November 20, 2007 – The book Vulcan 607 records the interesting saga of the RAF’s rush to ready a select group of Victors and Vulcans, train and execute the mission. Rowland White illuminates, on a personal level, the primary participants and with depth recalls how warehouse personnel, engineers, technicians RAF air and ground crews and venerable “V-bombers” performed the nearly impossible.
During the 1950s and 1960s Pentagon hierarchy largely neglected conventional fighter capability in favor of optical/electronic armaments. The heat-seeking air-to-air missile gained prominence over internally mounted rapid-fire cannon. The result was that pilots of American fighters and fighter-bombers often found themselves at a disadvantage in dogfights during the Vietnam Conflict.
Like their cousins across the Atlantic, in 1982 the Royal Air Force (RAF) was suddenly confronted by the need to deliver a conventional long-range bombing mission after Argentine troops landed on disputed and British-controlled Falklands Islands. Still in the midst of the Cold War, the RAF had neglected and essentially abandoned a capability, refined during World War II, of conventional weapons delivery. The abandonment was due to shrinking government budgets and a perhaps over reliance on the nuclear deterrent provided by Royal Navy submarines.
With the British subjects on the Falklands under occupation, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government took a decision to regain and reclaim the inhospitable South Atlantic islands. Two aging RAF aircraft types, both rapidly nearing retirement, were the only British planes capable of flying the extreme distances to reach and attack the airfield at Stanley. The proposed raid was designed to put the sole runway in the Falklands out of service to Argentine aerial forces.
Unprepared and neglected, the Victors and Vulcans and their aircrews had to somehow be made ready. It was a daunting task. Parts and systems were missing. Some had been discarded to scrap yards. The daunting undertaking and resulting desperation required improvisation even the cannibalization of Vulcans on display at museums within the United States. Ingenuity and creative thinking became a pattern.
Early in the crisis the Reagan administration had decided to side with the British. After all familial ties dictated the American position. Furthermore, Rowland White points out that for a time long ago American seal hunters had also occupied the Falklands. With direction from above, the U.S. Armed Forces provided multifaceted support. Not insignificant were the roles of the U.S. Air Force’s base staff at Ascension Island, from where the Victors and Vulcans would sortie, and USAF coordinators at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.
As a result of combined and monumental efforts, a single stick of iron bombs delivered by Vulcan 607 rendered the airstrip at Stanley unusable. The successful bombing permitted British forces, including elite SAS units, to retake the colony.
An informative and engrossing read, Rowland’s Vulcan 607 is recommended to all military aviation historians and aficionados. The work’s publication information follows: Rowland White, Vulcan 607: The Epic Story of the Most Remarkable British Air Attack Since WWII, London: Transworld Publishers (Corgi Books), 2007.
Author’s Notes: Those who recall RAF Vulcan visits to the United States are familiar with the beauty, grace of Vulcan bombers and the power of their Olympus turbojet powerplants. Sadly, one remains airworthy. Vulcan to the Sky is a charitable organization that maintains the venerable bird. Donations are encouraged.
Also, Readers who wish to learn about American aircraft design and Pentagon bureaucratic mismanagement are urged to read Robert Coram’s book Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Clicking on the title will access a review.