BBC Cold War Hot Jets 2of2
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BBC Cold War Hot Jets 2of2

October 8, 2019


In August, 1945, for the first time in human history, civilisation stood vulnerable
to total annihilation. In an instant, the accepted conventions of warfare
were brushed aside. The modern battlefield would now
be 50,000 feet above us, and death would travel
these new frontiers on the wings of a jet bomber. As Britain prepared for peace, the country was thrown into
a different kind of conflict – one that forced the nation
to learn a new language of war. As soon as we’d be called upon to be
used, it was nuclear war. The Third World War – nuclear. One bomb was approximately
equivalent to all the bombs dropped by the Allies on Germany
in World War II. Our mission was a one-way ride, and
you were going to blow up the world. And no-one knew about it. To maintain its position
in the new world order, and meet the exacting standards
of this new technological warfare, Britain once again turned
to its aviation industry, to the next generation of war
machines. There was no other country
in the world, who could produce an aircraft like the V-bombers. They were, for the day,
like spaceships almost. As the platform for delivering
nuclear Armageddon, the role of the jet bomber was set
to dominate the political landscape for the next two decades. Aviation was the delivery system
for the nuclear deterrent. I remember thinking that, “Gosh, you’ve got to be a brave man
to do that, because if you’re doing it for real, you’ve got nowhere to come back to. This is the story of how Britain
embraced, adapted and improved its jet technology to face up to the
terrifying realities of the new era, and to define how the Cold War
was fought. NEWSREEL: Cut off from the
other western zones of Germany by the Russian blockade… In June, 1948, Berlin became the
first flash point of the Cold War. In a blatantly aggressive act to
control the entire city, Stalin blocked rail, road and canal
access to the West. There was only one way open to the
beleaguered capital – by air – and at Western Zone airfields, supplies were loaded
aboard transports, which had been
rushed to the scene. In a single year,
200,000 flights delivered nearly 5,000 tonnes of supplies
into West Berlin. A point had been proved –
the aeroplane was king. And while there was nothing to match the vast numbers of Soviet troops
on the ground, superiority in the skies
belonged to the West. By the end of the war, Britain led
the world in aviation technology, but the old certainties
of the empire were gone, and by the late ’40s, the country
was forced to align itself with America and the bomb, in the
new ideological conflict between East and West. And, of course, we were conscious
at the time, that the Soviet army – the romping,
stomping Red Army, as they’d call it, was five times bigger
than the NATO forces. They had millions of troops under
arms, well-trained, efficient… They had some of the best tanks
in the world, and lots of them. They had their tails up because
they’d conquered the Germans. As tension between the superpowers
intensified, a US nuclear strike force became
a permanent fixture on British soil. This force is a combat-ready
offence force. It is a deterrent force, dedicated to the prevention of war –
any war, large or small. This offence force is complemented
by the joint allied early warning air defence system. Britain was, for the Americans,
an unsinkable aircraft carrier moored off the northwest coast
of Europe. It’s a great deal easier to fly
from Lincolnshire to Leningrad that it is America to Leningrad. You know, range was the thing. Shorter range, bigger payload.
All those things. As America’s foremost ally
in Europe, Britain would be squarely in
the Soviets’ cross hairs, if World War III started. Of course,
Europe was the primary target, because United States surrounded
Soviet Union with their air bases. And they easily can reach most of the political
and industrial centres. In 1949, confounding all
expectation, the Soviet Union exploded
its first atomic bomb. BOMB EXPLODES HOWLING WIND This was quite shocking because
the expectation was that the Soviet Union was not capable of developing hi-tech weapons
at this rate. The stage was now set for the next
world war. A climate of suspicion, fear
and mutual menace had begun to develop between
the superpowers, and Britain as the non-nuclear
piggy-in-the-middle, had nothing with which
to retaliate. After the war,
there was a feeling that… that was the end of war. And it was suddenly realised, that we have to prepare ourselves
for this Russian threat. In 1951, Churchill spelled out
the country’s vulnerability in the House of Commons. “We must not forget,” he said… “that by creating the American
atomic base in East Anglia, “we have made ourselves the target, “and perhaps the bull’s-eye,
of a Soviet attack.” “On the 28th March last year, “I said in Parliament, if for
instance the United States “had a stockpile of 1,000 atomic
bombs, “and Russia had 50, “and we got
those 50 fearful experiences, “far beyond anything
we have ever endured, “it would be our lot.” BOMB EXPLODES Our only option
was the nuclear option. That was the quickest and easiest way to give a credible opposition
and deterrence. Churchill argued the country
must continue to develop its own independent nuclear
deterrent, regardless of the cost. This was a generation of politicians,
you must remember, who had seen what appeasement
did in the ’30s. They were dammed if they were
going to appease the Soviets. The prospect of Britain
developing an atomic bomb, had received a blow in 1946
when the American McMahon Act unanimously refused to share
any atomic secrets with its wartime allies. That stupid McMahon act, prevented
us acting fully with them, and, in a way, at the time – they were apt to think they were the
big boys and we were the small boys – we’d just got to show them that
they didn’t know everything. To have influence
in the new world order, Britain would need its own
atomic bomb, and without the help
of the Americans the country would have to go it
alone. If you want to be involved
in the deterrent, you have to be able to do your own
deterring. And that’s a powerful bargaining
tool. If you can start World War III,
you have to be listened to. As work got under way building
the bomb, the Ministry of Supply started to
draw up requirements for a new jet bomber. A plane that could fly higher,
faster, and further than any bomber of the past. In January, 1947, the Ministry of Supply issued this
specification tender number B-35-46. It was an order for an urgently
needed jet bomber – one that would set challenging
new hurdles for Britain’s aviation companies. They were asking for a bomber that
could fly at least 50,000 feet – that is out of range of any
Soviet missiles. It also had to have a long-range
cruising speed of 580mph. Finally, it had to be capable of
carrying a five-tonne atomic bomb. BOMB EXPLODES It was an extraordinary sense
that you could do what you
set your mind to. It was an extraordinary sense, too, that the resources would be
available to carry through extraordinarily
ambitious projects of aeronautical design. The first successful bid came
from AVRO, based in Manchester. This was a company with pedigree, responsible for bombers
like the Lancaster and Lincoln. AVRO’s bid was radical,
to say the least. The young designers of the
Special Projects department, known as the AVRO babes, had borrowed the idea from
a glider they’d discovered on a scouting mission to Germany
in 1945. This is the incredible first sketch drawn by an young designer
called Bob Lindley. Initially it was met with derision, but what would emerge from this
was a truly astonishing aircraft, the fantasy of every schoolboy
in Britain. Tony Blackman was a Vulcan
test pilot. It must’ve looked incredible when
the first designs were drawn up and when it first emerged from
the hangar. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Something completely different. But it was right on the edge
of technology at that time. They really did a superb job. No-one’s done this delta wing
like this, have they? Certainly not on this scale. Well, at that time, no. we knew very little in the UK
about wing design, at all – or delta wing design –
and we had to get help. The Germans had done a lot
more work on it. When they flew the aircraft, they
discovered that it buffeted at high speed. If you look up here, the outer
leading edge on the Mach 1 had to be drooped to get rid
of the buffet, but it took several years
to actually find the solution. So, presumably, there were
a number of advantages to having the delta wing. Oh, yeah. Apart from the strength –
it’s very strong – of course, you can accommodate
the engine, which is very important. And as you can see,
the engines don’t show at all. They’re completely buried
in the wing. But a very tiny cockpit.
Ah! The cockpit was minute, and the view
out of it’s appalling! I went up there quite recently,
and I looked and thought, “How on earth did I ever
manage to fly that?!” The second company to win a contract
was Handley Page, arch rivals of AVRO. The company had built
the World War II Halifax bomber, and were working on crescent-shaped
wings, designed for high-altitude
cruising. The design was the brainchild of
the chief aerodynamicist – a German. The plane’s development, however,
was dogged with accidents
and delays. The Government decided another
less advanced aircraft was required as backup. The third company to be awarded
a contract was Vickers Armstrong. The banker as far as the Ministry
of Supply were concerned. Vickers promised a new jet bomber
that met all the criteria, but didn’t push the technological
envelope quite so far. More importantly, they also claimed
that they would come in under budget and on time. You might think it’s odd that
you should build three bombers. Why not just build one? The reason is that experience
from the Second World War, showed you couldn’t tell which kind
of aeroplane would do best. So they built three
in the expectation that some will be better
than others. True to their word, on 18th May,
1951, the Vickers Valiant was the first
of the new jet bombers to lift off the runway. Two years later,
it went into full production. I couldn’t believe it,
because I’d been flying piston-engined aircraft,
exclusively, up till then. The Valiant just took off and went up
like a homesick angel. I was watching the altimeter
and it was going round and round and round and round
really fast – trying to catch up with the aircraft. Determined not to be overshadowed
by the Valiant, AVRO pulled out the stops
to get the Vulcan airborne. In August 1952, here at Woodford, the Vulcan was finally rolled out
from its hangar. Approaching the aircraft was an
urbane figure in a pinstriped suit. This was Roly Falk, the test pilot, who had flown a captured German
aircraft at Farnborough
during the war. Falk oozed self-confidence and calm
imperturbability. but no-one had ever flown a plane
like this before, and as he stepped into the cockpit, I can’t help thinking he must have
had just a few nerves. Tony Blackman was Roly Falk’s
friend and protege. Couldn’t have been a better guy
to develop the aircraft. He was absolutely perfect. Not only was he a wonderful
demonstration pilot, but he was a great salesman. Politicians and the air staff had
to be persuaded that we were going to make a success
of the aircraft, and Roly had to chat all these
people up, have lunch with
all the important people, and he’d rush out
in his grey pinstriped suit and fly the aircraft immaculately. Within weeks of its first
test flight, the Vulcan was unveiled at the
Farnborough air show. NEWSREEL: The new AVRO 698
four-engined jet bomber! As the plane thundered past
the runway, the crowd were transfixed
by a vision of the future. And at the top of the take-off
climb, Roly Falk did something no bomber
had ever done before. He barrel-rolled the aircraft. Those sort of manoeuvres could hardly fail to impress anybody who had any interest in aviation. A bomber barrel-rolling
was unheard of! That was the show-off antics
of the fighter boys. Roly Falk was later reprimanded –
not on safety grounds, but because it was considered
“unbecoming behaviour” for a bomber. At any rate, there’s no denying
his joyful pirouette through the sky had changed the image of the slow,
lumbering bomber for ever, and, of course, the crowd loved it. Two months later, the third plane
in the V-force – the Victor – took to the skies at Boscombe Down. This was the most electronically
and aerodynamically advanced bomber the world had ever seen. It could go faster, higher and
with greater destructive power, than all the Lancaster bombers
of World War II combined. They were, for the day,
like spaceships, almost. The same with the Vulcan. I mean, they were so far advanced. You have got to think of the Victor
or the Vulcan, beside a Lancaster or a Shackleton to see the huge step forward that had been made. This generational advancement
was considerable. A year later, the Victor appeared
at the Farnborough Air Show, with a flamboyant paint job. Yes, I first saw it in
the strange colour scheme it had at first at Farnborough – the black fuselage and silver wings. Even then it was
an impressive aeroplane. Though, I can remember
the Vulcan coming across, and it came over at fairly low level
and reasonably fast, making a lot of smoke and a lot
of noise, and disappeared. And then the Victor appeared
and it came across fairly sedately at about 1,500 feet or so, and
we thought, “Hm, different.” And then he barrel-rolled – and, of course, that word got back
to Manchester pretty quickly. I think the Vulcan had to do it
the next day. It became a sort of battle between
the two companies at that time. The following year, Russian MiG fighters shot a Lincoln
out of the sky as it flew down the Berlin corridor. The days of the propeller-driven
bomber, were over. Right on cue, the Royal Air Force unveiled its new jet bomber
squadrons – the hi-tech nuclear-strike force. I went on one occasion with
my grandfather when he was Ministry of Defence
to RAF Cottesmore. It was a V-bomber base, and we actually set off a scramble. SIREN WAILS And we saw this black trails
going off into the sky. And this THUNDEROUS noise! I mean, so your chest shook with
the sound waves hitting it. I remember thinking, you know, I
don’t know if they scare the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me! Britain was also catching up
in the arms race. By 1952, Churchill’s government had tested the country’s
first atomic bomb. But that same year, the stakes
had been raised even higher. The Americans exploded
a thermonuclear device. It was quickly followed
by a Russian megaton bomb. The A-bomb had been superseded
1,000 times by the H-bomb. Churchill demanded that Britain keep
pace, and to hell with the cost. It was the price to be paid
for a seat at the top table, and a chance to influence
superpower aggression. In the 1957,
Britain went thermo nuclear. NEWSREEL: The Valiant swung into
a 1.8 G turn, through 140 degrees, on its planned escape course. DEEP RUMBLE Why does Britain do it? Well,
because it’s a great power. It needs the H-bomb
to remain a great power. But there is another important
reason. And that is that the H-bomb,
like the A-bomb, is seen as a relatively cheap way
of fighting war. You need hi tech,
relatively cheap warfare, and that’s what the bomb
does for Britain. We believed that we were preventing
war from happening, by being prepared for war. Wasn’t it Theodore Roosevelt
who said, the man who wants peace
prepares for war? I believe that to be true. Or the other thing he came up with
was, walk quietly and carry a big stick. As far as we were concerned,
we had a big stick. Now armed to the teeth,
with the technology to deliver, Britain needed men prepared
to take on the burden of the independent nuclear deterrent and risk all in a third world war. The RAF began the search for chaps
with the right stuff. I was personally interviewed by
Air Vice Marshal, as he then was, in 1958, Bing Cross. I don’t think I’d ever spoken
to an Air Vice Marshal before. Do you go to church? Do you play rugby? Do you have a mess kit? Those with three of the standards
Bing Cross was looking for. He was looking for character. I had to go through what was called
personal vetting – PVT clearance. This went into finding out what
my uncles and aunts did. It was quite intense. This was to ensure, I guess,
our family and I was a true Brit. The V bombers were so advanced it took a crew of five
highly-trained men to fly them. Five people –
first pilot, co-pilot, navigator-radar,
navigator-plotter, air electronics officer – and you were a team. The expression we used to use
as the bomber crew is “marriage without sex”. After 18 months of rigorous
training, the RAF was ready to launch
the country’s nuclear capability. It was a point that government
was keen to emphasise. World leaders were invited
to V-bomber bases, not to buy, but to be impressed. And in some cases, to be warned. Even the new Soviet Premier,
Nikita Khrushchev, got an invite. He didn’t want it to show
the British strength and British technological capability, and I was most impressed. I was a young man
and for me at that time, all these planes were like
from the future. And these planes in Great Britain,
especially the Victor, there was more futuristic than
the Soviet planes. To be credible as a deterrent, you have to demonstrate
to your public and, of course, to the potential
aggressor, that you do indeed have
this capability. American strategic air command was
also intrigued by Britain’s V force. The same year the Victor had first
flown, they had tested their own bomber – the B-52. We’d watch them go down the runway, making a lot of smoke out the back,
and they’d then disappear. Eventually, after three or four
minutes, you’d see it creep up
above the smoke cloud… and it WAS climbing away – but nothing like our capability! The B-52 was no match
for versatility, but how did the V bomber square
up for accuracy? To find out Valiants and Vulcans
were invited Stateside to take part in bombing
competitions. The whole thing about the Americans
was “big”. Their bombers were big, their stations were big and everything about it was…
kind of size and money. The United States Air Force guys
were obviously paid considerably more than we were. They were highly regarded – got all sorts of privileges that
we never saw here. They had their own, effectively,
supermarkets on base, that were tax-free. So quite often an aircraft
would come back with a lot of stuff in the bomb bay –
particularly mowers. Petrol lawn-mowers in those days were
a ludicrous price over there. Samsonite suitcases! I think, virtually everyone in
the V force had at least three by the time they’d done
a couple of trips to America. As the American public slept, the bombers would fly target runs
over their cities, and simulate nuclear warfare. The mission was that one would fly
for four or five hours and then drop a bomb
at the end of the mission. Tucson and Salt Lake City were probably the main targets. One or two occasions in Los Angeles. They’d set up electronics so they
could tell when we’d “released”
our bomb, and then they could work out,
using the various trajectories, where the bomb would actually land, and give you an assessment
of your target – 500 yards from the target,
or 100 yards… All our missions were all
very good. I think they were all within
500 yards of the target. Whereas the Americans were getting
much bigger errors. As the Cold War progressed, the destructive power of the H-bomb
kept an uneasy peace between the superpowers. The bomb had become
a bargaining tool – a tool most successful
when held in reserve. It’s hard to get it into
perspective, but one bomb that was carried
by say a Vulcan was approximately equivalent,
in explosive power, to all the bombs dropped by the
Allies on Germany in World War II. Which is mind-blowing,
if you think about it. The heady days of daredevils flying
victory rolls over Farnborough
were over. Pilots and crews were now living
permanently on the front line of MAD –
mutually assured destruction. In those days, one had to sign
the Official Secrets Act anyway, to become a member of the Air Force, but when you joined the V force, now things became Top Secret
and Top Secret Atomic. We didn’t discuss it
with our families. My wife and family had no idea of what I might be called upon
to do. Our mission was a one-way ride. And you are going to blow up
the world. And no-one knew about it. That one-way mission would
be triggered if the country’s eyes and ears at
Fylingdales in the North
Yorkshire, detected a Soviet attack. Russian nuclear missiles were
becoming more accurate with increasingly long-range
capabilities. The early warning radar system
would give the V force just enough time
to get airborne and retaliate. The famous four-minute warning
being the minimum time they expected ever to get. So, that virtually all 200-odd
of V bombers would get launched within
the four minutes, if necessary. Never before in the history
of warfare, had minute-by-minute timing been
so crucial. Pilots and their crews would live
in a permanent state of emergency, waiting for the call to arms. This was QRA –
quick reaction alert. The plan was that every squadron
provided one aircraft and crew on QRA. And that aircraft would be bombed up and you were in your flying kit
ready to go, and you’d cock the aircraft so you could be off the ground
in a matter of minutes. QRA crews were separated from the
distractions of normal life on base. They’d live in cabins close
to the runway, within easy reach of their aircraft. We spent an awful lot of time as
a crew locked in a very small room, studying the target,
and all that went with it. The routing to get there,
the fuel to get there, the defences we might meet on
the way, the weapon we were carrying, and the target itself. St Petersburg was one.
Kaliningrad. And all the capitals
in the Baltics. The crews lived with three
states of readiness – the normal 15 minutes alert, and occasional five minutes, and the highest of all,
just two minutes. The men were constantly tested
at each level, day or night. We would’ve each, by this stage,
been given a car. If we got a call – which would come out over Tannoys
across the whole station – a red to state 5 call – we’d all,
the crews, clamber in these cars, rush out to our aircraft, get in the cockpit, shut the door. Or else, actually start the engines, and taxi to the end of the runway and be plugged in at the end
of the runway. There were several codewords – one was to start engines, one was to take off,
one was to coast out, and the final one was eight east. If that came through,
that was irrevocable. You did not come back. We assumed, at that stage, there were weapons falling on
the United Kingdom. And so we were being released
to do the job. These exercises went on 24/7, so there was, in the back of your
mind, the thought, “This might be the one
where we’re actually going…” It might have been half an hour
later, when we’re at height
and on our way, that you began to think, “Oh, my
goodness me. This is for real.” The prospect of prolonged
international tension fundamentally changed the basis
of military planning. The country’s war chest
was bursting at the seams. Britain no longer required forces
stationed throughout the globe, armed with conventional weaponry. The peace of the world now depended on the efficacy
of the nuclear deterrent. Britain was spending more than
10% of gross domestic product on warfare in the early 1950s. Quite extraordinary. Historically unprecedented
for peacetime. And right across the political
spectrum, from right to left, it’s recognised that Britain
simply can’t afford to maintain this level of defence
expenditure in the long run. It’s undermining
the civilian economy. The time had come to revise
not only the size but also the character
of the defence plan. A new approach was needed. I remember my grandfather, early on in his prime ministership
asking Duncan Sandys, who was then
the Ministry of Defence, to do a review of defence
capability, costs, operational requirements,
likely future costing. It was quite clear from that
that Britain could not afford to have the commitment that
she’d had up till then. On 4th April, 1957, the Ministry
of Defence, Duncan Sandys, rose to his feet in the House
of Commons to present his White Paper –
Outline Of Future Policy. Despite the sense of expectation, the speech was for the most part
rather dull. But then came the sting in the tail. Hidden under the section Research
and Development Sandys spelled out his decision to cut off the aviation industry
at the knees. But Sandys had targeted the
jet fighter, not the jet bomber. Fighters, he believed, now played
a limited role in modern hi-tech warfare. They were expensive to develop, and there were too many private
companies building them. Sandys’ vision focused on a cheaper,
more effective Cold War weapon, a weapon that would eventually seal
the fate of the V bomber – the intercontinental
ballistic missile. In America, as in Australia
and Britain, the guided missile has grown
from prophecy to fact. These things exist. No more aeroplanes. We’ll do it all with rockets. And I remember the newspaper
hoardings and everything
and thinking, “Argh, that’s rather screwed
my career prospects!” But it’s a sign of Britain’s
commitment to modernity, especially in warfare, that you can have a White Paper
of that radical a nature. The nation’s romance with
the jet fighter had had its wings clipped. But there was one experimental
plane, that escaped
the clutches of the White Paper. An aircraft with a spine-shattering
rate of climb, and a top speed of Mach 2. The RAF’s first operational
supersonic jet – the English Electric Lightning. The Lightning was capable of
outmanoeuvring anything the Russians
could throw at it. And only the very best pilots
got to fly it. Martin Bee was just 23 when he was
sent to fly Lightnings at RAF Coltishall. Gosh, well, look at that!
That some… Bigger than I thought! I mean, this must have been
every young pilot’s dream. Isn’t it? To fly on this? I think so, because it was the first
supersonic aeroplane in level flight, that we had in the Royal Air Force. It really was a bit of a hot rod. We could go supersonic
in the climb – couple of minutes up
to 36,000 feet. Pretty quick going, from takeoff!
That’s pretty impressive. And it just moves fast, everything happens fast. And look at the sweep –
60 degrees of wing sweep. You really are being a bit of
a birdman there, so it’s good fun. We had a simulator. So we did all our training
in the simulator. And then, one day they strapped
you in and said, “Go.” It’s a very dense aeroplane – all
the pipes sit next to each other – so you’ve got hot engines, hydraulic
pipes, fuel pipes – so we had an awful lot of fires. And often the fire resulted
in loss of control, and then the pilot would eject. But it didn’t kill a lot of people.
But we lost a lot of aeroplanes. One of the Lightning’s key roles, was to intercept Russian bombers
in the North Atlantic. The Russians might be going to Cuba, they come down on an exercise with
their fleet in the Atlantic, but most of the time they were
probably practising their war mission against us. That’s one of the reasons, why we
would intercept them so far out. Because we knew, they had a
capability to launch a stand-off weapon against the UK. And what would those encounters
be like? I think probably the very first
one was apprehensive. You wonder what you’re doing, if he’s going to do something
to you, or if you may be asked to do
something to him. But on the other hand fascinating. You actually see the opposition
for the first time face-to-face. Well, that’s the thing about
the Cold War, isn’t it? Most people never saw the enemy. But you are absolutely on
the coalface – the front line –
aren’t you? Yes, but, after a few interceptions
you would find you could get up fairly close to the bomber and you might be 100 metres away, and you could see a chap in the rear, tail-gunner’s position
waving at you. And you would wave back.
It was the Cold War. Pilot John Ward decided to take
the Lightning out to give me
a sense of its sheer power. Just amazing, isn’t it?
My goodness me! John. That was absolutely amazing. It really was incredible. And just to see that immense power
and speed. It was a blur going past me. It’s something you never get over. I’m still hooked on the adrenaline. You can see it dripping
out of me now! What was it like to fly?
Well, it’s a Mach 2 aeroplane. Faster than a rifle bullet. Yeah, that’s saying something,
isn’t it? First time I flew one of these solo,
I was changing the radio channels
in the climb, out over Norfolk, and I saw a little flicker on
the instruments and suddenly realised, that even
though I was climbing I was supersonic. That’s just absolutely ridiculous! 1950s technology.
Yeah. You know, this is… When British industry was producing
some awesome pieces of kit. An “awesome piece of kit” indeed! The Lightning was retired in 1988, one year before the Berlin Wall
came down. Britain was a country about
to experience rapid social change. Gone were the days of doffing
your cap to patrician leaders. Government was about to discover
the public had a voice. On Good Friday, 1958, a group of academics, scientists
and religious leaders gathered in Trafalgar Square to
march in protest against the escalating arms race. PA: “..and this business of
hydrogen bombs and nuclear weapons is supremely a moral issue.” They’d have been happy if
50 people had turned up, but instead 10,000 braved
the rain and the snow. Over the next four days
they walked 60 miles to this place, the atomic weapons establishment
at Aldermaston – the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament
had begun. Britain’s bomb has no
deterrent value, it can make no difference at all to the situation between America
and Russia. I think we should ban it.
Definitely. Because somebody has got to make
the first move, haven’t they? They all thought,
I’m sure, that they were doing good, or trying to stop what
was happening. But this had already happened. We’d already exploded
an atom bomb in Japan, we’d already exploded
in Christmas Island, the Americans had worked out
thermonuclear weapons
in Nevada desert. So, really, it’s like the moment
you invent something you can’t de-invent it.
Can you? It was an argument that would be
brought into sharp and terrifying
relief. On 14th October 1962, a U2 spy plane flew high over Cuba to see if there was any truth
to the rumours that the Russians were building
missile bases on the island. The pictures they brought back
would take the world to the brink
of Armageddon. CAMERA SHUTTER CLICKS Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny
that the USSR has placed, and is placing,
medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? You will have your answer
in due course. I am prepared to wait for my answer
until hell freezes over, if that’s your decision. Americans were lucky being
protected by two oceans. So, for them, enemy at the gates, or technical capability to reach
the territory, generated this fear – if they technically can do it,
they will do it tomorrow. As Kennedy and Khrushchev squared up
to each other, it was clear to the Prime Minister
Harold Macmillan, that despite the conflict taking
place over 4,000 miles away, it was Britain
that was on the front line. I remember one afternoon, my grandfather was having a meeting with the head of the Chiefs of
Staff, and the Permanent Secretary
of the Foreign Office, and his Foreign Secretary,
and I was in the room. And the Permanent Secretary said, “Prime Minister, your grandson is
in the room, he shouldn’t be
listening. “This is classified.” And my grandfather looked at him
and said, “If we get it wrong, “it’s going to have far more impact
on him than on us.” President Kennedy told my father
in Vienna that we can destroy you
many times. Khrushchev answered,
“There is no difference. “I am not so cannibalistic as you.
I can destroy you only once.” It shall be the policy of this
nation to regard any nuclear missile
launched from Cuba against any nation
in the Western Hemisphere, as an attack by the Soviet Union
on the United States requiring a full retaliatory
response upon the Soviet Union. On 22th October, Strategic
Air Command went to DEFCON 2, one notch away from war itself. And a naval blockade was set up
around Cuba. These were the most dangerous days
in human history. On the 27th, Black Saturday, as the British public prepared
for a weekend of football, the RAF prepared
for world destruction. They brought up to the highest
possible state of readiness, 02, engines running on the end
of the runway, guzzling fuel, whilst they finally made up
their mind – whether we scrambled or reverted to readiness state 1-5,
literally, in minutes. I remembered saying to Mary, to my wife, if anything happens when you see
us take off, if we’ve been called in, what I would like you to do is take the children, put them in
the car, and then drive up to west Scotland, and I think you’ll be safe there. If war began, 150 V bombers would
follow a preordained flight path east. We would go in first, take out all the targets
in the Baltics and the western part of Russia, which would allow the Americans
to come in with their B-52s, to follow us. All the targets were
strategically placed apart, so they would be flying between the
blasts of actual bombs going off. So they could go in and attack
the cities further into Russia. Initially we had fighter defences, obviously we’d got to worry about, and we were jamming against those. But, of course, they started
deploying large numbers of surface-to-air missiles –
what were called SAM-1 and SAM-2. As long as you kept turning, about
every minute-and-a-half, so you did a weaving attack,
in effect, they would not be able to get the
missile to predict well enough
to hit you. And we’d level out, literally, with hopefully no more than four or
five miles to go for me to finally be able to correct
on the target position and drop the weapon. Now a spent force,
the V bombers would head home. But, in all practicality, there
would be nothing to come home to. I mean, Britain would have been
laid waste. It doesn’t bear thinking about,
really. It’s awful. It’s too awful for words. At the last minute, Khrushchev
ordered his ships to turn away from the American blockade. The crisis had been averted. We credited our politicians
with being rational people. We credited the Soviets with
being rational people. And Khrushchev,
for all his bluster, and his shoe-tapping in
the United Nations, at the end of the day, when
confronted by Kennedy’s blockade, proved to be rational. But if Britain’s deterrent
had been launched, it was unclear just how effective
it would have been. Two years before Cuba, there was
another missile crisis. A U2 spy plane, piloted by CIA
operative Gary Powers, was shot out of the sky whilst
photographing military sites in Soviet airspace. What was shocking was the U2
was flying 13 miles high. If Soviet surface-to-air missiles
could hit a plane at that altitude, they could also destroy a V Bomber. The first reaction, I suppose, was perhaps Duncan Sandys was
right after all. The V Force had become
the vulnerable force. The only option was to go
under the radar. Suddenly, overnight, all the tactics changed
to a high-level flight
over Western Europe and, as you approached
Eastern Europe, you then dive down and fly as low
as you can to the ground. And then when you approached
the target, you would climb up to altitude, release your bomb and then turn away
and try and get home. V Bombers were given new
war paint. The anti-flash white was replaced
by the more prosaic camouflage. The pilots were also provided with
an additional piece of equipment. We were given an eye patch as well,
and the reason for that was if we were near an explosion, the rays would take out one eye. You could then take off your patch
and continue with the good eye. That was the thinking at the time. It beggars belief, doesn’t it? But
this was… We used to practise this. We would cover up the aeroplane
and put on an eye patch and fly with one eye and then take
it off and fly with the other eye. Well, I have to say, that wasn’t
a very comforting philosophy. And I suspect had we been that close
to a nuclear detonation that we were blinded, that was
the end of the game in any case. But the bombers hadn’t been
designed for low level and they didn’t adapt well
to their new environment. It was extremely bumpy. I mean, I know navigators
that as soon as they went low level they started being sick.
And they stayed being sick for… two hours at low-level.
It was pretty awful. The heavy, turbulent air was playing havoc with
the integrity of the Valiant. Cracks in the rear
spar of the wings began to appear. In the end, the entire Valiant fleet
had to be scrapped. A sad ending to a plane that had
served its country well. The Victor fared better,
but the only V Bomber robust enough to thrive at low
level was the delta wing Vulcan. With great foresight,
the Air Ministry had already started designing
the next generation of jet bomber. Their most advanced yet,
the TSR2. It was another generational jump, almost as significant
if not quite, as was the V Bombers
beyond the piston-engine era. And I thought to myself, “My word, if that continues in
development successfully, “we’ve got a world-beater here.” This is a specification for TSR2
and, frankly, it’s a pretty long list. It had to have a high-altitude, long-range nuclear strike capability
so, rather like the V Bombers, but it also had to perform like a
fighter at low altitude. On top of that it had to be able to
fly in all weather conditions and to be able to carry the latest, most sophisticated radar
system in the world. As if that wasn’t enough, it also had to be able to fly at
supersonic speeds of up to Mach 2. If it could achieve all this
it would ensure Britain’s supremacy in world
aviation for years to come. One aeroplane to do
everything was great. And not only was it so technically
advanced, the engines and all the electric equipment
were brilliant. It had everything that the Vulcan had
plus everything a fighter had combined into this aeroplane. In September 1964, the first TSR2
prototype began testing at the Jet Development Centre at
Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. The test pilot was Roland Beamont,
a World War II fighter pilot. But Beamont and his team
were already under pressure. They had been delayed due to
problems with undercarriage vibrations, and a hostile press were
moaning about the money being poured into the plane’s development. The Labour Party promised if it won
the General Election it would make further cuts
to the defence budget. The TSR2 was
firmly on their radar. There is one basic fact. Labour has a clear majority,
we have a Labour government. You know what? This truly would have
been an amazing aircraft. It’s the culmination of 20 years
of being at the top of their game. And it all gets ploughed into this
one aircraft and then they go and axe it.
It just… ..makes you want to weep. As one aeronautical engineer put it,
“All modern aircraft have “four dimensions – span, length,
height and politics.” The TSR2 had got
the first three right. The Labour government is cutting
back on Britain’s hi-tech projects, the projects inherited from the Tory
governments of the 1950s, and is seeking to replace those with a new kind of technological
revolution. Less military, less
prestige-oriented, more concerned with economic development, more
concerned with people’s daily lives. We ended war… technologically rich. We were the world
leaders in jet propulsion. Nobody else, not even the Americans,
had gone as far as we had with serviceable, working, capable
jet engines. But we gave it all away. We frittered it all away.
What do we have today? We have a conglomerate BAE Systems,
which builds bits of aeroplanes. Everyone of those model aeroplanes
that you see on that desk is British, purely British. You can’t point to that nowadays. By 1969, the V Force had been
superseded as the delivery vehicle for World War III. Britain’s strategic nuclear
deterrent was handed to the Royal Navy. The Government had decided to
opt for a submarine-launched ballistic missile called Polaris,
an American design. It made sense. We were vulnerable,
a submarine was invulnerable. It just was a superior system. Because ours, I suppose,
was becoming increasingly vulnerable and penetrating was going to be more
difficult with each year that went by. Just one year earlier,
the Americans orbited the moon and, for the first time in our
history, we clearly saw our world
for what it was. We moved from being the wide open
spaces of the ocean to being very conscious
that we live on a small dot on the infinity of space
and we are all in it together. And the jet age brought us
together in a way almost more than the wireless age did,
or the television age. The jet age had made the world
a smaller place, but it changed our perceptions
of our planet and of ourselves and it defined where we lived and
how we lived and, for 20-odd years, it helped make the world
a safer place. Britain’s contribution had been one
of technological genius, bravery and visionary creations that amply met
the terrifying realities of the day Yet the country’s lead, a dream of a
world-beating aviation industry, were ultimately brought back down
to earth. An opportunity lost. We probably attempted to
do too much. We spread our resources perhaps
too thinly. Never again, I think do we have the overall
capability to go it alone. And that was a proud boast, I think,
we had in the ’50s and ’60s. Yes, I am proud, because we kept
the peace all that time, for 15 years. And a lot of people said
we couldn’t do it, but we did. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd # Blue skies, smiling at me… #

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  1. I'm not sure the Brits lead America when it came to long-range strategic bomber technology. I'm pretty sure that US bomber technology was/is higher than Britain's.

  2. Regarding the refusal of the U.S.A. to help Britain develop their own atomic bomb, as mentioned, the British helped the U.S.A. to develop their own bomb, especially when Churchill gave them the vacuum megatron which allowed them to implode the primary device and explode the secondary device.

  3. Why not be honest about the US refusal to share nuclear secrets? Westminster and White Hall were filled with British turncoats selling secrets to the Russians. With what America already knew about Los Alamos having been compromised by Soviet spys leading up to the Soviets having their own atomic bomb 10 year early, they were petrified to expand the numbers of secret holders. Regardless the two countries very soon united again in sharing their deepest secrets.

  4. The V-bombers were incredible nothing could touch them, Russian, American, not close. I give the B-52 for carry load and longevity, it is still in service 50+ years later, but style the V-bombers had it by miles

  5. Slight error: the British nuclear programmme was started under Labour's Clement Atlee, right after the War. Churchill took the credit. The Socialist Ernie Bevin demanded that there was a nuclear bomb " with a Union Jack on top of it".

  6. Nice Documentary.. Title is really good and so is the documentary …. but it feels a bit incomplete. What about some other great planes developed during that period like Blackburn Buccaneer, Panavia Tornado and the Sepecat Jaguar (my personal favourite.!)

  7. The problem with the V-bombers was they were obviously purely engineer aircraft, try working on one of them and you end up having to rip the plane to pieces to do the simplest of repairs. Biggest difference between American and British aircraft is America attempted, although not well, to make their aircraft updateable with minimal changes to the airframe. Wing root engines meant changes in the V-bombers to better engines was going to be all but impossible, unless they continued with the turbojet engines. This is one of the biggest problems with planes like the Nimrod.

  8. message to all: BRITISH JETS WERE THE BEST AND FOREVER WILL BE EMBEDDED IN OUR HEARTS. RIP:DH cometBristol BritanniaVickers ViscountVickers VC10Avro Vulcan XH558……… and much more.

  9. in cold wars. 2/2
    the world just. went. through. a. terrible. war
    and. these. guys. go exploding. nuclear. bombs. all. over. the. place no. wonder. we. have a hole in. the. ozone. layer. and dying. of. cancer

  10. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all watch a great documentary without so much nationalistic willy waving? Let's face it folks, Britain made some fantastic planes in the 50's and 60's.Absolute beautiful planes that would be the envy of any country at that time. They would have carried on but the country ran out of money. Simple as that.

    Why we have to denegrate other countries efforts is beyond me. US made great planes, as did the USSR and France.I'm proud of what my country made. I'm sure others are proud as well.

  11. They were the big boys and we were the little boys, we just had to show them, like we always do punch well above our weight and always will .

  12. Anybody have any clue what the song is at around 40:40? It sounds like Ozzy singing but I can't find if off any of my Black Sabbath albums.

  13. "I'll rate this as the best historical aviation documentary in English – ever. Thanks. Bangkok-Johnny" Aviation Writer Pattaya Today newspaper www.pattayatoday.net

  14. How many Soviet flights did the British undertake? This is an area where Robinson was shy. In the fall of 1995, the CIA finally declassified the number of U2 overflights of the USSR – 24. The number of overflights flown by the British remains a secret, but it is between two and four, all personally approved by the Prime Minister. In 1959, Mr. Ldr Robinson flew over two Soviet rocket test sites. Fl Lt MacArthur flew another flyby in early 1960.

    The U2 project broke the news around the world when Gary Powers' plane was shot down over Sverdlovsk in the USSR with a SAM-2 missile on 1 May 1960. As Eisenhower suspected, a storm broke out and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader , canceled its summit with the Americans

    Robinson warned the commander of the US detachment that May Day was not a good day to fly over the USSR. "There would be a maximum alert and it was very dangerous to do, very provocative, as it turned out.It was getting very close to Moscow and I think they were very nervous.We knew something was happening and clearly the order was given, it should be destroyed."

    After three days of uncertainty, the news that Powers had been captured meant that the British unit was quickly packaged and left Turkey. "It was really to save the shame of the Turkish government because they did not know we were there anyway and it was the best we went," Robinson said.

    The British detachment was instructed to "disappear" until things went out. Robinson went to Spain for a few months.

    Later, a limited version of the U2 program of the CIA was revived, although there would be no permanent units abroad and no overflights from the Soviet Union.

    British participation continued. In 1961, two other RAF pilots, Sq Ldr Ivan "Chunky" Webster and Fl Lt Charles Taylor, joined the CIA program. They were replaced in 1964 by Sq Ldr Basil Dodd and Fl Lt Martin Bee.

  15. Imagine every time you seen a vulcan/Victor fly over head you must have felt sick you wouldn't know if they were on their way to end the world

  16. Ignorant Brits gave Russian's engine for mig 15 to fuck the Americans, then they wanted to sell the comet to the Russian's! Ya, the American's were pissed at the assholes. Fortunately the comet didn't fly as well as it did fall apart in the sky and the Russian's didn't make a jet bomber version of the comet. Broke assed bitches. Claiming Russia was an ally. Then they have their faces slapped by their Russian "Ally" and spend more money on the V bombers because of the red threat. They started war with Germany and lost everything! Ridiculous.

  17. 21:00 Teddy may have said that, but there were Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Plato and Shi Ji before him, to do so before him.

  18. Know what's happening ?: they're rewriting history and if you listen to a constant lie in your mind it becomes true. In Youtube, a documentary "Hots Jets, Cold War" circulates in which they affirm that the English invented the reactor … with time and in the best style, the written proofs that the Germans were Iranian disappearing and the idea that the English were installed … and those who have the knowledge of that lie will die disappearing for the time

  19. Another solid documentary by the BBC and a good companion to “When Britain Ruled the Skies”. Slightly put off however by the presenter’s inability to pronounce “the”with a long E (ði) before vowels.

  20. To point a small matter….USA(and then fallowed by UK by pressure) broke the deal about trade and currency with East Germany/USSR.This was a huge blow for East German economy…And Stalin being the,ahm,very sweet and polite soul started the blockade without a hesitation.For stopping the blockade,he asked for USA and UK to go back to previous deal and they did not.He thought blockade would break their will and will of those in West Germany,but USA and UK managed to supply Berlin non the less.
    ALSO to point out a small matter….Cuba crises was due to USA putting nuclear forces in Turkey,close to USSR.So when opportunity arrived,USSR wanted to counter that by putting nuclear weapons in Cuba.
    IT is not that blockade was "successful"…It is that DIPLOMACY was successful and Kennedy agreed on pulling off nuclear force from Turkey if USSR pulls of from Cuba.USSR had one more request and that was for USA never to attack Cuba again.

  21. Of all the types of airplanes made bombers are my favorite and nuclear bombers are my special favorite, the more nuclear bombs it can carry the more special my like is. 😀

  22. So we can't sell our jets and engines to Russia but Yanks get to keep atomic secrets? Yeah there's that "special relationship" coming through for us again. Jes the sooner it's over the better.

  23. The V Bombers have always stood apart from designs of the time, so different, beautiful and with such a futuristic look, even by today's standards.

    I can't imagine what the average person felt when they first lay eyes on these magnificent machines.

  24. Mulling over loss of British Aerospace industry is stupid. It was the eventuality of all Aerospace companies. American Aerospace declines. As of right now you have Boeing, Lockheed and Northrup Grumman. .. the first two being the major players. I think Britain's only quips would be conglomeration and goverent ownership

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