VICKERS VALIANT BOMBER

The first of Britain’s Cold War ‘V Bomber’ strategic nuclear deterrent strike force, the Vickers Valiant (pictured in the middle of a V Force flight) came into operation in 1955 followed shortly after by the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan.

The post war Soviet expansion in Europe, the reality of nuclear weapons and the rapid development of the jet fighter era all contributed to a heady mix of universal paranoia amongst governments and their military strategists on both sides of the iron curtain.

Such was the British governments concern of a Soviet nuclear first strike, they commissioned three separate companies to deliver basically the same aircraft - a high altitude nuclear-armed, long-range jet powered bomber, just in case one or another design proved to be a failure.

The high altitude V Force Bombers were the West’s response to the threat of Soviet nuclear aggression and together with the development of the high altitude Soviet bomber interceptor, the English Electric Lightning, the newly formed NATO alliance viewed their implementation as an important stop-gap whilst the US and British raced to develop their nuclear armed submarine fleets to protect their missiles from land-based targeting.

Unrest and conflict however, was not restricted to only Europe. 

In the East, traditional European colonial powers such as France, Britain and the Dutch were now experiencing civil unrest across their colonies as nationalism and the calls for independence started to take their toll.

India had already departed from British rule and in the middle East, french colonies such as Algiers and Tunisia were also beginning their push for self rule.. 

Egypt had gained independence from Britain in 1922 but British influence over the region remained strong well into the early 1950s and the British along with the French, still controlled the Suez Canal. - an issue that seriously rankled the Egyptians.

The African continent had seen the formation of the National Congress of West Africa which had petitioned the British government for greater independence as far back as 1920 to no avail but in the aftermath of WWII, the pressure for self rule was spreading like wild fire.

Only 90 miles from the US mainland, Fidel Castro's rebel forces were railing against the oppression and corruption of the US backed Batista Government of Cuba.

With so much unrest and disturbance across the globe, it presented the perfect opportunity for the world’s major powers to play out their struggles against each other by proxy rather than by direct confrontation. The Cold War was well and truly in effect.

Powered by four Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon turbojet engines, the Valiant B1 had a crew of five and could carry a single 10,000 lb nuclear bomb or 21 x 1,000 conventional bombs in its internal bomb bay.

138 Squadron took delivery of the Valiant in early 1955 with a training squadron also established to assist converting existing RAF crews to the new bomber.

Additional tanker variants were also introduced into service to support long range operations.

At the peak of its operational life, ten RAF squadrons were equipped with the nuclear bomber and it became the first RAF aircraft to deliver a British atom bomb when it performed a test drop in Australia on 11th October 1956 and the first to deliver a British hydrogen bomb on 15th May 1957. 

In October and November 1956 the Valiant was the first of the V-bombers to see combat, during the Anglo-French-Israeli Suez campaign. During Operation Musketeer, the British military operation in what became known as the Suez Crisis, Valiants operating from the airfield at Luqa on Malta dropped conventional bombs on targets inside Egypt. 

Egyptian military airfields were the principal target; other targets included communications such as radio stations and transport hubs. On the first night of the operation, six Valiants were dispatched to bomb Cairo West Air Base (which was aborted in flight due to potential risk to US personnel in the vicinity) while six more attacked Almaza Air Base and a further five bombed Kibrit Air Base and Huckstep Barracks.

Although Valiants did not encounter any Egyptian defences and there were no Valiant combat losses, the results of the raids were disappointing with the Valiants dropping a total of 842 tons of bombs but managing to only damage three of the seven airfields attacked.

The Egyptian Air Force had been effectively destroyed in a wider series of multinational attacks of which the Valiant bombing missions had been a part. It was the last time RAF V-bombers flew a live combat mission until Avro Vulcans bombed Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War in 1982.

The entire rational for the development of the V Force Bombers was the belief that flying at such high altitudes, they would be safe from enemy fire and thus able to deliver their nuclear payloads before escaping relatively undetected.

This belief was shaken to its core in 1960 with the shooting down of the US Lockheed U2 Spy plane by an early Soviet SA-2 Guideline missile. The subsequent capture and public display by the Soviets of the US pilot Gary Powers. was a major embarrassment for NATO forces.

More importantly, the U2 downing resulted in the British V forces Bombers high-altitude missions being reconfigured and crews retrained for low level attacks. All aircraft lost their 'Flash' prevention white colour schemes to be replaced by the RAF Grey/Green camo.

Unlike the Vulcan and Victor bombers which were able to adapt to their new low level roles, the airframe stresses of low-level manoeuvres imposed on the Valiant resulted in failures of the rear spars. 

Upon further inspection the entire Valiant fleet’s airframes were found to be suffering from various levels of fatigue and although a repair program was devised, it was eventually decided that the costs would far outweigh any benefits and the aircraft was grounded permanently.

All Vickers Valiant instruments listed below, come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.

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  • VICKERS VALIANT, NAVIGATION & BOMBING SYSTEM (NBS) TYPE 626 RADAR CONTROL JOYSTICK

    Cold War era, Vickers Valiant bomber, Type 626 Radar Joystick...

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