The RAF At 98: A History

The RAF At 98: A History

On April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force was founded by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, becoming...

The RAF At 98: A History

On April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force was founded by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, becoming the largest air force in the world.

It's the world's oldest air force that's independent of army or navy control. 

The RAF developed the doctrine of strategic bombing, a technique with the goal of defeating the enemy by destroying their morale, economic ability, or both. 

This led to the construction of long-range bombers.

RAF Tornado GR-4
The RAF's use of strategic bombing led to the construction of long-range bombers like the Tornado

Its most famous endeavours arguably came during World War Two in the Battle of Britain.

Taking on the numerically superior German Luftwaffe, the RAF was involved in one of the longest and most complicated air campaigns in history, which contributed to the Hitler ending his plans to invade.

Speaking about the operation in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: 

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

However, the largest effort by the RAF during the war was the strategic bombing campaign of Germany by Bomber Command, under the leadership of Air Chief Marshal 'Bomber' Harris.

The campaign included night-time area bombing on German cities such as Hamburg and Dresden and also smaller operations, such as the 'Dambusters' raid.

The daring attack on German dams, carried out on May 16-17, 1943, by No. 617 Squadron, used a specially-developed 'bouncing bomb' invented by Sir Barnes Wallis.

More: Germany Commemorates RAF's WWII Dambusters Raid

It caused the Mohne and Edersee Dams to breach, causing the flooding of the Ruhr valley and villages in the Eder Valley. It's estimated around 1,600 people drowned.

After the Allies' victory in World War Two, the RAF underwent significant re-organisation, with the introduction of jet fighters and bombers due to technological advances in air warfare.

Next stop: the Cold War.

One of the Royal Air Force's first major operations of the period took place in 1948 as part of the Berlin Airlift, organised by the Western Allies after the Soviet Union blockaded the sectors of Berlin under Western control.

RAF Short Sunderland
The RAF used Avro Yorks, Douglas Dakotas and Short Sunderlands (pictured) during the Berlin Airlift

From two days after the start of the blockade to its lifting almost a year later, the RAF provided 17% of the total supplies delivered.

In the 50s, meanwhile, the much-loved Avro Vulcan strategic bomber came into service, which was used to carry conventional and nuclear bombs as the backbone of the United Kingdom's airborne nuclear deterrent.

One of the largest actions undertaken by the RAF during the Cold War was its part in the 1982 Falklands War, where it operated alongside the Fleet Air Arm. 

The conflict saw RAF aircraft deployed in the mid-Atlantic at RAF Ascension Island, while a detachment from No. 1 Squadron flew from the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.

Royal Navy Sea Harrier 2005
RAF pilots flew air-to-air combat missions in Royal Navy Sea Harriers during the Falklands War. Picture: Andrew P Clarke

The Air Force then remained in the South Atlantic after victory was secured to provide the Falkland Islands' air defences.

It would be based at RAF Mount Pleasant, which was built in 1984.

Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the RAF's efforts have returned to delivering expeditionary air power.

It's been involved in several large-scale operations since 1990, including in the First and Second Iraq Wars, the Kosovo War in 1999, the War in Afghanistan and the 2011 intervention in Libya.

It's currently flying combat missions against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - and will surely have a big part to play in British security and military operations for years to come.

More: The RAF's Pop-Up Museum