The Blue Streak Cancellation - an opposing view

Bomber Reaction Time to Ballistic Missile Early Warning.

S. of S. for Air's Letter of 1/3/60 to Prime Minister. Comment by CGWL.

The Minister has asked for advice on the above, and I have the following comments.

I think that the S.of S's argument is open to serious questioning on the lines shown below.


Blue Streak is condemned because of alleged inability to withstand 300 / 3MT rockets directed against 60 sites. It is therefore fair to consider what 300 3MT bursts could do to our V bomber force.

The Air Ministry claim that they can get "4 bombers airborne from an airfield in 4 minutes", -- presumably four minutes from the local order to scramble.

The distance travelled by a typical V bomber from the point of take-off (i.e. from point where airborne) is

After 1 minute airborne flight ... 6 n. miles.

After 2 minute airborne flight ... 13 n. miles.

After 3 minute airborne flight ... 20 n. miles.

The disabling radius of a 3 MT airburst against a V bomber is approximately as follows

V bomber on ground ... 14 - 15 miles. (not tethered since it is about to take off)

V bomber airborne between zero height and 12,000 ft .. 12 miles

One 3 MT burst over the airfield (Burst A in sketch) would therefore disable not only all aircraft still on the airfield but also all airborne bombers within 12 miles of the burst.

Further, it would be reasonable to suppose that the Russians, in addition to the airburst directly over the airfield would at the same time lay on two additional airbursts along the direction of the bomber flight path. (Bursts B1 & B2 in sketch)

The lethality pattern would then be as shown in the attached Sketch.

It will be seen that the combination of one airburst over the airfield and two airbursts about 14 miles away and about 30o to the axis of the runway would disable not only all aircraft still on tthe runway but also all aircraft that had become airborne during the preceding 3 minutes. If these rocket bursts occurred at any time within the period up to 6 (not just 4) minutes before the order to scramble, it is difficult to see how any significant number of the bombers could escape.

I do not know the number of airfields which the V bomber force would use under dispersal conditions. But if one supposes the number to be, say, 50 at the most, then to carry out the attack outlined above would require a tot of 3 x 50 = 150 missiles.

If the Russians were in any doubt as to the direction of take-off of the 7 bombers,they could remove the ambiguity by placing two other airbursts 14 miles at 300 from the other end of the runway to cover the reverse direction of take-off. Thus, for 50 airfields,would require a further 100 missiles,thua bringing the total missiles up to 250, which is still below the 300 postulated for the knocking out of Blue Streak.

Further, a number of the dispersal airfields are understood to be sufficiently near each other for the damage radius of a burst on one airfield to overlap on to the neighbouring airfield, thus reducing the weight of attack required.

Finally, it should be realised that the bomber bases in East Anglia would only get 21/2 - 3 (not 4 minutes as commonly stated) warning by BMEWS of the Russian 1000 mile rocket if fired on a low trajectory from satellite territory.

It should also be added that it is unlikely that, 'on the nightand for the first time ever, a delay of less then 1 - 2 minutes would occur between the first radar reception at BMEWS and the local order to Scramble on a bomber airfield. The S. of S's claim is therefore more correctly stated as being four bombers airborne in 5 - 6 minutes after first radar reception. The rocket however could burst in less than 4 minutes from first radar reception, and indeed a pattern of bursts an shown in the sketch could burst as late as 7 - 9 minutes after first radar reception and still catch all or nearly all the bombers.

Bomber Command are well aware of the problem of getting away from bursts directly over an airfield, and are known to have studied optimum escape flight plans. It would be interesting, however, to know how they would cope with a pattern of bursts as outlined in the sketch.


The Air Ministry, as far as I know, have never made say external statement on the logistics of maintaining a constant airborne alert. I suggest they should be asked to do so.

In particular, they should be asked what C-in-C Bomber Command does, in a period of tension, if the Russians start jamming BMEWS. Does he fly off, or does he not?

If he does not fly off, why have BMEWS? If, on the other hand he does fly off, then presumably he would re-land his force in shifts and shake them out on to a constant airborne shift basis. He should then be invited to say how he would handle the subsequent logistics if the jamming of BMEWS continued for, say, six hours, or twenty-four hours, or a week, or a month. It would, I think, be difficult not to be run ragged.

(NOTE .. BMEWS would not be difficult to jam sufficiently for this purpose, i.e. to raise doubts in C-in-C Bomber Commands mind, with one or possibly two aircraft jamming from about 200 miles range.)

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