RAF and the Cold War

Operations Plain Fare Hastings Picture: RAF Phantom F4 jets, one of the iconic multi-role aircraft of the Cold War.

26 Jun 1948 - After Russia closes all land routes into Berlin, the British and American governments begin a massive airlift of supplies into the city. Operation Plainfare sees RAF transports deliver 1,340 tons of food every day during the operation. Clothing, food, fuel and supplies are flown into Gatow airport in York and Dakota aircraft, other supplies such as salt are flown onto Lake Havel by Sunderlands. Although the blockade was lifted on 12 May 1949, flights continued until October to build up stocks. The RAF delivered 17% of the total material delivered to the city.

4 Apr 1949 - A treaty detailing the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is signed by 12 founder states in Washington.

Neptunes 12 May 1949 - Russia lifts the blockade against Berlin, although the airlift continued until October to build up stocks of supplies.

Aug 1950 - A stop-gap measure to fill the long-range bomber requirement in the Cold War, the Boeing B-29D Washington began entering service with Bomber Command Squadrons during August. The type began to be retired in 1953 with the advent of the V-bombers, but the last did not leave the RAF until 1958.

Valiant B1s 22 Aug 1950 - RAF Sunderland flying boats begin blockade operations off the west coast of Korea.

Jan 1952 - As a stop-gap, while the Avro Shackleton entered service, four UK based Squadrons were equipped with the Lockheed Neptune MR1. With a crew of ten (two pilots, two navigators , five air signallers and an engineer) and an 8,000 lb weapon load, the long range Neptunes were returned to the US in 1956.

12 Mar 1953 - Seven airmen are killed when the Avro Lincoln B2 they are flying in, RF531, is shot down by a Soviet fighter in the Berlin air corridor. The aircraft, from the RAF Central Gunnery School, was on a training flight.

Vulcan B1 Jan 1955 - The first of the new V-Bombers, the Vickers Valiant, enters service with No. 138 Sqn at RAF Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Feb 1956 - The Gloster Javelin all-weather fighter enters service with No. 46 Sqn, Odiham.

May 1956 - The Avro Vulcan becomes the second V-bomber to enter RAF service, equipping No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at Waddington.

11 Oct 1956 - WZ366, a Valiant of No. 49 Sqn, drops the first British air dropped fission weapon(Blue Danube) during Operation Buffalo over the Maralinga test area, South Australia.

Nicosia56 31 Oct 1956 - Operation Musketeer, the Suez Crisis, begins. After failing to stop Egyptian and Israeli fighting around the Suez Canal, RAF Canberra and Valiant bombers flying from Malta and Cyprus, in conjunction with French Air Force aircraft, attack twelve airfields in the Canal Zone. Airfield attacks continued until 4 November, by which time the Egyptian Air Force had been decimated. Key installations were captured by Anglo-French airborne troops on the 5th prior to a major seaborne offensive. The operations continued until 7 November, when a cease-fire was arranged. So deep was the crisis, that the United States Air Force was brought to a high state of readiness in case of Russian intervention.

Lightning F1 4 Apr 1957 - After publication of a Defence White Paper in the UK by the Conservative government, the days of manned aircraft look numbered when Britain chooses to concentrate on defence by advanced interception and nuclear strike missiles. This infamous paper, presented by Duncan Sandys, forces the cancellation of almost all new British military aircraft projects - notable exceptions being the Lightning fighter and the highly controversial TSR2 strike/attack and reconnaissance aircraft.

15 May 1957 - The first British Hydrogen bomb (Yellow Sun) is dropped near Christmas Island in the south- west Pacific in a series of tests known as Operation Grapple. The aircraft involved, XD818, a Valiant of No. 49 Sqn, is now preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford.

29 Nov 1957 - No. 232 OCU at Gaydon receives the first Victor B1 aircraft, the third of the RAF's V- bombers.

Victor B1 19 Sep 1958 - The first American-built Thor Ballistic Missile (IRBM) is handed over to No. 77 Sqn, Bomber Command at RAF Feltwell. The first RAF-controlled launch of Thor took place at Vandenberg Air Base, USA, on 16 April 1959.

1 Nov 1959 - The first RAuxAF Maritime Headquarters Unit (MHQ) is set up at Edinburgh. Others are later formed at Northwood, Plymouth and Belfast.

16 Feb 1960 - In a change to UK defence policy, the government decides that instead of a ground-based nuclear deterrent, air- and submarine-launched missiles will now be used. This decision was further amended on 13 Apr, when the UK abandoned development of submarine-launched missiles and opted for V-bombers armed with the new American Skybolt missile.

Sep 1960 - During the Farnborough Airshow, scrambles by each of the RAF's V-bombers demonstrate an average of 1 min 47 sec to get four aircraft airborne.

Vulcans 1 May 1961 - Elements of Fighter Command, including fighter and missile squadrons as well as control and reporting centres, are assigned to NATO under the command of Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command, Air Marshal Sir Hector McGregor, assumes the additional title of Commander UK Air Defence Region.

1 Feb 1962 V-force started its Quick Reaction Alert readiness commitment of one loaded weapon system and crew per operational squadron normally at 15 minutes readiness - an arrangement continued until 30 June 1969 and the basis of Bomber Command at the time.

5 Aug 1962 - The UK Government signs the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Jan 1964 - The Ballistic Missile Entry Warning System radar site at Fylingdales in Yorkshire becomes operational.

30 Jun 1969 - Responsibility for Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent passes to the Polaris submarines of the Royal Navy.

Vulcan Bomber

Vulcan Gallery

Gallery of the Vulcan Bomber.

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Vulcan Aircraft

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Vulcan bomber makes first flight in 14 years after a restoration project.

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Dakota BBMF

The Berlin Airlift

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National Cold War Exhibition

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National Cold War Exhibition at RAF Museum Cosford.

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