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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

Sir Hugh Trenchard (cropped).jpg
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Hugh Montague Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard GCB OM GCVO DSO (3 February 1873 – 10 February 1956) was a British officer who was instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force. He has been described as the Father of the Royal Air Force.

During his formative years Trenchard struggled academically, failing many examinations and only just succeeding in meeting the minimum standard for commissioned service in the British Army. As a young infantry officer, Trenchard served in India and in South Africa. During the Boer War, Trenchard was critically wounded and as a result of his injury, he lost a lung, was partially paralysed and returned to Great Britain. While convalescing in Switzerland he took up bobsleighing and after a heavy crash, Trenchard found that his paralysis was gone and that he could walk unaided. Some months later, Trenchard returned to South Africa before volunteering for service in Nigeria. During his time in Nigeria, Trenchard commanded the Southern Nigeria Regiment for several years and was involved in efforts to bring the interior under settled British rule and quell inter-tribal violence.

In 1912, Trenchard learned to fly and was subsequently appointed as second in command of the Central Flying School. He held several senior positions in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, serving as the commander of Royal Flying Corps in France from 1915 to 1917. In 1918, he briefly served as the first Chief of the Air Staff before taking up command of the Independent Air Force in France. Returning as Chief of the Air Staff under Winston Churchill in 1919, Trenchard spent the following decade securing the future of the Royal Air Force. He was Metropolitan Police Commissioner in the 1930s and a defender of the RAF in his later years.

Selected aircraft

RAF Vulcan B.JPEG
The Avro Vulcan is a delta wing subsonic bomber that was operated by the Royal Air Force from 1953 until 1984. The Vulcan was part of the RAF's V bomber force, which fulfilled the role of nuclear deterrence against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was also used in a conventional bombing role during the Falklands conflict with Argentina. One of these, XH558, was restored for use in display flights and commemoration of the jets' role in the Falklands Conflict.

In September 1956, the RAF received its first Vulcan B.1, XA897, which immediately went on a round-the-world tour to fly-the-flag. A total of 134 production Vulcans were manufactured (45 B.1 and 89 B.2), the last being delivered to the RAF in January 1965. The last operational Vulcan squadron was disbanded in March 1984.

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