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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London via FutureLearn


This free online course is a collaboration between the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museums and the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. It will introduce you to some of the major turning points in the history of Britain in the post-1945 era.

Explore the changing role of the RAF during the Cold War

Guided by Dr Ross Mahoney, Aviation Historian, RAF Museum, and Dr Emmett Sullivan, Senior Lecturer in History, Royal Holloway, the course will examine:

  • The role of the RAF in the early Cold War period;
  • RAF’s operations across the globe in an era of decolonisation;
  • Britain’s decision to develop a nuclear deterrent;
  • The development of the RAF’s strategic nuclear capability, the V-Force;
  • The role of the RAF in defending UK airspace;
  • The re-focus on NATO after East of Suez and the transfer of the strategic nuclear role to the Royal Navy;
  • The RAF’s contribution to NATO.

Consider how the RAF is remembered and memorialised

Finally, we will consider how the RAF has been remembered and memorialised through the Cold War and beyond, with the establishment of the RAF Museums at Hendon and Cosford, the National Cold War Exhibition, and the erection of statues and monuments after 1945.

The course makes extensive use of material from the archives of the RAF Museum to illustrate the Cold War history of the RAF and was filmed on site at RAF Museum Hendon and Cosford.

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in 20th-century history, the Cold War or the history of aviation. It doesn’t require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject.


  • The Early Cold War 1945-1953
    • Introduction
    • The RAF in 1945
    • The Relief of Germany and the Berlin Air Lift
    • Changing Technology
    • The Korean War
    • National Service
    • Quiz
    • Week 1 Conclusion
  • The RAF, the Empire, and a New Global Role
    • Introducton
    • The RAF in Germany before RAF Germany
    • The Suez Crisis
    • The RAF's Global Operations Beyond the NATO Central Front
    • A Diverse RAF?
    • The Falklands War
    • Quiz
    • Conclusions
  • The Independent British Nuclear Deterrent
    • Introduction
    • Britain's Nuclear Deterrent
    • The V-Force
    • Thor and Skybolt
    • Conclusions
  • Defending the Skies
    • Introduction
    • British Skies
    • ‘Home Front during the Cold War’
    • Intelligence Gathering
    • Week 4 Conclusions
  • Aspirations, Cancellations and a New Role
    • Introduction
    • From Sandys to TSR-2
    • From Strategic to Tactical
    • Gulf War I
    • Week 5 Conclusions
  • Honouring the RAF in the Cold War and After
    • Introduction
    • The RAF Museums
    • Memorials
    • Week 6 Conclusions

Taught by

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan


4.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.6 rating at FutureLearn based on 57 ratings

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