Portal:Royal Air Force

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The Royal Air Force Portal

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the air arm of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918 the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history ever since, playing a large part in World War II and in more recent conflicts. The RAF operates almost 1,100 aircraft and has a projected trained strength of over 40,000 regular personnel. The majority of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the United Kingdom with many others serving on operations (principally Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East, Balkans, and South Atlantic) or at long-established overseas bases (notably the Falkland Islands, Qatar, Germany, Cyprus, and Gibraltar).

Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
The RAF's mission is to support the objectives of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and to provide "An agile, adaptable and capable Air Force that, person for person, is second to none, and that makes a decisive air power contribution in support of the UK Defence Mission."

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RAF Bomber Command was the organisation that controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II, the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s, was at the peak of its postwar power with the V bombers and a supplemental force of Canberra light bombers. RAF Bomber Command had 19 Victoria Cross winners, and in August 2006, a memorial was unveiled at Lincoln Cathedral.

One of the most controversial aspects of Bomber Command during World War II was the area bombing of cities. Until 1942 navigational technology did not allow for any more precise targeting than at best a district of a town or city by night bombing. All large German cities contained important industrial districts and so were considered legitimate targets by the Allies. Thus the attacks of the British Bomber Command were at times targeting highly populated city centres. The single most destructive raids in terms of absolute casualties were those on Hamburg (45,000 dead) in 1943 and Dresden (25,000–35,000 dead) in 1945. Each caused a firestorm and left tens of thousands dead.

In the postwar period, the RAF slowly declined in strength, and by the mid-1960s, it was clear that the home command structure needed rationalisation. To that end, Fighter Command and Bomber Command were merged in 1968 to form Strike Command.

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A Westland Sea King helicopter in search and rescue livery
Credit: Adrian Pingstone

Westland Sea King HAR.3 search and rescue helicopter (ZH545) of No. 22 Squadron RAF, Ilfracombe, North Devon, England.

Selected biography

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Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF (12 August 1918 – 19 September 1944), was the first CO of the RAF's 617 Squadron, which he led in the "Dam Busters" raid (Operation Chastise), in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area. He was killed later in the war.

In 1943 he was selected to command the new 617 Squadron asked to destroy dams in the Ruhr area. To accomplish this they were provided with the bouncing bomb designed and developed by Barnes Wallis. On the night of 16 May 1943, Gibson led 19 Lancasters carrying one bomb each into the Ruhr Valley. It took five attempts to breach the Moehne Dam before Gibson led the three remaining Lancasters to attack and breach the Eder Dam. Two other dams were attacked but not breached. After the Dams raid, Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition not just of the raid, but his leadership and valour demonstrated as master bomber on many previous sorties.

Gibson was sent on a publicity tour of America after completing 174 missions over Germany but returned to operational duties in 1944, after pestering Bomber Command, and was killed along with his navigator Sqn Ldr Jim Warwick, on a bombing raid on Rheydt (a borough of Mönchengladbach) operating as a Pathfinder Master Bomber based at RAF Hemswell, when his de Havilland Mosquito crashed near Steenbergen, the Netherlands, on 19 September 1944. He was 26 years old.

Selected aircraft

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The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod is a maritime patrol aircraft developed in the United Kingdom. It is an extensive modification of the de Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner. It was originally designed by de Havilland's successor, Hawker Siddeley, now part of BAE Systems. A major modification was the fit of a large weapon bay under the fuselage that can carry and drop torpedoes, mines, bombs and other stores. Sonobuoys for tracking submarines are dropped from special launchers in the rear of the fuselage.

The Nimrod is also capable of carrying American-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-defense.

The Nimrod has been the Royal Air Force's primary Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) since the early 1970s, when it replaced the piston-engined Avro Shackleton. The RAF uses two Nimrod variants: the MR2 variant in the Maritime and Reconnaissance role; the R1 variant in a reconnaissance and electronic intelligence gathering capacity (ELINT).

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