RAF Twilight War
RAF and Attached Ground Units
The RAF Regiment
The Royal Air Force Regiment is a specialised ground defence force for the RAF. It was formed during the 2nd World War from various RAF affiliated ground forces. Their training is separate from the Army, but in their chosen roles and small unit actions they are as effective as their regular British Army counter-parts By the time of the Twilight War the RAF Regiment had three distinct roles.
Short Range Air Defence
Whilst the long range Patriot missiles protecting the UK were under the command of No.85 Squadron, point defence of air-fields and the Harrier force was the responsibility of the RAF Regiments SHORAD squadrons. SHORAD units are primarily equipped with the Rapier SAM system, the units in Germany with Field Standard C, and the UK based units with Field Standard B (modified).
SHORAD squadrons saw action in the UK, protecting RAF and USAF airfields and occasionally in the defence of radar sites. They were also a key part of the close in air defence of RAF Germany airfields. A key feature of the UK squadrons was the integration of RAuxAF personnel in the serving squadrons after the 1992 Defence Review. This gave these units much better damage resistance and allowed trained personnel to be transferred to Germany when needed. As the war progressed the RAuxAF personnel became indistinguishable from their regular counterparts.
Rapier proved especially deadly against low-level WP raiders running in to attack RAFG airfields. Carefully sited, the units would often operate in a 'silent' mode using on the Electro-Optical tracker rather than the Radar tracker. This meant they were missed by WP 'Wild Weasels' and could get their first shots off at the unaware attack aircraft with a good chance of success.
A further string to the air-defence bow were RAuxAF SHORAD squadrons equipped with numbers of 35mm Oerliken anti-aircraft cannon and Skyguard gunlaying radar, originally acquired as war booty from the Argentinians during the Falklands War. Never heavily used in the UK, they gave valuable service when transferred to Norway in the winter of 1996. There in the far North they gave an extra umbrella of heavy metal over forward bases and exposed airfields.
In RAF Germany several captured Russian ZSU-4-23 were pressed into service with RAF Regt crews to provide similar last ditch air-defence especially over RAF GŁtersloh and the other forward bases. It is debatable how effective these AAA defences actually were, but like the many machine gun posts (again often captured WP 12.7mm and 14.7mm types) they gave the bombarded airmen and undoubted morale boost and a feeling of being able to 'fight back'.
SHORAD squadrons in all theatres suffered relatively little in the original phase of the war, even when engaged successfully by air launched ARM's the dispersed nature of the Rapier posts meant that the crew were only rarely endangered. However virtually all of the crews assigned to RAF Germany were killed with the destruction of their bases by nuclear attacks. Those in the UK were normally luckier as those airfields were never targeted directly. However they were soon pressed into action to help restore order in the local areas, at task they proved very effective in.
Field and Light Armoured Squadrons
Another RAF Regt role was the protection of RAF airfields from ground attack, deterring sabotage and special forces raids alike. Later in the war forward operating RAF Regiment units would play a key role in seizing WP airfields just behind the NATO spearheads.
Field Squadrons were mainly equipped with long wheel base land-rovers mounted with GPMG, and later Browning .50 calibre machine guns. The Squadron (around 160 strong) would also have 81mm mortars for close support, and a variety of sophisticated sensor equipment . Essentially the unit was a small, mobile reaction force with a heavy punch against intruders. Field Squadrons mainly served in the UK and were RAuxAF units with substantial regular RAF Regt cadres. Those in the UK had to deal with a range of threats at the start of the war, with occasional Spetsnatz raids (usually hopelessly compromised before getting anywhere near an airbase) and communist sympathisers who strangely often had more success than their professional counterparts.
Light Armoured Squadrons served exclusively in Germany, being similar to Field Squadrons but being equipped with Spartan and Scorpion light armoured vehicles. Just prior to the war each Squadron also received a Flight (platoon) of HVM vehicles to give an in-built air-defence capability. These units were to operate with the Harrier Force much closer to the enemy lines than the other units and so required the extra protection. The Light Armoured Squadrons actually saw less action than the Field Squadrons in the initial stages of the war. However once they advanced into Poland the situation became much more difficult with Polish partisan attacks a frequent occurrence.
Once the NATO retreat began from Poland, these Squadrons had an often bitter fight on their hands to pull the Harrier Force ground crews and equipment back to Germany in one piece. A task they received massive aid from the RE in doing. As the war continued the Light Armoured units and the Harrier force became inseparable and only the presence of the Rock Apes enabled the Harriers to operate as long as they did. The RAF Regt secured their operating areas, maintained the crews and often went raiding for fuel and munitions to keep the Harriers operating. They also did hard fighting against marauder bands who erroneously believed that air units would be a source of easy pickings. The Squadrons remained in being, although much depleted (despite the arrival of numbers of RAF airmen (and women) converted into ad-hoc RAF Regt Gunners) until the return of the Harrier Force to the UK in 2004.
No. 58 Squadron had a unique place within the regiment during the war as it became the only RAF unit attached to the Special Service Brigade. Pre-war 58 Sqn was a field squadron based in the UK, but with the security situation stable it was transferred to the continent for unspecified 'special duties'. The RAF was worried about securing forward airfields, whereas the NATO ground forces seemed relatively unconcerned treating this as a minor problem. The RAF decided to take its own measures and have one of its own units clear the airfields for it. The men of No.58 were somewhat taken aback at being just behind the leading NATO armoured spearheads in un-armoured Land Rovers, but made the best of it.
Although only a standard regular RAF Regt Squadron they did an excellent job, with on one occasion an flight getting on to an airfield in advance of the NATO Panzer Division operating alongside it and nearly being caught in a blue-on-blue. Pictures and sightings of the Squadron in their heavily armed Land Rovers were often mistaken for Special Air Service troopers (also administratively attached to the Special Service Brigade), which to this day sometimes leads to confusion with some people mistakenly believing that the SAS are a part of the RAF. No.58 became a de-facto part of the Special Service Brigade (mostly TA SAS) and pioneered CSAR in British service, until they returned to the UK in 2000.
Casualties in the Field and Light Armoured Squadrons (except No. 58) were rarely heavy in any conventional engagements, but the static units protecting RAF Germany airfields were destroyed in the nuclear exchange. The UK based field squadrons were, like the SHORAD units, of vital importance in securing the stability of local communities. Their combination of mobility and firepower meant they were commonly used to destroy marauder bands in 1998 and 1999, and sometimes came into contact with organised bands of ex-TA soldiers that often lead to serious firefights. To this day there are communities in Lincolnshire, East Anglia and Highlands that retain a fierce loyalty to the RAF because of their actions in this period.
Regiment Station Staff
The last role of the RAF Regt was to prepare contingency plans for base crises and maintaining fitness levels, weapons handling skills and NBC drills of ordinary ground staff and aircrew. This was undertaken by seconded RAF Regt Officers and NCO's who in peacetime were not the most appreciated people on the base. When the war came however their job was vital, in mobilising and arming surplus personnel on the bases they were able to free up the RAF Regt Field Squadrons from more mundane tasks.
In the face of anti-War protesters (in the UK), pro-War protesters (in Germany) before Britain's official involvement and terrorist and special forces attacks after it was never a wasted effort. When the war went nuclear the security role played by ordinary airmen under the command of Regiment specialist should not be overlooked either.
The Army's Royal Engineers provide vital support to the Royal Air Force. 12 Engineer Brigade commanded 4 engineer regiments for this function, one a regular unit and three Territorial Army.
39 Engineer Regiment was the regular unit tasked with preparing and maintaining field operating sites for the RAF's Harrier and support helicopter force. This unit was organised with a HQ Sqn (60) and three field Squadrons (34, 48 and 53) and was already in Germany before the British entry into the war supporting the Harrier Force and Support Helicopters.
73 Engineer Regiment (V) with sappers from Nottingham, Bradford and the Channel Islands had the same role and similar organisation to 39 Regiment. As a TA unit it was originally thought unlikely to deploy to a war the government declared would be fought 'by the regular army'. However the rapid reinforcement of RAF Germany by helicopters from No.1 Group to support 6 Airmobile Brigade meant that 39 Regiment was quickly becoming overwhelmed. As a result 73 Regiment was the first non-special forces TA unit of this size to be sent to the continent.
These units were known as 'Tin Kickers' because of their usual duty involved laying metal temporary runways for the Harrier Force. However they were also trained in runway repair tasks and had the equipment to perform this job efficiently. Both regiments had an attached Specialist Team Royal Engineers (BP)(V) trained to maintain, repair and distribute bulk fuel supplies. Lastly all the sappers were trained infantrymen and could fight as such, and were often called up to fight off marauders and saboteurs.
39 Regiment tended to work with the Support Helicopter Force and 73 Regiment with the Harrier Force in the early stages of the war, although there was some swapping of field squadrons. However with the loss of much of the SHF through combat losses, two of the field squadrons were disbanded and used to provide replacements for front line RE units. 73 Regiment remained with the Harrier Force until its return to the UK.
In the UK two regiments existed to maintain and repair the RAF's airbases from combat damage. 76 Engineer Regiment (V) covered all bases from RAF Leeming north, whilst 77 Engineer Regiment (V) was responsible for the midlands and south of England. Both these regiments were organised with 4 field squadrons and one STRE (BP)(V). These units gave good service and mostly became a part of the RAF garrisons, often with their families nearby.
A further RE unit that frequently operated with the RAF were the EOD specialists of 33 and 101 (V) Engineer Regiments. Whilst 33 normally operated closer to the front-line, many sappers of 101 Regiment lost their lives diffusing ordnance on RAF airfield in the UK and Germany.
Forward Air Controllers
FAC were rarely as important in RAF operations as they were in those of the USAF. Primarily because the RAF concentrated more on Battlefield Air Interdiction than Close Air Support. In many BAI attacks the targets were called in by Special Forces teams in the enemy's rear, although some were from the SAS many were actually provided by specialist Royal Artillery parties originally designed for work with MLRS but also vital in calling in airstrikes. It should be noted that many of these parties were found from the Territorial Army.
For more traditional FAC work in co-operation with planes, usually Harrier, undertaking CAS tasks RAF FAC's were attached to the spearhead units. The FAC's job was to bring the aircraft in as low as possible and make their target acquisition process as simple and quick as possible in order for them to spend the smallest amount of time possible over the dangerous FEBA. This task was fairly easy when Brimstone was being used, but substantially less so when dropped ordnance was carried.
However there were always too few RAF FAC's to cover all contingencies, and the job was often done by any spare officer in the unit being supported. Obviously this was far from ideal as much of the final planning had to be done 'on the hoof' by the incoming pilots increasing their time within the danger area. One method that was introduced in 1st Armoured Division was to use Lynx or Gazelle helicopter pilots to act as FAC's, hovering behind the leading troops and using their optics to pick out enemy units and act as the link between battle group and squadrons. This method was more successful, but at the price of greatly increased losses in the light helicopter units.
HISTORY - AIRCRAFT- SQUADRONS - RAF REGIMENT