Freezing temperatures as Cold War Exhibition opens
By Steve Willmot
8 Feb 2007
The UK's first ever permanent exhibition on the 40 years of the Cold War and the RAF's role in defending the nation against the prospect of all-out war, has received its royal opening.
HRH The Princess Royal declared open the National Cold War Exhibition at the RAF Museum's site at Cosford in Shropshire during a ceremony whose guests included former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher and in weather that could have come straight from Moscow.
The exhibition - set in its own futuristic-looking purpose-built steel and aluminium home next to the existing RAF museum hangar - was a mere idea in 2003, but with energy vision and £13m was transformed into a major new public attraction telling not only the Cold War military story but how it affected life and culture during the time.
The exhibition - the first major and permanent exhibition to focus solely on the Cold War Story - was opened by HRH The Princess Royal before many VIPs including Chief of the Air Staff, CinC Fleet and Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. The site is part of former RAF Cosford, which is now the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering.
Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister for more than 11 years from 1979. During the latter period of the Cold War she was influential in negotiations between the superpowers of the US and Russia that began the thaw in East-West relations, which in turn led to the Berlin wall being demolished and the reunification of Germany as part of Europe and NATO.
In the late 1980's she famously said of Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev: “I like him - we can do business together”; and there was a great deal of personal warmth between the two leaders.
In an exclusive interview with the RAF Baroness Thatcher said: “The Cold War was a period on intensive stand-off between two powerful sides. It drove both sides to invest heavily in the latest technology of the time. The legacy of that period is seen here in this fantastic exhibition and in the latest equipment today in the RAF and the other Services. We must continue to improve and use the best equipment to defend Britain as there is no better guardian against the unknown. If the Cold War was won, it was by the West because we were determined not to allow us to be beaten.
“I am impressed by the efforts that have gone into this exhibition and hope all will visit it as a living reminder of a significant period in modern history.”;
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, said: “The Cold War is a highly important part of the history of the RAF - we had the responsibility for the strategic defence of the UK and stood alert for many decades to respond to an all-out attack. Luckily it never came but we were ready nonetheless. And perhaps such an attack did not come because the Soviet Union knew we were ready at a moment's notice to defend the UK with weapons that included a nuclear response. This is clearly demonstrated by this exhibition. It was also a privilege to meet Cold War RAF veterans from the Cosford Branch of the National Services (RAF) Association, who were at the forefront of keeping RAF aircraft ready for action 24 hours a day during those uncertain times.
ACM Torpy added: “It's easy as we concentrate on current operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan to forget the highly significant role we played in the recent past - this exhibition reflects that admirably and is a permanent reminder not only of a dark period between two ideologies, but also the social lifestyle, culture, politics and other aspects of life either side of the Iron Curtain which will be of interest to a very wide audience.”;
Director General of the RAF Museum, Dr Michael Fopp, said - “As well as being honoured by the presence of The Princess Royal, we were delighted that Baroness Thatcher attended, for she played a symbolic and key role in bringing the Cold War to an end.
“The journey to the point where the Cold War Exhibition is now open to the public began in 2003 as an idea. Now, £13 million, 9,000 sq meters and the boundless energy, drive and enthusiasm of countless people later, we have an exhibition to be proud of. The exhibition contains 17 authentic aircraft from the period - their future while they were being stored out in the open has turned from being doubtful to now secured for the Nation's benefit.”;
Among the Cold War warriors are examples of Britain's impressive V-Force of Vulcan, Victor and Valiant which supported the UK's airborne nuclear deterrent until the Royal Navy took over the role with its submarine-based Polaris missile system. From 1969 the RAF’s role in carrying nuclear weapons diminished and today the UK's sole nuclear deterrent - Trident missile-equipped Vanguard-class nuclear powered warships - is still in their hands. For the RAF, its former role will come alive later this year it is hoped Vulcan XH558 - which is in an advanced stage of restoration to full airworthiness - will fly again
In addition to aircraft, the creative exhibits allow visitors to experience life behind the Iron Curtain, and a section of the Berlin Wall can be inspected.
“The exhibition takes an innovative approach to help educate present and future generations about life during the Cold War and is matched by an online educational experience that extends awareness to a global level,”; said a spokesman.
HRH The Princess Royal said: “I grew up in that period and this exhibition is a real contribution to helping people today understand what happened and why. It was an extraordinary period for people on both sides of the Iron Curtain and I congratulate all those who have contributed to creating what is a truly outstanding exhibition.”