The V Bomber Force was the nickname given to Britain’s three bombers during the Cold War that were capable of delivering nuclear bombs and formed part of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The V Bomber Force was made up of the Vickers Valiant, the Avro Vulcan and the Handley Page Victor. The development of three bombers during the Cold War by the British was done to give the government increased freedom from US foreign policy. While the British government supported America during the Cold War, the V Bomber force gave it independence from the country that dominated NATO. As an example, the Valiant was used in the Suez Crisis of 1956 when America would not give any support to Anthony Eden’s government. If the British governments of the time had fully relied on America to provide bomber support, this would not have occurred. The same can be said for the use of the Vulcan during the Falklands War.


The Valiant was classed as a strategic bomber and it was designed to the same specifications (B35/46) as the Vulcan and Victor. However, the planned prototype Valiant did not come up to these specifications, which caused the government of the day a dilemma. The great advantage that the Valiant had was that it could be quickly built and put into the air with due speed. To get round the specifications issue, the government changed its requirements and the prototype Valiant first flew in May 1951. Deliveries to the Royal Air Force started in August 1954.


The Valiant was powered by four Rolls-Royce Avon 204 turbojet engines that gave it a maximum speed of 567 mph at high altitude. It had a maximum range of 4,500 miles and a maximum flying ceiling of 54,000 feet. The Valiant could carry up to 21,000 lbs of conventional or nuclear bombs.


The Valiant was active during the Suez Crisis and played its part during the British airdropped nuclear weapons trials held in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In 1963, the Valiant was given a specific role – low mission flying. In 1964, the Valiant fleet was scrapped. However, lessons learned during its use in the RAF paved the way for flying techniques that both the Vulcan and the Victor were to use.


Probably the most famous V Bomber was the Vulcan. The Vulcan was the first bomber to use a delta-wing platform and the prototype first flew on August 30th 1952. The first Vulcan bombers to be delivered to the RAF took place in July 1956.


The Avro Vulcan was the result of Specification B.14/46 – a requirement for a bomber that could deliver its payload from any of its bases in the world. The Vulcan was designed as a long-range strategic nuclear bomber. It was powered by four Rolls-Royce Olympus 201 turbojet engines that gave the aeroplane a top speed of 645 mph and a maximum ceiling of 65,000 feet. A Vulcan had a maximum range of 4,600 miles. Each bomber had the ability to carry 21,000 lbs of bombs.


The Mark II version, which first flew in 1960, was designed to carry the Blue Steel or American Skybolt standoff nuclear weapons but this development did not materialise as a result of the introduction of the Polaris submarine. In 1969, the RAF’s Vulcan bombers were assigned to NATO and one last flew in anger in May 1982 when a Vulcan bomber attacked the runway at Port Stanley during the Falklands War – the airport was being used by the Argentinean military who had occupied the islands. The end of the Cold War and the use of smaller, faster bombers such as the Jaguar and the Phantom ended the days of the large bomber that had been used by the RAF. In total, the RAF had 136 Vulcan bombers and its final role for the RAF before being totally withdrawn from service was as a flight-refuelling aeroplane. 


The Handley Page Victor was the last of the V Bombers to go into service. The aircraft had crescent-shaped wings that owed much to the research carried out into wing shape by the German Arado and Blohm and Voss companies. Such shaped wings were meant to maximise cruising speed and add to the aeroplane’s effectiveness. However, development costs were high and by the time the Victor came into service, new missile weaponry made it vulnerable to attack. As a result, the RAF ordered only a small number of these bombers and the Mark I variants were converted to flight refuelling roles between 1964 and 1965. The Mark II version, of which the RAF ordered 34, was designed to carry the American Skybolt IRBM or the Blue Steel standoff missile. However, as with the Vulcan, developments in weapons systems elsewhere made the Victor effectively obsolete as a bomber and the Mark II versions became used for photo-reconnaissance and then, like the Mark I version, to airborne fuel tankers.


The Victor was powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway Mk 201 turbofan engines that gave it a top speed of 640 mph and a maximum ceiling of 60,000 feet. Its maximum range was 4,600 miles.


The cost of maintaining the V Bomber force was huge and with fluctuating spending budgets and changing requirements, the RAF invested its money into fighter-bombers such as the Jaguar and Buccaneer and into developing the vertical take-off Harrier jump jet. The changing nature of the Cold War also meant that such giant bombers were more a relic of the past by the 1970’s, even if the Americans continued to fly the B52’s and developed the Rockwell B1-B and Northrop Grumman B-2