The RAF celebrates 75 years
March 31, 1993 - The RAF celebrates its 75th anniversary on April 1, 1993 with the presentation by the Queen of a new Colour (royal flag) and a flypast involving 149 aircraft. Almost every type of aircraft in the service will participate including Spitfires and Hurricanes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, recalling the RAF’s ‘finest hour’ in 1940. The flypast will conclude with 19 Hawks forming the number 75.
The RAF was formed on April 1, 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Service and rapidly established air supremacy on the Western Front during the final months of World War I. The British government doubted its usefulness after the war and considered disbanding the Air Ministry but RAF founder Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard proved its capabilities in 1920 by crushing rebel opposition in Somaliland (now Somalia) by airpower and the service’s future was assured.
Pride in the 75th anniversary is, however, tempered by anger and dismay at the cutbacks demanded by government changes in defence policy that mean reductions in both manpower and equipment. From a figure of nearly 90,000 in 1991, personnel numbers must drop to 75,000 by 1995. As of January 1993 the figure stood at 82,121 – achieved mainly through voluntary redundancies but compulsory job losses are now expected. Hardest hit will be the older, career officers where the jobs of two in every three men above the rank of squadron leader are threatened. Initially, it was thought that regular annual turnover would cover the required reduction but prolonged recession and the difficulties of finding civilian jobs have encouraged people to stay on. New recruitment is suffering for the same reason.
The Options for Change cuts also mean that RAF operations in Germany will be cut by 50 per cent, with 70 per cent of personnel deployed elsewhere; 19 UK and three RAF Germany stations are to close and 14 operational flying squadrons and four RAF Regiment squadrons will be disbanded. 33 per cent of fighters are to be axed – this includes an entire squadron of 15 Tornado F3s, with other squadrons each losing two or three from their 15-strong complement – along with 28 per cent of ground attack aircraft and 25 per cent of maritime patrol planes. The Tornado GR1, so successful in the Gulf War, is unlikely to be upgraded as planned. £1.25 billion had been earmarked for new defensive and deep-penetration aids systems but a recommended cut of 50 per cent in this figure permits only a lesser upgrade.
Many senior officers are bitter about the cuts – initiated following the end of the Cold War – as the RAF finds itself subject to ever increasing demands upon its services to assist in the world’s major troublespots. C-130s and helicopters are currently deployed on mercy missions in Bosnia and Somalia and Tornado GR1 and Jaguar aircraft, backed up by VC10 and Victor tankers, form part of the UN air policing over Northern and Southern Iraq. The Jaguars are shortly to be replaced by 3 squadrons of Harrier GR3 jump jets – a move which in itself necessitates the withdrawal of the last 4 Harriers currently stationed in Belize.
Apart from bases in Germany and its involvement in peacekeeping missions the RAF is also stationed overseas in Canada, the Falklands, Hong Kong, Cyprus and Gibraltar.
Despite present uncertainties, Chief of the Airstaff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon is confident that the RAF will build on past successes and contribute to the new world order. ‘In this our 75th anniversary year, whilst recalling with pride our past achievements, we look forward to a future in which air power will have an even more prominent part to play in world security.’