Battle for the Skies, The History of the Royal Air Force, seven VHS videotapes, Superior Home Video, Barrington, Ill., 1998, $99.95.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) is best known for its dogged defense over the skies of Great Britain, but its origins and future are just as important to the history of aviation. The entire history of the RAF is now presented in Battle for the Skies, a seven-volume video series that traces the force from the first reconnaissance planes of World War I to the Persian Gulf War and the future of air power.
The series combines well-researched narration, interviews with veterans and historians, and black-and-white footage as well as color film of antique planes. Each of the seven videos–Useless for the Purposes of War, Under Distant Skies, A Vicious Sting, Strike Hard Strike Sure, By Air By Sea, Supplies from the Skies and The Sky’s the Limit–tells about a different branch of the RAF. And each hour-long video includes “Aircraft of the RAF,” an encyclopedia of planes.
The series provides a wealth of little-known facts about the RAF in the Cold War and the different capacities it served in through major conflicts. In the early 1950s the RAF was stretched so thin that only three Short Sutherland flying boats took part in the Korean War. In the Vietnam War, an RAF Blackburn Beverley supply plane covertly delivered goods to Montagnard tribesmen for a few months. During the 1982 Falkland Islands War, the RAF launched a bomber strike on the Falkland’s Sydney Airfield from the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, the longest bombing strike in the world up to that time.
While the series gives an excellent overview of the RAF, some knowledgeable viewers may question a few omissions. Hawker Hurricane fighters are discussed, but their development is not, and the Supermarine Spitfire is treated in the same manner. Handley Page Halifax bombers are all but ignored, and the raid on Dresden–one of the largest of World War II–is not mentioned. The series, however, does bring to light some forgotten events related to the RAF’s role in the Cold War, including the Suez Crisis, the Middle East, Burma and the Falklands War.
The videos also reflect the fortunes of the RAF. In World War I and the beginning of World War II, the RAF was the air power most effective against Germany. When the United States entered World War II, the RAF took a joint, then secondary roll, including American aircraft in its arsenal. In the early days of the Cold War, Britain’s only nuclear delivery system was the American-built Boeing B-29.
The Battle for the Skies series is a must for anyone interested in the RAF and the history of air power. The color footage of collectors flying planes of World War I and World War II vintage gives life to the videos that other documentaries lack.
Kevin M. Hymel