. 10
( 14)


The ¬gures in tables 5.3 and 5.6 are not comparable, being calculated on different bases
(GDP/GNP) and for different periods (¬nancial/calendar years).
Julian Lewis, Changing Direction: British Military Planning for Post-war Strategic Defence
(London: Sherwood Press, 1988), esp. pp. 244, 289, 305, 313“15. See, for example,
˜Report by Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee on Russia™s strategic interests and
intentions™, 1 Mar. 1946, DBPO, series I, vol. VI (1991), pp. 297“301.
Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb, p. 153.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 261

atomic bombs available would be so limited that only important targets,
like cities, would justify a nuclear attack.81
In February 1946 the Defence Committee agreed with Attlee that
defence policy should be worked out on the assumption that Britain
would not have to ¬ght a major war during the next two or three years;
that in a future major war the United States would probably be on
Britain™s side; and that no hostile ¬‚eet capable of being a menace to
Britain™s security would exist during the next few years.82 On 2 March, in
response to a Chiefs of Staff paper expressing views on the importance of
excluding the Soviet Union from the trusteeship of any Italian colony and
of keeping the Mediterranean route open, Attlee circulated radical pro-
posals for reducing Britain™s commitments. He argued that the British
Empire had been built up in the era of sea power, which had now become
vulnerable to air power in land-locked seas like the Mediterranean, even
if one did not take account of the changes resulting from atomic weapons.
Britain would be unable to keep open the Mediterranean route in war
and, once India was independent, there would be less reason to think in
terms of imperial communications to the East. It might be better to think
instead of the British Isles as an easterly extension of a strategic area
centred on the American continent. From this perspective, Britain could
withdraw her troops from Greece, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East
without weakening herself.83 Bevin, however, argued that Britain™s pre-
sence in the Mediterranean area had more than a purely military purpose.
If British forces withdrew, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey would
fall under Soviet in¬‚uence, like Eastern Europe, and Britain would also
lose its position in the Middle East, where Iraqi oil was now ˜one of our
greatest assets™. On the other hand, in view of political dif¬culties in
Egypt and Palestine, he favoured relocating the main British base from
Egypt to Mombasa in Kenya, where it could also provide an alternative to
India for the defence of the Indian Ocean. The Chiefs of Staff responded
in April that East Africa might provide a useful reserve base, but was too
remote to serve as the Mediterranean ¬‚eet™s headquarters and lacked the
infrastructure required by the army and air force.84
The Chiefs of Staff™s case for a continuing presence in the Middle
East was based on more than imperial communications and oil. They

DCOS (AWC) (46) 1, 30 Jan. 1946, CAB 82/26, TNA.
Cabinet Defence Committee minutes, 15 Feb. 1946, CAB 131/1, TNA.
˜Future of the Italian colonies™, memorandum by the Prime Minister and Minister of
Defence, DO (46) 27, 2 Mar. 1946, CAB 131/1, TNA.
˜Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs™, DO (46) 40, 13 Mar.
1946, and ˜Location of Middle East forces™, report by the Chiefs of Staff, DO (46) 28,
CAB 131/2, TNA.
262 Arms, economics and British strategy

also argued for the retention of air bases from which industrial areas in
the Urals and Western Siberia could be threatened to deter Soviet
aggression in Western Europe. Attlee was not immediately persuaded,
but in January 1947 the Chiefs of Staff, led by Montgomery, threatened
to resign as a body on what they considered to be a crucial issue.
Already, in the summer of 1946, the services™ Joint Technical Warfare
Committee was examining the use of atomic and bacteriological
weapons against the Soviet Union, and the question of aircraft range
had drawn attention to the importance of bases not only in the Middle
East but also, if possible, North-West India. In the event, political
obstacles to air bases in India and Pakistan after these dominions
became independent on 15 August 1947 were too great, making bases in
the Middle East seem even more important.85
In any case it was not easy to liquidate commitments in the Medi-
terranean and Middle East. Even after Truman had announced in
March 1947 that the United States would take over responsibility for
helping Greece to resist Communism, British troops, to the strength of
one brigade, remained in the country until 1950, after the civil war was
over, and Britain also provided aid in the form of training and equip-
ment.86 The Palestine mandate became a liability as the communal
struggle between Arab and Jew intensi¬ed, and in September 1947 the
British Cabinet decided to transfer the problem to the United Nations
and to withdraw both troops and civil administration by mid-1948.
Continuing British in¬‚uence in Jordan was secured by a treaty guar-
anteeing British bases there in return for subsidies for the Jordanian
army, the Arab Legion, which remained under British command until
1956. The major British presence was in Egypt, where military and air
bases and training grounds in the Suez Canal Zone covered a vast area.
It did not prove possible to reach an agreement with the Egyptian
government on how to replace the Anglo-Egyptian Defence Treaty of
1936 on terms that would allow the British to remain and yet be
acceptable to Egyptian public opinion. There were serious riots in 1952
and, confronted with the dif¬culty of maintaining a base in hostile ter-
ritory, the British settled for an agreement in October 1954 whereby all
British forces would withdraw within twenty months but the Suez base
would be maintained by civilian workers to the standard required for it
to be used in war, with Britain having the right to re-entry in war-time

Richard Aldrich and Michael Coleman, ˜Britain and the strategic air offensive against
the Soviet Union: the question of South Asian air bases, 1945“1949™, History, 74
(1989), 400“26.
Kenneth Morgan, Labour in Power 1945“51 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 252,
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 263

for the next seven years. British hopes that the United States or Com-
monwealth countries would co-operate in the defence of the Middle
East had largely evaporated by 1954. As the Americans became aware of
Britain™s dif¬culties with Egypt they preferred to pursue an independent
policy. The Australians and New Zealanders were more concerned with
the Communist threat in South-East Asia, and South African promises
of an armoured division and aircraft to reinforce Commonwealth forces
in Egypt did not materialise.87
The importance of atomic bombs in British grand strategy was made
apparent in a major review of future defence policy by the Chiefs of Staff in
May 1947. It was assumed that, even with the help of allies, it would not be
possible to stop the Red Army from overrunning North-West Europe,
from where the United Kingdom could be subjected to attack by missiles,
as in 1944“5, but on a scale that might cause irreparable damage even
without the use of atomic weapons. However, by the expected critical
period in East“West relations, about 1956, it would be possible to achieve
rapid and decisive results by using weapons of mass destruction against key
economic targets and civil populations. The power of atomic and biolo-
gical weapons was so great that ˜within the next ten years™ there was little
possibility of defensive forces reaching the standard necessary to prevent
the delivery of enough weapons of mass destruction to knock out the
United Kingdom. The only way in which to impede an enemy build-up in
Western Europe would be by air attacks, and it was doubtful if conven-
tional weapons could achieve decisive results. While the United Kingdom™s
greater vulnerability to atomic bombs and biological warfare, compared
with the Soviet Union, might be seen as an argument for an international
convention to abolish weapons of mass destruction, the Chiefs of Staff
argued that there could be no guarantee that the Soviet Union would not
be tempted to use them. In their view, the only way to prevent their use
would be to let the Soviet Union know that it would suffer from large-scale
damage too. While the United Kingdom was the best base for mounting an
air offensive, because of the infrastructure of air bases and other resources,
the Middle East would also be important, particularly for attacks on Soviet
oil production in the Caucasus. Notwithstanding the emphasis on weapons
of mass destruction, the paper also stated that by 1956 the threat to sea
communications would also be greater than in the Second World War.88

W. Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945“1951 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1984), pp. 9“10, 720“3, 731“4; David R. Devereux, The Formulation of British
Defence Policy towards the Middle East, 1948“56 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 41,
68“99, 121“41.
˜The overall strategic plan™, May 1947, DO (47) 44, reproduced in John Baylis,
Diplomacy of Pragmatism, pp. 134“49.
264 Arms, economics and British strategy

As the Cold War became more threatening, plans had to be made for
a nearer future than 1956. The Chiefs of Staff were divided in February
1948 as to the best contribution Britain could make to the emerging
Western European Union (WEU). The CAS, Tedder, and the First Sea
Lord, Admiral Sir John Cunningham, believed that support for France
and the Benelux countries should be limited to air and naval forces. The
CIGS, Montgomery, argued that some contribution of land forces
would be necessary for political reasons, and proposed two divisions out
of a projected WEU total of forty-eight, but Attlee sided with Tedder
and Cunningham.89 In December 1948 the Chiefs of Staff advised
ministers that, if war broke out before July 1950, the only offensive
action that the Western Allies could take against the Soviet Union would
be from the air. The USAF had 400 strategic bombers, but would not
have enough aircraft to spare for a major direct contribution to the
defence of Western Europe, the United Kingdom or the Middle East.
Given the short range of Bomber Command™s 160 aircraft, the British
contribution would be restricted to trying to prevent the Soviet build-up
in Western Europe and to assist in slowing the Soviet advance into the
Middle East. It was assumed that the Soviet Union would have no
atomic bombs, but that weaknesses in the United Kingdom™s air
defences would make the situation critical unless the American strategic
air offensive reduced the weight of the Soviet attack. The Chiefs of Staff
could not assess the likely effect of the air offensive because the Amer-
icans had not divulged how many atomic bombs would be available.
The Soviets were also expected to disrupt essential sea communications
by using submarines, mines and aircraft. The American-British-Cana-
dian plan aimed to defend the United Kingdom and essential sea
communications, but it was anticipated that Allied forces would be too
small to hold Western Europe or the Middle Eastern oil¬elds, and that
all that could be attempted would be to ¬ght the enemy as far to the east
in Europe, and as far to the north and east of Egypt, as possible.90
By October 1949 the Air Staff was more ambitious, arguing that the
Allies™ only hope was to bring about a collapse of the Russian war-
making machine by means of a strategic air offensive, and that Britain™s
contribution would ensure success. As Simon Ball has noted, the Air
Staff ™s reasoning was connected to awareness of the vulnerability of
Bomber Command in the defence programme.91 About the same time

Michael Carver, Tightrope Walking: British Defence Policy since 1945 (London:
Hutchinson, 1992), pp. 11“12.
˜Digest of plan ˜˜Speedway™™™, COS (48) 210, 16 Dec. 1948, DEFE 5/9, TNA.
S. J. Ball, The Bomber in British Strategy: Doctrine, Strategy and Britain™s World Role,
1945“1960 (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995), p. 26.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 265

the formation of NATO gave the War Of¬ce the chance to return to
political as well as strategic arguments in favour of a greater continental
commitment, to encourage the French, and in March 1950 the Defence
Committee agreed to promise reinforcements of two divisions in the
event of war, to add to the two based in Germany.92 There was a need to
review defence policy and global strategy as a whole in the light of
developments since the Chiefs of Staff™s paper in 1947, and a fresh
appreciation was completed in June 1950, just before the outbreak of the
Korean War.
In 1950 the Chiefs of Staff still believed that it would be possible to
develop more effective defences against air attack and warned that it
would be dangerous for the Western powers to place all their hopes on
˜an easy shortcut to victory via atomic weapons™. Research and devel-
opment, they recommended, should be timed to ensure that NATO
would be ready at the right moment to stand up to Soviet threats.
Britain™s own ¬rst defence priorities should be (a) the defence of the
United Kingdom as a secure home base; (b) adequate strategic striking
power; (c) a bare minimum of land, air and sea forces for Cold War
purposes; and (d) minimum forces to hold the Egyptian base. The
defence of the United Kingdom depended on an ef¬cient air defence
system, which must be given the highest priority, but also on the defence
of sea communications with North America and Europe, and also on
preventing Soviet forces from occupying the coast of Western Europe, as
it would only be with the greatest dif¬culty that Britain could survive
attacks from there. Priority (a), therefore, included naval and land as
well as air forces. Priority (b), strategic striking power, was now to be
concentrated in the United Kingdom and bombers would be sent to the
Middle East only once Bomber Command had more resources. The
Middle East was not written off, however, and the development of Egypt
as an offensive base was described as a basic requirement of war-time
The continuing importance of conventional weapons in NATO
planning was indicated by the decision at a meeting in Lisbon in
February 1952 to adopt the target for the alliance of having ¬fty divi-
sions ready by the end of the year, with a longer-term goal of ninety-six
by the end of 1960. As already noted, however, the Treasury persuaded
the Cabinet on 29 May 1952 to review Britain™s defence programme
from the point of view of reducing the burden on the economy and the

Defence Committee minutes, 23 Mar. 1950, CAB 131/8, TNA.
˜Defence policy and global strategy™, DO (50) 45, 7 June 1950, CAB 131/9, TNA,
reproduced in DBPO, series 2, vol. IV (1991), pp. 411“31.
266 Arms, economics and British strategy

balance of payments (see p. 254). The outcome was the 1952 Global
Strategy paper of 17 June. As the Chiefs of Staff explained, the con-
ception of a war and deterrence had changed radically since 1950. It was
now accepted that there would be no effective defence against atomic air
attack in the foreseeable future. The primary deterrent to war must be
the knowledge in the Kremlin that any Soviet aggression would lead to
devastating retaliation by long-range bombers armed with atomic
weapons. The Chiefs of Staff advised that public opinion should be
˜educated to see beyond emotion™ that ˜the great atomic deterrent™ to
war was of ˜vital importance to humanity™. They were, however, con-
cerned that the Soviet Union might begin a war with a declaration that it
would use atomic bombs only in retaliation, in the hope that public
opinion in Europe would restrain the United States. In 1952 the Soviet
Union lacked effective intercontinental bombers, and had no inter-
continental rockets, which doubtless accounts for the Chiefs of Staff™s
con¬dence that the Americans, with whom ˜the ultimate decision™
would lie, would nevertheless use atomic bombs. Although the atomic
deterrent would, for economic reasons, always be largely an American
responsibility, the Chiefs of Staff believed that Britain should contribute
her own atomic bomber force, because only then could she be sure that
targets necessary for the defence of the United Kingdom “ for example,
enemy air and submarine bases “ were attacked. Moreover, inability to
contribute to the only allied offensive in a world war would weaken
British in¬‚uence with the United States on American planning and
policy in the Cold War.94
Logically such an analysis might have been expected to lead to the
highest priority being given to strategic bombers armed with atomic
bombs, but in June 1952 the ¬rst British atomic bomb had yet to be
tested, and the medium bombers designed to carry atomic bombs would
not begin to enter service for three to four years. The report did
recommend that the current RAF expansion scheme target of a ¬rst-line
strength of 882 bombers, of which 730 would be Canberra light bom-
bers and 152 medium bombers, should be revised to something like
420, mainly medium bombers. However, conventional weapons were
not downgraded. The report contained a curious section entitled ˜The
nature of a future war™, which set out a theory of what came to be called
˜broken-backed warfare™. It was suggested that after an opening phase of
great intensity, lasting only a few weeks, in which both the Soviet Union
and the United Kingdom would suffer terrible damage from atomic

˜Defence policy and global strategy™, D (52) 26, 17 June 1952, CAB 131/12, TNA.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 267

bombs, there might be a long, intermittent war that would gradually
spread round the world.95 Slessor, the CAS, later said that the idea of a
broken-backed phase of a war had been included because otherwise
there would be no case for keeping a large navy; neither he nor the
CIGS, Slim, believed in broken-backed warfare, but they accepted the
need to justify a compromise whereby all three services would be treated
equally in the cuts that the report was intended to identify.96 It seems to
have been in this spirit that the CAS agreed to the listing of the security
of the United Kingdom and its sea communications ahead of the atomic
air offensive in the report™s conclusions. Nevertheless, Richard Moore
has shown that for the navy, at least, the concept of broken-backed
warfare was more than a contrivance to give an appearance of inter-
service agreement. Plans were made for alternatives to the principal
ports that would be subject to nuclear attack, a list of emergency minor
ports being drawn up and minesweepers and escorts distributed round
the coast to deal with the intense mining and submarine campaign with
which the Soviet navy was expected to attempt to cut British sea com-
Slessor believed that the basic strategy of air power must be offensive.
Ball has shown how the CAS developed a counter-bombing strategy
against military targets, like enemy bomber and submarine bases, in
place of earlier plans directed against cities and economic targets, to
protect Bomber Command from pressures in favour of diverting
resources to other purposes, such as Fighter Command or Coastal
Command, or the army or the navy.98 Yet, inconsistently with the
doctrine that there would be no effective defence against atomic air
attack, the Global Strategy paper placed a high priority on Fighter
Command, although not at the expense of Bomber Command. Fighter
Command was due to undergo a major programme of re-equipment
with swept-wing aircraft as soon as these were available, and the Global
Strategy paper recommended a deferral of the expansion of the ¬ghter
force instead of equipping it with obsolescent types. No immediate
reduction in Fighter Command was offered, although the prospect of
air-to-air guided missiles increasing the ef¬cacy of interceptors was held
out as an ˜ultimate™ means of making savings at the expense of numbers
of ¬ghters (air-to-air guided missiles were not expected to become

Ibid., para. 32.
For Slessor™s account, see Anthony Seldon, Churchill™s Indian Summer: The Conservative
Government 1951“55 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), p. 335.
Richard Moore, The Royal Navy and Nuclear Weapons (London: Frank Cass, 2001),
pp. 66, 69.
Ball, Bomber in British Strategy, pp. 50“60.
268 Arms, economics and British strategy

operational until 1956). An immediate economy was suggested of
abandoning modernisation of medium anti-aircraft guns, since these
weapons would ˜in due course™ (later than 1956) be replaced by surface-
to-air guided missiles.99
Although only four months had passed since the Lisbon goals had
been adopted by NATO, the Chiefs of Staff were not optimistic about
continental allies making the political and economic sacri¬ces necessary
to reach the overall target of 96 divisions and 9,000 aircraft. The United
Kingdom had agreed as a planning goal to assign to the Supreme Allied
Commander Europe (SACEUR) by 1955 nine divisions and 1,550
aircraft, quite apart from Fighter Command (currently 650 aircraft),
which would remain under national control. With war seeming less
imminent than in 1950“1, the Chiefs of Staff recommended that the
scale of the defence forces being created should be related to what could
be maintained in the long term, bearing in mind the rapid turnover of
equipment that would be necessary owing to the modern tendency for
armaments to become obsolescent quickly. Research and development
must keep ahead of the Russians. The recent development by the
Americans of smaller atomic bombs for tactical air warfare would
strengthen the defensive against the superior numbers of the Soviet
army, and NATO should not attempt to maintain large ground forces in
addition to a new atomic strategy. Accordingly, NATO should initiate a
reassessment of the forces to be built up for war. In particular, the
British target of 1,550 aircraft for SACEUR should be reduced to a total
of 600 tactical aircraft, thereby accommodating the proposed expansion
of the medium bomber force within a smaller budget. The army,
however, was protected from being required to make a corresponding
reduction in the number of its Regular divisions. The report pointed out
that the Regular Army bore the brunt of the Cold War, both by com-
mitments to NATO and through world-wide action to check Commu-
nist aggression and subversion. Its size should, therefore, remain at the
equivalent of eleven divisions, and economies should largely be at the
expense of the Territorial Army, which was designed to provide rein-
forcements in war-time.
In the summer of 1952 a revised version of the Global Strategy paper
was taken by Slessor to the United States, where General Bradley, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticised what he saw as its likely
deleterious effects on attempts to build up NATO™s conventional
forces. Nevertheless, from January 1953 the new Eisenhower admin-
istration, faced with pressures from rising defence expenditure on the

D (52) 26, paras 96, 101, 103“4, CAB 131/12, TNA.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 269

Federal budget, responded on similar lines to the Global Strategy
paper by developing a doctrine of ˜massive retaliation™, suggesting
some causal connection. The common factor seems to have been
the similarity of budgetary situations, however, and the American
˜New Look™ strategy of 1953/4 went further than the British Global
Strategy paper of 1952 by rejecting the concept of broken-backed
Since the Global Strategy paper failed to produce suf¬cient econo-
mies to satisfy the Treasury, ministers looked for an alternative way of
balancing armed and economic strength. The Radical Review of 1953
was unusual in that the Chiefs of Staff were excluded from ministerial
discussions. Confronted with the cost of preparing for both the Global
Strategy™s short, atomic war, and its long, broken-backed war, ministers
decided that the country could not afford both. At a meeting on 22 June,
attended by Churchill, Cherwell, Butler, Alexander, the three service
ministers and Sandys, it was agreed to accept the suggestion of the last-
named, then minister of supply, that the Chiefs of Staff should be told to
plan on the basis of a short war only. The only forces to be maintained
were those that contributed in peace to Britain™s position as a world
power and which would be relevant to the ¬rst six weeks of war, during
which time USAF strategic bombers would break the Soviet Union™s
will to ¬ght.101 The effect of this ˜June Directive™, as it came to be called,
was to remove the facade of agreement between the Chiefs of Staff in the
Global Strategy paper. The First Sea Lord, Sir Rhoderick McGrigor,
continued to insist on the necessity of preparing for a war of more than
six weeks; the new CIGS, Sir John Harding, pointed to the role of the
army in Cold War con¬‚icts as well as a major war; and Slessor™s suc-
cessor as CAS, Sir William Dickson, had to defend the proposed size of
the medium bomber force. There was a limit to the extent to which
ministers could override the professional judgement of the Chiefs of
Staff, and the concept of a period of ˜broken-backed™ warfare survived
into the 1954 Defence White Paper.102 Indeed, the Admiralty received
powerful backing in the Defence Committee in October 1953 from
Churchill, who was unwilling to see old ships, perhaps especially the
˜King George V™-class battleships, in reserve scrapped, as they would be

John Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence: British Nuclear Strategy 1945“1964 (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 153“60; Ian Clark and N. J. Wheeler, The British Origins
of Nuclear Strategy, 1945“1955 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 174, 178“82.
Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, p. 165.
Statement on Defence 1954 (Cmd 9075), PP 1953“54, xxii. 471“96, para. 13.
270 Arms, economics and British strategy

useful in what he called ˜the broken-backed warfare that is likely to
succeed the ¬rst atomic phase of a future war™.103
Sandys questioned the value of aircraft carriers in 1953, on the grounds
that their functions could be carried out more economically by land-based
aircraft. However, as at the time of the Inskip review in 1937, budgetary
pressures created an alliance between the navy and air force against the
army. In December 1953 Dickson accepted the Admiralty™s argument
that two ¬‚eet carriers were a small price to pay for having a say in
American naval strategy. In return, McGrigor told the First Lord of the
Admiralty that Britain needed an effective air force, but that the army
could be greatly reduced, as soon as ˜other arrangements could be made
on the continent of Europe™.104 The ˜other arrangements™ presumably
included the prospect that the tactical atomic weapons mentioned in the
1952 Global Strategy paper would, when they became available three or
four years hence, make possible reductions in conventional land forces.
On the other hand, the Air Staff, holding out for 240 medium bombers,
was vulnerable to the charge that it did not know how many it needed,
given the refusal of the Americans to divulge which targets were already
covered by the US Strategic Air Command.105
By the end of the ¬nancial year 1953/4 Britain still lacked a coherent
global strategy that struck a balance between atomic and conventional
weapons. Another radical review would be required in 1954, and then in
the light of a quantum jump in the power of nuclear weapons owing to
the successful development by the Americans of the hydrogen bomb.
Nevertheless, the prospect of Britain having its own atomic bomb, and
the need to reduce demands on the metal-using industries and the
budget, had created a ¬‚ux in which new ideas about deterrence could be
developed, with consequences for vested interests in the armed forces
that could only be delayed by bureaucratic politics.

Notwithstanding her economic dif¬culties, Britain continued to main-
tain a considerable scienti¬c-military-industrial complex after the war.
The Attlee government committed Britain to a major nuclear research
and development programme, which limited the supply of scienti¬c and
technical labour available for other projects, including guided missiles.

Cabinet Defence Committee minutes, 10 Oct., CAB 131/13, cited in Grove, Vanguard
to Trident, p. 95.
First Sea Lord to J. Thomas, 23 Dec. 1953, ADM 205/93, cited in Baylis, Ambiguity
and Deterrence, p. 168. See also Grove, Vanguard to Trident, pp. 93, 98“107.
Ball, Bomber in British Strategy, pp. 91“2; Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, pp. 171“2.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 271

The British aircraft industry appeared to be backward compared with its
American and Soviet counterparts, but this was mainly because the
expectation that the maximum danger of war lay in the future, about
1957, led to a gap in British development and production of a number
of important weapons systems. The timing of up-to-date strategic
bombers was linked to the development of the British atomic bomb,
which, although ¬rst tested in October 1952, would not be ready for
operational use until about 1956. Meanwhile Britain was wholly
dependent on the United States for nuclear deterrence.
The major economic problems were the overhang of debt from the
war, which weakened sterling, and labour shortages, which made it
dif¬cult to compete in export markets. Conscription contributed to the
labour shortage. Rearmament was in direct competition with exports for
the products of the metal-using industries, and thereby adversely
affected the balance of payments on current account. Britain was able to
spend as much as she did on defence only as a result of American loans
or grants to relieve the shortage of dollars. The Chiefs of Staff recog-
nised that a weakening of Western economies through excessive defence
expenditure would be to the advantage of the Communists, but this
recognition did not reconcile them to the ¬nancial ceilings that the
Treasury attempted to impose.
The formulation of global strategy was marred by inter-service rival-
ries, but there were real dif¬culties with uncertainty in international
relations. Technological development was rapid and unpredictable. The
1952 Global Strategy paper was the ¬rst to be based on acceptance that
enough atomic bombers would get through to make nuclear deterrence
effective, but still made provision for greater conventional forces than
the Treasury believed were compatible with a sound economy. In
some respects the situation was similar to 1937, when the Treasury™s
doctrine of the fourth arm of defence helped to shape the Inskip
Report. The Radical Review of 1953 pointed the way to greater
economies than the Chiefs of Staff could agree on, and before a global
strategy based on the atomic bomb could be settled, the nature of
nuclear warfare was transformed by the development of American and
Soviet hydrogen bombs.
6 The hydrogen bomb, the economy
and decolonisation, 1954“1969

The period covered by this chapter begins with the Churchill government™s
decision in the summer of 1954 to produce a British hydrogen bomb,
and ends with dependence on the American Polaris system to deliver
it. The Americans exploded their ¬rst thermonuclear device on
1 November 1952, less than a month after the ¬rst British atomic bomb
test, and between 1 March and 13 May 1954 they carried out a series of
tests showing that they had mastered the techniques of making hydrogen
bombs. A hydrogen bomb falling on a city could kill a million people,
compared with the 50,000 fatalities to be expected from an atomic
bomb. The Russians detonated a thermonuclear device in August 1953
and their ¬rst true hydrogen bomb in November 1955.1 The major
consideration put forward by Churchill in Cabinet for developing a
British hydrogen bomb was the effect it would have on Britain™s in¬‚u-
ence in world affairs, and therefore on her ability to prevent precipitate
action by the United States.2 The belief that Britain should have such
in¬‚uence was shared by the Leader of the Opposition. When the gov-
ernment™s decision was belatedly announced in the annual Defence
White Paper in 1955, in terms that left no doubt that Britain would use
the deterrent rather than submit to Communism, Attlee remarked that,
in his experience, possession of nuclear weapons did have an effect on
the rulers of other countries.3
The advent of the hydrogen bomb led to even more radical changes in
defence policy than those set out in the 1952 Global Strategy paper, but
enhanced nuclear deterrence was not the only factor. John Baylis
has remarked on the extent to which British strategy was driven by

For a full account of these developments, see Lorna Arnold, Britain and the H-Bomb
(Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).
Cabinet conclusions, 8 July 1954, CAB 128/27, TNA.
Statement on Defence (Cmd 9391), PP 1954“55, x. 475“504; 537 HC Deb., 5s, 1954“55,
c. 2175.

The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 273

economic considerations from the time that Anthony Eden became
prime minister in April 1955.4 In June 1956, in a submission to a
Cabinet committee reviewing future policy, the Treasury argued that
successive governments had tried to do too much since the war, with
the result that the balance of payments had been weak and sterling
crises frequent. What had been achieved had been possible as a result
of American loans and grants, but these were ending and would have to
be repaid. The Treasury looked for major savings in public expenditure,
including defence, in order to strengthen the balance of payments.5
The Treasury™s arguments were powerfully reinforced by experience in
the Suez crisis later in 1956, when the Americans were able to force
the Eden government to stop the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt by
the simple expedient of withholding support for sterling (see pp. 303“4).
The Defence White Paper in April 1957 embodied both nuclear and
economic arguments. On the one hand, scienti¬c advances had funda-
mentally altered the basis of military planning; on the other, Britain™s
military power and in¬‚uence in the world depended ˜¬rst and foremost™
on the health of its economy. Consequently, conscription was to be
phased out and the proportion of national income devoted to defence
reduced in order to release labour and resources for the export trades.6
The 1957 White Paper made no attempt to reduce British overseas
commitments, although the Commonwealth had been evolving with
decolonisation. The implications for defence policy of independence for
the African and remaining Asian colonies, which was to occur between
1957 and 1964, had been the subject of Cabinet discussions in 1954. A
two-tier Commonwealth, with the upper tier restricted to countries
capable of making a signi¬cant contribution to their own defence, was
considered and rejected on the grounds that the other countries would
secede rather than accept second-class membership. In practice it was
already the case that India, Pakistan and Ceylon did not receive as much
information from the United Kingdom on defence matters as Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Central African Federa-
tion, and it was anticipated that the existing practice of con¬ning dis-
cussions to countries willing to accept military commitments for mutual
defence would apply to new Commonwealth members.7 It was realised
that the Commonwealth would not unite behind Britain in the Cold
War in the same way as the Empire and Commonwealth had done in

Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, p. 230.
˜The future of the United Kingdom in world affairs™, PR (56) 3, 1 June 1956, and PR
(56) 30, 20 July 1956, CAB 134/1315, TNA.
Defence: Outline of Future Policy (Cmnd 124), PP 1956“57, xxiii. 489.
Cabinet conclusions, 7 Dec. and 22 Dec. 1954, CAB 128/27, TNA.
274 Arms, economics and British strategy

two world wars, and that the way ahead lay through British membership
of regional security pacts: NATO (of which Canada was also a mem-
ber); the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), formed in
1954 with a membership including Australia, New Zealand and Paki-
stan, as well as France, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States;
and the Baghdad Pact, formed in 1955, linking Turkey, Iraq, Iran and
Pakistan, which became the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO)
after Iraq withdrew in 1959. The United States was not a member of
CENTO but took part as an observer and contributed to the interna-
tional staff and budget.
Decolonisation was designed to secure friendly relations with succes-
sor governments. In 1954 Britain had 45,000 troops in Malaya to combat
the rising by Communist guerrillas that had begun in 1948. By the time
Malaya became independent in 1957 the emergency was virtually over
and Britain accepted responsibility for the country™s external defence.
In 1961 the possibility that the self-governing colony of Singapore
might elect a left-wing government hostile to the maintenance of
the British base there led to a scheme to bring Singapore into a
pro-British Malaysian Federation, incorporating Malaya, Singapore and
the British colonies of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei. Britain
extended to the new federation the defence agreement originally made
with Malaya, and when President Sukarno of Indonesia tried to assert
territorial claims in Borneo in December 1962 British and Common-
wealth troops were deployed in small-scale jungle ¬ghting in what was
called the ˜confrontation™ until peace was made in August 1966.
Although British prestige was damaged by the Suez crisis in 1956, there
was no precipitate retreat from the Middle East. Britain had treaties or
other obligations for the protection of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the
Trucial States, and Muscat and Oman, as well as the Aden Protectorate.
A rebellion against the Sultan of Muscat and Oman was suppressed with
British assistance in 1957. An Iraqi threat to Kuwaiti independence in
1961 led to the despatch of British troops and warships to secure
Kuwait™s continued membership of the sterling area and a supply of oil
on favourable terms. The initially close relationship with former African
colonies was brought out by the willingness of the Conservative gov-
ernment in 1964 to respond to the requests of the governments of Kenya
and Uganda to send small forces to deal with civil unrest and military
mutinies, an action approved by the incoming Labour Secretary of State
for Defence, Denis Healey.8 As we shall see, it was only with reluctance
that the Labour government of Harold Wilson decided during the

Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (London: Penguin, 1990), p. 279.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 275

sterling crisis of 1967 to withdraw from commitments around the Indian
The main issues discussed in this chapter are: was Britain™s scienti¬c-
military-industrial complex able to keep up with international stan-
dards? What parts did the hydrogen bomb and the need to maintain a
strong economy play in British strategy? Were changes in strategy signs
of weakness and responses to relative economic decline, as Paul Ken-
nedy believed?9 Or was David Greenwood correct to argue that British
defence policy was not characterised by decline and contraction, but by
reshaping to spend much the same amount of money in real terms in
different ways?10 If so, did that reshaping re¬‚ect the increasing costs of
weapons systems?

The Ministry of Defence, as it had been created in 1946, was not an
effective mechanism for making choices that would change the balance
between the three armed services. While Harold Macmillan was min-
ister of defence from October 1954 to April 1955, he found he had no
power, but was held to be responsible for everything that went wrong.
Churchill continued to intervene a lot, chairing the Cabinet™s Defence
Committee. Macmillan had also to deal with the Foreign Of¬ce and
with the ministers in charge of the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, the War
Of¬ce and the Ministry of Supply; and he could give no instructions on
his own. His experience at Defence, followed by a period at the
Treasury, made him acutely conscious of the need for greater direction
by ministers if there were to be radical changes in policy. When he
became prime minister in January 1957 he decided that Anthony Head,
who had been minister of defence in the Eden government, was too
much of a ˜service™ man to make the cuts that the country™s economic
situation demanded.11 Instead Macmillan chose Sandys, who had
already shown independence of thought in defence matters while min-
ister of supply in Churchill™s government. Sandys was authorised to
decide all matters of policy affecting the size, shape and organisation of
the armed forces, and their equipment. His Defence White Paper in
1957 foreshadowed far-reaching changes, but to produce it he had to
rely on a group of personal advisers and have a series of confrontations

Kennedy, Rise and Fall, pp. 477, 546“9.
David Greenwood, ˜Defence and national priorities since 1945™, in John Baylis (ed.),
British Defence Policy in a Changing World (London: Croom Helm, 1977), pp. 174“207.
The Macmillan Diaries: The Cabinet years, 1950“1957, ed. Peter Catterall (London:
Macmillan, 2003), pp. 363, 369“70, 614.
276 Arms, economics and British strategy

with the Chiefs of Staff. Both Sandys and Macmillan believed that the
changes in policy had been brought about in spite of the existing of¬cial
arrangements. Sandys™ efforts to combine the administration of the
three defence services into a single integrated department ran into
opposition from his senior advisers, apart from Earl Mountbatten, the
¬rst sea lord, and the White Paper on the central organisation of defence
in 1958 was a disappointment to Macmillan. It stated that all proposals
by any of the armed services had ¬rst to be submitted to the minister of
defence; a Defence Board was set up at ministerial level to assist co-
ordination; and the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee became
chief of the defence staff (CDS), with a small staff of his own. On the
other hand, concessions were made to the autonomy of the three ser-
vices: in particular, the advice given by CDS was to be that of the Chiefs
of Staff Committee and, if it was divided, he had to report the different
views as well as give his own.12
Mountbatten™s appointment as CDS in July 1959 placed a centraliser
in a key position, and he was able to persuade the Chiefs of Staff to agree
to the new post of central director of plans, who would also chair the
Joint Planning Committee. However, Macmillan preferred to wait until
the time was ripe for major changes in the central organisation of
defence. Sandys was moved in October 1959 to the Ministry of Aviation
(the successor to the Ministry of Supply) and replaced by the more
emollient Harold Watkinson. It was not until 1962“3, and then with a
new minister of defence, Peter Thorneycroft, that Macmillan tried
again. Mountbatten, whose period as CDS had been extended by
Macmillan, put forward a proposal for the abolition of the separate
defence departments and the creation of a single Ministry of Defence.
Macmillan approved, but felt that he could not ride roughshod over the
opposition of the Chiefs of Staff. Generals Ismay and Jacob, whose
advice had shaped the Ministry of Defence in 1946, were asked to report
on how it could be reorganised to reduce wasteful duplication, and came
up with a compromise in February 1963 whereby the separate defence
departments would retain many of their old functions in an otherwise
uni¬ed ministry. The Chiefs of Staff retained the right of direct access to
the prime minister as well as to the minister of defence.13 The creation
in 1964 of a single ministry with one minister in charge of defence policy

Sir Ewen Broadbent, The Military and Government: From Macmillan to Heseltine
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, for Royal United Services Institute, 1988), pp. 19“21; Central
Organisation for Defence (Cmnd 476), PP 1957“58, xxi. 501.
Broadbent, Military and Government, pp. 21“7, 216“17; Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten:
The Of¬cial Biography (London: Collins, 1985), pp. 608“21; Central Organisation for
Defence (Cmnd 2097), PP 1962“63, xxvii. 715.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 277

did not bring inter-service rivalries to an end. Healey, who was secretary
of state for defence throughout the period of Labour government from
1964 to 1970, may well have preferred divided counsels, since he was
intellectually self-con¬dent, had studied strategic problems prior to
taking of¬ce, and had no reason to encourage united opposition within
the ministry to his ideas.14
Churchill, Eden and Macmillan were all prone to taking a hands-on
approach to defence, sending personal minutes to ensure that their views
were being acted on. Much of the policymaking was conducted infor-
mally, with the Cabinet™s Defence Committee and even more the Cabinet
itself being involved at a late stage, often only to give authority to deci-
sions that had already been taken and to ensure that information reached
everyone concerned through the circulation of minutes. The way in which
the decision to develop the hydrogen bomb was taken exempli¬es this
point. After hearing of the ¬rst American test on 1 March 1954 Churchill
summoned Plowden, chairman-designate of the Atomic Energy
Authority, which was about to take over responsibility for nuclear energy
from the Ministry of Supply, to advise on what would have to be done to
develop and manufacture these new weapons. After Churchill had taken
the decision to go ahead, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook,
called a meeting on 12 March to discuss the implications for foreign
policy, defence strategy, the size and shape of the armed forces, civil
defence policy and the atomic weapons programme. Those present were
Plowden; two scientists, Sir John Cockcroft, the director of the Atomic
Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, and Sir William Penney, the
director of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston;
and three of¬cials from the Ministry of Defence. Penney explained the
destructive power of the hydrogen bomb, and Brook briefed the Prime
Minister on the policy adjustments that would be required. These matters
were then discussed by senior ministers in the Defence Policy Committee,
which was advised by the Chiefs of Staff, who in turn sought advice from
Plowden, Cockcroft and Penney. Both scienti¬c and professional advice
followed on from Churchill™s original, political decision after his discus-
sion with Plowden in March.15 The decision to develop the bomb was
con¬rmed by the Prime Minister in consultation with senior ministers in
Healey, Time of My Life, pp. 193“4, 198“9, 224“48, 252; Broadbent, Military and
Government, p. 30. Broadbent was Healey™s private secretary. For the development of
the Ministry of Defence, see Peter Nailor, ˜The Ministry of Defence, 1959“70™, in P.
Smith (ed.), Government and the Armed Forces, pp. 9“248, and Adrian Smith,
˜Command and control in postwar Britain: defence decision-making in the United
Kingdom, 1945“1984™, Twentieth Century British History, 2 (1991), 291“327.
Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (London: Penguin Books,
2003), pp. 50“8; Arnold, Britain and the H-Bomb, pp. 51“7.
278 Arms, economics and British strategy

an ad hoc body, the Defence Policy Committee, on 16 June 1954. Unlike
Attlee, Churchill also consulted the full Cabinet at three meetings on 7,
8 and 27 July, but without disclosing the full cost, perhaps because it
was not known.
Normally the role of of¬cials was to ensure that decisions were taken
by ministers in an orderly way, but inevitably of¬cials™ briefs drew min-
isters™ attention to discrepancies in expert advice, and some of¬cials, of
whom Brook was one, and his successor as Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke
Trend, another, could be in¬‚uential advisers on their own account.
Brook had acquired considerable in¬‚uence over Churchill and became
accustomed to putting forward his own opinions in the briefs that he
prepared for prime ministers. On the other hand he was unable to dis-
suade Eden from what he (Brook) considered to be the folly of the Suez
operation. Trend was said by Lord Rothschild in 1970 to be one of the
two men who ran the country, the other being Sir William Armstrong,
the permanent secretary of the Treasury. Trend was a great believer in
the Anglo-American special relationship, and this is re¬‚ected in the
advice that he gave Harold Wilson, of whom he was a close con¬dant.16
The Treasury began to exercise more effective control of defence
expenditure as the annual debate over the estimates was supplemented
by long-term planning. In April 1958 the Ministry of Defence agreed
that future expenditure would be considered on the basis of three-year
programmes, with long-term costings to take account of likely increases
in pay and prices. From 1961/2 planning was on a ¬ve-year basis, and it
was possible for the government to set a target for defence expenditure
as a percentage of GNP far enough ahead for the necessary policy
changes to be implemented. Sir Richard Clarke, the Treasury of¬cial
who was responsible more than any other for the introduction of this
system of ˜forward looks™, thought that it depended upon a willing
partnership between the Admiralty, the War Of¬ce, the Air Ministry,
the Ministry of Aviation, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury (and
in some matters the Atomic Energy Authority). The key relationship
was between the two departments with the co-ordinating role: the
Ministry of Defence, responsible for deciding priorities and allocating
resources between the defence departments, and the Treasury,
responsible for ¬nance, including the phasing of expenditure over time
and ensuring that departments got the best value for money.17

Peter Hennessy, Whitehall (London: Secker and Warburg, 1989), pp. 147“8, 167, 212“
Sir Richard Clarke, ˜The control of defence expenditure: memorandum by the
Treasury™, n.d., but c. 1960, CLRK 1/3/1/1, Churchill College, Cambridge; G. R. M.
Hartcup, ˜History of the defence budget, 1946“1971™, T 267/23, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 279

As always, much depended upon individual personalities, not least
those of prime ministers. Churchill had suffered a massive stroke in
1953 but he reserved his remaining strength for defence and foreign
policy, and whatever one thinks of his decisions, he was at least decisive.
Eden was unable to delegate detailed matters to departmental ministers
and had a tendency to be indecisive, and even a sympathetic biographer
has referred to his ˜temperamental inaptitude for the supreme of¬ce™.18
Macmillan had a grasp of economic issues and had the patience to
pursue goals over a long period, as his efforts to reform the central
organisation for defence show. One of his leading opponents, Harold
Wilson, commented that few prime ministers had worked so hard or had
so wide-ranging a grip on every aspect of government.19 Sir Alec
Douglas-Home had little time as prime minister in 1963“4 in which to
have an impact. Wilson, according to Healey, interfered in the work of
colleagues and lacked any long-term goals, but gave Healey ˜a pretty free
hand™ in defence, except when a crisis threatened the government.20
Relations between the Chiefs of Staff also depended on personalities.
Mountbatten, both as ¬rst sea lord (1955“9) and CDS (1959“65), was
deeply distrusted by successive heads of the air force and army, who felt,
not without reason, that he pursued the interests of the navy at the
expense of their services, even when he was supposed to be above inter-
service rivalries. Mountbatten™s love of intrigue and his superior access
to politicians, on account of his social connections, intensi¬ed the CAS
and CIGS™s sense of grievance.21 This ¬ssure in the ranks of govern-
ment™s professional advisers gave politicians more scope for making
changes in policy that did not treat all three services equally.

Nuclear weapons
Policymaking was not made any easier by the rapidity of technical
change in nuclear warfare, on the one hand, and by the slowness of the
development of British delivery systems, on the other. The ¬rst exam-
ples of Blue Danube, the production model of the British atomic bomb,
were delivered to Bomber Command™s Armament School in November
1953 to enable RAF personnel to be trained in their storage, service and
use. It would have been possible to adapt the ageing Lincoln piston-
engined bombers to carry Blue Danube, but the decision was taken to

Victor Rothwell, Anthony Eden: A Political Biography 1931“57 (Manchester University
Press, 1992), p. 165.
Harold Wilson, A Prime Minister on Prime Ministers (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson:
Joseph, 1977), p. 326.
Healey, Time of My Life, p. 331. 21 Ziegler, Mountbatten, pp. 528, 586.
280 Arms, economics and British strategy

wait for the ¬rst of the jet medium bombers, which began to enter
service in 1955. It could be said that the RAF had atomic bombing
capacity from July of that year, but a series of tests with unarmed
bombs was conducted to check Blue Danube™s safety and accuracy as a
free-falling weapon before the ¬rst live test in October 1956.22 Blue
Danube was too big for the Canberra light bomber, but the Canberra
could deliver the 2,000-pound, kiloton Red Beard ˜tactical™ atomic
bomb which was issued to squadrons in 1958. A naval version of Red
Beard went into production in 1959, enabling carrier-borne aircraft to
attack targets such as submarine bases or Soviet cruisers.
The American decision in 1954 to deploy tactical atomic weapons in
Europe required an easing of the McMahon Act in order for their
characteristics to be passed to NATO allies. However, Britain was not
content to be treated as just one among a number of allies, and aspired
to a bilateral relationship with the United States. When in 1956
American defence planners wanted to deploy Thor intermediate-range
ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in Britain and other countries within range of
targets in the Soviet Union, Anglo-American negotiations were pro-
tracted because the British insisted that the missiles be subject to dual
controls and not committed to the SACEUR. The successful launching
of the ¬rst Soviet space satellite on 4 October 1957 demonstrated that
the United States would soon be vulnerable to Soviet intercontinental
missiles (ICBMs), leading Sandys to hope that the ˜powerful psycho-
logical shock™ would reduce American doubts about the wisdom of
nuclear co-operation with Britain.23 By 1957 the British also had
something to contribute in exchange for American nuclear know-how:
¬rst, an operational nuclear deterrent force, making joint planning on
targets a practical issue; and, second, knowledge derived from the ¬rst
British hydrogen bomb test series in May and June. On 25 October the
American and British governments agreed a ˜Declaration of a Common
Purpose™, in which they stated their intention to collaborate on nuclear
weapons. Discussions between the USAF and the RAF in November
resulted in a joint strategic plan that avoided duplication of targets. The
agreement on joint Anglo-American control of Thors in Britain followed
on 22 February 1958. The big prize for the British, however, came on 3
July 1958, with the ˜Agreement for Co-operation on the Uses of Atomic
Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes™, which provided for the exchange
of information on the design and production of nuclear warheads and

Wynn, RAF Strategic Deterrent, pp. 92“9.
Duncan Sandys to Sir Richard Powell, permanent secretary, Ministry of Defence, 8
Oct. 1957, Duncan Sandys papers (DSND) 6/6, Churchill College, Cambridge.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 281

the exchange of ¬ssile material. The agreement proved to be the
beginning of a lasting nuclear relationship, but Ian Clark has challenged
the commonly held assumption that American willingness to share
nuclear secrets was a result of the British hydrogen bomb tests. His
alternative explanation is that the American government saw no sense in
Britain wasting research and development resources on duplicating what
the Americans had already done.24 This explanation would ¬t in with
American concern that the 1957 Defence White Paper indicated an
intention to reduce Britain™s defence effort.
The requirements for megaton warheads identi¬ed in advance of the
British thermonuclear tests at Christmas Island in 1957“8 included a
free-falling bomb and a powered, guided bomb, both to be carried by
medium bombers, and a warhead for a medium-range ballistic missile.
Blue Danube bomb-casings were used and the outcome was a device
suitable for use as a free-falling bomb, but not for a powered bomb or a
ballistic missile. Blue Danube weighed 10,000 pounds; Violet Club, an
interim, experimental megaton bomb, which was issued in small num-
bers and under severe operational limitations in March 1958, weighed
9,000 pounds; and Yellow Sun Mark 2, the de¬nitive megaton bomb,
which entered service in 1961, weighed 7,000 pounds. A lighter warhead
was required for powered bombs and ballistic missiles, and one of the
early bene¬ts of Anglo-American collaboration was access to the design
of the American Mark 28 warhead, which was just going into production
in 1958. It was economical in its use of scarce ¬ssile material, and was
suitable for use in free-falling bombs, powered bombs and ballistic
missiles, and its variable yield (up to 1.1 megatons) meant that it could
also be used for tactical weapons. A British version of the Mark 28,
known as Red Snow, was ready for production in 1960, the expected date
when the ¬rst British powered bomb, Blue Steel, would enter service, but
Blue Steel did not become operational until December 1962.25
The nature of thermonuclear war was made all too clear in the highly
secret report of the Strath Committee in March 1955 on the home
defence implications of thermonuclear weapons. William Strath had been
seconded from the Treasury™s Central Economic Planning Staff to set up
the War Plans Secretariat, and his colleagues on the committee included
representatives of the Chiefs of Staff, the Ministry of Defence (the Chief
Scientist, Sir Frederick Brundrett, and the Deputy Secretary, Sir Richard
Powell), and the Home Of¬ce, including the Director-General of
Ian Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy and the Special Relationship: Britain™s Deterrent and America
1957“1962 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), esp. pp. 104“6.
Arnold, Britain and the H-bomb; Wynn, RAF Strategic Deterrent, pp. 222, 235, 247“51,
282 Arms, economics and British strategy

Civil Defence, Sir Sidney Kirkman. The Strath Committee was able to
draw upon advice from the Joint Intelligence Committee, which in turn
drew upon American sources, since Britain had yet to develop a
hydrogen bomb. Ministers were advised that, if no civil defence mea-
sures had been taken beforehand, ten 10-megaton bombs dropped on
the United Kingdom would cause up to 12 million deaths, including 3
million from radiation. There would be a further 4 million serious
casualties, which would be more than surviving hospitals could cope
with. A single bomb could destroy any city, except Greater London,
starting up to 100,000 ¬res within a circumference of between 60 and
100 miles. Half of the country™s industrial capacity would be destroyed;
the distributive system would break down; utilities would be severely
dislocated; and water and food would be contaminated. The Strath
Committee itself drew the conclusion that the government should try to
reduce the impact of a thermonuclear attack by organising evacuation of
the population from areas likely to be targeted and by constructing
shelters. However, the Home Of¬ce™s proposals to spend £1,250 million
on civil defence met with the response from the Chiefs of Staff that the
money would be better spent on the nuclear deterrent, and in December
1955 the Defence Committee agreed that ˜the ¬nancial and economic
situation precluded a programme for the construction of domestic
shelters at public expense™.26
In September 1958, during attempts to reduce the burden of defence
expenditure on the economy, the Prime Minister, Macmillan, noted in
the Defence Committee that the current annual level of expenditure of
£14 million on civil defence made little provision for providing food and
water, and that it was illogical to try to increase the number of people
who would survive the immediate effects of a nuclear attack if they were
to die subsequently from starvation, thirst and disease. On the other
hand, to add survival measures to existing preparations would increase
expenditure to £50 million a year. If the government were to admit that
it was impossible to make effective provision for survival, the logical
course of action would be to spend nothing, but he doubted whether it
was practicable, politically, to deny publicly all responsibility for the fate
of the population. Continuing the present level of expenditure, he
suggested, ˜would enable a facade of civil defence preparations to be
maintained™. His colleagues agreed that no increase in expenditure
could be contemplated, but that a reduction would be likely to ˜provoke
discussion of an issue to which public opinion appeared at present to be
remarkably indifferent™. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Hennessy, Secret State, pp. 133“45, 148.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 283

(CND) had been formed in January 1958, but its in¬‚uence was
apparently discounted in Whitehall. The Committee agreed to continue
the civil defence programme in order to ˜maintain morale™ rather than to
provide effective protection against nuclear attack.27 British govern-
ments made no attempt to follow the examples of Norway, Sweden and
Switzerland, which had shelter programmes designed to protect a high
proportion of their populations. Indeed, as part of the cuts in public
expenditure to protect sterling, expenditure on civil defence was
reduced after 1965 from £22 million a year to between £7 million and
£8 million, the latter level being enough only for care and maintenance
of the organisation that had been created by 1969.28

Air weapons
The argument that there was no effective defence against a thermo-
nuclear attack could also be directed against Fighter Command. It will
be recalled that the Global Strategy paper of 1952 had placed a high
priority on air defence, despite the new doctrine that enough atomic
bombers would get through to in¬‚ict devastation, and super-priority
had been given in 1952 to the production of jet ¬ghters (see pp. 256,
266“7). However, the American tests in 1954 led the Chiefs of Staff to
the conclusion that hydrogen bombs would be so devastating that even
an air defence system that shot down a high percentage of attacking
bombers could not protect the United Kingdom, and would be useless
against ballistic missiles.29 Macmillan came to believe that the air
defence of the United Kingdom, insofar as it was practicable at all,
would depend less and less upon manned ¬ghters, which the Air Min-
istry had ordered in large numbers, and more and more on guided
Problems with the development of ¬ghter aircraft further weakened
the case for big orders. The government had to publish a White Paper in
February 1955 explaining why the Swift had been a failure as an
interceptor.30 Even in 1956 the Hunter had problems with its guns, and
the Javelin night and all-weather ¬ghter had a tendency to inadvertent
spinning at operational speeds. By the time of the Javelin™s delayed entry
into service that year it was described by the Minister of Defence as being

Defence Committee minutes, 10 Sep. 1958, CAB 131/19, TNA.
David Miller, The Cold War: A Military History (London: John Murray, 1998), pp. 149“
54; Hennessy, Secret State, p. 149.
˜United Kingdom defence policy™, C (54) 249, 22 July 1954, CAB 129/69, TNA.
The Supply of Military Aircraft (Cmd 9388), PP 1954“55, x. 511“22, paras. 25, 30.
284 Arms, economics and British strategy

able to give ˜adequate service™ for only ˜two or three years™.31 The
Defence Committee had agreed in July 1955 that Britain was falling
behind the Americans and Russians in the development of military air-
craft, and that it would be necessary to concentrate on a smaller number
of projects than hitherto, perhaps even abandoning further development
of manned ¬ghter aircraft (although the minutes noted that such a
decision would be ˜drastic™).32 By November 1955, Eden had accepted
that there was a prima facie case for economising on expenditure on
¬ghters rather than on bombers, but he still envisaged a Fighter Com-
mand of about 400 aircraft (compared with the existing planned strength
of 576) rather than no Fighter Command at all.33
Macmillan, as chancellor of the exchequer, was prepared to go much
further in January 1956, advocating the abolition of Fighter Com-
mand.34 When preparing his budget, he warned Eden that de¬‚ationary
increases in taxation (˜already painfully high™) would be necessary if
government expenditure were not reduced. Macmillan continued: ˜it is
defence expenditure which has broken our backs . . . [and] we get no
defence from the defence expenditure. When the story of the aero-
planes ¬nally comes out, it will be the greatest tragedy, if not scandal,
in our history™.35 In May and June 1956 he used an enquiry, chaired
by Eden, into the aircraft programme to press for the abolition of
Fighter Command. Britain, Macmillan argued, could not afford to
maintain present levels of expenditure on air defence, the nuclear
deterrent, and forces to defend supplies of oil in the Middle East and
rubber in Malaya. If Fighter Command could not provide effective
defence against Soviet bombers (and later guided missiles) in a global
war, and had no part to play in other types of war, the government
could not justi¬ably continue to divert brains, skill and materials from
more pro¬table activities in order to develop new types of ¬ghter
The future of Fighter Command was placed on the agenda of a
defence policy review. There were two supersonic day-¬ghters under
˜Military aircraft programme™, DC (56) 9, 26 May 1956, para. 19 (words underlined by
Eden), PREM 11/1712. For Hunter™s problems with its guns, see Walter Monckton
(minister of defence) to Prime Minister, 12 July and 23 Aug. 1956, PREM 11/1712,
TNA. Eden commented on the ¬rst of these minutes: ˜a melancholy story. What will
happen to our name and fame when all this is known, as I fear it must be, among our
Defence Committee minutes, 11 July 1955, CAB 131/16, TNA.
Defence Committee minutes, 4 Nov. 1955, CAB 131/16, TNA.
Macmillan Diaries 1950“57, pp. 529, 531.
Macmillan to Eden, 23 Mar. 1956, PREM 11/1326, TNA.
Gen 514, 2nd meeting, 31 May 1956, and Chancellor™s notes on ˜Military aircraft
programme™, 4 June 1956, PREM 11/1712. TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 285

development in 1956: the English Electric P.1, the prototype of which
had ¬‚own two years earlier and which was due to enter service with the
RAF in 1959, and which eventually did so in 1961; and the Saunders-
Roe P.177, which had not yet ¬‚own, but which had a novel design
incorporating a rocket as well as a jet engine and which was intended to
ful¬l RAF and Admiralty requirements for a high-altitude interceptor in
1960. The development of the P.177 was subject to strict cash limits
because the Treasury would not approve an increase until ministers had
completed reviewing the aircraft programme. The RAF dropped the
P.177 as a result of the 1957 Defence White Paper but the First Sea
Lord, Mountbatten, argued that if the P.177 was cut from the navy™s
programme the ¬‚eet would be in the ˜ridiculous position™ of being
unable to defend itself against the up-to-date aircraft that the Soviet
Union could be expected to supply to countries with which Britain
might be engaged in a limited war. Nevertheless, Sandys decided in
October 1957 that a new naval ¬ghter could not be afforded and, once it
became apparent that West German interest in the P.177 would not
lead to an order, the project was cancelled.37
There were also two projects for night and all-weather ¬ghters: a new
variant of the Javelin which, being subsonic, was considered to be of
limited value and likely to be subject to delay, and was consequently
dropped; and a design for Operational Requirement (OR) 329, which
was still on the drawing board. A gap was anticipated between the
existing Javelin becoming obsolescent and OR 329 becoming opera-
tional, and consideration was given to ordering a Canadian supersonic
aircraft, the CF-105. Nigel Birch, the secretary of state for air, thought
in March 1956 that such a step would ˜have a most salutary effect on the
British aircraft industry™, besides reducing the research and development
budget.38 It was assumed that the CF-105 would have to be ˜anglicised™
by being given British rather than American engines and avionics, and
the Ministry of Supply considered that the British aircraft industry could
not cope with both the CF-105 and OR 329. In the event neither project
survived the defence policy review. Surface-to-air (SAM) guided mis-
siles were under development and the RAF™s Bloodhound was due to

Minister of Defence to Minister of Supply, 17 Oct. 1957, DSND 6/6, and Sandys to
Prime Minister, 14 Nov. 1957, DSND 6/7, Churchill College, Cambridge; unsigned
copy of letter from Mountbatten to Sir Frederick Brundrett, Mountbatten papers (MB)
1/I106, Hartley Library, Southampton University. The story of the project can be
followed in the Treasury™s ¬le on ˜Aircraft research controls: Saunders-Roe P.177™, T
225/646, TNA.
Birch to Walter Monckton (minister of defence), 20 Mar. 1956, DEFE 7/1128, TNA.
Information about aircraft projects drawn from same ¬le. For the Defence Committee
decision, see minutes of meeting on 2 Oct. 1956, CAB 131/17, TNA.
286 Arms, economics and British strategy

enter production in 1957, but the Air Ministry did not expect these new
weapons to ˜contribute signi¬cantly™ to the air defence of the United
Kingdom until 1965 and argued that manned ¬ghters would still be
required after that date.39 Nevertheless, Sandys™ Defence White Paper
announced in April 1957 that missiles would replace manned ¬ghters in
due course, and that all ¬ghter projects apart from the P.1 would cease.
A much reduced Fighter Command was given the restricted task of
protecting the bomber bases of the nuclear deterrent.40
The debate about the role of ¬ghters continued through 1957“8. The
Air Staff emphasised the limited operational effectiveness of the
Bloodhound SAM, and pointed out that even more advanced missiles
would lack the range to deal with stand-off aircraft launching ¬‚ying
bombs from off shore or jamming radar and other electronics in the air
defence system. Sandys sought advice from Brundrett, the chief scientist
at the Ministry of Defence, and was told there was no hope of ¬ghters
preventing devastation by a determined enemy armed with hydrogen
bombs. Brundrett believed that no Soviet attack on the United King-
dom would occur until the Russians were in a position to launch a
simultaneous attack on the United States, with 1962 being the best
estimate. By 1963, he thought, it should be possible to deploy guided
SAMs that would be more ef¬cient than any ¬ghters, and he recom-
mended that Fighter Command, which cost £80 million a year, not
including research and development, should be scrapped, with some of
the resources saved being used to develop an ef¬cient system based on
missiles. The CAS, Sir Dermot Boyle, argued for a ¬ghter force of 280
aircraft to guard against a surprise, pre-emptive attack on the deterrent,
as well as against stand-off aircraft, and to provide a strategic reserve for
overseas operations. Sandys referred the matter to the chairman of the
Chiefs of Staff Committee, who happened to be an airman, Marshal of
the Royal Air Force Sir William Dickson. Dickson discounted the
danger of surprise attack, but accepted the CAS™s other arguments and
advised that it would be possible, on military grounds, to defend a
reduction to 168 aircraft as soon as an effective missile system was in
place.41 Sandys had been keen to disband all ¬ghter squadrons in the
United Kingdom that were not required for operational training and

˜The CF-105 and P.177 in the air defence of the United Kingdom™, 5 Apr. 1956, DEFE
7/1128, TNA.
Cmnd 124, paras. 17, 62.
˜The air defence of the United Kingdom™, n.d., but position in ¬le indicates Sep. 1957;
Brundrett to Sandys, ˜Air defence “ to be or not to be™, 25 Sep. 1957; Dickson to
Sandys, ˜Retention of ¬ghters for defence of the deterrent™, 24 Nov. 1958, DEFE 7/
970, TNA.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 287

backing for overseas ¬ghter squadrons. However, Macmillan found the
Secretary of State for Air, George Ward, and the CAS ˜in a very excited,
resigning mood™ at the Defence Committee on 23 December 1957 and
it was agreed on the 31st that manned ¬ghters must for the present be
retained in the United Kingdom for defensive purposes.42
The P.1 was a successful interceptor but when Healey became min-
ister of defence in 1964 he found overseas forces still relying on the
obsolescent Hunter as a tactical ¬ghter-bomber. On Air Staff advice, he
ordered the American McDonnell Phantom, a land-based or shipboard
aircraft capable of both the interceptor and strike roles. Despite the
prognostications of the 1957 White Paper and Brundrett™s advice, no
major air power relied completely on SAMs, partly because missile
systems can be evaded by low-¬‚ying or stand-off aircraft, and partly
because the ¬ghter has additional air-superiority and tactical support
roles. Moreover, from the late 1950s manned ¬ghter aircraft were armed
with air-to-air guided missiles and provided a more ¬‚exible defence
system than SAMs, which were analogous with anti-aircraft guns in their
limited mobility. Although SAMs became an essential part of an air
defence system, air forces comparable in size to the RAF were largely
equipped with ¬ghters or ¬ghter-bombers, and the RAF™s balance of
bombers to ¬ghters was anomalous even in comparison with the
The notion that thermonuclear weapons would provide a cheap, long-
term deterrent was put forward by the Air Defence Sub-Committee in
July 1954: once both sides had suf¬cient nuclear weapons to annihilate
the other, there would be no need to build more.43 While this argument
was true of thermonuclear warheads, it was not true of the delivery
systems available in the 1950s. Aircraft were vulnerable to interception,
and land-based missiles to a pre-emptive strike, unless placed in
underground silos. Deterrence based on fear of mutual destruction
depended on the development of an invulnerable delivery system, and
the technical problems of maintaining the credibility of the deterrent
proved to be a continuing strain on research and development resources.
Development of medium bombers to carry nuclear bombs was delayed
by a shortage of scienti¬c personnel, and this problem was made worse
by the decision to produce two de¬nitive types: the Avro Vulcan and the
Handley Page Victor, which entered service in 1957 and 1958 respec-
tively, in addition to the interim Vickers Valiant in 1955 (all three being
Sandys to Secretary of State for Air, 26 Nov. 1957, DSND 6/7, and Sandys to
Prime Minister, 28 Apr. 1958, DSND 6/12, Churchill College, Cambridge; Harold
Macmillan diary, 23 Dec. 1957, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Baylis, Ambiguity and Deterrence, p. 189.
288 Arms, economics and British strategy

known collectively as V-bombers). The Select Committee on the
Estimates enquiring in 1956 into the supply of military aircraft was
persuaded by witnesses from the Air Ministry and the Ministry of
Defence, and the head of Handley Page, that the decision to develop the
Vulcan and Victor to the same operational requirement was justi¬ed by
the need to ensure that the best design was available for what was, after all,
the most important aspect of defence policy.44 However, this argument
overlooked the insurance provided by the Valiant, which overlapped in its
period of service with the Vulcan and the Victor, and which was broadly as
satisfactory as the Mark I versions of these aircraft until it developed metal
fatigue problems in 1964. The Select Committee also neglected the
problem of obsolescence. With hindsight, one can see that it might have
been better to employ scarce research and development resources on the
problem of extending the effectiveness of the deterrent in the 1960s rather
than in producing two medium bombers to the same speci¬cation.
In the mid-1950s it was reasonable to assume that a medium bomber,
equipped with radio countermeasures, and ¬‚ying just below the speed of
sound, could evade interception, especially given the vast air space that
the Soviet air force had to defend. However, thought was being given as
early as 1955 to how to extend the V-bombers™ operational effectiveness
against improvements that could be expected in Soviet air defences by
1960.45 It was proposed to replace free-falling bombs with a rocket-
powered, guided bomb with a range of a hundred miles. A development
contract for this weapon, Blue Steel, was placed in March 1956 but
there were delays, partly because the main contractor, A. V. Roe, had no
previous experience of designing and manufacturing missiles. Even after
Blue Steel was accepted into service in December 1962 there were
doubts about its effectiveness. By 1962 Soviet air defences had
improved so much that the Mark 2 V-bombers, which had entered
service in 1960“1, would ¬nd it dif¬cult to penetrate to within a hun-
dred miles of many of their targets. Moreover, the best way in which to
protect the deterrent from a pre-emptive attack by Soviet bombers or
long-range rockets was for the V-bombers to take off within minutes of a
warning that such an attack was coming, but Blue Steel, with its liquid-
fuelled rocket engine and elaborate guidance system, was much harder
to maintain in a state of readiness than a free-falling bomb.
The idea of supplementing the V-bombers with surface-to-surface
ballistic missiles with a range of 1,000 miles had led in 1955 to an

Select Committee on the Estimates, The Supply of Military Aircraft, PP 1956“57, v. 351,
paras. 46“52.
Much of what follows is based on Wynn, RAF Nuclear Deterrent.
The hydrogen bomb, the economy and decolonisation 289

operational requirement for what became the Blue Streak IRBM. Blue
Streak was similar to the American Thor missiles. However, whereas Thor
was stationed above ground, Blue Streak was to be deployed in under-
ground sites. Inevitably a missile system operating from ¬xed sites lacked
the ¬‚exibility of manned bombers, and the Air Ministry did not anticipate
dispensing with the latter. In July 1957 Blue Streak was regarded in the Air
Ministry as the most important military project in the country, but by mid-
1958, in the light of the Anglo-American Thor agreement, questions were
being asked in the inter-service Defence Board about whether it would be
cheaper to obtain Thor without political restrictions, and to use research
and development resources thereby released from the Blue Streak project
to collaborate with the Americans on a Polaris-type, solid-fuel rocket.
Like Thor, Blue Streak used a liquid propellant and took longer to prepare
for take-off (increasing its vulnerability to a pre-emptive strike) than a
solid-fuel rocket would do. In September 1958 the Minister of Supply was
asked by the Cabinet™s Defence Committee to arrange for work on Blue
Streak to be unobtrusively retarded.
In mid-1959 the Minister of Defence, Sandys, on the advice of his
permanent secretary, Powell, established an independent British
Nuclear Deterrent Study Group, with representatives of the three ser-
vices, the Foreign Of¬ce and the Treasury, under Powell™s chairman-
ship. The group compared Blue Streak with two American ballistic
missiles, the submarine-launched Polaris and the air-launched Skybolt.
Rising estimates for the costs of research and development and of
underground silos hardened the Treasury™s opposition to Blue Streak,
and the Chiefs of Staff were in favour of a mobile system. Once Presi-
dent Eisenhower had indicated to Macmillan in March 1960 that
Skybolt would be available on satisfactory terms, the Defence Com-
mittee took the decision to cancel Blue Streak as a weapons system. The
vulnerable Thors were taken out of service by the end of 1963.
The long-term viability of the V-bomber force depended upon Amer-
ican willingness to continue with the development of Skybolt because the
Hound Dog stand-off cruise-type missile, which was currently in USAF
service with Boeing B-52 heavy bombers, was too big for British medium
bombers, and the British cancelled development of a longer-range version
of the Blue Steel powered bomb. However, as early as October 1960 the
Chief Scienti¬c Adviser at the Ministry of Defence, now Sir Solly
Zuckerman, was expressing fears about the future of the Skybolt
programme. The Minister of Defence, Watkinson, asked Mountbatten,
as CDS, for advice on the relative merits of Polaris and a British powered-
bomb project, Pandora, which could be launched by a supersonic bomber
being developed for the RAF, the TSR-2. Mountbatten said he could not
290 Arms, economics and British strategy

see how the government could gamble again on a weapons system that
had yet to leave the drawing board and he strongly recommended that the
dollars that the Treasury had earmarked for Skybolt should be used to
purchase Polaris should Skybolt fail. Polaris, he pointed out, would
remain a viable deterrent for twenty or thirty years as there was no pro-
spect of a breakthrough in anti-submarine warfare to counter its second-
strike capability.46 When told by President John F. Kennedy at the
Nassau conference in December 1962 of the Pentagon decision to cancel
Skybolt, Macmillan insisted that Polaris be made available instead.
However, there remained the problem of how to stretch out the effec-
tiveness of the V-bombers, as British Polaris submarines could not be
operational before 1968 or 1969. The Air Staff decided that from 1965
V-bombers would have to ¬‚y low below enemy radar, using modi¬ed
Blue Steel missiles, although both bombers and missiles had been
designed originally to operate at high altitudes. In the event, successful
low-level ¬rings of Blue Steel were not achieved until 1967, only two
years before the V-bomber deterrent was replaced by Polaris.
The TSR-2 was planned to replace the Canberra light bomber from
1965. Although explicitly not intended to replace the V-bomber, the
TSR-2 was designed to be capable of long-range penetration of enemy
territory, as well as of a short-range strike/reconnaissance role, and, like
the Canberra, it would have nuclear capability. The TSR-2 was a very
advanced aircraft and so expensive as to be an obvious target for the
Treasury. Estimates of the research and development costs rose from
about £90 million in September 1960 to between £175 million and
£200 million in May 1963, and to between £240 million and £260
million twelve months later. When Healey became defence minister in
October 1964, he discovered that TSR-2, which had begun its ¬‚ight
trials only the previous month, required at least three years™ more
development before it could be operational. He persuaded the Air Staff
to forgo TSR-2 by promising to purchase the contemporary American
F-111 tactical strike aircraft in its place, but pressure to reduce defence
expenditure in the wake of sterling devaluation led to the cancellation
of the F-111 order in 1968.47 The RAF continued to operate the
obsolescent Canberra into the 1980s.

Harold Watkinson to CDS, 31 Oct. 1960; Mountbatten to Zuckerman, 1 Nov. 1960,


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