When RAF Vulcans bombed NYC....


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As many will know the breadth and depth of ignorance on Quora is measureless.

But occasionally someone pops up who makes a good fist of an answer. One for the Cold War Warriors.
[ @Magic_Mushroom have some anecdotal historic background from the Crab Air perspective? ]

All text is by British veteran David Rendahl who appears to have held a number of spook related roles.
[ex Green Slime? ]

David Rendahl
Updated Mon
25 years Army/Police Intelligence community

Is it true that Britain’s Vulcan bombers successfully nuked America twice during training exercises?
Answer from David Rendahl

The Avro Vulcan was a hot ship in 1960, and not even the hottest in the RAF, that would be the Handley Page Victor, and several Vulcan flights did indeed confound US Air Defences and get into a position to bomb US cities. Unfortunately the lessons of the exercise - Operation Sky Shield - were quickly learnt, to the detriment of manned bombers like Vulcan and Victor, the result of one of the worst errors of technical intelligence in the Cold-War.


Roy Chadwick, who designed this beauty, learnt his trade with carpenter’s tools and sewing needles before the first world war.

Eisenhower’s last term as President (1957–1961) wasn’t much fun for American aeronautics. It had begun well, the USA was the unrivalled superpower in nuclear bomb delivery through the mighty Strategic Air Command. Jimmy Stewart had just stared in a film of the very same name, all-aluminium death tubes carrying instant sunshine were as all-American as baseball and apple pie.

Any excuse to get Jimmy Stewart air time.

America had increasing numbers of the only deployable thermonuclear bomb, which could be carried almost anywhere in the world by the USAF’s growing fleet of bombers: Swept-wing jet-powered B-52 Stratofortress were replacing propeller driven B-36 Peacemakers in the intercontinental role, while the supersonic B-58 Hustler was on the horizon to replace the shorter ranged fighter-like B-47 Stratojet. The KC-135 Stratotanker was just about to take to the sky putting these aircraft (almost) anywhere in the world inside half a day.

The competition?

Russia had upset a few intelligence estimates by getting an A-bomb and an H-bomb tested earlier than expected. The fast and nimble MiG-15 pushes the envelope, and they really startled government plane spotters when they deployed the Myasishchev M-4 Bison bomber in 1954. It couldn't reach northern Canada, but it wasnt supposed to exist at all.


Say what you like about communism, but their graphic design department was superb.

Soon after that the Tupolev Tu-16 Badger arrived on scene, just able to reach parts of the US coastline. In 1956 came the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear which could put nuclear weapons into the continental USA for the first time - providing the prop engined interloper could get past the wall of century series supersonic fighters guarding US airspace.


The big red star still looking good, even over Idaho. The propellors less so.

US bomber barons wanted more money to keep ahead of this ‘bomber gap’ which saw Soviet Aviation closing the door on US superiority. They assumed these bombers must be getting built in fantastic numbers to offset their limitations of propellers, speed and range. They envisaged huge fleets of these things making their way inland, overwhelming US Air Defence with human sacrifice just like they had done to the Germans.
They were comforted by the old quantity vs quality argument, because the answer to this was more money for SAC, money for more speed, more range, more altitude, and they had to remain the firstest with the mostest.

The bomber gap scare spurred the development of the century series fighters to defend the continental USA. By 1958 US air space was well covered by no fewer than four purpose built interceptors.

You’ve got a Super Sabre at your 6, a Voodoo at your 12, a Dagger at your 3 and a Starfighter at your 9.

This was the only nuclear game in town in 1957. Britain had only just joined the nuclear club with limited fission weapons, it looked like the RAF would get - not one but three - nuclear bombers into service before they had thermonuclear weapons to carry. France and China had yet to test any nuclear weapons at all.

Galactic sums of money were to be spent countering the Russian bomber fleet over the next 20 years and the Pentagon shifted the bulk of rR&D and factory space resources to accommodate it*. They gave little thought to countering RAF aircraft.
Skyshield took place in the last year of Eisenhower's term of office. During that term the USAF had bought four different homeland air defence interceptors into service, while wings of the most modern bombers remained permanently flying on station around Russia.

On the eve of Skyshield they were still adding the Mach 2+ Convair F-106 Delta Dart and B-58 to their armoury. 10,000 air frames in four years.

The First Problem:
The last year of Eisenhower’s first term also saw the first Lockheed U-2 spy mission over Soviet Russia. It went out looking for solid evidence of the narrowing bomber gap, expecting to see vast armadas of bombers and tankers on ready alert over hundreds of dispersed bases. Just as SAC had built.

A quarter of all Soviet Bisons in one picture, sharing one runway.

U-2 came back with evidence the bomber gap was a chasm. Russia really wasn’t in the long range bomber business, in method or numbers. No tankers, few airbases, few bombers. People were tempted to celebrate - the Russian bear was a koala not a grizzly - but no one gives you money to hunt down koala’s. To be fair no one uses koalas to scare off attack.
This is where the intelligence team continued to get it wrong: they kept looking the in same direction.
They had assumed a technical superiority based on what they had been looking for so far; they assumed a single best option existed for delivering nuclear weapons based on that technology, they assumed the Russians faced the same problems as they, and countered them in the same way. The assumed the Russians had the same priorities.
Much of this is good common sense, the rules of physics work for both sides, so the solutions often end up looking the same, so the US intelligence community went into overdrive looking for the missing Russian bombers.
It was suspected they kept 2/3rds flying at any one time, until they couldn't find evidence of enough tankers. It was suspected they had secret bases on Canadian Islands or the Arctic ice sheet, the USS Nautilus’ trip to the North Pole in 1958 was partly to test this theory.
The obvious answer was they had stopped building these older bombers because they were about to deploy something new. Something secret and therefore free from all restrictions of engineering.
Like this:

Myasishchev M-50 Hoax

In 1958 Aviation Week ran a story of a high-supersonic, nuclear-powered Russian bomber that was already in flight test stage. It wasn’t, but it fit the bill, it was shown to be false soon after but the secret Russian bomber was firmly entrenched by then.
Aviation press and Aviation generals had assumed a Soviet secret bomber because they still believed piloted flight the best way of getting the job done. They thought this because the Americans were better at piloted fight than the other way - rocketry - a bad bit of confirmation bias.

To meet this new threat the USAF doubled down on their piloted dreams. They wrote up an industry tender for a new bomber combining the range of the B-52, greater speed than the B-58 and greater altitude than both.
Aerospace companies were encouraged to think of aircraft with a nuclear power source, super cruise, chemical propulsion engines that could work on the edges of space. That plan would be whittled down to the still impressive XB-70 Valkyrie. But in 1958 they were thinking this.


A Klingon warbird, with parasite fighters

or this

Holy Thunderbirds Captain!

or this

Gordon’s alive?

The super-secret-second-bomber-gap-scare demanded even better fighters before the century series had fully entered service. The manned flight world was going hot, pointy and delta shaped in a hurry to match the speed and altitude requirements of the assumed Russian bombers. They were preparing to build the Mach 3+ North American XF-108 Rapier. Even Canada got in on the act, with its superb CF-105 Arrow.


Oh wow


Oh Canada

I was going to try and work out the cost of all this aerospace, but despite lockdown I don't have that kind of time. We can safely put - bombers, fighters, tankers, trainers, transports, radars, weapons, airbases, training, security, fuel, administration and infrastructure - into the big money column.

In this same time frame the USA had bought just one homeland air defence surface-to-air missile into service, the Nike family, available in working, not working, nuclear or immobile form. None of their rockets had gone further than the biggest balloons, and they went pop more often.

The future looked good for piloted hot rods reaching into space, they inspired a generation of small boys, science fiction model makers and aerospace stock was up

Second Problem:
Faced with the same intractable problems of physics and geography but unencumbered by a generation of bomber barons raised on throttle and stick. Having less cash on hand to duplicate systems and no bases in Canada or Mexico to operate from like the USAF had in Turkey and the UK, the Russians had simply put more effort into big rockets and orbital physics.

Beep, Beep!
Eisenhower’s second term saw Sputnik 1 going into orbit. This was big. Everyone could do the maths - a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile wasn’t far behind the tinfoil football. The US had been working on this very idea, but their rockets had been blowing up of late. They thought this tech a long way away from working and had assured their government the Soviets were decades away from orbital success.
So the question became - where to put the money now, rockets or pilots?
The first clue came soon enough when it became obvious the Soviets weren’t building any more strategic bombers. All the next-generation interceptors were cancelled in 1959. The F-106 was too far along to cancel so the order was cut to just 340. By 1966 they were the only interceptors doing strategic air defence in the states.
Ike was faced with a bigger dilemma than the money wasted on fighters and bombers racing to early obsolescence. His rocket programme was floundering, split as it was between the Army, Air Force, Navy and a little known civilian aerospace agency that specialised in wing shapes, numbers and wind tunnels.
The Army were only interested in a short ranged Scud type missile PGM-11 Redstone to lob nuclear weapons the other side of the Horizon. Unfortunately they had also nabbed the best Germans at the end of WW2. They weren’t very busy excavating big holes in the desert and weren’t much further along than V-2.
The Navy were doubting long-ranged nuclear bombers could get off a carrier deck and into Russia, so they were hell bent on shooting them out of submarines in rockets. They weren’t sure those huge limitations on the dimensions and capabilities of their rockets could be met so were experimenting with the Vanguard.

The Air Force were determined the only way to get into space was with a pilot riding the controls - all the way up and all the way down. Their first proposal for a spy satellite had a guy flying a Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar winged spacecraft to orbit where he would keep watch with a big pair of binoculars.


Hot sauce, not spam in a can

If you turn aerospace over to robots, rockets and computers and take the pilot out of control you’re not left with much of an argument for an independent air force. Consequently Air Force Atlas ICBMs hadn't had much of a push behind them for a long time.

NACA, the wind tunnel experts just wanted to count numbers and explore the science. Concerned that his SAC orientated military industrial complex were now controlling too much of the scientific end of Americas GDP, employment numbers and congressional reach, Eisenhower gave NACA the gig.

The job came with a massive increase in budget and a name change to NASA. First thing they did was take the wings off the spacecraft and call it a capsule, then they took the man out of the spy satellite and implored Ike not to use pilots at all. They wanted specimens not spacemans. The systems data nerd had come to the front of national defence. He held no romantic notions of flight.

Note: one of the first U-2 overflights in 1956 was out looking for bomber fleets in Kazakhstan. It flew over an industrial complex at a place called Baikonur, took a couple of snaps. No one paid it much attention at the time, they were looking for swept winged jet bombers and there were none there.

What there was, was a solitary vertical tube being towed towards a scaffold. It was an early R-7 rocket of the type used to launch Sputnik and nuclear bombs. They only spotted it years after the satellite flew, while scrambling to work out how the Russian’s had jumped ahead.

[Continues at LINK ]
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I recall reading a fictional account of the excercise where the records were either locked away or erased.

I'm blowed if I can remember the book.
IIRC Bomb Comp ran every year (apart from 62, for obvious reasons), and what we tended to do was to send out our first Vulcan which would of course get a low score. Then when it got back we used the data recorded from that to make sure the rest of our attacks were perfect.

I also remember reading somewhere that the original plan should we cross 8-East, was for the RAF to conduct the first strikes creating a safe corridor for the USAF to fly through, as most of the SAM's would be experiencing some significant inconvenience.


I recall reading a fictional account of the excercise where the records were either locked away or erased.

I'm blowed if I can remember the book.

Could it be ‘The penetrators’
Interesting stuff, although the chap’s line:

The Vulcans would hang around, searching the empty Atlantic for periscopes with a WW2 radar until their last hurrah over the Falklands.​

Is a bit of a misunderstanding of the work 27 Squadron did in the MRR role; they also took on the nuclear sampling task. The rest of the Vulcan force was for WE177 delivery (the conventional role being binned in 1975 and hastily recreated in 1982 over the space of 3 weeks).


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shame....knowledgeable guy.


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This may be of interest:-

Thanks. very much so.

( How many WE177 did each Vulcan carry ?.....7 Ac x XYZ = a lot of Instant Sunshine )


Thanks. very much so.

( How many WE177 did each Vulcan carry ?.....7 Ac x XYZ = a lot of Instant Sunshine )
There were 3 versions of the WE 177, A, B and C. The A was a variable yield device and a lot of them were deployed with the navy as it could be used as a depth charge as well as in the strike role. the B was the main, fixed yield Vulcan version and the C, lower fixed yield, was deployed in Europe for use on Jaguar and other strike aircraft. The Vulcan only carried 1 and the best guess total production of the B type was 53 rounds.

Exercise Sky Shield I & II involved 8 Vulcans acting in groups of 4. I can't remember the full details but one of the exercises involved 3 Vulcans fanning out offshore and setting up a jamming pattern whilst switching from one to the other allowing the fourth Vulcan to sneak in undetected. If anyone wants the full story, there are pages of it over on Pprune in an archived thread called "Did you fly the Vulcan"
................. the work 27 Squadron did in the MRR role; they also took on the nuclear sampling task............

Something that caused a delay in the disposal of one of their last Vulcans. The leading edges were a bit too "warm" for the radiation safety officer to sign off the aircraft as safe for the scrappies to cut her up. The aircraft was parked on a dispersal for several months until it had "cooled" down. Caused a little bit of local concern as we had posed for a Sqn photograph under that very aircraft just a couple of weeks before "the problem" came to light.


the C, lower fixed yield, was deployed in Europe for use on Jaguar and other strike aircraft.
Whichever model it was that the Jag carried it was variable yield. That was the case on 31 Sqn mid 70s.

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