAF have brought a selection of their most famous aircraft for public display. The first—the BE2c, a canvas and wood contraption—is a world away from the digitally inter-connected, supersonic F-35s and Typhoons. Yet these radically different types of machine are separated by only 100 years.

For the RAF personnel of today, flying the plane is a basic skill compared with operating the mission systems on their complicated aircraft and that more akin to operating their iPhones than the “seat of the pants,” stick-and-rudder flight of the First World War.

In just a century, the Royal Air Force has gone from experimental novelty to the heart of British national identity. It has policed an Empire, taken help to the victims of natural disasters worldwide, flown a nuclear deterrent, fought for victory above the trenches, taken the fight to the enemy when no-one else could, and, in the long, hot summer of 1940, saved a nation and the free world before being justly immortalised by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Few may be fewer now than once they were, but they still lead the world, and have a richly-deserved place in the centre of Britain’s national life.

Robert Courts is Member of Parliament for Whitney.

I would have given much to be standing in, say, Trafalgar Square that day. Not least because the music of the Merlin speaks at a very deep level to one’s soul. Think of that, standing in the square honoring one of the greatest heroes of the English Speaking people, while honoring some of the bravest of them, the renowned “Few”.

Mr. Courts gives an accurate, albeit short history of the RAF, little point to adding to it in a general post. But the RAF (especially, but not only) epitomizes the toughness, the doughtiness, dare I say the pluck, of the British forces. It is one of the base causes of the modern world and needs to be more honored.

Part of the reason that this came through to us from The Churchill Centre is, of course, his speech which memorialized the RAF in the Battle of Britain:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain…

All true, and perhaps understated, here was the first check on Hitler’s designs, which led him in his hubris to take on the Soviet Union, thus leading to his regimes ignominious end.

The last paragraph of that speech spoke of another matter, one that foretold the future

…Some months ago we came to the conclusion that the interests of the United States and of the British Empire both required that the United States should have facilities for the naval and air defence of the Western Hemisphere against the attack of a Nazi power… We had therefore decided spontaneously, and without being asked or offered any inducement, to inform the Government of the United States that we would be glad to place such defence facilities at their disposal by leasing suitable sites in our Transatlantic possessions for their greater security against the unmeasured dangers of the future.… His Majesty’s Government are entirely willing to accord defence facilities to the United States on a 99 years’ leasehold basis… Undoubtedly this process means that these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage. For my own part, looking out upon the future, I do not view the process with any misgivings. I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it. Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days

So it has proved, to the benefit of all the world, and that too was on display as the RAF flew over London the other day. Leading the current day warriors in their Typhoons, was the future, in the Anglo-American F35, the aircraft that is the future of air power in all the English speaking world. Unless I miss my guess, the F-35s were from the first squadron of Lightning IIs in the RAF, No 617 Squadron, the justly famed Dambusters. It is fitting that it should make its first ceremonial appearance leading the oldest air force in the world.

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From the Comments: Au Revoir, No. 617 Squadron

Royal Canadian Air Force Ensign (1941-1968)

Royal Canadian Air Force Ensign (1941-1968) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday Father Robert of Irishanglican added a comment to our article on No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters. It’s far too good to be buried in comments, so here it is.

irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert says:

April 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm (Edit)

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This looked quite interesting! The only American in the Dam Busters… Flight Lieutenant Joe C McCarthy (deceased, 1998)

In March 1943, a special Royal Air Force (RAF) unit, 617 Squadron, was created to try a new tactic–low altitude bombing using deep penetration bombs that weighed from 9,500 to 22,000 pounds. Their first targets were three dams in the Ruhr industrial area of western Germany: the Mohne, the Eder, and the Sorpe. These dams supplied water for Ruhr steel mills and hydroelectric power. Twenty Avro Lancaster bombers were specially modified for this mission to carry a new, rotating skip bomb that would bounce across the lake, sink, and then explode at the base of the dam. So secret was the dam busting mission, that the pilots and navigators were briefed only the day before as to the actual targets. The three dams were struck, and two were breached, on the night of 16 May 1943.

“Joe ” McCarthy, from Long Island, New York, was an original member of 617 Squadron. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1941 and soon transferred with his crew to RAF Bomber Command. From 1941 until late 1944, he flew the Hampden, Manchester, Lancaster, and Mosquito bombers and compiled a total of 80 combat missions. As Officer Commanding, German Aircraft Flight, he tested and flew over 20 different German aircraft, which had been taken from captured German airfields back to Farnborough for extensive engineering evaluation. During this period, McCarthy flew the first British operational jet, the Meteor, and the experimental Windsor bomber.

Upon returning to Edmonton, Canada, he continued flight testing a variety of aircraft for cold weather operations as well as the experimental Canadian flying wing. During 28 years in the RCAF, he flew 64 different British, American, German, and Canadian aircraft. Later assignments included base executive officer for an F-86 NATO installation in France; Commander, Flying Training School, RCAF Station Penhold, Canada; and Commanding Officer of the 407 Maritime Squadron, flying the P2V Neptune. From 1961 to 1962, he was Chief of Air Operations for the United Nations’ forces in the Congo, and from 1963 to 1966, worked in plans and policy for CINCLANT/CINCLANTFLT. Wing Commander McCarthy’s final assignment was as base operations officer for two maritime squadrons flying the Argus antisubmarine warfare aircraft in Nova Scotia. He retired from the RCAF in 1969 and, after a second career in real estate, fully retired in 1986. Passed away 6th September 1998

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