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Air Marshal Sir John Slessor: An Unsung Cold War Strategist and His Role as the Architect of British Airborne Nuclear Deterrence

16 March 2018

MRAF Sir John SlessorLecture starts 12.30pm - National Cold War Exhibition

The first in our 2018 Cold War Lunchtime Lecture Series, Bill Pyke will speak on Air Marshal Sir John Slessor as a Cold War strategist and his role as the architect of Britain’s airborne nuclear deterrent.


A declared policy of strategic nuclear deterrence has been at the heart of British defence thinking since the early 1950s. Prior to this time, Clement Attlee’s post-war government had sanctioned the development of Britain’s atomic bomb programme in January 1947.

However, the means of nuclear weapons delivery: the development of the revolutionary four-engine jet bomber, did not proceed at the same pace. In any event, at a time of continuing post-war austerity, some senior politicians from both sides of the political spectrum were not in favour of an independent British nuclear deterrent, preferring to leave it all to the Americans.

This talk will focus on Air Marshal Sir John Slessor as a Cold War strategist and his role as the architect of Britain’s airborne nuclear deterrent. Slessor was Chief of the Air Staff between January 1950 and December 1952 at a time of heightened Cold War confrontation. Many Cold War historians have focused primarily on the key politicians, international crises, and the threat of nuclear weapons. However, little attention has been paid to the influence of senior military leaders, of whom Slessor was a notable example. Slessor played a pivotal role in making British nuclear deterrence a physical reality. His involvement through strategic vision, leadership, courage, and dogged persistence ensured the implementation and build-up of the RAF’s complement of strategic jet bombers (the V-force) designed to deliver Britain’s nuclear weapons. That policy of defence through nuclear deterrence established the bedrock of British strategic defence thinking that continues to the present day.

Hawker Siddeley Vulcan B.1 (XA892), Vickers Valiant B.1 (WZ373) and Handley Page Victor B.1 (XA919), 14 September 1957

This lecture will be held in the Museum lecture theatre at our Cosford site at 12:30pm on Friday 16 March 2018.

This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy.


Mr Bill Pyke completed an MA in Air Power Studies in late 2016 at the University of
Birmingham, under the guidance of Air Commodore (Retd) Peter Gray. The talk is based on his dissertation and article published subsequently in the Royal Air Force’s Air Power Review in Spring 2017. 

Bill previously had 42-year career in the oil industry when he worked in the U.K. and internationally on numerous oil and gas exploration and production projects.
He has always maintained an active interest in air power.  He continues as an independent Cold War researcher focusing on the reasons and value of British air reconnaissance activities between 1945 and 1960.

The Cold War Lunchtime Lectures are delivered by emerging and established researchers. They explore key events and air power developments from the Cold War period. The series forms a part of our Research Programme for 2018. The programme also consists of the Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies, First World War lunchtime lectures at our London site and other events such as conferences. For further details about the RAF Museum’s Research Programme please contact us.

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