The RAF: 100 years of defending our skies...

As you probably know, this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force. This is a hugely important occasion and one that I have enjoyed commemorating with our RAF Centenary Collectables Show and new Collector Range.

Since its inception in 1918, the RAF has stood at the forefront of aviation innovation and during the subsequent 100-years enjoyed a plethora of defining moments.   Whether that be technological advancement, organisational triumph, inspirational personalities, undoubted courage or simply creating some of the most iconic aircraft in aviation history – the skill, tenacity and gallantry that the RAF have shown over the last century is one we must all remember.

For that reason, when I spent time curating our RAF range, it was important to me that we had a piece that acknowledged the remarkable contribution it has made to our country.  And after quite a bit of research, I came across the perfect item… A luxury Newspaper Book that chronicles the 100-year history of its magnificent men, women and their flying machines over 160 pages of nostalgic greatness!  What a find!

The RAF Centenary Newspaper Book

Issued specifically for the Centenary Celebrations, the book features rarely seen coverage of the RAF’s most memorable moments.  I’ve never seen anything like it and really struggled to put it down!  It’s so bursting with history that no matter how many times you read it, you’re bound to discover something new. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

I happened to find some time earlier in the week and ended up spending another hour (or 2!) reading and absorbing the fascinating history that is detailed in the book. It’s easy to forget all the great they have done over the last century, so with that in mind I thought it was worth recapping on some of the RAF’s most defining moments…  

The Royal Air Force Formation – April 1, 1918

The RAF Centenary Newspaper Book Page

The Royal Air Force came into being on April 1, 1918, and on this day made history by becoming the world’s first independent air force.  Its creation was the amalgamation of the rival Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and Royal Flying Corps (FRC) as a single identity of uniform – the RAF. 

This formation saw the end of the competition between the two branches and reflected the growing significance of air power in World War I when controlling the skies was becoming a vital part of success on the battlefield.  The ‘new’ RAF was the most powerful air force in the world with over 290,000 personnel and almost 23,000 aircraft, a stark comparison to the 2,000 people who previously served as part of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service!

Despite its inauguration coming towards the end of the First World War, it played a critical role in the ‘All Arms Battle’ towards the end of 1918, working tirelessly with artillery and ground forces to achieve victory in the Hundred Days offensive.  Since then, it can only be said that the RAF has gone from strength-to-strength. A number of articles from the formation are gloriously displayed in full page images and extracts in the book - it's fascinating!

The Battle of Britain: Struggle for Supremacy – 1940

The RAF Centenary Newspaper Book Page

Perhaps of all the accolades, the RAF’s finest hour has to be the Battle of Britain.  Ranking alongside the Battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar as one of the most significant in British history, this was the first major battle to be fought entirely by air and was a critical factor in preventing a Nazi invasion of Britain.

Despite being outnumbered by the Luftwaffe around 2:1, the RAF fought from July to October during 1940 to claim victory when Hitler eventually decided to turn his attention to invading Russia.  As well as the development of radar technology at the time, the victory combined organisational mastery, technological innovation, government support and industrial capacity with the bravery, skill and commitment of the young pilots.

It was a battle that saw a huge loss of life on both sides, and to this day I feel the victory is often best surmised by Winston Churchill’s famous remark, that “never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”...

It's so interesting to see some of the Battle of Britain coverage in the book - you could spend hours reading all the extracts.

The Incredible Story of the Dambusters Raid – 1943

The RAF Centenary Newspaper Book Page

Regarded as one of the most famous air operations of the Second World War, the Dambusters raid of May 1943 made its place in the history books for destroying a number of important German dams. This was however no easy feat.

At the time aeronautical designer, Dr. Barnes Wallis, had calculated that there was no existing bomber that could carry a bomb large enough to breach the dams. The only way this would work was with smaller bombs accurately positioned at the foot of the dam to have the same effect. This called for a secret weapon

With that in mind, he designed what became known as the ‘bouncing bomb’; a missile capable of skipping across water, hitting the dam and rolling to the bottom.  All that needed to be done was the bomb to be dropped at the right speed, at the right distance from the dam and at the right height above the water.  A task that was enlisted to specialist 617 Squadron... 

So on the night of May 16 1943, Wing Commander Guy Gibson led 19 specially adapted Lancasters on an audacious bombing raid to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley.  Two out of three were breached during the successful mission, which saw the surviving crew members of 617 lauded as heroes.  Guy Gibson was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross and the Squadron were established as a specialist precision bombing unit.

The Vulcan Victory in the Falklands – 1982

The RAF Centenary Newspaper Book Page

Often considered as mission impossible, this was arguably the most daring RAF raid since the Dambusters.  Flying a jet 20 years past its sell-by date, 4,000 miles beyond its range, to bomb a target a few years wide… easy, right?  Yet thankfully, the result was to change the course of the Falklands war.

During the first quarter of 1982 the likelihood of war between Argentina and Great Britain seemed inevitable.  Then on 2nd April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote UK Colony in the South Atlantic, and a subsequent brief but bitter war commenced.  The RAF played a pivotal role in the success of the mission, largely down to the speed with which the British were able to gain air superiority over the islands and waters around them. 

Historically, this was the only time the Vulcan was used in anger during conflict, and it was an incredibly ambitious and risky mission.  Armed with twenty-one 450kg bombs, the Vulcan successfully blew up the only functioning runway at Port Stanley, a 40-yard wide target from a height of 10,000 feet which lead to the eventual surrender of the Argentine forces.  At the time, these raids captured the world record for the longest-ever bombing mission: a flight of 15 hours 45 minutes and a return journey of nearly 8,000 miles!

Now, this is of course a tiny snapshot of the incredible stories that are documented in this RAF Centenary Newspaper Book.  With over 160 pages of original articles, headlines and iconic images collated specially for this poignant anniversary, the book opens a fascinating window in the 100-year history of the Royal Air Force.  In fact, many of the pictures have never been seen before by the public!

It’s difficult to put into words how amazing this is, you really have to see it to fully appreciate it.  With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to put together a short video to give you a bit more of a taste of what’s packed inside – take a look here:

To find out more more about the RAF Centenary Newspaper Book and to secure one for yourself, click here>>