Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsDR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Welcome back to From World War

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsto White Heat: The RAF in the Cold War. This week, we're going to deal with the period, principally, of 1945 to 1962, from Britain's involvement with the development of the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki right the way through to the cancellation of the Skybolt programme by President Kennedy in December of 1962. Now, if you go and look at Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War, very early on he talks notably about Britain's involvement in the Manhattan Project, a co-development along with the United States and Canada, and talks about the atomic bombing of Japan as the knockout blow.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsSo, this change in weapons technology changes the perception of what countries can do to end wars and ultimately leads to a change in the role of the RAF. Now, what we are seeing in the period after 1945 is the decision to develop an independent British nuclear weapon, both an atomic bomb and then later a hydrogen bomb, as the Americans decide not to share further nuclear secrets after the Manhattan Project has ended. We then see the commissioning of a new fleet of strategic bombers. As with America and the Soviet Union, there's never any real question that the initial delivery system for Britain's nuclear deterrent was going to be the RAF.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsSo, we see the origins of the V-force-- the Valiant, the Victor, and the Vulcan. And beyond that, we're going to look at the change in the technologies that were applied at the time, particularly the equipping of the V-force with missiles which can deliver nuclear weapons at some considerable distance. And this is possibly the significance of Skybolt in the story we're going to tell today, because Britain was heavily committed to the development of this American project. And when Kennedy cancelled it in December 1962, it left a void in the way that Britain was going to modernise and keep relevant its way of delivering nuclear weapons.

Skip to 2 minutes and 50 secondsNow, as a result of that decision in America and subsequent negotiations between Kennedy and Macmillan, by 1968, we have a change in Britain's role when it comes to the delivery of nuclear weapons. No longer is the RAF the front line. By 1968, it's the Royal Navy in Polaris-missile-capable submarines which embody Britain's potential use of nuclear weapons for strategic reasons. So, as a result of a political decision, a decision to cancel a programme in America, there was a substantial shift in the way that Britain conceives of how it is going to maintain its nuclear force. So, from 1962, the RAF is looking at a modernisation of its force through new missiles. By 1968, the strategic role is with the Royal Navy.

Skip to 3 minutes and 55 secondsAnd while the RAF retains a tactical nuclear role, it is no longer the principal force that is going to deliver nuclear weapons at time of war or major conflict. So, with those thoughts in mind, let's move on and deal with the first segment for this week's course.


Over the course of this week we will be looking at:

  1. Britain’s decision to become an independent nuclear weapons state;
  2. The establishment of a strategic bomber force to deliver the deterrent;
  3. The development of an air-launched missile force to extend the effectiveness of the bomber force.

Name the aircraft in the video.

Please also identify the aircraft we feature in this videos in the discussion below. If you recognize them, let us know! If you have any memories of these types of aircraft, please share them.

Ross and myself will be using the RAF Museum exhibits as a backdrop to our discussions. The website to the museum gives plenty of information on all of the collections.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London