RAF: 100 Years
Thousands of people turned out to watch the RAF’s spectacular fly-past and centenary parade in London. Well-wishers lined the streets outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 100 years’ service the RAF has achieved.
The fly-past over The Mall involved almost 100 planes representing the RAF over the years, including the latest F-35 fighter and the famous Spitfire. It was preceded by the parade of RAF personnel in front of the Queen and other members of the royal family, who were watching from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Accompanied by other royals, the Queen presented the new Queen’s Colour to the RAF in Buckingham Palace’s forecourt, before stepping on to the balcony to watch the celebrations.
Earlier, the royals had attended a special service at Westminster Abbey, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, praised the Royal Air Force for its role in “saving this country’s independence, democracy and freedom” during times of trouble.
History of the RAF
The RAF was launched in 1918, as a separate entity independent of the Army and Royal Navy. It was the first time any country had formed an independent air force, with its own governing body, under the secretary of state for air. The new RAF had more than 290,000 personnel, with almost 23,000 aircraft, making it a force to be reckoned with.
Its first mission during World War I was to fight over the Western Front from 1st April 1918, supporting the ground forces. A separate women’s air force, the WRAF, was formed on the same date.
On 11th November 1918, at 10.45am, a 15 Squadron RE8 observation plane landed at Auchy and the crew announced no enemy aircraft, nor anti-aircraft fire, had been seen. Within 15 minutes, fighting on the Western Front had officially ended and the Armistice with Germany came into force.
World War II
During World War II, the RAF played a crucial role, with the first air attack on an enemy U-boat occurring on 11th March 1940. The U-boat was destroyed by a Blenheim aircraft. Successful mine sweeping was carried out in the Thames Estuary early in 1940 by the Wellington aircraft of Coastal Command.
On 4th June 1940, the RAF played a vital role in Operation Dynamo, when 316,663 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said although wars weren’t won by evacuations, there was a victory on this occasion that had been gained by the Air Force.
The Battle of Britain, between July and October 1940, is one of the most significant events in British history, alongside the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo. The victory combined the bravery of the RAF pilots with organisational genius, the support of the government, technological innovation and industrial support to successfully complete the mission.
The Dams Raid of May 1943 was also a significant point of the war, as RAF Lancaster bombers manned by pilots from 617 Squadron bombed the dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, devastating the region’s infrastructure.
Fast forward to modern times, and the F-35B Lightning stealth combat aircraft marked the start of a new era for the RAF in 2012. Already operational from land-based airfields, it began flight trials off HMS Queen Elizabeth this year.
Along with the multi-role Typhoons, the Lightning uses its cutting-edge technology to aid the growing Combat-ISTAR force, permitting RAF commanders to have an unparalleled versatility in planning missions.
The service at Westminster to mark the RAF’s achievements was attended by the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Prince William wore the No 1 uniform of the RAF, including his RAF wings, as he is a qualified RAF pilot. The Duke of Sussex’s uniform sported the RAF Regiment shoulder flashes, as a result of his role of Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Honington.
Current and retired RAF members were also in attendance, as were Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff.
The fly-past was the highlight of the centenary celebrations. The aircraft had assembled off the coast of East Anglia, merging and flying to the capital down the A12 corridor. As well as the F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, 22 Typhoons took part, spelling out “100” as they flew over the palace in a stunning display.
The fly-past was led by nine helicopters, with the famous Red Arrows display team at the rear. The Red Arrows were officially launched in 1964 after the RAF combined its existing display team into one unit, featuring seven Gnat aircraft. They performed for the first time at RAF Little Rissington on 6th May 1964 and have performed thousands of shows all over the world during the past five decades.
In honour of the RAF centenary, there will be an RAF theme at August’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The RAF100 Aircraft Tour is also travelling round the UK, giving the public the chance to see a selection of aircraft.
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