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Why did the RAF order/receive over 300 nuclear bombers?


FalkeEins
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... wanted to pick the brains of people more knowledgeable than myself re the question above. Given that it only took two B-29s to bring the Japanese to their knees, why, just a few years later, did the RAF decide it needed over 300 nuclear bombers in its arsenal? I'm aware that the Valiant was due in service one year ahead of the Victor and Vulcans and was more or less a 'stop-gap'.  Also aware that we probably weren't perhaps fully cognisant of the 'risks' of going nuclear - MAD etc. Anything to do with the fact that over 700 B-52s were ordered, for example.   Obviously the Cold War was getting underway - but 300 ?  Not trolling, non-political. Thanks. 

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An expectation of losses I'd expect, both on the ground and in the air. These orders were before ICBMs of course and there was a lot of Soviet Union to cover. Unlike Japan where two bombers enjoyed a greatly diminished Japanese air defense capability, it was expected that the B-36s, B-47s, B-52s and Valiants, Victors and Vulcans would be tracked by radar all the way deep in to Russia and attacked by large numbers of jet interceptors. The starting number then would depend a lot on how many you thought would make it through to reach and attack the targets.

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What @Jamie @ Sovereign Hobbies said. I seem to recall that some targets were covered by two or three aircraft in the expectation that some would not get through and noting that in the face of defences that bombing accuracy could not be taken for granted even with the effect of nuclear weapons. 
 

Plus having 300 airframes does not necessarily equate to 300 operational aircraft in the event of an unexpected crisis. Also over the life in service there would be losses due to accidents. 
 

I also read that the V Force would arrive on door step of the Warsaw Pact before SAC and were supposed to create inroads for SAC to follow. I’m not sure about that but certainly given geography the V Force might have been first to test Soviet defences

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I recall seeing documents in the National Archives where much emphasis was placed on the prevalence of the "Type 37", despite it being known fairly early on, that relatively few of the aircraft (the M-4 Bison) had been produced (30+, plus a further 70+ of the 3M version). I found it strange that more emphasis was not placed on the Tu-16 (Type 39) or Tu-95 (Type 40).

 

I've since wondered if the relative obscurity of the Type 37 allowed for the inflation of defence budgets in the UK, USA and elsewhere?

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As JohnT pointed out, the fleet size does not equate to the same number being operationally available. Each squadron would have a certain number of aircraft depending on its establishment. That establishment is the number that planners have calculated would be required for a squadron to fulfill its wartime role, so the immediately available aircraft would be the number of squadrons multiplied by the number of aircraft for that type of squadron. 

 

Apart from the aircraft in operational squadrons some would be at trials and research establishments, some would be at training units, some rotating through servicing and updates and some held in storage. 

 

 

 

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These numbers roughly still hold today, it is about assured mutual destruction... just imagine that after a total war, one side would be of slightly less totally destroyed...

 

In Japan the thing was rather one sided, and still the US dropped all it had available!!

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1 hour ago, exdraken said:

In Japan the thing was rather one sided, and still the US dropped all it had available!!

You make a good point 👍 Had the Japanese continued to fight, the next available bomb was months away. The delay would have given ample time to reveal and document the wider and longer term effects of the bomb, and might possibly have swayed public opinion against future usage at a critical time in its development. One of the great what-ifs of the postwar period.

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It's the concept of "overkill", you need to have a number of weapons exceeding what is theoretically needed to guarantee that the enemy will be assured to receive the damage required to take into account all those weapons that will never reach the target.

This is particularly important in nuclear warfare as pretty much all nuclear weapons carriers are one-mission only tools for one reason or the other: some bombers will never even leave base because of technical problems, some will be lost over the route to target for enemy action or accidents, some may not find their target, some will drop but their weapons will not work... finally some will reach their target, drop and see a result. With very little chance for a bomber to return to base and be rearmed, it is important that the first wave will do as much damage as possible, hence the need for many more bombers than targets.

And of course, as others have said, there were never 300 bombers operational at any given time in the RAF...

There were also rarely enough bombs for all the bombers: Blue Danube total production was 58 while Red Beard was around 150. The later WE.177 was built in over 300 units, with around 40-50 used as depth charges. If we consider the total number of aircraft with nuclear capability built for the RAF in the same timeframe it's clear that there were way more "bombers" than bombs, that makes sense since the number of operational aircraft depends on a number of operational issues. There's also the fact that not all "bombers" were assigned to the nuclear role: a number of V-bombers served in other roles like tanking and recce and this is even more true for the tactical strike aircraft, where only some units equipped with say the Jaguar or Tornado had this as a role while others served in different missions.

 

 

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The Valiant was not a true V-bomber but an interim type, ordered because it could be rushed into service ahead of the others.  After that, remember that all 200 of the others would be brought into service over a long number of years, and there would be a need to allow for peacetime attrition, dedicated training units, side-roles such as strategic reconnaissance, aircraft in long-term or short term overhauls, and line unserviceability.  The number that could, even ideally, be launched was well below the buy number.  Thin k more about how many squadrons at eight bombers per squadron?

 

In practice, the role of the RAF was not to go deep but to clear the way for the USAF.s fleet arriving later on the scene.

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On 20/09/2022 at 08:04, Alan P said:

You make a good point 👍 Had the Japanese continued to fight, the next available bomb was months away. The delay would have given ample time to reveal and document the wider and longer term effects of the bomb, and might possibly have swayed public opinion against future usage at a critical time in its development. One of the great what-ifs of the postwar period.

 

The next bomb was not months away. It was days away. With plenty more to follow.

 

On 30 July 1945 the A-bomb situation was:-

Little Boy on Tinian for assembly.

Components for Fat Man leaving San Francisco that day

 

Aug - 1 further bomb to be ready for an attack around 19th Aug. The components were ready for shipping (in aircraft of the 509th Composite Group) immediately prior to the Japanese surrender.

 

Thereafter monthly production was scheduled as follows:-

Sept - 3 or 4 (1 x U-235 Little Boy type)

Oct - 3 or 4 (depending on how many produced in Sept)

Nov - 5+

Dec - 7

 

With the monthly production rate increasing further in 1946.

http://www.dannen.com/decision/bomb-rate.html

 

It was hoped that by the start of Operation Olympic (planned for 1 Nov) there might be 8 available for use, depending on how many were dropped before then. Consideration was being given to the tactical use of some or all of these, once news of their existence began to become more widely known after the Trinity explosion on 16th July.

 

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Another point not mentioned so far is the split between B.1/1A versions of the Vulcan and Victor and their much improved B.2 versions. They were designed to ensure the continued viability of the V Force into the 1960s against improved Soviet defences. The latter models began to supersede the former from 1960. The B.2 models were Intended to carry the Blue Steel stand-off weapon, and were modified to do so from 1962.

 

Around 1955 the V Force was envisaged as being around 240 aircraft and not less than 200, in the context of both NATO and western deterrence. Numbers were extensively debated in the second half of the 1950s. By 1957 it was 144 with 104 being B.2 versions of the Victor & Vulcan.

 

After that we begin to get into the era of the Skybolt debate.

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I think the concept of appearing "weaker" than your enemy is a major factor here. The Cold War was a huge exercise in political "chest-beating". If your enemy has 1,000 nukes and you have 700, politically you are seen as being in a very weak position. I have never seen the logic in being able to kill most of the planet's population twenty times over - let's face it, the whole situation is utterly divorced from logic.

 

Atomic weapons might have prevented major conflicts between the Russian and American governments, but both sides were happy to fight numerous much smaller, "proxy wars" around the world. 

 

Einstein was quoted as saying: "I don't know how World War Three will be fought, but the Fourth World War will be carried out using clubs and rocks". He was a very perceptive fella. 

 

Cheers. 

 

Chris.  

 

 

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..and frighteningly very much in the news today. The French seemed to be happy enough with only forty or so Mirage IVs - I guess the type was considered to have had better 'survivability' ....

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15 hours ago, FalkeEins said:

..and frighteningly very much in the news today. The French seemed to be happy enough with only forty or so Mirage IVs - I guess the type was considered to have had better 'survivability' ....

 

The Mirage IV fleet was expected to have 36 operational aircraft at any time (12 of which on immediate alert), meaning that the 60 built kept being rotated from storage to operational units to maintenance and so on.... that is yet one other example of how the number of aicraft built differs from that of those available for duty.

This is indeed quite a small number but in the end made sense in the overall French strategy: the idea was to be able to hit a relatively small number of targets, around 10 major Soviet cities. Again the number of aircraft was higher than the number of targets to be able to have at least one bomb dropped on each target. Clearly the Mirage IV force was not capable of destroying the whole Soviet Union but the thought was that the capability of destroying those 10 cities would have been enough to deter a potential aggression.

We should also keep in mind that the Mirage IV was a later aircraft compared to the British bombers and by the time this became operational work was also ongoing on the development of indigenous ballistic missiles, work that led to the land-based S2 and the M1 SLBM.

The contemporary of the British V bombers in French service was the Vautour, of which around 40 served as nuclear bombers. Not really an aircraft particularly suited to the task and something comparable more to a Canberra in performance than to strategic bombers.

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21 hours ago, spruecutter96 said:

I think the concept of appearing "weaker" than your enemy is a major factor here. The Cold War was a huge exercise in political "chest-beating". If your enemy has 1,000 nukes and you have 700, politically you are seen as being in a very weak position. I have never seen the logic in being able to kill most of the planet's population twenty times over - let's face it, the whole situation is utterly divorced from logic.

 

Atomic weapons might have prevented major conflicts between the Russian and American governments, but both sides were happy to fight numerous much smaller, "proxy wars" around the world. 

 

Einstein was quoted as saying: "I don't know how World War Three will be fought, but the Fourth World War will be carried out using clubs and rocks". He was a very perceptive fella. 

 

Cheers. 

 

Chris.  

 

 

 

There is a clear logic in this, although it may be seen as a pretty perverse logic... The reason for the existence of the large nuclear arsenals was (and still is) deterrence. The availability of enough weapons to destroy the enemy "just" once was seen as something that could have tempted the enemy to devise plans to preemptively destroy or disable a part of such force, so negating or weakening the deterrent effect.

Having enough weapons to pulverize the enemy not one but 20 times meant that no enemy could have ever dreamt of trying to disable the nuclear force as even a small fraction of this could have still completely destroyed the same enemy.

 

We should also keep in mind that military commanders of the era were very concerned with the actual reliability of their arsenals, missiles in particular. An aircraft can be flight tested at any time, a missile can't. Tests were done randomly each year but it was well understood that a fraction of the nuclear force would have not reached their intended targets. Same problem with the warheads, the fact that some of these would have been duds had to be kept in mind (and again tests were conducted to verify the actual reliability). At some point in the '70s there were concerns in the US that only 20-30% of the strategic missile force would have actually destroyed their targets, that meant requiring to be able to destroy the enemy at least 5 times to guarantee the destruction of the same enemy once.

 

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On 9/19/2022 at 8:44 PM, FalkeEins said:

Given that it only took two B-29s to bring the Japanese to their knees

I'd also say: discard this particular idea of oversimplification and look at the logistics involved in bringing just those two bombs over enemy territory. 

Both the A-bomb and the B-29 were the biggest, most expensive projects during the entire war. 

 

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On a lighter note:

Maybe planners in London already knew back in the early 50s that way ahead in time, around 1984 ( turned out to be 1982 and 1991 😜  ) they  would still need to rely on those planes ....

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When you take out the prototypes the 300 is almost 1 bomb per aircraft

 

Vulcan 136 built including prototypes

Victor    86 built including prototypes

Valiant 107 built including prototypes

V-Force 329 including prototypes

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5 hours ago, Cyberduck said:

When you take out the prototypes the 300 is almost 1 bomb per aircraft

 

Vulcan 136 built including prototypes

Victor    86 built including prototypes

Valiant 107 built including prototypes

V-Force 329 including prototypes

Wow!

But did they all actually operate at once ?

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I'm not at all sure that the RAF ordered / acquired 300 B.29s.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that the actual number was less than 100 i.e. 80-something.  I might be wrong.

 

Just my £0.02 worth!

 

Jonny

 

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During the build up of tensions, V bombers would be dispersed to British, and possibly NATO bases all over the world:  GB, Cyprus, Malta and Singapore, Ascension Island to name a few.  There were also 26 dispersal bases within the UK.  That would soon spread the force and use up most of the assets.

 

Mike

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59 minutes ago, Jonny said:

I'm not at all sure that the RAF ordered / acquired 300 B.29s.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that the actual number was less than 100 i.e. 80-something.  I might be wrong.

 

Just my £0.02 worth!

 

Jonny

 

 

You're right the RAF received 87 B-29s

 

Steve

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 22/09/2022 at 11:04, alt-92 said:

I'd also say: discard this particular idea of oversimplification and look at the logistics involved in bringing just those two bombs over enemy territory. 

Both the A-bomb and the B-29 were the biggest, most expensive projects during the entire war. 

 

 

Was listening to a podcast (I think Dan Snow's History Hits?) on the Manhattan project. I hadn't appreciated the sheer scale of industry and manpower required just to build Fat Man and Little Boy, tens of thousands of individuals and absolutely huge industrial complexes working towards that one goal. Due to the shortage of manpower they apparently enrolled thousands of highschool students (mostly girls) who carried out the Uranium separation with giant magnets manually controlled. Obviously the process was refined significantly over time, but while the science was still taking massive strides forward it was extremely cost and labour intensive. 

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  • 5 weeks later...

Two items worth mentioning.  (As an aside, does anyone else remember nuclear bomb air raid drills where you would hide underneath your school classroom desk for protection.)  The U. S. played chicken with the Japanese.  The offer of surrender was based upon the mistaken belief by the Japanese the U. S. had a sizeable stash of nuclear bombs and enough to completely eliminate Japan from the face of the earth.  History reveals there was only two available and the Japanese gave up to prevent total devastation of their land.

 

The Cold War was a race between the super powers as who had the biggest stick.  There was always comparisons to the number of bombers vs. the number of nuclear weapons, etc.  With Britain having a large stash of nuclear weapons, the United States could flex its muscles that it could destroy a large amount of the Soviet Union with the stocks in Europe before the first wave of Soviet bombers came across the Bering straights and even reach the American mainland.

 

Russia, in World War II and also the United States, to a degree, showed how superior numbers could easily overwhelm more sophisticated weapons.  If there are 300 bombs coming from England, several hundred more from the U. S. stockpile scattered throughout Europe, hundreds more flying across the Bering Straight from Alaska and the U.S. mainland and finally the stockpiles held in the Pacific coming from that direction, how massive did a defensive system need to be for the Soviets.  The United States has an immense span of ocean on either side of the mainland that acts as a natural defensive deterrent in regards to the distance that needs to be travelled along with the length of response time favoring the U.S.

 

The amount of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom was just one part of the "Our Stick is Much Bigger Than Yours" propaganda designed to keep the Cold War cold as nobody wins in a nuclear war.  That is why I often wonder who came up with the term tactical use of nuclear weapons.    Okay soap box gone and hope this is treated as more of a historical perspective than the rant of some lunatic political idiot.  (I'm okay with being a lunatic historian.) 

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