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The American Bomb in BritainUs Air Forces' Strategic Presence, 1946-64$

Ken Young

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780719086755

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719086755.001.0001

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Borrowing the bomb

Borrowing the bomb

Chapter:
(p.200) 9 Borrowing the bomb
Source:
The American Bomb in Britain
Author(s):

Ken Young

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9780719086755.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter takes forward the emerging co-operation between Britain and the United States in the field of weapon supply. British authorities were both gratified and suspicious of the new arrangements whereby nuclear weapons would be transferred to the RAF, with first the tactical Canberras and then the strategic V-bombers being modified under American supervision for this purpose. This work, and the need to adopt common safety and security procedures, drew the two air forces into much closer co-operation in a strategic partnership.

Keywords:   Nuclear Weapons, Tactical Bombers, Strategic Bombers

if these [American atomic] weapons are our property, it is up to us to decide when we should use them … the UK might wish to use them in advance of American involvement in a war.

UK Chiefs of Staff, September 19501

When in December 1953 Churchill met Eisenhower in Bermuda to discuss atomic cooperation, he also explained that the British bomber aircraft were designed and built with no knowledge of the characteristics of US atomic weapons ‘if they might ever be called upon to deliver them’ and pressed for the release of data on weights, dimensions and ballistics.2 In a follow-up letter he went further, and asked for ‘earmarking a certain number of atomic bombs and storing them in England, which could be used by our bombers in case of War’. For this purpose it would be necessary to modify British aircraft to carry US atomic bombs for which ‘we should obtain as soon as possible the technical information necessary to enable us to fit them into our planes’.3 The President, mindful of the constraints of the McMahon Act, agreed to consider whether sufficient detail could be provided to enable RAF aircraft to be adapted for this purpose. His initial willingness, following upon the repeated, albeit tentative, offers to provide atomic weapons to the British under his predecessor, set in motion a lengthy and detailed process of discussion and negotiation.

To begin with, USAF leaders had already seen both advantages and drawbacks flowing from such an arrangement. Could sufficient reassurance be provided to ‘conclusively prove to the British that over-all USAF air plans envisioned attacks on the targets which threaten the destruction of the British Isles’, so obviating the need to hand over weapons? The downstream problems of arming the RAF were daunting:

once one American A-weapon has been given to the British there will be no foreseeable end to this problem. Additional requests for training facilities, special equipment, decisions on employment, target allocation and future (p.201) weapon allocation will constantly arise, while from a security point of view any combined atomic planning would be open to grave risks.4

These were indeed the issues that would have to be faced within a few years.

For the British, the urgency of this matter lay in the slow build-up of the UK’s domestic stockpile. Whereas the Soviet Union was rumoured to have several hundred nuclear bombs, Britain would possess just ten by 1955, and a sluggish production rate was expected to raise this to no more than fourteen by 1956.5 The first five were delivered to RAF Wittering late in 1953, well in advance of their having any aircraft capable of flying them, in order to commence ground training. Not until June 1955 did Wittering receive its first Valiant for air trials.6 By the time the V-bombers came into service, only one in four would have a weapon to carry. While by 1960 the RAF had fourteen V-bomber squadrons, there were sufficient bombs for less than a quarter of the aircraft available, and up to a third and possibly more of the V-bomber force in the early 1960s was wholly dependent on US weapons.7 Without US help, it would be 1961 at the earliest before the RAF had one bomb for each V-bomber. This could hardly be considered the great deterrent by virtue of which Britain hoped to claim a place in a nuclear world. But with American help, the RAF would have sufficient nuclear weapons at least two years before UK production could catch up.8

There was then, a shortfall of weapons for the RAF’s V-force. Equally, the size of that force remained a matter of continuing uncertainty. Although 325 production V-bombers were built in all, there was never any intention that they should all be in service simultaneously, the Valiant being an interim development, to be phased out as the higher-performing Vulcans and Victors came into service. As late as mid-1955, a front-line force of 240 bombers was planned. This number was reduced to 184 in 1956 and to 144 in August 1957.9 In terms of total aircraft inventory numbers, the peak was reached at the end of June 1964 with 159 V-bombers.10

SAC’s numerical strength was of course far in excess of what the RAF could muster. Recognising the gap prompted General Thomas D. White, USAF Vice-Chief of Staff, to make another of the informal service-to-service overtures that characterised the alliance in these years. In May 1954 White approached the BJSM, Washington, with a tentative proposal to offer the RAF as many as 90 of the B-47 fast bombers that were coming off the production line. The offer was unusually generous: the aircraft would not be counted against MDAP allocation but would be additional aid worth around $400 million; the USAF would provide (p.202) crew training in America and logistical support. According to White, the RAF and USAF ‘were playing in the same team and if the RAF was equipped with one or two wings of B-47s it would be a welcome strengthening to the side’.11

The offer was not well received, and was greeted with perplexity in London. There was unfounded suspicion that the offer might be a way of coping with the over-production of B-47s by disposing of the surplus to Britain. Internal Air Ministry discussions emphasised that the B-47s would not come into service ahead of the Valiants (although White had made a provisional offer of immediate supply of B-47s if the RAF could not wait). The B-47 was considered obsolescent, and inferior in performance–speed, ceiling and range–to the RAF’s own Canberras. These were strange judgements, as the B-47 and Canberra had similar top speeds (the American aircraft being slightly faster) and similar ceilings (though the Canberra could go higher). In reality the B-47, as a strategic bomber, had a very much greater radius of operation, used H2S radar navigation equipment and carried 20,000 lb of ordnance against the Canberra’s tactical limited range and 8,000 lb payload. Some of these points were made by Sir Hugh Lloyd, the AOC-in-C Bomber Command, the most relevant office-holder and the only officer of air rank to see advantage in the offer.12 The determining considerations, though, were the diversion of crew training on to the B-47 and the need for 10,000-foot runways. Some of those invited to comment stressed the RAF’s unhappy past experience with the operation of American-supplied aircraft (notably the B-29, flown as an interim bomber by the RAF as the Washington, but also the P2V5 Neptune and F-86) and the loss of prestige that would result from accepting the offer. Underlying these concerns was a fear of losing independence:

If we accepted these aircraft in place of Canberras, would not the US require that they be placed under the control of SACEUR? If so, our freedom to select targets of national importance would be impaired.13

Air Minister Lord de L’Isle and Dudley and Minister of Supply Duncan Sandys advised Churchill against acceptance and in June CAS Dickson thanked USAF Chief of Staff Nathan F. Twining, for the ‘generosity and magnificence of the offer’.14

One issue discussed within the Air Ministry, but not shared with the Americans, was the implications of B-47 loan for nuclear weapons policy. ‘It would be unfortunate’, advised the Director-General (Operations), Air Commodore Hyde, ‘if we had to use our own small stock of atomic weapons, that is, if the B-47 could carry them’.15 At this time, preliminary discussions on the provision of US weapons were already under (p.203) way, although the connection between weapons and aircraft was not made in London. It may, of course, have been made in the Pentagon and at USAF headquarters. Had the RAF been able to accept the offer, overcoming the admittedly formidable hurdles to adopting this difficult aircraft, the provision of US nuclear weapons for British use would have been more immediate, less complicated and with none of the problems involved in modifying British aircraft.

Originally a quid pro quo for the restriction of the British nuclear programme, atomic bombs were eventually provided liberally for the Canberras and Valiants, together with extensive training and technical assistance for the conversion of RAF aircraft to carry them. The operational conditions or ‘strings’–that they could be used only in the European theatre and under the command of SACEUR–were not onerous, and freed up the UK’s own weapons development programme for the independent deterrent. But Project ‘E’, as the scheme became known, had a lengthy genesis, and progress was extremely slow. What eventually spurred matters on was the move towards agreeing a joint strike plan under which weapons supplied by the US would be targeted as directed by their commanders CINCSAC or SACEUR. As will be seen in the next chapter, while the British saw targeting and weapons supply as quite separate issues, their American counterparts viewed them as closely linked, with control over targets the natural corollary of weapon supply.

An American bomb for Britain?

Eisenhower’s undertaking that Britain would, if possible, be provided with information to enable RAF aircraft to carry US weapons produced little early action. Not until preparations were being made for Churchill’s second visit in 1954 were the US authorities galvanised into action. Realising that there was no action to report at the upcoming meeting of the two leaders, Major-General Howard G. Bunker, former commander at Kirtland, and now the President’s Assistant for Atomic Energy, opened urgent discussions with the BJSM Washington. A detailed and extensive plan was quickly put together for approval by General Twining, the USAF Chief of Staff, under the terms of which the USAF would make available equipment and technical data to permit the modification of RAF aircraft to carry and deliver US atomic weapons.

On paper, this was a sweeping commitment, covering the entire range of mechanical and electro-mechanical devices associated with the carriage of these hugely complex weapons–in effect, a total re-engineering (p.204) kit. Drawings and samples of these components would be supplied to enable the design and production of ‘Chinese copies’ to be undertaken by the British. US personnel would be deployed to assist with the redesign of RAF aircraft and–startlingly–to provide technical assistance to the design of new aircraft, as well as to train and to provide guidance on operational equipment. Finally, the USAF would establish facilities to store, assemble and assist in loading US bombs on the grounds that these functions not only involved restricted information but were ‘too complex to permit hasty wartime indoctrination’.16 This remarkable bundle of assistance was offered in anticipation of the expected amendment of the Atomic Energy Act, which would broaden the scope of what could be released by the Americans to their British allies. A delighted BJSM signal reported that the USAF was ‘genuinely anxious to give us as much as possible as soon as possible’.17

High hopes were soon dashed, this time by the appointment of Brigadier-General Richard T. Coiner as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, for Atomic Energy at USAF headquarters. Richard Coiner, who had a long history of top-level involvement in nuclear matters at the AEC, at Sandia and at the Pentagon, rejected a lengthy list of information requirements submitted by the Air Ministry as incapable of being met under existing law.18 Not just the legislative constraints, but established procedures worked against the British. The deal offered by General Twining had been proposed under an existing provision, the Air Standardisation Committee procedure. This turned out to be far too slow and cumbersome, and uncertain of outcome. In Washington, Air Vice-Marshal Richard Atcherley, head of the RAF staff at BJSM, had further discussions with General White and the two agreed instead on single-point contacts at Colonel/Group Captain level as the best way for passing information, presumably limiting the flow to matters not ruled out by Coiner.

Through this arrangement, a full range of technical characteristics of British aircraft would be provided to the US, before a US team arrived to study the problem at first hand. A Colonel and two Majors from the Pentagon and the Special Weapons Project (or AFSWP) arrived in London incognito, wearing plain clothes, meeting discreetly in places remote from the Air Ministry ‘where the movements of the team will be less conspicuous’, and given technical briefings at their quiet Kensington hotel. The number of British officers and officials aware of their visit was kept to a minimum, and the US Air Attaché and embassy staff were not told about the visit. On the British side, the security requirements laid down by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) were bypassed in the interests of speed and in order to keep the circle of people aware of the (p.205) visit to a bare minimum, although casual references in circulated interdepartmental minutes rather gave the lie to these elaborate subterfuges.19

The American officers spent two weeks studying RAF aircraft to assess just what weapons they could carry and what modifications to them would be necessary. But capability, once achieved, did not confer possession. Reporting to Churchill, the Secretary of State for Air, Lord deLisle and Dudley, reflected that

There is thus a prospect that, in war, we may be able to obtain some nuclear bombs from the United States stockpile in this country. But I do not think we can count upon the Americans changing their present attitude so as to allow us to acquire physical possession of any of their bombs in peace.

Overall, though, the United States was ‘doing something to implement the understanding you reached with the President’.20 Was that something enough?

It fell to Air Chief Marshal Sir William Dickson, appointed Chief of the Air Staff in 1955, to firm up details of Project ‘E’ with the Americans. Of the Chiefs of the Air Staff in this period, Dickson was, after Tedder, the most sympathetic to cooperation with the USAF and had already prepared the ground prior to his appointment with a visit to SAC headquarters at Offutt AFB.21 Once in post as CAS he held further informal meetings with his USAF counterpart, General Twining.22 A major factor limiting Dickson’s discussions with the Americans was the–at that time–severely limited capability of Bomber Command. Full service strength for the V-force was some way off, and there would be a lengthy interval before an arsenal of British atomic bombs was built up for them.

By November 1955 the basics of an agreement had been reached, although Dickson’s successors in the Air Staff were noticeably less warm to the arrangement. And considerable security, technical and political problems had to be overcome. Not the least of these was the need to put flesh on the bones of a broad statement of intent which was by no means evidently deliverable. Officials struggled to work out details of a scheme ‘as far as this can be done within the existing laws of the two countries’.23 In December 1956 the US Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs approved terms of reference for the provision of the weapons in the event of general war. With approval of the British government, the Joint Chiefs authorised SACEUR, General Lauris Norstad, to collaborate with the RAF to put the necessary arrangements in place. These provisions were incorporated in a letter from General Twining which was approved the following year by Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys and US Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson, who nonetheless (p.206) entered the last-minute caveat that custody of the weapons could only be transferred to the RAF by presidential action ‘in strict accordance with his constitutional and legislative authority’.24

For the Air Ministry, the negotiations on Project ‘E’ could be claimed within Whitehall as support for the UK deterrent, for any Treasury attack on the planned numbers for that force could now be presented as inconsistent with the allied plans.25 As one official advised, the need to press ahead with converting the Valiants to carry US weapons under Project ‘E’ was essential not only from the operational point of view but also because of alliance considerations.26 This much had been foreseen when the SAC approach was first made, and the prospect of an agreement provided

powerful arguments at our disposal that … the American willingness to play ball with us is largely dependent on the efforts we have made and are making to build up a nuclear strike potential of our own … I think it is important that the Prime Minister should be aware of the arrangements … as soon as possible. I understand that he has lately been showing an interest in the proposed size of the V bomber force, and he should therefore see these papers as soon as possible before any hasty decisions are taken on reducing its size and cancelling production orders.27

In similar vein, Sandys warned Macmillan in May 1957 that ‘failure to be specific about the strength of our bomber force … would create practical difficulties in our discussions with the Americans about the coordination of the bombing plans which have been agreed in principle at Bermuda’.28 The prospect of future joint operations could be used to protect V-bomber production from the depredations of the Treasury and the sniping of rival service chiefs.

The Treasury, never happy with the reasoning behind the size of the V-force demanded by the RAF, were sceptical about the scheme to supply US weapons. In the first place, no attempt had been made to secure US aid to cover the cost of converting the aircraft. A Treasury official warned that

the proposed dollar bill would be very difficult for us to swallow, and I thought that, if it were proceeded with at all, we should be satisfied that every effort had been made, or was being made, to secure US aid … I would not take any further action on the proposal until I had before me the information which they were trying urgently to secure about the production situation in the U.S.A.29

It was not just the Treasury who were concerned about the cost of Project ‘E’. Whereas the Americans were supplying the bombs and the (p.207) personnel to manage them, the necessary works–including storage areas–were now to fall to the British depite the original, more generous, offer. Nevertheless, the Air Council was sensibly advised that they could not go back on Project ‘E’ and should make preparations to receive US weapons.30 At the end of the day there were savings on the expenditure that the UK would have incurred had these arrangements not been made, for Project ‘E’ represented ‘a very substantial addition to the deterrent at very little cost’.31 This was, of course, the clinching argument.

Throughout these discussions, an atmosphere of secrecy permeated Whitehall, where an Air Ministry official advised that ‘certain aspects of this subject … should be known to as few people as possible’.32 Even in discussion with US officers, the UK’s own weapon stocks were not to be disclosed.33 Yet security and public relations concerns ran counter to one another and, on behalf of the USAF, Brigadier-General Coiner urged a public announcement of this new form of Anglo-US cooperation. The Air Ministry, conceding that the absence of an announcement would fuel speculation, had considered announcing the agreement when it was first reached in November 1955. The announcement–in the form of a planned press leak–duly occurred on 8 June 1956, when the Daily Telegraph ran a piece, the New York Times doing so the same day. The Pentagon routinely denied the story on 9 June.34 Publicly, Project ‘E’ did not exist.

Project ‘E’: the initial phase

In the spring of 1957 the Joint Chiefs authorised Major-General Wilson, 3rd Air Force commander, to open detailed discussions with the RAF about the supply of US atomic weapons to Bomber Command.35 As an engineer and former USAAF liaison officer on the Manhattan project, ‘Bim’ Wilson was particularly well placed to coordinate this development. The first British aircraft to receive US nuclear weapons would be the Canberra. Up to four squadrons of Canberras on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) were assigned US weapons in 1958. In January 1960 they were joined by three Valiant squadrons assigned to SACEUR in the tactical role, and based at Marham in Norfolk on a 15–minute QRA.36 That bald statement of the publicly known facts glosses over the practical problems of implementing the Project ‘E’ agreement.

By the end of June 1957, modifications to enable 28 Canberra B(I) Mark 8 aircraft–the night interdictors–to carry nuclear weapons had been completed. A further 50 Canberra B.2 aircraft remained to be modified. As all the interdictors provided with an atomic capability (p.208) under Project ‘E’ were assigned to SACEUR, the other 50, which would contribute towards the termsof the Baghdad Pact, would carry the UK’s own Red Beard bomb. The aircraft were intended to be able to carry either US or UK weapons, but the urgency of achieving a nuclear capability meant that the Project ‘E’ modifications were given priority.37 The modifications were undertaken by aircraft engineering specialists Marshalls of Cambridge and, as the Mark 8 was a new variant of the Canberra, the first ones to be modified were delivered there direct from the manufacturer. They would initially carry the Mark 7 weapon, a 1,700 lb fission weapon and, later, the Mark 28, a 2,000 lb thermonuclear bomb.38

Storage was needed for these weapons, as was accommodation for the American teams who would have charge of them. Under US law American atomic weapons had to be married to the RAF delivery aircraft by having both physically located on the same base. The division of responsibility was such that the RAF was assigned responsibility for operational delivery and loading capability, while the USAF would retain

physical possession and authority over US atomic weapons and perform all functions incident to storage, maintenance, modifications, operational readiness and internal security … and ensure that weapons in storage and up to transfer to the RAF will be maintained in a completely safe configuration, e.g. there will at no time be a possibility of inadvertent nuclear explosion.39

HQUSAFE insisted that ‘this agreement be referred to as an “arrangement” to avoid the need to register the agreement with NATO’.40

Storage to American standards would be required at Binbrook and Upwood in the UK, and Laarbruch, Wildenrath, Bruggen and Geilenkirchen in Germany by the end of 1957. At each of these sites, accommodation for 54 men and five officers was needed, with the men housed and messed separately.41 This last was a security provision that originated in the first atomic deployment to Tinian in 1945, when the atomic trained personnel were quarantined, but in the RAF context the requirements were exasperating. Weapon storage and accommodation were among several issues where British officers considered the USAF had ‘laid down the standards which they consider politically and administratively most convenient from their point of view, and regardless of cost to us’.42 Initially, at least, conventional ordnance displaced in Germany would have to be accommodated elsewhere, while the separate accommodation demanded might require expensive new building. While US Air Police would control the Project ‘E’ compounds, the UK (p.209) would still need to augment RAF Police and security at the sites.43 Some grumbled:

The USAF are trying to drive a very one-sided bargain–all they appear to be willing to pay for is the weapon and to provide specialist personnel. If we were intended to have unrestricted operational use of the weapon this might be justified but, in the circumstances, I cannot see why they should not be required to pay a substantial contribution to the total cost.44

This turned out to be an over-reaction. On the British and the German sites it proved possible to adapt the existing bomb storage buildings to enable the storage of UK weapons when Project ‘E’ expired. And it turned out that no new accommodation building would be required in the UK or Germany, where existing barrack blocks could be converted for US airmen. The overall cost was likely to be less than the £1.65 million previously estimated.45

The nuclear-armed Canberras of Bomber Command and the 2nd Tactical Air Force (2TAF) were to be deployed for low-level operation, using the ‘toss bombing’ technique whereby the attacking aircraft approached the target at low level, released the weapon in a climb and turned away to escape the blast. Specially designed Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) bombsights were required for this, and the Air Ministry needed to purchase a sufficient number of them from Honeywell Brown to equip the Canberras. In this case, Treasury approval was repeatedly withheld, and eventually given only after an extended battle in which ministers were forced to intervene.46 The belief that the new CAS (Sir Dermot Boyle) was ‘nothing like as keen as the previous CAS [Dickson] on this project’ had seemingly influenced the Ministry of Supply to assume that the scheme now lacked urgency.47

Financial concerns satisfied, technical obstacles nevertheless persisted. The Canberra light bomber had been designed well in advance of Britain’s nuclear capability, but in common with ‘Red Beard’ bombs, the relatively small size of the new US weapons meant they could be loaded into the Canberra’s bomb bay. Or so it was supposed when data on aircraft dimensions were first supplied to the US engineers. The design opening width of the Canberra bomb doors was 52 inches, against a bomb width across the tail fins of between 50.36 and 50.69 inches. However, loading trials revealed the aperture on the aircraft to vary between 50.50 and 51.19 inches, meaning that bombs had to be individually matched to aircraft, a potentially huge operational problem. The manufacturers, English Electric, and the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough investigated methods of obtaining the maximum bomb door opening, reducing the thickness of the rubbing strips on each door (p.210) to alleviate the problem. Any further modification of the bomb doors would be a major task delaying the arming of the aircraft by up to 18 months. As a further stopgap measure, half an inch was to be cut off each bomb fin.48

One important technical obstacle arose less from engineering considerations than from the politics of Britain’s ambiguous posture on nuclear independence. This required the Canberras to be capable of switching from US to UK weapons ‘in case of urgent national need’. Nuclear and conventional weapons alike were carried on a removable spinal beam fitted inside the Canberra’s bomb bay, ready fitted with the carriage and release mechanisms and associated electrical circuitry, which was itself integrated with the aircraft’s electrical system. The electro-mechanical configuration would be specific to each type of weapon carried, and once the aircraft were modified, the carriage mechanisms had to be readily substitutable. In the event, priority was given to making the aircraft operational with US weapons to reinforce NATO. Indeed, such was the urgency attached to achieving ‘the earliest possible provision of a nuclear capability’ that the German-based Canberra B(I)8s were hurriedly modified to take only US bombs. Other Marks, and later production aircraft, were prepared to carry either US or British Red Beard weapons.49

The scheme moved forward with painful slowness. While Farnborough had forged ahead with the technical development of equipment, reproducing control panels and circuitry to pattern, administrative problems remained which required an Air Staff directive to resolve them. Bomber Command and the Ministry of Supply’s Armament Engineering Directorate urged the Air Staff to call a coordinating conference, as the lower-level working meetings with the Americans were failing to resolve the issues. The USAF representatives were gaining an impression that the RAF was ‘dragging its heels’, but the deputy director of Armament Engineering, Group Captain Patmore, pointed the finger at the US authorities themselves as well as at the Air Staff who he saw as being ‘either unable or unwilling to make any policy decisions’ while ‘the Commands want to know what the chances are of provision in quantity and in time of all the various special equipments associated with Project “E”’. Above all, he complained, ‘no single person appears to be in a position to state whether the equipment will be adequate in quantity or when and where it will be delivered’.50 Seventeen months later Air Minister George Ward was himself complaining that the Americans were anxious to speed up the project and were critical of the lack of firmness in the detailed timetable for its completion.51 As late as December 1959 the monthly progress meetings between RAF and (p.211) USAF officers showed that many issues, from accommodation for USAF special weapons teams to clearance of the weapon system in Canberra configuration were still unresolved.52

The strategic aspect of Project ‘E’

For the British, borrowing the bomb was only an interim measure, conditioned by the over-riding need to retain a capability for unilateral action. Converting Canberras and, later, the Valiants for NATO was a starting point for a far more ambitious plan to enhance Bomber Command’s strategic capability when the more advanced V-bombers, the Vulcan and the Victor, came into service. Following the second round of Bermuda talks, an immediate production order for the equipment required to adapt the V-force became essential. With the Americans’ assurance that the weapons would be made available, the Air Ministry agreed to send updates on the readiness of the RAF aircraft to use US weapons at six-monthly intervals.53

Nevertheless, as late as November 1957 the operational concept of Project ‘E’ for the V-force had yet to receive Air Council approval, the Ministry of Defence insisting that ‘in discussion with the USAF we must make it plain that there is as yet no financial authority to authorise expenditure’.54 The Treasury were reluctant to give that authority as long as the Air Ministry and the RAF were unable to provide them with convincing detail. So far as the Treasury officials could see, ‘all that appears to be available on this point, is the understanding between General Twining and Air Chief Marshall Dixon [sic] when he was Chief of the Air Staff’.55 The Air Ministry urged speed as it was ‘essential to give the Valiants an early capability … because of the American slant’. Yet the haste with which the Canberra modifications had been pushed through made the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence far more cautious about extending Project ‘E’ conversions to the V-bomber force.56 For while the Vulcans and Victors–and initially the Valiants–would be the mainstay of the UK independent nuclear deterrent, the aircraft had to be readily convertible back from US weapons fittings (which could only be used in a NATO context) to British, for the V-force had to be ‘constantly on call’ for use in the UK’s own national strike plan.57 Dual use, and ready conversion, implied much greater cost.

Engineering costs were only part of the picture. Throughout this period, the project lacked staff and for that reason proceeded more slowly than had been hoped. The Ministry of Supply’s director of Armament Engineering, who coordinated implementation, appealed (p.212) for more staff, complaining that his request for an additional officer had been rejected and warning that as the number of aircraft involved increased, progress on the V-bombers would not be as fast as that on the Canberra. But such engineering staff as his Directorate had–and their number was very limited–was fully occupied in dealing with conventional weapons and preparing for the carriage of British nuclear weapons. ‘Unless staff are provided’, warned Air Commodore Wyley, ‘it will not be possible to meet the Air Staff requirements in time.’58

Engineering work to convert the aircraft had begun at Farnborough in February 1956, and the USAF, concerned to encourage Britain’s capability, eagerly cooperated to equip the V-bombers for Project ‘E’. By August, American instructors were training crews at Boscombe Down, and Valiant flight trials with dummy bombs were imminent.59 After 12 months’ work on the conversion at Farnborough and at the manufacturer’s works, the first three aircraft were ready. By October 1957, the first 28 V-bombers were to be modified to carry US weapons, and a further 44 by January 1959.60 With trials completed, the Valiant was cleared to fly the US 6,000 lb weapon, with Vulcan clearance to come by the end of the year.

Initially, Project ‘E’ did little to enhance the RAF’s strategic capabilities. Bomber Command’s targeting policy was, by this date, directed against the Soviet cities, and aimed to deter aggression by the threat of massive civilian destruction. For that purpose neither the UK’s own Red Beard nor the US kiloton weapons were sufficiently powerful, while the latter was not available for unilateral use in any event. For ‘city busting’, a megaton weapon was required. For that reason the development of UK megaton weapons was to be given higher priority than readiness for Project ‘E’.61 Despite that commitment, as late as January 1959 the Ministry of Supply was still warning that ‘any unnecessary priority on “E” weapons tended to delay our own weapon development’.62 When the US agreed in 1958 to supply megaton, in place of kiloton, weapons for the V-bomber force, a Treasury official, mindful of the huge cost of Britain’s thermonuclear programme, enquired whether this might eliminate the requirement for UK megaton weapons.63 Clearly, it could not. Project ‘E’ weapons were subject to US control and to rely exclusively upon them was incompatible with maintaining the UK’s freedom of action.

A further problem was that by May 1957 Project ‘E’ had already become thoroughly entangled with joint strike planning. A visit to Washington by DCAS Geoffrey Tuttle somehow galvanised discussions: henceforth weapon supply and strategic plans were to move on in parallel. When Tuttle returned from his Pentagon visit, he bubbled (p.213) with enthusiasm. His US colleagues, he reported, ‘were terribly keen to deal with the supply, storage and control of US weapons and terribly keen that we should have them’. It seemed a generous arrangement to a Bomber Command whose effectiveness was severely curtailed by their having few bombs to drop, for

It is quite clear that the American plan allows for considerably more bombs than bombers and that a one to one ratio of American bombs to modified British bombers would in their view be insufficient. This is, of course, extremely attractive in view of our limited stocks of fissile material and the need to use some of it in other roles. It was, however, clear that they did not, and never will, wish to know our stockpile. All they will wish to know is how many British weapons we intend to issue to Bomber Command for the first strike, and that in general, we should plan the first strike as we wished and state how many American weapons we would require to implement our own plan. After that, co-ordination would start as could the first steps regarding the issue, storage and control of the American weapons. The first thing we shall have to do is to send them a programme stating the likely availability of compatible British bombers at six monthly periods … the modification of these bombers is a matter which should have the greatest pressure put upon it.64

The formal agreement approved in outline at that meeting provided that the SAC Commander-in-Chief would justify the agreement on the number of weapons to be supplied, and formally request the Joint Chiefs to earmark that number and include them in his allocation.65

If the number of bombs allocated to SAC for onward transmission to the British followed from the number of aircraft fielded by Bomber Command, then that number needed to be known. No one, however, was in a position to be confident about what that number might be. Negotiations to make Project ‘E’ viable had to run in parallel with continuous Air Ministry pressure to get final agreement on the size of the V-force front line. But as the American authorities had agreed to supply megaton weapons for the V-bomber force, so vastly increasing Bomber Command’s striking power, it was deemed sufficient to convert no more than 72 aircraft to carry them.66 Achieving the planned megaton weapon for each V-bomber–building up from 26 in 1960 to 158 in 1963 with a mix of US and British weapons–was looking increasingly distant.67

This continued reliance on the US placed the Air Staff in a quandary. At root, Britain could enjoy independence in weapon supply by an early date only by restricting the inventory to kiloton bombs. Even there, the extent of Britain’s actual dependence was becoming more apparent, with the considerable design problems of the UK’s own Red Beard (p.214) kiloton bomb frustrating its introduction into service. None had been delivered by October 1959 due to design weaknesses revealed during environmental tests. Short-term modifications were made to bring Red Beard into service, although these imposed severe restrictions on use, while longer-term modifications to make the bomb safe to fly would take another 18 months to prove.68 If the RAF was content to rely on UK kiloton weapons, it would be possible to give up Project ‘E’ early in 1961. If they waited for British megaton weapons to become available, they would have to retain all 72 US weapons until the middle of that year, and could not complete the process of substitution until some time in 1962.69 On those grounds, Project ‘E’ weapons were to be retained for at least a further year.

It was around this point that the limits of substitutability between US and UK weapons were reached. With limited resources, the Air Ministry had to balance the temptations of American largesse against the basic commitment to achieve nuclear independence. For example, storage facilities were limited, and as UK weapons came off the production line ready for delivery, room had to be found for them.70 On the other hand, the Treasury would be quick to question the need for a British ‘H bomb’ programme once US megaton weapons were on offer. As a guideline, making progress on British weapon development was to be accorded higher priority than equipment and conversion to carry US weapons but, given the US pressure, this may well have been a case of wishful thinking.71 Project ‘E’ was supposed to be a stopgap measure, to provide nuclear cover pending the build-up of the UK stockpile. US controls over the use of Project ‘E’ weapons rendered British independence nugatory, but for the Air Ministry these considerations did not weigh heavily against what was believed to be the greatly superior yield of the American bombs.72

As with the Canberra, money needed to be spent on necessary works at the airfields designated for the nuclear forces. The additional capital costs for three sites were initially estimated at less than £185,000, with recurrent annual expenditure of £30,000.73 Experience showed these to be unrealistic estimates. One factor never far from the minds of those officials involved in the financial planning was the temporary nature of Project ‘E’. Works put in hand to house US weapons had eventually to benefit the British stockpile, and care was taken to design facilities that could revert to UK use without undue modification–ceiling heights, door clearances and overhead gantries were at issue. But there was a prospect of unexpected bonuses here. The storage standards laid down by the US caused British officials to conclude that their own might be too strict, offering scope for economies in the domestic provision. The USAF stored their bombs more intensively,

(p.215) and are prepared to store nine … bombs in one ‘D’ type building and keep up to 35 cores in a single secure locker … This information leads us to question whether our own storage criteria are not over stringent … in terms of separation distances and the numbers of weapons permitted to be stored in one building, [and] should be seriously re-examined.74

If it were indeed permissible to increase the number of UK weapons stored in one building by adopting US standards, that would minimise new construction, help to resolve a difficult storage problem and save costs. This proposal was not wholeheartedly welcomed: ‘it is prudent to treat with some reserve the relaxations which the Americans would permit themselves, in what, to them, is an overseas operational theatre, and which might be unacceptable in their own country’.75

Storage arrangements were further complicated by the requirement that US bombs should be stored on site, with all the security of an operational airfield. This meant that for the duration of Project ‘E’, or until sufficient secure space for V-force support had been constructed, British nuclear weapons would have to be stored at remote maintenance sites, inaccessible for immediate use, as US weapons occupied all available airfield space.76 Special arrangements had to be made against the supposed eventuality of a national emergency in which access to US weapons was withheld or could not be provided in time to permit the dispersal of armed aircraft.77 Under these conditions, ‘weapons must be held at readiness as a necessary safeguard against failure to obtain the release of US weapons in time to meet the UK dispersal and for maintenance of the national deterrent’.78 That meant bombs held in depot would have to be maintained, assembled and ready for immediate issue to Bomber Command.

Safety and security

Safety procedures and the security of US weapons claimed increasing attention as planning progressed. A series of ‘phasing conferences’, attended by USAF engineering officers from the Directorate of Engineering Liaison, was held at the Air Ministry, and the first of these meetings identified the problem of applying RAF handling, loading and in-flight safety procedures to virtually unknown weapons. The Americans insisted that safety was the primary concern of US procedures but there was little possibility of exchanging information at the required level of detail within the limits imposed by the McMahon Act, even as amended. Loading trials would be set up in order to reveal safety (p.216) issues, and it was recognised that some potential problems would only come to light when live weapons were flown.79

The USAF were often unhappy with RAF safety procedures. Colonel Teubner, the USAF Director of Engineering Liaison, wrote a strong report warning that ‘absolutely rigorous’ agreed procedures were required if Bomber Command were to fly US weapons. The RAF’s draft loading procedures would be closely checked by SAC, and post-loading procedures needed to be ‘accurate, complete and rigidly followed’. He insisted the two sides agree this ‘extremely vital document’. His RAF counterpart advised that Teubner was perturbed about the shortcomings of UK procedures and had expressed himself verbally far more strongly:

[Teubner] emphasised that in his opinion nuclear weapon procedures were of such importance that every drill from start to finish should be covered in the mandatory document, or series of documents, to ensure safety and reliability.80

The formal bilateral agreement under which US weapons were provided laid down the responsibilities and procedures which were to be followed to ensure the safety, custody, security and proper release of atomic weapons. Complying with United States approved atomic weapon safety rules, they were considered the minimum necessary to safeguard and control the atomic weapons involved, and Teubner could raise the requirements on his own authority.

The procedures were also designed ‘to prevent nuclear incidents or accidents which might reflect unfavourably on the United States or user NATO Nations’.81 During 1958 and 1959, avoiding such incidents loomed large in the discussions between the two teams of air force officers dealing with Project ‘E’. The British were highly sensitive to operational risks, particularly those of the crash of a nuclear armed aircraft. The incidents in 1957, when a SAC B-47 had crashed on landing at Lakenheath, the resultant fire engulfing a nuclear weapons store, and in 1958, when another B-47 dropped a fuel tank on an aircraft waiting to take off at Greenham Common, had given unwelcome publicity to nuclear weapon carriage. Faced with an eruption of public alarm, the two governments had formulated a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of a nuclear weapon in future incidents. Even privately, in service-to-service discussions, US officers remained reticent about how crashes of nuclear-armed USAF aircraft in Germany were handled.82

Beyond accidents, there remained the threat of sabotage or terrorism. Here there was a fundamental difference between the two parties on (p.217) the extent of the security threat. The American authorities in the British view had ‘proposed criteria appeared to be based on what could happen (the worst case) and not what is likely to happen’. The British insisted that the security precautions taken should be in accordance with a realistic assessment of the threat against which they were mounted. The risk of sabotage on UK bases, other than in Northern Ireland, was assessed as minimal. There was a far greater security threat in Germany but the American position did not recognise the difference.83 The standard of security required by US law was higher than that applied to the protection of British nuclear weapons, with electric fences, a controlled single point of entry, alarms and CCTV to cover areas not under direct USAF view.84 The security of weapons deployed abroad could not be less than that required within the United States itself.

Problematic as they were, these arrangements for safety and security were based on the assumption that they would apply to permanent bases on which American weapons were kept ready for British use. The practicalities collapsed when confronted with the separate policy of emergency dispersal of the V-force to satellite airfields. The US commanders urged strongly that the V-force should operate from dispersed sites in order to minimise their vulnerability to a pre-emptive strike. But dispersal raised issues of the custody of the weapons, which remained in US hands until loaded and armed, a procedure that would become unworkable on remote and scantily serviced airfields. Seeking more freedom of action, Duncan Sandys met Wilson to impress upon his opposite number ‘the problems which we are faced with over our bomber dispersal plans in relation to the movement of Project ‘E’ weapons’.85 In their own meetings with American officers, Ministry of Defence officials argued that ‘operational planning is nonsensical’ without UK custody.86 This was not going to happen, but ‘No formula has yet been found to reconcile the requirements of U.S. law with our own dispersal and alert plans.’87

Notes

(1) Makins to Attlee, 18 September 1950, UKNA, PREM 8/1552.

(2) Notes prepared by Admiral Strauss, Bermuda, 5 December 1953, United States Department of State, Foreign relations of the United States, 1952–1954. Volume 5, Part 2, Western European Security, Document 343.

(3) Churchill to Eisenhower, 7 December 1953, Strauss papers, Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, IA, Box 21 (Bermuda).

(4) Participation of the RAF Bomber Command in Strategic Operations, 10 June 1952, NARA, RG 341, Air Force Plans 1942–54, Box 746.

(5) Simpson, Independent nuclear state, pp. 254–225.

(p.218) (6) Note by AM R.O. Jones, 20 October 1953, UKNA, AIR 2/13781; H. Wynn, RAF nuclear deterrent forces: the RAF strategic nuclear deterrent forces. Their origins, role and deployment, 1946–69, a documentary history, London, HMSO, 1994, pp. 87–91.

(7) D. Campbell, ‘Too few bombs to go round’, New Statesman, 29 November 1985, p. 12.

(8) Air Council, conclusions of meeting, 6 (58), 6 March 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(9) M.S. Navias, Nuclear weapons and British strategic planning, 1955–1958, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 100–119, 166–172; Paul Jackson, V-Bombers, London, Ian Allen, 1981.

(10) H. Wynn, ‘The RAF V-force’, Royal Air Force Yearbook 1978, Fairford, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, 1978, p. 28.

(11) Swain (BJSM) to Slessor, 14 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(12) Comments by AOC-in-C Bomber Command, 27 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(13) Air Cdre. Hyde, Director of Operations, to ACAS (Plans), 19 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(14) Twining to Dickson, 10 July 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(15) Air Cdre. Hyde, Director of Operations, to ACAS (Plans), 19 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(16) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, Air Cdre. Grundy to CAS, 23 June 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(17) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, Air Cdre. Grundy to DCAS, 7July 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(18) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, AVM Atcherley to CAS, 8 November 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(19) AVM Hugh Satterley to DCAS, and to CAS, 30 November 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(20) De L’isle and Dudley to Prime Minister, 10 January 1955, UKNA, DEFE 13/60 (original emphasis).

(21) File notes, March 1954, LoC, Twining papers, Boxes 65, 67 and 74.

(22) Signal, Twining for Dickson, 5 August 1955, LoC, Twining papers, Box 100.

(23) R.J. Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(24) Recalled in minute by Frank Cooper, Head of S.6, 19 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(25) Paper to the Defence Board by Secretary of State for Air George Ward, 29 October 1958, UKNA, AIR 8/2400.

(p.219) (26) Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA,T 225/645.

(27) ACAS comments on Coordination of USAF and RAF nuclear strike plans: note by Chief of the Air Staff, 31 December 1956, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(28) Extracts from minutes of Prime Minister’s meeting, GEN.570/2, 30 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 8/2400.

(29) Serpell to MacPherson, 5 June 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(30) Air Council, conclusions of meeting 7(58), 17 March 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(31) Project ‘E’ for the V-force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(32) Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA,T 225/645.

(33) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(34) Project ‘E’: Brief for ACAS (Operational Requirements), 21 June 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18095.

(35) Minute, private secretary to CAS to ACAS (Operations), 17 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(36) House of Commons Debates, 25 June 1964, cols. 617–618.

(37) Air Council, progress reports on weapons systems not yet fully released: bomber command: Canberra, 17 July 1957, UKNA, AIR 6/115.

(38) Private information on the conversion programme.On the weapons, Norris, Barrows and Fieldhouse, Nuclear weapons databook, n. 60.

(39) Maj.-Gen. E. Moore, Commander 3rd Air Force, Project ‘E’, Canberra Force, November 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(40) Air Cdre. J.H. Searby, Director of Operations (B and R), to VCAS, 5 November 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(41) Gp. Capt. Sands, Asst. Director of Operations, 24 June 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(42) Minute by Frank Cooper, Head of S.6, 19 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(43) AVM L.W. Cannon to Gp. Capt. Sands, 6 September 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(44) Minute by Air Cdre. J.D. Melvin, Director of Operations, 13 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(45) Air Cdre. J.D. Melvin, Director of Operations, to DGO, 30 September 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(46) Notes on Project ‘E’, 3 August 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(47) Project ‘E’: Finance, minute by Gp. Capt. P.B. Wood (Deputy Director of Operational Requirements 2), 23 May 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(48) Minutes of a monthly progress meeting held at Air Ministry, 20 January 1960, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(49) Bomber aircraft, report to the Air Council, 37th meeting, 1957, UKNA, AIR 6/115.

(p.220) (50) Gp. Capt S.P.A. Patmore to Director of Armament Engineering, 2 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(51) Ward to Sandys, 4 October 1958, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(52) Project ‘E’: Canberra. Minutes of monthly progress meeting at headquarters USAFE, Wiesbaden, 17 December 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(53) Penney to Bligh, 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(54) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC on Project ‘E’, 12 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(55) McPherson to Serpell, 4 October 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(56) Penney to Bligh, 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(57) Serpell to McPherson 8 October 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(58) Air Cdre. D.W.R. Wyley, Director of Armament Engineering to CAS, 11 April 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(59) Pike to Coiner, 12 April 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(60) (Draft) progress report on USAF/RAF coordination of nuclear strike plans and the provision of American weapons for the RAF, 30 April 1958, UKNA, AIR 8/2201.

(61) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC, 12 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(62) Minutes of Project ‘E’ Phasing Conference Group ‘V’ held at Air Ministry Whitehall Gardens on 27 January 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(63) Herbecq to Bligh, 11 November 1958, UKNA, T 225/645.

(64) Tuttle to CAS, 22 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(65) Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force, May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(66) Herbecq to Bligh, 11 November, 1958, UKNA, T 225/645.

(67) Strategic bomber force weapon policy: note by VCAS, Air Council, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(68) Report to Air Council, 30 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(69) Air Council, strategic bomber force weapon policy, note by VCAS: Project “E”’, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(70) Project ‘E’ for the strategic bomber force–AC (60)31, note by VCAS, Air Council, Conclusions of meeting, 10(60), 7 July, 1960, top secret annex, UKNA, AIR 6/128.

(71) Summary of discussion and decisions taken at a meeting on ‘V force Project ‘E’, held in Metropole Buildings on 12 November, 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(72) Strategic bomber force weapon policy: note by VCAS, Air Council, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117; ‘Project “E” Weapons for the Strategic Bomber Force’, Paper for the Air Council by the VCAS, 14 June 1960, UKNA, AIR 6/129.

(73) Project ‘E’ for the V-force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(74) AVM R.B. Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (Director-General Engineering), 21 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(p.221) (75) AVM A.F. Hutton, DG Engineering to AVM Lees, ACAS (Operations), 9 December 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(76) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AOC-in-C Bomber Command, 16 April 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(77) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (DG Engineering), 8 May 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(78) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (DG Engineering), 8 May 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(79) Minutes of Project ‘E’ Phasing Conference Group ‘V’ held at Air Ministry Whitehall Gardens on 27 January 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(80) Gp. Capt. A.J.M. Smyth, DD Operational Requirements 2, to DD Armament Engineering, 15 December 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(81) Alert procedures for RAF NATO atomic strike forces (Valiant/Mk5), UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(82) Minutes of monthly progress meeting held at Headquarters USAFE, Wiesbaden on 17 December 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(83) Minutes of a meeting to discuss weapon custody and security and the control of access to aircraft, 8 September, 1960, UKNA, AIR 2/13704.

(84) Project ‘E’ for the V-bomber force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(85) Action note, undated, UKNA, AIR 8/2201.

(86) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC. UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(87) Air Council, strategic bomber force weapon policy, note by VCAS: Project ‘E’, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

Notes:

(1) Makins to Attlee, 18 September 1950, UKNA, PREM 8/1552.

(3) Churchill to Eisenhower, 7 December 1953, Strauss papers, Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, IA, Box 21 (Bermuda).

(4) Participation of the RAF Bomber Command in Strategic Operations, 10 June 1952, NARA, RG 341, Air Force Plans 1942–54, Box 746.

(p.218) (6) Note by AM R.O. Jones, 20 October 1953, UKNA, AIR 2/13781; H. Wynn, RAF nuclear deterrent forces: the RAF strategic nuclear deterrent forces. Their origins, role and deployment, 1946–69, a documentary history, London, HMSO, 1994, pp. 87–91.

(7) D. Campbell, ‘Too few bombs to go round’, New Statesman, 29 November 1985, p. 12.

(8) Air Council, conclusions of meeting, 6 (58), 6 March 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(9) M.S. Navias, Nuclear weapons and British strategic planning, 1955–1958, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 100–119, 166–172; Paul Jackson, V-Bombers, London, Ian Allen, 1981.

(10) H. Wynn, ‘The RAF V-force’, Royal Air Force Yearbook 1978, Fairford, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, 1978, p. 28.

(11) Swain (BJSM) to Slessor, 14 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(12) Comments by AOC-in-C Bomber Command, 27 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(13) Air Cdre. Hyde, Director of Operations, to ACAS (Plans), 19 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(14) Twining to Dickson, 10 July 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(15) Air Cdre. Hyde, Director of Operations, to ACAS (Plans), 19 May 1954, UKNA, AIR 8/2025.

(16) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, Air Cdre. Grundy to CAS, 23 June 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(17) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, Air Cdre. Grundy to DCAS, 7July 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(18) Signal, BJSM to Air Ministry, AVM Atcherley to CAS, 8 November 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(19) AVM Hugh Satterley to DCAS, and to CAS, 30 November 1954, UKNA, AIR 2/13213.

(20) De L’isle and Dudley to Prime Minister, 10 January 1955, UKNA, DEFE 13/60 (original emphasis).

(21) File notes, March 1954, LoC, Twining papers, Boxes 65, 67 and 74.

(22) Signal, Twining for Dickson, 5 August 1955, LoC, Twining papers, Box 100.

(23) R.J. Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(24) Recalled in minute by Frank Cooper, Head of S.6, 19 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(25) Paper to the Defence Board by Secretary of State for Air George Ward, 29 October 1958, UKNA, AIR 8/2400.

(p.219) (26) Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA,T 225/645.

(27) ACAS comments on Coordination of USAF and RAF nuclear strike plans: note by Chief of the Air Staff, 31 December 1956, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(28) Extracts from minutes of Prime Minister’s meeting, GEN.570/2, 30 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 8/2400.

(29) Serpell to MacPherson, 5 June 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(30) Air Council, conclusions of meeting 7(58), 17 March 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(31) Project ‘E’ for the V-force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(32) Penney (Air Ministry) to Bligh (Treasury), 19 June 1957, UKNA,T 225/645.

(33) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(34) Project ‘E’: Brief for ACAS (Operational Requirements), 21 June 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18095.

(35) Minute, private secretary to CAS to ACAS (Operations), 17 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(36) House of Commons Debates, 25 June 1964, cols. 617–618.

(37) Air Council, progress reports on weapons systems not yet fully released: bomber command: Canberra, 17 July 1957, UKNA, AIR 6/115.

(38) Private information on the conversion programme.On the weapons, Norris, Barrows and Fieldhouse, Nuclear weapons databook, n. 60.

(39) Maj.-Gen. E. Moore, Commander 3rd Air Force, Project ‘E’, Canberra Force, November 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(40) Air Cdre. J.H. Searby, Director of Operations (B and R), to VCAS, 5 November 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(41) Gp. Capt. Sands, Asst. Director of Operations, 24 June 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(42) Minute by Frank Cooper, Head of S.6, 19 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(43) AVM L.W. Cannon to Gp. Capt. Sands, 6 September 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(44) Minute by Air Cdre. J.D. Melvin, Director of Operations, 13 August 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(45) Air Cdre. J.D. Melvin, Director of Operations, to DGO, 30 September 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(46) Notes on Project ‘E’, 3 August 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(47) Project ‘E’: Finance, minute by Gp. Capt. P.B. Wood (Deputy Director of Operational Requirements 2), 23 May 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(48) Minutes of a monthly progress meeting held at Air Ministry, 20 January 1960, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(49) Bomber aircraft, report to the Air Council, 37th meeting, 1957, UKNA, AIR 6/115.

(p.220) (50) Gp. Capt S.P.A. Patmore to Director of Armament Engineering, 2 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(51) Ward to Sandys, 4 October 1958, UKNA, AIR 20/11338.

(52) Project ‘E’: Canberra. Minutes of monthly progress meeting at headquarters USAFE, Wiesbaden, 17 December 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(53) Penney to Bligh, 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(54) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC on Project ‘E’, 12 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(55) McPherson to Serpell, 4 October 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(56) Penney to Bligh, 19 June 1957, UKNA, T 225/645.

(57) Serpell to McPherson 8 October 1956, UKNA, T 225/645.

(58) Air Cdre. D.W.R. Wyley, Director of Armament Engineering to CAS, 11 April 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(59) Pike to Coiner, 12 April 1956, UKNA, AIR 2/18093.

(60) (Draft) progress report on USAF/RAF coordination of nuclear strike plans and the provision of American weapons for the RAF, 30 April 1958, UKNA, AIR 8/2201.

(61) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC, 12 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(62) Minutes of Project ‘E’ Phasing Conference Group ‘V’ held at Air Ministry Whitehall Gardens on 27 January 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(63) Herbecq to Bligh, 11 November 1958, UKNA, T 225/645.

(64) Tuttle to CAS, 22 May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(65) Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force, May 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(66) Herbecq to Bligh, 11 November, 1958, UKNA, T 225/645.

(67) Strategic bomber force weapon policy: note by VCAS, Air Council, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(68) Report to Air Council, 30 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(69) Air Council, strategic bomber force weapon policy, note by VCAS: Project “E”’, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.

(70) Project ‘E’ for the strategic bomber force–AC (60)31, note by VCAS, Air Council, Conclusions of meeting, 10(60), 7 July, 1960, top secret annex, UKNA, AIR 6/128.

(71) Summary of discussion and decisions taken at a meeting on ‘V force Project ‘E’, held in Metropole Buildings on 12 November, 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(72) Strategic bomber force weapon policy: note by VCAS, Air Council, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117; ‘Project “E” Weapons for the Strategic Bomber Force’, Paper for the Air Council by the VCAS, 14 June 1960, UKNA, AIR 6/129.

(73) Project ‘E’ for the V-force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(74) AVM R.B. Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (Director-General Engineering), 21 November 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13780.

(p.221) (75) AVM A.F. Hutton, DG Engineering to AVM Lees, ACAS (Operations), 9 December 1957, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(76) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AOC-in-C Bomber Command, 16 April 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(77) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (DG Engineering), 8 May 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(78) AVM Lees (ACAS (Operations)) to AVM A.F. Hutton (DG Engineering), 8 May 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(79) Minutes of Project ‘E’ Phasing Conference Group ‘V’ held at Air Ministry Whitehall Gardens on 27 January 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(80) Gp. Capt. A.J.M. Smyth, DD Operational Requirements 2, to DD Armament Engineering, 15 December 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(81) Alert procedures for RAF NATO atomic strike forces (Valiant/Mk5), UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(82) Minutes of monthly progress meeting held at Headquarters USAFE, Wiesbaden on 17 December 1959, UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(83) Minutes of a meeting to discuss weapon custody and security and the control of access to aircraft, 8 September, 1960, UKNA, AIR 2/13704.

(84) Project ‘E’ for the V-bomber force: note by VCAS and AMSO, 17 February 1958, UKNA, AIR 2/13781.

(85) Action note, undated, UKNA, AIR 8/2201.

(86) Joint meeting of Air Ministry and Bomber Command staff as pre-meeting to meeting with SAC. UKNA, AIR 2/13703.

(87) Air Council, strategic bomber force weapon policy, note by VCAS: Project ‘E’, 20 October 1959, UKNA, AIR 6/117.