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Dr. Tony Redding

Received his Doctorate from KCL in 2022. He is the author of two books on RAF Bomber Command in World War 2: “Flying for freedom”, re-published as “Life and death in Bomber Command”, and “Bombing Germany – the final phase”. A new book, “V-bombers: Britain’s nuclear frontline in the Cold War”, is the first detailed account of the operational capability and credibility of the airborne nuclear deterrent during the peak years of confrontation with the Soviet Union.

The talk

Dr Redding will outline the main research findings and address some difficult questions – such as why the V-force operated to Readiness State 15 minutes, whilst the British public had been told to expect only four minutes’ warning (with the latter almost certainly the true situation). There are also issues surrounding the lack of information given to crews, such as the chances of surviving a war scramble and tactics immediately after weapon release – using empty V-bombers as decoys.

Dr Redding will also be joined by two former V-Bomber aircrew, Robin Woolven and Roy Brocklebank, as part of a Q&A:

Robin Woolven

Robin Woolven was in the air (Semi-lethal area) at the November 1957 UK Grapple X megaton test off Christmas Island. This provided useful memories for retelling to crew members when serving as a Canberra B16 navigator 1961-63 in Cyprus (with CENTO targets north of Peshawar with Red Beard) then on the Vulcan B2 1964-66) on 617 Sqn at Scampton with the Blue Steel missile 1965-66. After Spec N course, R&D then squadron tours on the Shackleton and Nimrod with US Nuclear Depth Bombs (1968-78).

Second career with MI5 (1980-97 with an emphasis on the same potential enemies), then, in retirement, a 2002 KCL PhD (War Studies). Organised two KCL Cold War witness seminars at the IHR at which two of the addressees (Norman B and Roy B) contributed their useful memories.

Roy Brocklebank

Roy Brocklebank trained as an RAF Navigator in 1961 and served in Bomber Command from 1963 and then Strike Command until 1969 followed by a tour in Cyprus. Initially he was a navigator radar on 12 Sqn with the Coningsby and Cottesmore wings deploying from RAF Coningsby on Operation CHAMFROM (reinforcement of FEAF during Confrontation) after just 3 months on the squadron. One return the Wing was now at RAF Cottesmore. His following tour was as the Vault and targeting officer with the Waddington Wing. He was responsible for maintaining the target library and training of the for the crews there. There followed a tour with the Akrotiri bomber wing in Cyprus as part of the NEAF and its CENTO strike plans. He then served on the MOD (RAF) Weapons Standardisation Team based at RAF Wittering. The team examined every RAF Strike Crew on nuclear weapons procedures for safety and security. These tours gave him insight on V-Force war plans and procedures and his article, World War III – The 1960s Version, was published in the Journal of Navigation in 2005. He has given many talks on this subject.

Following these tours he was re-roled to the Maritime Force serving on a Nimrod squadron with the Kinloss Wing before becoming the wing weapons specialist with specialisation in nuclear procedures and maritime plans.

After tours with the Maritime Force he moved to the Airborne Early Warning Force initially on the Shackleton and subsequently to Mission Simulation Training Squadron for the E3 AWACs squadrons. The latter included work with the NATO Synthetic Air Defence Sub-Committee.

In addition he performed other specialist roles as an Intelligence Officer, Navigation Instruction and Operational Computer System Management. Finally he ran one of the Wash Air Weapons Ranges. For relaxation he gained a BA (Hons) in Humanities with History and a BSc (Hons) involved with Environmental Studies.

Currently living with his wife Helen in Lincolnshire. He has two daughters, one a former member of the RAF Auxiliary Regiment and married to an RAF Wg Cdr, the other a retired RAF Sqn Ldr also married to a retired RAF Wg Cdr.

Research Project Overview

Much has been written about Britain’s V-bombers but virtually nothing has been said about the details of their war mission and the credibility of the retaliatory threat projected by the V-Force.

Following a seven-year research project, involving interviews with over 70 V-Force veterans and the examination of over 300 declassified official documents, a more detailed picture of the war mission has emerged.

The evidence suggests that most of the V-Force would have been destroyed on the ground or in the air a minute or two after take-off, in a Soviet low trajectory missile strike on the airfields. Yet a small group of survivors would have had every chance of releasing megaton class weapons on Moscow and Leningrad – the Soviet Union’s first and second cities – in a retaliatory strike.

This “core retaliatory threat” was maintained until the handover of the strategic nuclear frontline to Polaris in 1969. In short, a handful of attacking V-bombers could have dropped around three million tonnes of high explosive equivalent on the largest Soviet cities during the first couple of hours of World War 3 – as much as was dropped by the Allies on Germany during six long years of war.

This unilateral threat underpinned the British deterrent. Whilst the likelihood of the UK waging nuclear war without the USA was remote in the extreme, the core retaliatory threat was the ultimate expression of British military power and political standing in the world. Above all else, this credible threat delivered the main role of the V-force – to deter rather than to war-fight. The aim was to deter by a unilateral threat to the balance between the superpowers. Whilst Soviet offensive and defensive capabilities were formidable, they could not guarantee the destruction of every single V-bomber – each capable of carrying a warload exceeding 100,000 wartime Lancasters.

Event details

Dockrill Room (K6.07)
King's Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS