Skybolt...

...At Arm's Length, from Fonthill Media

Title: Skybolt
Author: Nicholas Hill

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-704-4

 

Another excellent book from Fonthill Media, along with author Nicholas Hill. Skybolt was a planned nuclear missile of the early 1960's being designed and built in the USA but which the RAF were also keen to have and operate as the British independent nuclear deterrent. In the end it was cancelled and we eventually went for the submarine launched Polaris, but this gives a fascinating view of the complexities of major weapons development.
The book does an excellent job in examining all the elements that were involved with Skybolt. Starting from the options of a silo based missile, the Blue Streak programme and the changes in defences that meant the idea of a high altitude conventional bomber (the V-Bombers) delivering free-fall bombs was no longer a realistic option, so low level and some sort of stand-off capability was an alternative. Technology was going through a huge period of change, and that is well illustrated with this development programme. If all this wasn't enough, there were disagreements between scientists about what was possible, rivalries not only between the services (RAF and Royal Navy) but also different government ministries. Add in the different solutions being offered by different manufacturers, including both Avro (the Vulcan) and Handley Page (the Victor) there were so many influences at work. It is worth remembering that this was all taking place long before we had modern miniaturised computer systems. Even the weight of a usable nuclear warhead was a factor in the many equations. Add the fuel options, maintenance, service life, guidance system etc there is so much to it. Then of course politics plays another significant part. Anglo-US relations were involved, budgets and even how such co-operation between the UK and the US could upset the European nations who at that point we wanted to join in the Common Market.
With access to many files in the National Archives, though some are still restricted, the author has put together a really interesting book, and which paints such a vivid picture of the Skybolt story within the Cold War period. One of the arguments put forward involved how Skybolt and its' carrier aircraft could be stopped by the Russians exploding a nuclear weapon in the path of the attacking aircraft in order to bring it down.I find it hard to believe that such a defence was given serious consideration with the damage that would have caused to their own country. Today the basic idea is in service as the Cruise Missile, though some aspects of it would still contradict some of the objections raised against Skybolt. With photos, various sets of drawings and diagrams to illustrate the story, very nicely done. An excellent read.

Thanks to Fonthill Media for our review copy.

Robin