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Britain's V-ForceText by Divan Muller"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." - Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, during his 'Iron Curtain Speech' in 1946.Cold War
When World War II ended in 1945, it appeared that the world had at last entered a period of peace. Instead, an era of international political tension had begun. For more than four decades, the world was at the brink of a global nuclear war. Full-scale war between East and West was averted through the concept of mutually assured destruction. In other words, neither side could initiate an attack, as such an action would result in the destruction of both sides. As military technology progressed, Britain realized that it could no longer rely on its traditional propeller-driven bombers. British military equipment urgently had to be modernized. In 1947, the Air Ministry announced a requirement for a long range jet bomber which would be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, thereby serving as a deterrent to potential nuclear attacks against Britain and its allies. The British defence industry responded and Bomber Command ended up with three highly capable nuclear bombers, which became known as the 'V Bombers' or 'V-Force.’ Vickers Valiant
Vickers-Armstrong was the first manufacturer to produce a 'V-bomber'. Its aircraft, 'Type 660', completed its maiden flight on 18 May 1951 with legendary test pilot 'Mutt' Summers at the controls. The type entered service in 1955 as the 'Valiant.’ Its crew of five consisted of two pilots, two navigators and one electronics’ operator. The Valiant had a relatively low wing loading, which contributed to longer range and shorter take-off runs. It could carry more than twenty 450 kg conventional bombs or one nuclear bomb, weighing up to 4 500 kg. Production ended in 1957, with more than 100 examples produced. In addition to serving as a conventional or nuclear bomber, the Valiant could also be used as a reconnaissance or electronic warfare platform, or to provide in-flight refuelling.
On 11 October 1956, a Valiant became the first British aircraft to drop a nuclear bomb, when it released a Blue Danube bomb over a remote part of Australia. Also during October that year, the Valiant became the first 'V Bomber' to see combat. Operating from the island of Malta, Valiants bombed Egyptian airbases during the Suez Crisis. Valiants were never used in combat again, but remained in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) until the mid 1960s. Avro Vulcan
The prototype Vulcan, 'Type 698', first flew on 30 August 1952, more than a year after the maiden flight of the Valiant. The Vulcan, with its distinctive delta wing design, entered service in 1957. A more advanced variant, the Vulcan B.2, with more powerful engines and larger, thinner wings, was introduced during the early 1960s. Production continued until 1965, with a total of almost 140 aircraft built.
Vulcans could carry a payload consisting of about 9 500 kg of conventional bombs, or a variety of nuclear weapons, such as the Blue Danube fusion bomb, which had a length of about 7.4 m and a weight of about 4 500 kg. Vulcans were deployed on a number of occasions and were intended to be retired in June 1982. However, in April that year, Argentina invaded Britain's Falkland Islands. Britain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, responded by sending a naval task force to reclaim the islands. At the same time, Vulcans, along with Victor refuelling aircraft and Phantom fighters, were sent to Ascension Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. From there, the RAF conducted seven long range 'Black Buck' missions, in which Vulcans successfully bombed Argentine ground targets on the Falkland Islands. More importantly, raids conducted by Vulcans provided a psychological victory which definitely contributed to ending the Argentine occupation of the Falkland Islands. At the time, these were the longest distance raids ever conducted, with Vulcans covering a distance of more than 12 000 km during each mission. The bombers were retired in December 1982, but a few examples continued to serve as tankers for two more years. Handley-Page Victor
The Victor's prototype completed its maiden flight four months after the Vulcan, on 24 December 1952. It featured a innovative crescent wing, with a greater sweep angle on the inboard wing sections. This reduced drag at transonic speeds, allowing a higher cruise speed. In 1957, test pilot Johnny Allam accidentally exceeded the speed of sound during a test flight, making the Victor the biggest aircraft to have broken the sound barrier at the time.
Victors were the last of the 'V Bombers' to enter service, with the first of about 90 examples being delivered in 1957. That said, Victors also outlived the other 'V Bombers' by remaining in service until the 1990s. The bombers could carry an impressive load of 35 conventional bombs, each weighing 450 kg, in their internal weapons bays. Naturally, they could be armed with nuclear weapons as well. Although Victors never dropped bombs in combat, they were used effectively as tankers and reconnaissance aircraft in two military campaigns. As mentioned, they provided in-flight refuelling to Vulcans during the Falklands War, whilst also providing radar scans of the theatre of operations. Victors flew more than 600 sorties during that war. About two decades later, Victors flew more than 200 sorties as tankers for RAF and U.S. Navy aircraft during the Gulf War of the early 1990s.
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