A history of the US nuclear presence in Britain from its origins in 1946 through to the run-down of strategic forces following the Cuba crisis and the coming of the missile age. The book deals with the initial negotiations over base rights, giving a detailed treatment of the informal and secret arrangements to establish an atomic strike capability on British soil. The subsequent build-up is described, with the development of an extensive base network and the introduction of new and more advanced types of bomber aircraft. Relations with the British during these developments are a central focus but tensions within the USAF are also dealt with. The book recounts the emergence of the UK as a nuclear power through prolonged negotiations with the US authorities. It deals in detail with the arrangements for RAF aircraft to carry US nuclear weapons, and the development of joint strike planning. A concluding chapter provides a critical assessment of the UK role in the Anglo-American nuclear alliance.
This chapter recounts American post-war planning in the light of possible conflict with the Soviet Union, and explains why forward bases in Britain were seen as essential to the atomic strike that was seen as the only defence against overwhelming Soviet superiority on the ground. The secret negotiations to prepare these bases are reviewed, as are the technical issues arising from the possible deployment of early atomic weapons.
This chapter shows how the initial arrangements to accommodate the bomb wings of Strategic Air Command provided a basis for unanticipated emergency deployments, beginning with those of the Berlin crisis of 1948. Berlin provided a proving ground for the USAF in Britain, revealing many of the shortcomings of the infrastructure needed to accommodate a major deployment. The outbreak of the conflict in Korea saw the first major deployment of atomic capable aircraft and the transport of inert atomic bombs to Britain. Fears of sabotage were running high, but the only attack on SAC aircraft was mounted by British guards.
This chapter explores the development of the USAF in England as it became more established. The ambiguities about the length of the presence, whether it would be temporary, indefinite or permanent are explored, together with the differing expectations of American and British officers and officials. The tortuous negotiations over the acquisition of additional bases and the financing of this expansion are discussed, along with the problems of accommodating the deployments to a satisfactory standard of safety and effectiveness.
Having achieved the basics of what was referred to as a ‘force-in-being’ on the British bases, this chapter explains how SAC units underwent an intensive process of training to establish their readiness for combat. The regular alerts and exercises raised concern among both politicians and the public, particularly with the carriage of thermonuclear weapons by aircraft deployed to Britain. A number of flying accidents occurred over a space of years, and two in particular, recounted here, raised issues about the release of radioactive contamination. Such concerns sustained the growth of an anti-nuclear movement. That movement gained strength as the UK appeared to become more vulnerable when American ballistic missiles, the Thor IRBM, were installed in Britain under joint USAF/RAF control.
This chapter explores the relations within the USAF command structure and between American commanders and the British. While the aircraft of Strategic Air Command deployed to the British airbases, those bases were under the control of the Third Air Division (3AD, later the Third Air Force) of USAF Europe, with headquarters at Wiesbaden. SAC pressed for more direct control, and the outcome was an awkward separation between 3AD and a new Seventh Air Division of SAC. Relations with the British remained with 3AD, and were generally skilfully handled, as the more aggressive SAC commanders were kept at a distance. Political anti-Americanism was an increasing concern as the Cold War progressed.
This chapter discusses the ever-present issue of how Britain, as a nuclear strike base, could be secured against Soviet attack. Emergency war plans were predicated on a quick response to threat, and the Soviet air threat was developing apace. The period after which Britain not be sustainable following a Soviet strike shortened, and US planners anticipated that a shift away from forward strike bases would eventually become advisable. For their part, British planners began to make their own assumptions about the consequences of an attack for the British population, leading them to conclude that there could be no effective defence against a thermonuclear attack.
This chapter submits the defensibility of the British Isles to a detailed analysis, showing how throughout the period under review, early warning radar cover was inadequate to secure US bases against surprise attack. US commanders continuously urged greater investment in these defences, which had been accepted as a British responsibility. So too was fighter interceptor provision, but the RAF aircraft were outmoded and would be ineffective against the likely Soviet assault. American aircraft were provided to augment British defences but this provided little incentive to the British to invest. In the early post-war years, a greater emphasis was placed on trade with the Soviet Union than defence, leading to the provision of the latest jet engine technology to power Soviet fighter and light bomber aircraft, to the despair of US authorities. In the later period, the assumption of indefensibility led to a major policy shift from active defence to nuclear deterrence, a shift strongly disapproved by the US.
This chapter examines the ways in which Anglo-American relations were complicated by British aspirations to become an independent nuclear power while pressing the US for technical assistance. From the outset, US authorities considered the possibility of the direct supply of atomic weapons to Britain in return for their abandoning the nuclear aspiration. In 1950, a new effort was made to secure British agreement to forego their own atomic bomb, and included transferring the custody and use of some US weapons to UK. Congressional concerns about British reliability and security stalled these plans, but as Soviet air power grew and Britain made successful progress with developing atomic weapons and nuclear capable bombers, a new concordat emerged.