by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
IntroductionBelieve it or not, Britain had its own nuclear weapons programme early in WWII. Uncomfortable proximity to Nazi Europe, coupled with a lack of resources in the UK, led to the technological edge being lost to the Manhattan Project in the relative safety of the US, but the strategic demand for “instant sunshine” was still strong in post-War Britain. After all, the new threat of Soviet hordes piling across the plains of eastern Germany simply could not be met on a man-for-man basis, and some kind of wonder-weapon was needed to even the odds.
We must be clear that there are different kinds of nuclear weapon. Long-range “strategic” weapons were designed to take out whole cities, delivered either by bomber or missile. The UK free-fall devices of the 1950s & 60s were to be delivered by the V-bombers (Valiant, Victor, Vulcan) while the long-range missile programme was eventually scrapped in favour of purchasing from the US. However, these were all far too big for local use on the battlefields of Europe. “Tactical” weapons were needed, offering much lower yields so they could be used safely at the short ranges typical of artillery. The plan was to break up concentrations of Soviet troops and tanks just beyond the Front at the first sign of real trouble, so short-range weapons were needed that could be deployed and controlled in-theatre rather than from UK bases. Missiles with ranges up to 120km (that’s only 66 miles!) and artillery with even shorter ranges up to 20kms (11 miles – gulp!) were developed to lob small nuclear warheads almost over open sights – way too close for comfort.
These short-range tactical nukes form the subject of this book. All of the deployed delivery systems except Blue Water were are in fact American designs, although they were acquired for and operated by the British Army.
ContentsAs with most Tankograd books, this is a soft-cover A4 format (210mmx297mm) book totalling 64 pages. It is part of the Tankograd “British Special” series (#9018), by Geoff Fletcher and Robert Swan, but does not seem to have an ISBN number. There are 106 black&white photos, 10 colour photos, and eight line drawings. Sadly there are no scale plans of the equipment. The images are scattered mainly two or three to a page, and the authors take the unusual step of adding a disclaimer about variable quality due to the limited availability of pictures of subjects that were classified “Top Secret” for their whole operational lives. However, the images are mainly quite good, so don’t let the disclaimer put you off!
Text is presented in German and English, split with German on the left and English on the right. All photo captions are in both languages too. It is quite readable, despite being full of acronyms and jargon due to the nature of the subject matter. All the acronyms get introduced as full words followed by the acronym in brackets the first time they appear, but even with some familiarity with the subject I still found myself having to flick back to find some of them.
Systems covered are Corporal (missile), Blue Water (missile), Honest John (missile), Tube Artillery (M109 & M110 SPGs), and Lance (missile). Each has text describing the development of the system as well as its acquisition and deployment, focusing on the necessary hardware (and support vehicles) and organisation. While these are useful to describe the delivery systems and how they’d be used, there is nothing in the way of detail about the actual warheads that would have been fitted if used in anger. Users of the internet will find Wikipedia very useful here…
ConclusionFor nearly four decades Britain was at the forefront of nuclear battlefield deterrents thanks to the Cold War, and the authors do a great job describing the systems involved. This book will interest missile and SPG modellers, as well as wargamers who will find the organisational details rather useful.