Welcome to DECODED, a blog site for those interested in the period of history between the end of the Second World War and the final reunification of Berlin, Germany. This site is maintained by a Cold War history enthusiast, for other Cold War history enthusiasts and will be a source of information from both sides of the Cold War for history enthusiasts, political science fans, researchers, military history collectors and military veterans alike. Please visit the site regularly for updates. This site by no means is to represent or endorse any political agenda or ideology, information contained within is strictly used for the purpose of education and preservation of history for future generations. Thank you for visiting my blog, and welcome to the brink...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

List of British V-Bomber Bases during the Cold War

The following is a list of stations across the United Kingdom where RAF Bomber Command dispersed its V-Bomber fleet of Vickers Valiants, Handley Page Victors and Avro Vulcans throughout the Cold War.

RAF Machrihanish
RAF Kinloss
RNAS Lossiemouth (later transferred to the Royal Air Force)
RAF Leuchars

RAF Ballykelly

RAE Bedford
A&AEE Boscombe Down
RAF Bruntingthorpe
RAF Burtonwood
RAF Cranwell
RAF Coltishall
RAF Elvington
RAF Filton
RAF Leconfield
RAF Leeming
RAF Lyneham
RAF Manston
RAF Middleton St. George
RRE Pershore (Royal Radar Establishment)
RAF St Mawgan
RAF Tarrant Rushton
RAF Wattisham
RAF Wyton
RNAS Yeovilton
RAF Shawbury
RNAS Brawdy (later transferred to the Royal Air Force)
RAF Llanbedr
RAF Valley

Britannia's Vanguard: Great Britain & The V-Bomber Force

Emerging victorious from the Second World War, the British Royal Air Force ended the war against Nazi Germany and her Axis allies in May of 1945, with a seasoned policy of using massive four engined heavy bombers to conduct raids in masse against hostile centers. This policy utilized by RAF Bomber Command, which had laid waste to the German cities of Duisburg and Brunswick during the war and severally crippled the German war industry was carried on into the postwar years. The piston four engined Avro Lancaster heavy bomber which was the pride of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the war was upgraded to become the Avro Lincoln and pressed into service in August 1945 to be the last piston engined bomber used by the RAF. Even as the Lincolns were used against the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya and against the Communist insurgency in Malaya, elements in the RAF and the British government sought to capitalize on and adopt new nuclear weapons and advances in aviation technology to introduce more potent and effective means of conducting aerial warfare. Earlier in November of 1944, the British Chiefs of Staff had requested a report from Sir Henry Tizard on potential future means of conducting warfare. Unaware of the progresses made in the United States with the Manhattan Project, in July 1945 the Tizard Committee urged the large scale development of atomic energy research. The Committee foresaw the potential of harnessing the devastating effects of atomic weapons and envisioned fleets of high flying jet powered bombers cruising at speeds of 500 mph (800 km/h) at altitudes of 40,000 ft (12,000 m). The logic behind the thinking was that potential aggressors may be deterred by the knowledge that Britain would retaliate with atomic weapons if attacked.

With the German V-2 rocket bringing about the dawn of a new era in warfare, there were military analysists who could see that guided missile technology would eventually make strategic aircraft vulnerable, but development of such missiles was proving difficult, and fast and high flying bombers were likely to serve on for years to come before there was a need for something better. The need for massed formations of bombers would be made unnecessary if a single bomber could carry weaponry capable of destroying an entire city or military installation. For the program to become a reality it would have to be a large bomber, since afterall the first generation of nuclear weapons were large and heavy. Such a large and advanced bomber would be expensive on a unit basis, but would also be produced in much smaller quantities. With the rise of the Soviet threat and the arrival of the Cold War, British military planners realized the need to modernize Great Britain's forces. Furthermore, the United Kingdom's uncertain military relationship with the United States, particularly in the immediate postwar years when American sentiments of  isolationism made a short-lived comeback, led the UK to conclude it needed its own strategic nuclear strike force.

After taking into consideration and formulating various specifications for such an advanced jet bomber project in late 1946, the British Air Ministry issued a request in January 1947 for an advanced jet bomber that would be at least the equal of anything available in the United States or Soviet Union's arsenal. The request followed guidelines developed from the earlier Air Ministry Specification B.35/46, which proposed for a 'medium-range bomber landplane, capable of carrying one 10,000 pound (4,535 kg) bomb to a target at a distance of 1,500 nautical miles (2,775 km) from a base which may be anywhere in the world.' The request also indicated that the fully loaded takeoff weight should not exceed 100,000 pounds (45,400 kg), though this would be adjusted upward in practice; that the bomber should have a cruise speed of 500 knots (925 km/h); and that it have a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,200 m). The Royal Air Force's mainstay jet bomber, the then-current English Electric Canberra had been introduced in May 1951 and designed during the Second World War but could only have reached the Soviet border and had a limited capacity of 6,000 lb (2,720 kg).

This finalized request went to most of the United Kingdom's major aircraft manufacturers with the Handley Page and Avro firms both coming up with very advanced designs for the RAF's bomber competition. The design proposals would ultimately become the crescent winged Handley Page Victor and the delta winged Avro Vulcan respectively. The Air Staff decided to award devlopment and production contracts to both companies as insurance against one of the designs being deemed a failure. Work on the Victor began in November 1947 and the Vulcan in January 1948. As a further insurance measure against both radical designs failing, in July 1947 the Air Ministry issued Specification B.9/48 written around Vickers-Armstrongs' more conservative design, which would later be named Valiant and work on this project began in April 1948. In August 1947 the Short Brothers PLC  aerospace company also received a contract for the Short Sperrin SA.4 based on the earlier less-stringent Specification B.14/4 with work beginning in November 1947.

The Short Sperrin would ultimately be cancelled in late 1949, but work on the three new aircraft now christened the 'V Bombers' continued. The term V Bomber was developed and used for the Royal Air Force as all the names of the new aircraft all started with the letter "V" and which were known collectively as the V-class. While more expensive than the American approach of building one bomber design per category, the RAF insisted on having multiple choices. Air Chief Marshal Sir John Slessor came to believe that had the Royal Air Force been forced into choosing among the three British bombers under development in the late 1930: the Avro Manchester, Short Stirling, and Handley Page Halifax it would have utlimately chosen the wrong one and hindered Britain's ability to employ an effective nuclear deterrent.

The development of the V Bomber force was also seen as a measure of gaining British military independence from it's American ally, the primary nation that dominated NATO.

The Vickers Valiant took its first flight in 1951 and went into full scaleproduction as the first V Bomber in 1955. The Valiant entered RAF service in 1955, followed by the Avro Vulcan in 1956 and the Handley Page Victor in April 1958, with the first Valiant squadron, No. 138 Squadron RAF standing up at RAF Gaydon in 1955, and the first Vulcan squadron, No. 83, standing up at RAF Waddington in May 1957. The first operational Victor squadron was No. 10 Squadron RAF Cottesmore in April 1958. The Valiant which entered service first was equipped with nuclear weapons supplied by the United States under Project E, which supplemented the British Blue Danube and later Red Beard weapons systems. The American weapons supplied under Project E were not available for the RAF to use as part of the UK's national nuclear deterrent; only British owned weapons could be utilized for that purpose. Although often referred to as part of the V Force, the Valiants were actually assigned to SACEUR as part of Britain's Tactical Bomber Force, although remaining nominally part of the RAF Bomber Command. The Vulcan and Victor were armed with British built bombs such as the Blue Danube, Red Beard, Violet Club the Interim Megaton Weapon and Yellow Sun of both versions, the Mk1 and Mk.2.

Particular attention and emphasis was placed on the quick reaction and high maneuverability of the V Force aircraft, especially the Vulcan model B Mk. 2. The Vulcan in particular was specifically designed for the quick reaction response mission. The bomber could start all four of it's Olympus turbojet engines simultaneously with little ground support equipment necessary when remotely deployed to one of its dispersal airfields; and, at readiness state: 15 (fifteen minute alert), it would be airborne from less than 5000 feet of runway. The Avro Vulcan would never be caught on the ground, or be in need of one of the few, conspicuous, 10,000 foot runways that the American B-47 Stratjet or B-52 Stratofortress required for a fully fueled and loaded take-off. The Vulcan also did not need immediate or intermediate aerial refueling, after a fully loaded take off, needlessly delaying the execution of a strike mission. From the day of its deployment in the deterrent force, an on alert Vulcan was ready to launch, and strike, limited only by the readiness state established by her crew.

In service the V Force would have been capable of destroying both area and high value point targets including air bases, command centers and ground forces staging areas hours before they could be attacked by NATO or Strategic Air Command's long range bomber forces. RAF Bomber Command attrition attacks against air defense positions in Warsaw Pact nations and European Russia alone by the V-Force (in prosecuting their initial attacks upon the Soviet Union) would be decisive in ensuring that NATO and SAC follow on forces attacks would be successful in achieving the destruction of Soviet and Warsaw Pact targets. This “one-two-punch” by the UK’s RAF Bomber Command first; and then, NATO/SAC second; was the heart of the nuclear retaliatory attack strategy for the West in the early to mid Cold War period.

The immediate destruction of these targets, at the outset of a military campaign in western Europe would have had a two-fold benefit to NATO and the West in the defense of Western Europe. First, no Soviet/Warsaw Pact tactical follow on land-force reserves at Corps or Army-Group strength would have survived the RAF V Force tactical nuclear strikes in European Russia and the Warsaw Pact border states. Therefore, a Soviet “rush to the Channel” the perceived military advance from Western Poland & East German staging areas would have been denied the follow on forces which would have made the success of such an armored thrust possible. V Force Tactical Air elements would have destroyed both the forces in being, along with the communications infrastructure including bridges, roads, railways, air bases which would be necessary to support such a tactical movement. As such, the V Force by having the capability of precision tactical air medium bombardment effectively deterred the dominant armored overrun strategy, of the massed and massive Soviet & Warsaw Pact armies, which in theory, could have overwhelmed the vastly outnumbered NATO ground forces of central Europe in a surprise ground attack which did not give away tactical surprise, by use of organic tactical air support. This is why the V Force was extensively dedicated to radar navigation bombing and precision strike operations. In a theoretical nuclear war environment the V Force would attrit itself against the air defenses of high value point target complexes in European Russia. It would expend itself against air defense radar installallations, command & control centers; and air defense missile and aircraft bases. Once these targets had been identified, they would have been subject to what in essence would have been combined tactical nuclear weapons attacks by the V Force until they had all been identified and/or destroyed.

A White Paper produced by the Royal Air Force for the British government in 1961 theorized and claimed that the RAF's nuclear force was capable of destroying key Soviet cities such as Moscow and Kiev well before bomber aircraft from the United States' Strategic Air Command had entered Soviet airspace, "taking into account Bomber Command’s ability to be on target in the first wave several hours in advance of the main SAC force operating from bases in the mainland United States." Throughout the early stages of the Cold War, NATO relied on the Royal Air Forceas the primary force to threaten key cities in European Russia. RAF leadership concluded that the V Bomber force was capable of killing eight million Soviet citizens and wounding another eight million before American bombers had even reached their targets. At the time they entered service all three V bombers were capable of altitudes that put them effectively out of reach of the then contemporary cannon armed Soviet interceptors such as the Mikoyan Gurevich designed MiG-15 Fagot, MiG-17 Fresco, and later MiG-19 Famer.

In its early years, the British V bomber force relied on the concept of aircraft dispersal to escape the effects of an enemy attack on their main bases. There were 26 such bases in the late 1950s, in addition to the ten main bases: RAF Coningsby, RAF Cottesmore, RAF Finningley, RAF Gaydon, RAF Honington, RAF Marham, RAF Scampton, RAF Waddington, RAF Wittering (HQ RAF Bomber Command) and RAF Wyton; a total of 36 bases available for the V bomber force. In times of heightened international tension the V bomber force, already loaded with their nuclear weapons, would be flown to the dispersal bases where they could be kept at a few minutes readiness to take off, the bases being situated around the United Kingdom in such a way that a nuclear strike by an attacking state could not be guaranteed to completely knock out Britain's ability to retaliate. Apart from deployment to the bases during exercises, the most notably use was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when at one point Avro Vulcans were lined up on the runways with engines running, at two minutes notice to take-off and proceed to their allocated targets.

All of the V Bombers would see active service in the RAF at least once albeit with conventional bombs rather than nuclear devices. The Vickers Valiant would see action in the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Handley Page Victor in the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation of 1962 through 1966, and the most famous the Avro Vulcan during the publicized Black Buck Raids in the Falklands War long after the strategic nuclear role had been passed over to the Royal Navy. In the deployment of nuclear weapons, only the Vickers Valiant would drop a nuclear device, as part of British tests.

Upon entering RAF service all three V bombers were initially painted in an overall silver finish, with the prominent under-nose H2S radomes on the Valiant and Vulcan left in black, however, this silver finish was later changed to one of anti-flash white, the RAF roundels being adjusted in shade, and made paler, to minimize the absorption of energy from the flash of a detonating nuclear device.

The development of effective anti-aircraft missiles capable of reaching extremely high altitudes by the Soviet Union for bringing down enemy aircraft made the deterrent threat delivered from bombers flying at high altitudes increasingly ineffective. In 1963 the British government decided to redevelop the use of the V bombers from high altitude strike platforms to performing low altitude operations instead. With the cancellation of the Blue Streak missile program and the cancellation of the American Skybolt system and with the Blue Steel missile already in service, six squadrons of Vulcan B2s were re-assigned to the low-level penetration role where they would operate at altitudes of 200 feet and lower and were re-equipped with the WE.177B strategic laydown bomb from 1966 until it was decided that deploying nuclear weapons by missile was more feasible and the Vulcans were replaced in the strategic nuclear strike role in 1969 by the Polaris missile to be launched from the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine fleet. The WE.177 equipped Vulcans were supplemented by the two Victor squadrons equipped with Blue Steel weapons since modified for low-level launch that continued to serve on in the strategic delivery role until 1968 ended.

In the low-level role, which had originally been intended to be performed by the cancelled BAC TSR-2, the V Force were considered by Air Staff planners to be largely immune from interception, with Soviet air defenses being assessed as having no significant interception capability below about 1,500 feet. Any remaining threats were deemed to be coming from the Soviet SA-3 low level surface to air missile, which resulted in flight planners taking great care to route low flying aircraft around known SA-3 missile sites. As a result of this maneuver, individual aircraft were calculated by operational planners to have a 90-95% chance of successfully delivering their weapon on the assigned targets. Although subsequently relieved of their role as the deliverer of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, the Vulcan squadrons continued to serve with the same WE.177B weapon in a low-level penetration role assigned to SACEUR for use in a tactical role in Western Europe. Six squadrons of Vulcans were still assigned this role with the WE.177 weapon in 1981. The last four remaining squadrons were about to disband in 1982 when called upon to assist in conflict in the South Atlantic: the Falklands.

With the change to low level operations the anti flash white scheme was altered to a disruptive pattern of grey and green upper surfaces, with light grey under surfaces. After reports from the Red Flag exercises in Nevada in the late 1970s that the light grey under surfaces became highly visible against the ground when the aircraft banked steeply at the low altitudes it was assigned to, the disruptive pattern was later continued to include the under surfaces as well on all Vulcans.

The Valiant was the first of the V Bombers to be removed from service as a nuclear bomber; taking on the role of an aerial refueling tanker and performing low level attack and photographic reconnaissance. Structural fatigue problems due to the transfer to low-level operations meant the Valiants were removed from service completely by 1965. The Victors were then converted to replace the Valiants as aerial refueling tankers. Only the Vulcan alone of the threesome, retained a nuclear delivery role until the end of their planned service life scheduled for 1982. The short extension as tankers until 1984 was an unexpected extension to meet operational emergencies. In addition to the roles they were designed for, all three V Bombers served as air to air refueling platforms at one time or another; the Valiant was the RAF's first large scale tanker. As a means of replacing the loss of the Valiant, Victor B.1s were converted into the AAR role. When the Victor was withdrawn from service as a bomber, a number of B.2s were then converted into tankers. Finally, due to delays in the entry into service of the TriStar, six Vulcan B.2s were converted into tankers, and served from 1982 to 1984.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Myasishchev Mischief: The Bison and the Bomber Gap

Barely a few years since the end of the Second World War, tensions are mounting between former allies as the United States and Soviet Union became increasingly distrustful of one another. The showdown between democracy and communism is beginning all across the globe as the Soviets expand their sphere of influence across eastern Europe and into Asia. With the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949, the United States was on a higher state of alert in dealing with the Soviet Union. As the United States conducted the first test flight of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber in 1952, the Soviet Union responded by developing their own jet powered bomber designed to carry a destructive payload from the Soviet Union deep into the heart of North America. At the time, the only heavy bomber available to the Soviet Air Force was the Tupelov Tu-4 Bull which was a reverse engineered copy of the American B-29 Superfortress but the piston powered bomber was too slow for Soviet leaders who wanted a bomber propelled by jet engines to carry bombs into the United States. The task of designing and fielding such a bomber fell upon the Myasishchev Design Bureau. 

The Soviet design first took to the air in 1953 before being revealed to the public on May Day 1954, when the Myasishchev M-4 Molot or 'Hammer' flew over Moscow's Red Square. The existence of such an aircraft in the Soviet arsenal took the United States by surprise, completely unaware that the Soviets had been developing a jet bomber. The jet bomber was given the NATO reporting code of 'Bison' following the alliance's practice of issuing names to Soviet aircraft corresponding with the type of aircraft being identified. In July 1955, American observers saw 28 Bison bombers flying in two groups during a Soviet airshow at Tushino near northwestern Moscow. The United States government came to believe that the bomber had been placed in mass production for the Soviet Air Force, and the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that 800 Bisons would be on ready alert by the beginning of 1960. 

On 15 February 1954, aviation publication Aviation Week printed an article describing a new Soviet jet bomber capable of carrying a nuclear bomb to the United States mainland from their bases in deep in Soviet Russia. The aircraft they referred to was the Myasishchev M-4 Bison. Over the next year and a half these rumors were debated publicly in the press, and soon after in the United States Congress. Adding to the concerns was an infamous event in July 1955. At the Soviet Aviation Day demonstrations at the Tushino Airfield, ten Bison bombers were flown past the reviewing stand, then flew out of sight, quickly turned around, and flew past the stands again with eight more, presenting the illusion that there were 28 aircraft in the flyby. An elaborate deception formulated by Soviet military planners.

Western analysts calculated from the illusionary force of 28 aircraft, judged that by 1960 the Soviets would have 800. The classified estimates however, led American politicians to warn of a "bomber gap". The "bomber gap" was a term to define a belief that the Soviet Union had gained a strategic advantage in deploying jet-powered strategic bombers that were capable of attacking the United States. The concept was widely accepted for several years, and was used as a political talking point in order to justify a great increase in American defense spending. At the time, the USAF had just introduced its own strategic jet bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress, and the shorter ranged B-47 Stratojet which was still suffering from a variety of technical problems that limited its combat availability. USAF staff started pressing for accelerated production of the larger B-52 Stratofortress, but it also grudgingly accepted calls for expanded air defense.The Air Force was generally critical of spending effort on defense, having studied the results of the World War II bombing campaigns and concluding that Stanley Baldwin's pre-war thinking on the fruitlessness of air defense was correct: the bomber almost always did get through. Like the British, they concluded that money would better be spent on making the offensive arm larger, deterring an attack. The result was a production series consisting of thousands of aircraft. Over 2,000 B-47s and almost 750 B-52s were built to match the imagined fleet of Soviet aircraft.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was skeptical of the perceived bomber gap idea from its inception. With no evidence to prove or disprove the logic, he agreed to the development of the Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady high altitude reconnaissance aircraft to provide an answer to the lingering question . The first U-2 flights started in 1956. On one early mission known as Mission 2020 flown by Martin Knutson on 4 July 1956, a U-2 flew over Engels airfield near Saratov and photographed 20 M-4 Bison bombers on the ramp. Multiplying by the number of Soviet bomber bases known to exist, the intelligence suggested the Soviets were already well on their way to deploying hundreds of aircraft. Ironically, the U-2 had actually photographed the entire Bison fleet; there wasn't a single bomber at any of the other bases. Similar missions over the next year finally demonstrated this beyond a doubt, and at least in official circles that the gap had been disproven. It was later learned that the Soviet Bison was unable to meet its original range goals and was limited to a range of roughly about 8,000 km. Unlike the United States, at that time the Soviets lacked overseas bases in the Western Hemisphere and therefore the M-4 would not be able to attack the US mainland and return to land at a friendly airbase. 

In the end it was not the Soviet Air Force (VVS) that wanted the Bison, but rather Naval Aviation (AV-MF). Though it could still not bomb Washington, D.C., the Bison had a sufficient range to fulfill the need for a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. In 1959, the 3M variant broke numerous world records; however, it was thought by the West (and would continue to be thought so until 1961) that the 3M variant was the original M-4, meaning that the capability of the M-4 was vastly overestimated by Western intelligence agencies.Interest in the Myasishchev Bison waned, and a total of only 93 were produced before production of the bomber ceased in 1963. The vast majority of these were modified for used as tankers or maritime reconnaissance aircraft; only the original 10 shown at the air show and nine newer 3MD13 models served on nuclear alert with the Soviet bomber force.

Neither the M-4 nor the 3M ever saw combat service, and none were ever modified for low altitude penetration attack, as the American B-52 Stratofortresses were. No Bisons were ever exported to the Soviet Union's allies. The last aircraft, an M-4-2 fuel tanker, was withdrawn from service in 1994.

So the legacy of the Bison was largely preserved in the aftermath of the bomber gap controversy which through American miscalculations resulted in a massive buildup of the United States Air Force's strategic bomber fleet, which peaked at over 2,500 strategic bombers to counter the perceived Soviet threat. Realizing that the mere belief in the gap was an extremely effective funding source, a series of similarly nonexistent Soviet military advances were constructed in the following years of the Cold War in a tactic now known as "policy by press release." Other deceptions included claims of a nuclear-powered bomber, supersonic VTOL flying saucers, and ultimately only a few years after the "bomber gap" came a "missile gap."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Commandant's Corner Update: 2 January 2014

Happy New Year Everyone, 

Thank you for bearing with me as I've been working and adjusting to this new post. It's taken me a little longer than I had projected to begin getting squared away but I think I'm in a position now to begin the process of continuing my research and maintaining this blog again. No worries. As of this posting, 2014 is looking promising in the collecting world I am following up on leads and looking into several new pieces from both NATO and Warsaw Pact allied nations some from France and some from Communist Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Also 2014 may see a semi  branch out beyond the scope of Europe as proxy wars based off of contingencies in Europe flared up in the Middle East and Asia during the Cold War period but as always my primary focus has been and always will be the Cold War and preserving that period of history for the future. 

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I wish you all the best in 2014. As always, Horrido!

- The Commandant