The Vulcan was our great Cold War terror weapon for delivering nuclear weapons before ballistics missiles were developed. They were last used with incredible bravery by the RAF in the Falklands war. A illustrated talk by Wing Commander Tony Lewis on Friday 28th February 7.30 pm in the Balsam Centre. See poster Vulcan Poster
The Vulcan Bomber. A Unique Experience
At the start of the evening as people arrived he passed around a heavy metal and plastic piece of equipment which he described as the Vulcan joy stick. It also had on it several buttons. Dutifully we handled it and passed it on. Then Tony started talking.
Well illustrated with slides Tony took us right through his career from the time he joined the RAF as a keen young pilot flying propeller driven bombers after the second world war and his move to jets. The 50 saw the start of the Cold War and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union and of the Hydrogen bomb by the UK which meant that Russia, the UK and the US possessed weapons capable of catastrophic destruction. How to deliver them? The Americans and Russians had long range bombers and soon Britain lagged behind until the development of the delta winged Vulcan which was deployed in 1962. With four huge engines it was capable of very rapid take off and the ability to fly higher and faster than any Russian fighter or bomber.
In a light-hearted style and with many service jokes and tales of camaraderie Tony made us aware of just what that entailed. With a crew on board of four, pilot, co-pilot, navigator and electronic counter measures officer the Vulcan carried no defensive weapons. Behind them on the ground was a large dedicated air-crew devoted to seeing that this huge, complex, yet fragile machine was kept in combat ready condition.
Going on duty was no ride in the park. The military doctrine was known as MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction. When on duty the aircrew were kept dressed and ready for take off and the ground-crew had the plane completely ready. As they once demonstrated at Farnborough they could get airborne in a minute and a half from the call to scramble. Usually that would be a test run and they would return and stand down, but every time they took off all they knew was this was a one way journey and that their task was to take out a Russian city with an H bomb.
The Russians were the first to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and the RAF knew that once those were launched their time to respond was limited. As a result on 1st Feb 1962 V-force started its Quick Reaction Alert readiness commitment. This meant having one loaded weapon system and crew per operational squadron – normally at 15 minutes readiness, reduced to 4 minutes at times of tension – on duty at all times. The Vulcan was however not capable of going supersonic, so it was replaced by the Hurricane fighter bomber. In 1969 the UK nuclear deterrent ceased to be air based and was replaced by the nuclear submarine Polaris Missile System which we still have today.
The increasingly ancient Vulcans were then reconfigured for maritime radar reconnaissance duties, but in 1982 some were kitted out as bombers and they were used with extreme bravery and much improvised skill in a long-distance bombing raid on the Port Stanley airfield in the Falklands War. This could easily have seen both the Vulcans and the planes that re-fuelled them running out of fuel and being lost at sea. Amazingly their raid was successful.
And what about those joy sticks with their buttons? Tony pointed out that one of them was the trigger which would have released the Vulcan’s H bomb. Yes, we had actually touched it.