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Ordering the V-Force

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan discuss the logic of ordering three separate bomber designs for the RAF’s strategic deferent role.

Ordering the V-Force

When we considered how to structure the discussion for this video step, these were the questions and statements we thought of using:

  1. What was the logic of ordering three four-engined bombers to deliver Britain’s nuclear deterrent – four four engined bombers if you count the Shorts Sperrin?
  2. The Valiant was phased out in the mid-1960s due to metal fatigue; and the version of the Victor ordered was not well suited to low-level operations.
  3. The Vulcan itself proved itself to be a versatile aircraft; but ultimately the RAF did not continue with the concept of a strategic bomber – was that correct?

Please discuss these points, or others you wish to, in the comments below.

Blue Steel and Blue Streak

In the video Emmett gets tongue-tied over Blue Steel and Blue Streak. To clarify, there is quite a difference between them!

Blue Steel was the air-launched, rocket-propelled nuclear standoff missile that was built primarily to arm the V- Force.

Blue Streak was a British medium-range ballistic missile. The project was intended to replace the V- Force, which it was believed would become obsolete by 1965, in order to allow Britain to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. However, the project was deemed too expensive, and therefore was cancelled in 1960 in favour of the US-led Skybolt programme. Yet, as it turned out, that didn’t work out so well for Britain either.

Ordering the V-Force by Lauren Semple and Emmett Sullivan

We will be talking a great deal about the ‘V-Bombers’ in the coming weeks, so let us just note ‘the one that got away’. The Short Sperrin was the name of a British jet bomber that was designed in the early 1950s. It was considered a fall back option in case the V- Force bombers failed to perform. The Sperrin was ultimately not put into production, as the Valiant was successful.


There were a few prominent British aircraft manufacturing companies that produced the V- Force. Handly Page was founded in 1909, and went on in the post war period to produce the Victor. Avro was founded in 1910, and produced some of the most well known British aircraft, such as the Avro Lancaster, and the Vulcan. The Valiant was produced by Vickers-Armstrong in 1955, however it was noticeably less advanced that its V- Force counterparts.

The Vulcan was a jet powered delta wing strategic bomber, and was considered the most technically advanced of the V- Force. It had no defense systems, and therefore was designed to fly at high speed and high-altitude to avoid being intercepted. The Vulcan became the most pivotal of the aircraft to the British nuclear deterrent during a substantial period of the Cold War, as it was capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons, and was able to adapt to low-level tactics in the mid-1960s when high-altitude bombers became vulnerable to missile and aircraft developments.

The Victor was produced in 1952, and was modified significantly in order to allow it to undertake a reconnaissance role, incorporating radars, cameras and sensors into its design. As a result of the diminishing role of the V-Force after the introduction of Polaris, the Victor aircraft were converted into aerial refuelling tankers, and were often used to refuel Vulcan bombers. The Victor B.2R aircrafts struggled more than the Vulcan to adapt to low-altitude flights, and fatigue cracks were discovered and therefore retired and put into storage by the end of 1968.

Lastly, the Valiant was noticeably less technologically advanced than its V- Force counterparts. They were intended to be high-level strategic bombers, yet many went on to fill various supporting roles, such as refuelling and reconnaissance. This was mainly due to the fact that by 1964, it was discovered that all the variants of the Valiant showed signs of premature fatiguing and corrosion. By 1965, the Valiant was retired from service.

As mentioned in the next video, the multi-national Panavia Tornado took over the role of the Vulcans in the Cold War during the 1970s and the 1980s. The Tornado was manufactured by the United Kingdom, Italy and West Germany and was flying by the late-1970s. It is interesting to note that it was a joint collaboration, and perhaps it indicated a decline in the ability of Britain to create its own aircraft technology.

Name the aircraft in the video.

Please also identify the aircraft we feature in this video 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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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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