The RAF Moving Australias location 200 miles: Myth or true?

I read on this site someone mentioning that the RAF once moved Australia's location on the map 200 miles from where it should have actually been.

I was wondering if any of you fair arrsers could confirm or deny this, and explain the reasoning behind the RAF's actions, if this did happen.

Many thanks!
Yeah it's true. It was back in the 1960's when the RAF wanted the F-111 and the RN wanted new carriers (CVA01) to replace Ark Royal and Eagle.

Basically, the RAF said that they could provide a Royal Navy Task Force with Air Defence Cover pretty well anywhere in the world.

But, with the then current fighters the RAF had there was a nice big gap in the Indian Ocean. So rather than telling the truth - god forbid - the Crabs moved Australia west 300 miles.

All ended up being pointless as Labour told both the Crabs and the Andrew to get stuffed and bought neither F-111 or CVA01.
It was in the late '60's or early '70's I think. The RAF & RN were at war over money. The RAF wanted to take over the Fleet Air Arm or have their funding or somesuch.

In order to justify this, they tried to show there was no need for fixed wing naval aviation since the RAF could cover a fleet anywhere in the world from shore bases.

Alas, in order tp "cough" prove this, it was necessary to move Australia 300 miles closer.

Rowland "Vulcan 607" White's excellent new book "Phoenix Squadron" alludes to it in the beginning.

Cracking read, Ark Royal flying Buccaneers over Belize in '72 to dissuade the Guatemalans from invading.

Anyone else read it?
Moggy, I heard this story from a retired Naval type in the 90s. In fact it might have been me who posted it but I can't be arsed to look it up.

The detail is a bit hazy but I thought he said that it was the decision affecting which service would be the 'keeper of the nukes'—RN or RAF—but Mr Creosote's version sounds quite plausible. The chap who told me maintained that the RAF presented their case at a key ministerial meeting using a world map that they had brought in. An RN staff officer who was sitting at the back thought something looked odd but couldn't put his finger on it until after the presentation.
I first read this in Sharkey Ward's book "Sea Harrier over the Falklands". Sharkey had quite a lot to say about the RAF, as I recall. In fact he ends up giving the strong impression he'd far rather have been shooting at RAF planes than Argentine ones.
There may be some truth to the story, but it is nowhere near as clear cut as people think.

The man closest to the story, Ray Lygo (later head of BAe) claims in his autobiography that Australia was moved 200 miles by the RAF. Lygo was closely involved in CVA01 planning, and it is 99% certain that the moving island/continent story originates from him and has been retold.

This figure has, depending upon which former senior naval type has retold the story, gone from 200 to 1000 miles. As yet, despite two academics looking for corroborating evidence, the National Archives reveal nothing to support the story.

There are further complications. The first is that it may have been an island in the Indian Ocean which moved.

It is also clear from archival research undertaken by people such as Saki Dockrill that:

a) the main opposition to CVA01 actually came from the Foreign Office, who described the new carriers as 'superfluous' in their submissions on future policy. The Treasury was not far behind them in this point of view. The PM was not convinced about carriers either. The crabs could, in fact, have been in favour of the carriers, and there'd still have been a strong chance the CVA01 would've been cancelled to save money.

b) The records suggest that the question wasn't whether to buy F-111 or the CVA-01. The options were either
(i) procuring the F-111 or
(ii)obtaining the CVA01 in addtion to the F-111

There was no option of buying CVA01 in lieu of the F-111.

c) Up until 1966, the US had been averse to the cancellation of the carriers. While the US had gone as far as to offer second-hand US carriers to the UK during 1965, this had been because they wanted the UK to have a presence 'East of Suez'. As it became clear that the UK had (at that time) no intention, or at least no declared intent, to abandon the East of Suez role, McNamara and the DoD felt that it wasn't necessary to press the UK to buy new carriers. It wasn't the capability that mattered to the US but the actual presence - which could be delivered (McNamara thought) through the presence of land based air and troops.

d)The RN's staff work was poor - Healey was constantly sending submissions back to the naval staff urging them to make their case in a more convincing manner. They never did. They also managed to pull off the trick of submitting a planning option to the Overseas Defence Policy committee which, upon examination, had got its sums wrong by a cool £76,000,000. This did not exactly help the RN's case.

The sad fact of the matter is that whether the RAF moved an island, or even a continent by 200 yards, 200 miles or 200 Light Years, if this sleight of hand occurred, it did not kill the carriers. And a former 'Wings' of HMS Victorious once suggested to me that the RAF might have used an old RN chart for the allegedly dodgy map...

(edited to make point b make sense)
I don't know about Australia, but the Deputy Nav Leader on my first squadron was supposed to have moved Gan by a mile or two. The tale is that he noticed that Shackleton navs tended to have a consistent final nav error on transits there, so he took a vast number of astro observations that demonstrated it was wrongly plotted on the charts of the day.

This success went to his head and he spent his last tour trying to do the same thing for Rockall, but without success.


Book Reviewer
Slightly off Topic but similler

During WW2 London was "moved" by German Double Agent Eddie "Agent zig zag" Chapman
Chapman sent back radio transmissions plotting where V1's were landing in London
He moved the location of the actuall direct hits on London to indicate they had missed by miles
The Germans then altered the fuel load etc on the V1's causing them to land away from London whilst Chapmen sent back information cliaming that they were still hitting the town centre
False reports wrere placed in newspapers to corroborate his transmissions
As Archimedes has said, the situation was far from clear cut and the true 'Confidence Trick' may have involved something rather different. The following excerpt appears on pp.290/1 of The Naval Review Vol LIV No 4 dated October 1966. It is from a prescient article, titled 'Ministerial Touchdown', written soon after the cancellation of CVA 01 in the 1966 Defence Review. This Defence Review also saw the decision to order the US F111 instead of the UK's TSR2, cancelled the previous year despite highly promising test flights.

VOX NON INCERTA in The Naval Review said:
Inability to man a New Carrier Force

One of the reasons given by Mr. Healey [Labour Defence Minister] for not laying down a new generation of aircraft carriers was the inability of the Royal Navy to man them within its stated maximum numbers. This is a non sequitur. If the Royal Navy were allotted the task of providing tactical air power because they can do the job more efficiently with carrier-based aircraft than the RAF with landbased aircraft, then corresponding adjustments in total numbers of the two Services would presumably follow; unless the policy of maintaining the RAF per se is to be carried to absurdity.

Island Bases and the 'F111'

Admiral Gretton has described the [RAF's] island base concept as 'one of the biggest confidence tricks of modern times'. Questions during Mr. Healey's talk touched on the possible cost of building up these island bases and the difficulties involved. These questions were begged in the usual way; by insisting that only a bare minimum of facilities was to be provided in the bases while the aircraft were to be kept back in reserve either in Britain or in other main bases (presumably Singapore - a pretty hazardous business, surely?). This divides the issue into two: first, the cost of providing the bare minimum of facilities at an island base and second, the feasibility of operating a modern weapon system, the F111, under conditions which fail to take into account any requirement for complex maintenance, rectification and provision of spare parts.

It is impossible even to guess at the cost of providing a 3,000-yard concrete airstrip, with full night lighting, air traffic control facilities including GCA, hangarage and first-line servicing facilities, meteorological and communication facilities, electrical services and accommodation on an island base. The capital expenditure must surely be large, particularly when, for example at Aldabra [Seychelles], there is no fresh water, or at Diego Garcia [Chagos Archipelago] where the whole reef is liable to be flooded when it is stormy. One of the best suggestions came from a young RAF Officer: 'Why not steam one of your old light fleet carriers into the lagoon and there you have accommodation, radar, workshops, electrical supplies and water readymade?' Why not indeed? And why not carry the argument one step farther?

The running costs of an island base can be kept very low if the numbers of men on it are severely restricted. This in turn is possible if the number of air movements is kept to a minimum; say less than half a dozen per day, as is done at Gan. But this is exactly what would not happen if the base were to be used in earnest as a staging post for a deploying Air Force. The base must be prepared for the task it is supposed to carry out.

The 'Confidence Trick'

Anyone who is closely concerned with operating modern fighting aircraft and who is honest with himself, plans on about a 50% unserviceability rate after mission. This means that if say, four F111s (surely there will not be more?) are deployed to an island base, two will be unserviceable on landing. After the first mission of the remaining two aircraft, one will remain serviceable which is, in turn, likely to become unserviceable after its second mission. It can be seen that a potential capability without any rectification facilities is likely to be less than one mission per aircraft, surely a poor investment which could be carried out better and more cheaply by a missile system.

It is ridiculous to say that spare parts and rectification parties will be provided by an airlift. The correct spare cannot be provided until the fault is correctly diagnosed, which may require extra personnel for which the base is not equipped and the provision of spare parts will certainly require more air movements for which the base is not capable. If a Comet (a simple and well-proven aircraft) goes unserviceable at Gan the most efficient way of getting a spare part to it is to fly the spare part to Gan on the next schedule a week later.

The island base concept is indeed 'a complete confidence trick' and the only people capable of understanding its place in the Defence Review are those who predict that the island bases will never be built and the F111 never be bought. Already, they say, judicious leaks regarding faults in the F111 have appeared in the press; from this it is a short step to discovering that the aircraft is a failure and without the aircraft there is then no need for the bases. They may well be right for otherwise it makes little enough sense.
As it happened, the order for the F111 was cancelled only two years after the 1966 Defence Review and the RAF Far East Air Force, based in Singapore, was disbanded three years later. Thus, 'moved' or not, the major rationale for RAF Gan, established in the late 1950s as a stopover for reinforcements, largely disappeared. It was rarely used again by British military aircraft and was handed over to the Maldives in 1975. Fortunately, the RN still had a few ageing CTOL carriers to cover the vast global gaps, caused by the closure of RAF bases worldwide, pending the introduction of the three smaller Invincible Class carriers operating the ubiquitous Sea Harrier. Even then, HMS Invincible herself was offered up for sale to Australia in 1981 and we all know what happened the year after that.

Incidentally, in 1953 the UK Defence Budget was 11.3% of GDP. By the 1966 Defence Review, it had been reduced to 6.6%. Today, it stands at 2.6%. Good job we're not fighting any wars, isn't it?


Book Reviewer
When did we sell Diego Garcia (in the Indian Ocean) to the Septics so they could park B-52s there and bomb anywhere in the Middle East?

How could there be a coverage hole over the Indian Ocean when we had an unsinkable aircraft carrier there already?

I must be missing something here.
AlienFTM said:
When did we sell Diego Garcia (in the Indian Ocean) to the Septics so they could park B-52s there and bomb anywhere in the Middle East?
We didn't sell Diego Garcia. The Chagos Islands, which include Diego Garcia, were detached from Mauritius to form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965. In 1966 the Crown bought the islands and plantations. In 1971 the plantations were cleared and the native islanders forcibly deported i.a.w. an agreement to make Diego Garcia available to the USA as a military base.

AlienFTM said:
How could there be a coverage hole over the Indian Ocean when we had an unsinkable aircraft carrier there already?
I suggest you go to Diego Garcia on Google Earth and see the sort of combat radius required to provide full air coverage of the Indian Ocean and its littoral states.

AlienFTM said:
I must be missing something here.
Indeed, you are missing three major points:

1. We didn't have any B52s.

2. With a few notable exceptions such as Ascension, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Hong Kong (at least for a little while longer), etc., the RAF neither retained its network of overseas bases (e.g. Singapore, Gan, Aden, Malta, Bahrain, etc.) nor acquired the long-range F111K bomber with its impressive 2,140 km combat radius. Instead, it ended up with the Jaguar and the Tornado with reported combat radii of 340 km and 1,400 km respectively although I appreciate these would be subject to bomb loads, external fuel tanks, AAR, air temperature, etc.

3. Even with AAR and unlimited range, it would take an enormous number of RAF aircraft based at Diego Garcia (or any of the other surviving RAF overseas bases) to provide CAP, reconnaissance, surveillance and surface strike for UK maritime forces throughout the Indian Ocean or anywhere else in the world. That's the reason the RN needs organic air. The quid pro quo is that the organic air serves its primary purpose in also being able to provide strike and CAS wherever it is needed, irrespective of the availabilty of host nation support.


littlejim said:
I first read this in Sharkey Ward's book "Sea Harrier over the Falklands". Sharkey had quite a lot to say about the RAF, as I recall. In fact he ends up giving the strong impression he'd far rather have been shooting at RAF planes than Argentine ones.
really :roll:
littlejim said:
I first read this in Sharkey Ward's book "Sea Harrier over the Falklands". Sharkey had quite a lot to say about the RAF, as I recall. In fact he ends up giving the strong impression he'd far rather have been shooting at RAF planes than Argentine ones.
Even other Harrier Pilots thought Sharkey Ward was an utter c0ck, that takes some doing.

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