As an eight-year-old, my late father-in-law watched the Battle of Britain unfold in the skies over the south of England—an air battle waged for the very survival of the nation. Inspired by this boyhood experience, he entered the Royal Air Force (RAF), eventually rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. Yet, in 2018, with the nation celebrating the RAF’s illustrious past and its centenary in April, pressure is building that could threaten its very survival.
What does the future hold for this resilient service with a disciplined ethos and the motto, “per ardua ad astra—Through Adversity to the Stars”? How will Brexit impact the United Kingdom’s approach to defence? Does God’s word have anything to say about Britain’s defence—and its future?
Before the First World War and prior to powered aircraft, flying in the armed services was done with balloons and kites. Once war started in 1914, planes provided aerial reconnaissance, and then, as the war progressed, they rapidly took on the roles of bombers and fighters. In May 1917, the German Army began daylight air raids over England and on June 13th they attacked London, causing heavy casualties. The public were furious at the apparent inability of the army’s Royal Flying Corp and the Royal Naval Air Service to prevent these attacks. It was decided that the RAF would be formed by merging these forces on April 1, 1918. By the end of the war in November, the RAF was not only the first independent air arm but the most powerful air force in the world.
During this time, Hugh Trenchard learned to fly in the Royal Flying Corp. Credited with being the architect of the RAF, he became Chief of the Air Staff in 1919 and ensured the readiness of the RAF for the next World War. His steady leadership focused on the permanent organisation of the RAF with a unique identity and ethos. He recognised the Royal Air Force had come into being out of necessity at a time of war, and would now have to work out its role in a time of peace. Efficient operations while maintaining essential capability would be fundamental. The nation would later be grateful for this far-sighted vision.
Probably the most notable period of the RAF’s existence was during the Battle of Britain in 1940. With air and sea blockades applied, the German Luftwaffe planned in August to destroy the RAF in a matter of days, in order to gain complete air dominance. The RAF thought otherwise. Airfields throughout southern England were targeted, but the RAF could not hold out for long, even with British advances in radar. September 15th proved to be a turning point in the battle, with 56 German planes lost. Damages on both sides were staggering; between July 10th and October 31st, an estimated 915 RAF fighters and 1,733 Luftwaffe aircraft were downed.
With daylight bombing raids proving difficult, a major German tactical decision was made to ignore airfields and focus on London. Effectively, a few hundred RAF fighter pilots contributed to the postponement and later cancellation of the German invasion plan. Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said in the House of Commons, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” By the end of the war, the RAF had grown to its peak strength of 55,000 aircraft and one million personnel, having conquered adversity according to their motto, and reached for the stars of victory.
The post-war era became a radically different story. The RAF’s role became more varied and far reaching, including handling transport air-lifts into West Berlin, managing the delivery of the UK’s nuclear deterrent with high-level bombers, and sending fighter bombers to perform a variety of functions in the Falklands, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.
Today, however, with decreasing defence budgets and the continuously changing geopolitical situation around the world, we could ask: How does the RAF measure up to current demands? The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review identified that the RAF “has pitifully few operational bombers and for an island nation, no submarine-hunting planes at all.” The new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently undergoing sea trials and the government has ordered Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft to complement it. However, none of the planes will be available for carrier duties until 2023. Some critics of the defence expenditure even suggest disbanding the RAF completely, reversing the 1918 decision in order to reduce costs.
With ongoing Brexit negotiations, Theresa May is keen to maintain the country’s defensive role within Europe. The UK’s nuclear arsenal and seat on the UN Security Council could encourage some European countries to desire incorporating Britain and its defence industry into agreements. However, in late 2017 the EU announced its intention for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Millions of Euros are to be spent on collaboration and the acquisition of arms over the next few years. NATO’s potential collapse, according to murmurings in the United States, is also a possibility. Both these scenarios shut out the United Kingdom, forcing it to wholly defend itself. Britain has an uncertain future outside the EU. Defence costs like the RAF will be difficult with a potentially weaker economy.
Does the Bible tell us anything about the prophesied future of the RAF and the United Kingdom’s national defences? Regular readers of the Tomorrow’s World magazine will understand the biblical identity of the modern-day nations of the United Kingdom. God clearly gave ancient Israel a warning concerning the consequences of abandoning the way of life He revealed to our forefathers, which they had pledged to uphold (Leviticus 26:14–17). This warning applies just as much to the modern Israelite nations today.
God warns throughout Leviticus 26: “I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you…. I will break the pride of your power…. And your strength shall be spent in vain…. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant…. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you… and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies” (vv. 17–37).
My late father-in-law, an RAF officer, personally exhibited in his character the ethos of the RAF. Later in life, these character qualities were effectively transformed and refocused (Romans 12:2) by a dedication to biblical truth. He understood these prophecies and taught them to others, knowing that what the United Kingdom needs to do as a nation is repent and draw close to God (Acts 17:30; 3:19; 8:22) to avoid these prophesied events. You, too, can personally decide to make these changes. Request our booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy for more information and understanding.