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RAF in plot against Fleet Air Arm again

1930s, 1970s ... disaster every time they do it

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None of this was necessary. Had the Navy had a strong fleet air arm to begin with, these defeats and losses need never have happened. It could have easily been afforded - had the Navy been allowed control of the aircraft, it might have done so on its own. Purchase of the necessary kit would have been easy to afford if the excesses of Bomber Command had been avoided; and it isn't as though campaigns like Dresden actually achieved anything useful.

But scarcely was the fighting over before the same old poisonous inter-service strife revived. By the mid-1960s, once again the long-range bomber men of the RAF were manoeuvring successfully to kill off the Navy's painfully-acquired carrier force. In a famous lie, they argued that planes operating from land bases around the world could cover a fleet at sea anywhere - even in the middle of the Indian Ocean. (In order to "prove" that this could be done, the RAF had to produce a special map with Australia moved a long way to the west.)

With the economic problems that came to full flower in the 1970s already very apparent in the mid-60s, the new Labour government was happy to believe that the Navy didn't need carriers. In 1966 the decision was taken that the UK would no longer have such ships and the new Fleet carrier intended to replace those of World War II - CVA-01 - was cancelled. As the economic gloom deepened again into the Winter of Discontent, once again the Navy found itself stripped of air cover in the name of economy, once again with the RAF assuring everyone that it had matters well in hand.

The RN did, in fact, manage to sneak in some very small and limited ships under the pretence that they were "through deck cruisers", not carriers. These are the ships now in service. Also one of the WWII-vintage flat tops was still (just about) serviceable when the year 1982 rolled around, though already marked for sale to India. As these ships had no catapults or arrester wires, and so couldn't operate proper jets, they had been equipped with Sea Harrier jumpjet fighters.

Unfortunately, the lack of cash at the Admiralty had meant that no fleet airborne radar aircraft of any kind had been developed to replace the former Gannet, binned with the last of the real carriers. This was a very serious problem in the era of sea-skimming shipkiller missiles launched from low-flying attack planes - for instance the Exocet/Super Etendard combo operated by the Argentines.

A radar mounted in a ship would not detect such an attack coming until it was pretty much too late to do anything about it, not being able to see over the horizon like a high-flying radar aircraft. As a result, though the Sea Harrier fighter pilots did brilliant work, they could generally only intercept enemy aircraft by being luckily in the right place at the right time. Most of the Argentine air strikes were able to fly through the incomplete fighter screen to inflict devastating damage.

Not only were warships sunk and damaged by missiles and bombs, but far more importantly the merchantman Atlantic Conveyor was lost with a huge load of military supplies. Another such sinking would probably have crippled the land battle for the Falklands altogether. The troopship Sir Galahad was hit too, effectively gutting an entire battalion of soldiers. Almost all the hundreds of British sailors and soldiers who died and were wounded in the Falklands war were hit in air attacks. Once again, lack of naval air had led to an entirely avoidable slaughter.

Meanwhile, far from being ready and able to cover the fleet as they had promised when the CVA-01 was cancelled, the RAF was almost entirely absent. By making a huge effort using almost their entire fleet of air-to-air tankers they were able to get one lonely heavy bomber into the sky above the Falklands - achieving very little, as long-range bombing generally does.

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