The RAF in the Cold War 1950-1970 (Ian Proctor, Images of War - Pen and Sword)


With yet another 'Bear' intercept in the news currently, it is easy to forget how closely the RAF has watched our skies for decades. And while over the past few years, QRA aircraft have been scrambled on just over one day a month on average, Russian sorties towards the UK have been a reality ever since Churchill announced an Iron Curtain had descended over Europe. As if to remind of us this a recently published Pen and Sword book entitled 'The RAF in the Cold War 1950-1970' compiled by author Ian Proctor presents a collection of rarely-seen images from the height of the Cold War, taken by specialist Air Ministry photographers. The full-colour photographs were painstakingly collated from the Imperial War Museum archives and document a time when the world hung on the brink of nuclear war.


From the early 1950s the perceived threat of a Soviet strike on Western Europe or Britain dominated military planning. At the time of HM Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation review at RAF Odiham on 15 July 1953 (picture above), the RAF was still equipped in the main with war-time generation aircraft, including Meteor FR.9s, Vampire F.3s  Coastal Command Liberators and Bomber Command Washington B.1s. A sign of the future can be seen in the skies, a formation of swept-wing Sabres led by Flight Lieutenant Burns of  441 Sqd RCAF.

For the next forty years, the Royal Air Force was in the front-line of the Cold War. In Britain and Germany, light bomber crews exercised in preparation for a future conflict, while interceptor pilots stood by ready to counter incursions by Soviet aircraft. Between 1956 and 1969, the elite crews of the iconic V-Force of nuclear bombers trained to perform the ultimate mission, striking targets deep in the heart of Russia. Below, Vulcan B1 XA896 seen at RAF Waddington in August 1957. This aircraft was piloted by WC AD Frank and his crew who were selected in participate in the 1957 Strategic Air Command bombing competition held in Pinecastle, Florida. Note the aircraft is not in the more familiar all-white gloss finish. XA 896 was one of the first Vulcans to be delivered to 230 OCU in March 1957.



Interviewed in the Daily Mail (18 February 2015) author Proctor makes the point that while defence cuts are hitting Britain's capability to respond to threats, cuts have always been a reality for peacetime armed forces.

 "..Even at the height of the Cold War, the armed forces were not immune to cuts. A number of defence reviews were undertaken during the period, each ultimately reducing the number of operational aircraft or front-line squadrons, as priorities changed or technology advanced. In 1956 Fighter Command had no more than 600 aircraft within 35 squadrons each with 18 operational aircraft. By 1962, this had reduced to 150 aircraft in 11 squadrons...Today there are approximately 100 Typhoons in the air defence role, within five front line squadrons and one reserve, each operating an estimated 12 aircraft..."

While the Battle of Britain may have been the heroic high point for the Royal Air Force, in terms of aircraft and the sheer scale of operations, the Cold War was its golden era. Ian Proctor's remarkable selection of photographs go a long way to bringing that fascinating time to life. The colour reproduction is superb and the detail, including aircraft tail numbers where possible, is excellent.The photographs include publicity shots of all the famous RAF aircraft - from Canberras to Lightnings, from Meteors to Vulcans. These are superb pictures - well posed! Recommended!

Below; Javelins of 46 Sqd RAF Odiham July 1956


Loading a Blue Steel missile onto a Vulcan, RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, February 1963


Victor B.1 RAF Cottesmore, Rutland, 1957