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Vulcan's Hammer: V-Force Aircraft and Weapons Projects Since 1945 [Hardcover]

Chris Gibson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Hikoki Publications (30 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1902109171
  • ISBN-13: 978-1902109176
  • Product Dimensions: 30.3 x 21.4 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 196,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

During the latter stages of World War II strategic bombing methods had become very effective. In Europe the USAAF was carpet-bombing targets in daylight and the RAF was bombing at night. The planes used on these missions carried out their tasks with brutal efficiency. But, in August 1945 the existing strategic bombing philosophy was made totally obsolete when a single B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After WWII ended the United Kingdom was left with the prospect of being left behind as a world power. To keep their place the British aviation industry and military leaders began a program that resulted in the V-bombers, Valiant, Vulcan, and Victor, capable of carrying England's atomic weapons. Concurrent with their development were the weapons to be used by these new age bombers. These new weapons included not only free-fall bombs but also missiles and their associated propulsion and guidance systems such as Blue Steel, Blue Water, and Sky Bolt. Dozens of designs and stopgap measures were conceived, studied, and discarded as political and military circumstances changed. In the end it was the submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Polaris and Trident, that overtook the V-Force as a deterrent to war.
Chris Gibson takes the reader on a fact filled trip of design and development as England tries to stay at the forefront of nuclear deterrence in the last half of the 20thcentury. He covers the many innovative projects the British aircraft companies conceived and studied. This book is illustrated with more than 200 photographs, drawings, sketches and artwork that provide a level of information words alone cannot match. Each drawing, sketch or piece of artwork is accompanied by a description or explanation. The text is organized into nine chapters, a glossary, appendices, an index and a conclusion. The chapters are:
1. The Alternative V-Force
2. The Sons of Vulcan
3. Gravity Bombs
4. The Steam Engine
5. The Long Range Job
6. Pofflers - The V-Force and Skybolt
7. Insurance - Pandora, Stopgap, and yet more Blue Steels
8. Exotica - Space and Research Projects
9. Post Polaris
This is a most interesting book from an historical standpoint. Vulcan's Hammer certainly provides a comprehensive story of Britain's innovative projects after WWII. It is a great book for the modeler and aviation historian alike. This book is very well done and it is one that I can easily recommend
--Perry Downen, IPMS #44000

MUCH HAS BEEN written about Britain's three V-Bombers, but this new book explains how British policies changed and influenced weapons development, and how scientists and engineers met the Air Staff's requirements in the 20 years after the Second World War.

The author has dug deeply into many archives and produced a survey of what was and what might have been. There are many illustrations of projects, a good starter on page 9 being a graphic illustration of a Bristol RA.6 target marker taking off with rocket assistance; very realistic and one of a number of such paintings by Adrian Mann which enhance the book. The first chapter, "The Alternative V-Force", shows, for instance, the Minimum Conventional Bomber, a flying wing with two Conway bypass turbofans, proposed to the Air Staff but rejected.

Elsewhere, many other projects are described and illustrated, such as the weird Avro 727, a VTO Avro Vulcan, a Vickers VC10 with six AQLBMs or eight Skybolts, a de Havilland Trident with four Skybolts, and so on. The term "poffler" comes up several times, referring to airborne alert aircraft. It comes from the Scots term "poffle", for a small area of farmland. The significance of this is not clear to me!

An air-defence version of the Vulcan, carrying ten Sea Darts, was proposed while the Panavia Tornado ADV was awaited; this and many other intriguing designs make Vulcan's Hammer essential reading for those interested in airborne armaments and, probably, politics, which is never far from the aviation scene.

A worthy Book of the Month. --Aeroplane August 2011

This book's sub-title, V-Force Projects and Weapons Since 1945, is so succinct that it rather sells itself short, because the content actually covers a much broader canvas than the V-Force. A good deal of space is devoted to ideas that never came to fruition, including the BLUE MOON project, which explored pilotless options in the style of the US Matador and Snark, and a variety of very high performance manned aircraft, like Avro's 730, the English Electric P.lO, the Vickers SP4 and a number of advanced designs from Bristol. A chapter is devoted to British free-fall nuclear weapons and several schemes that would have involved glide-bombs or stand-off weapons, like BLUE BOAR and GREEN CHEESE, which might have had nuclear options.

All of this serves as a background to the story of BLUE STEEL, which, in effect, provides the book's central theme. The trials and tribulations of this weapon, both technical and political, are examined, warts and all, and there were certainly some substantial warts. Gibson is able to see the project in perspective, however and his final judgement is that, 'The fact that it could be launched in mid-air and navigate at high speed to a target is a triumph of British technology that has gone uncelebrated and it is shameful that it is only remembered for its delays and development problems. The engineers and scientists who worked on Blue Steel deserve better.'

That said, I did spot one or two anomalies relating to BLUE STEEL. Training rounds were not painted blue. There was a blue one, probably only one, for early publicity purposes, but during the four years that I flew with the system I never saw one that wasn't white. There is a statement on page 86 to the effect that a BLUE STEEL had to be defuelled after only a week on standby - a tricky business, involving the handling of very volatile high test peroxide (HTP). Clearance for a fuelled BLUE STEEL to stall(t'QRA was not actually granted until July 1964 but when it was, it was for thirty days and in August 1965 this was extended to forty. I was also surprised to find no reference to Operation FRESNO which involved the launch, from low-level, of four missiles during 1966-67, two from Victors and two from Vulcans, to impact in the Aberporth Range. The most demanding trajectory involved a 67° angle-off launch at a range of 43 miles, resulting in an impact 1,055 yds from the target (which is close enough for a megaton warhead), but the fact that these eight-ton brutes were fired over the UK at all must surely say something about the degree of confidence that had been established by then.

The later chapters of the book go on to discuss Skybolt and the various projects associated with it, including the idea of maintaining an airborne deterrent, to which someone assigned the really annoying term 'poffler'. Victor- and Vulcan-based pofflers were schemed but the best option would have been a VClO packing as many as eight Skybolts, which, with the occasional top up from a tanker, could have 'poffled' about comfortably for twelve or fourteen hom:s at a time. Thereafter, the projects become increasingly 'what if and, while a lot of entirely new ground was being broken in terms of re-entry vehicles and exotic fuels, it is surprising how many of these schemes were fundamentally based on the BLUE STEEL project. By strapping supplementary rockets to it, installing ramjets, stretching the airframe (in various directions), altering the wings, and so on, Avros extrapolated the design for all they were worth to scheme satellite launchers, anti-satellite systems, ship-and ground-based bombardment missiles and even an X-15-style manned research vehicle.

Later chapters revert to more conventional ideas, including the Vulcan's being armed with Shrike and LGBs during the Falklands campaign. The latter were never actually used, but I doubt that it was ever envisaged that this would have involved a 'laser designator being operated by one of the crew in the bomb-aimer's position' - targets would actually have been marked by soldiers on the ground. More exotic (non Falklands) projects envisaged the Vulcan as, for instance, a 'fighter' fitted with a suitable radar, perhaps an AWG-9, and armed with an arsenal of missiles, like Sea Dart or the AIM-54 Phoenix, mounted under the wings. Other options considered included suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) using multiple TV Martels under a Vulcan, and maritime strike with half-a-dozen Sea Eagles tucked into the bomb bays of redundant Nimrod AEW 3 airframes or even A400 transports which could potentially dispense as many as twenty-seven from rotary launchers in the freight bay.

All of this just skims the surface of a book that provides details of scores of fascinating ideas and design concepts, most of which came to nought, vividly illustrating Gibson's point that 'for every piece of hardware that enters service, a thousand paper studies were conducted.' And 'illustrating' is the operative word, as the book is packed with pictures of hardware and mock-ups, artists impressions of selected projects that never made it and well over a hundred scale general arrangement drawings (all rendered by the author) of weapons and missiles and at least another fifty of aeroplanes. Many of these aircraft are actual types, mostly Vulcan's, armed with a variety of potential weapons, the rest are of projected aeroplanes that never materialised. The whole 192-page A4 casebound package is very well presented. There is an index and the text, which contains a great deal of information that was new to this reviewer, is well written. The story that the book tells is, inevitably, more about what might have been than what actually was, but it is never less than interesting.
Recommended.
CGJ --Royal Air Force Historical Society - Journal 51


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Chris Gibson is already a name that can be relied upon for some seriously good research in the dark and dusty archives of Britain's aircraft industry, and this book only further improves his reputation. A truly wonderful and wide ranging book that struggles to stay within the coverage you'd expect from its sub-title, in here you will find all sorts of projects of dubious usefulness, sanity and practicality along with a few that actually made it to the production line.

The sub-title is, if truth be told, a little misleading, as we branch out from the V-force into tactical types like the TSR2 and Tornado - and even transports like the VC-10 - and neglect a good number of V-force weapons on the way (no coverage on conventional target marking from Valiants for instance). However, what is in here is eye opening and you certainly won't feel short changed. I can't think of another book that shows you what a Vulcan would be like as a heavily missile-laden air defence aircraft (toting either Sea Dart or Phoenix!), or the Future Large Aircraft (what was to become the A400M) playing host to a mass of Sea Eagle missiles fired out of the rear ramp!

In among the various bomb and missile projects that were endlessly tinkered with and never produced there is some excellent coverage of those that did make it into metal - chief among them being the much-maligned Blue Steel nuclear stand-off missile that armed the Vulcans and Victors of the RAF for several years until the nuclear deterrent role was taken over by the Royal Navy.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable 8 May 2011
Format:Hardcover
"Economics has never pIayed a great role in the written history of the V-Force or the story of postwar British aviation; however it is impossible to ignore the economic and political factors that affected this story. The policy-makers and the decisions made by them have been vilified by many in the field of aviation history, despite the reasoning behind many of the decisions having rarely been examined nor have the economic conditions influencing these decisions been discussed.

The economic problems that began in 2008 ushered in what the media referred to as `a new Age of Austerity' in the United Kingdom. The use of the adjective `new' informed the public that a similar situation had arisen before: in the decade following the Second World War. It was in this era that the V-Force had its origins.

Vulcan's Hammer examines Avro's Weapons Research Division efforts to meet changing threats, from within and without, over the decade of Blue Steel development and their attempts to interest unsympathetic ministries in improved equipment

Vulcan's Hammer is not about V-Force operations, squadron histories, development trials , or operations. Look elsewhere for details of individual aircraft and their histories. Vulcan's Hammer is about how British deterrent policies changed, how this influenced weapons development and how Britain's engineers and scientists strove to fill the Air Staff's requirements. Vulcan's Hammer examines how Britain's engineers and scientists met the economic, geographical, political and technological challenges they faced from 1945 until 1963. They attempted this by using some of the most interesting technologies that came out of the mid- Twentieth Century, details of which languish in archives around the country."

A fascinating book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about weapons systems for the RAF 5 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read all the other reviews before buying the book, and they give a decent account of the contents. However, I do think the title focuses on the V force when infact the book covers a wider scope and includes other nuclear armed aircraft, manned and unmanned, in as much detail. This is largely because some of the weapons discussed were used or considered for the likes of the Buccaneer and TSR2, etc, and as stand alone missiles.

I served in the RAF, on the ground, and found some of the book fascinating, whilst other parts were dull. The book is not over technical and so finds the right balance on what turns out to be a very broad topic.

If your reading this review you will probably enjoy most of the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book 23 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover
Vulcan's Hammer is about Britain's nuclear deterrent, the aircraft to carry it, the aircraft projects to replace them, and the weapons intended to arm them. What could have been an addendum to BSP4 is forged into an excellent and coherent book, with the author keeping a firm grip on the realities of politics and economics within which military and technological developments take place, unlike some other aviation writers. The weaving together of the whole weapons system, both aircraft and weapons, is very illuminating.

So, to specifics. The book is beautifully designed by Russell Strong - good work! The cover is strong and attractive, the layout is modern but readable, the reproduction of photos and drawings excellent and the paper high quality. I like the use of primary source quotes as subheadings.

Vulcan's Hammer is 192 pages long, well illustrated but with plenty of interesting text to keep you occupied as well. The pages are a bit smaller than the British Secret Projects series but the book is still reasonably sized and priced.

Many of the line drawings have been redrawn by Chris himself and are clear and accurate with scales, useful for modellers. Adrian Mann's computer generated artwork has improved significantly since BSP4, and instead of a minor weakness is now a positive advantage - some of his art is just beautiful.

I won't go into specifics of what projects are included - its not just a "stamp collection" of interesting projects, its a good read. Anyone interested in projects, missiles or Cold War aviation should proceed at once to a bookstore and purchase it.
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