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16 March 2018
Lecture starts 12.30pm - National Cold War ExhibitionThe 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.TALK OUTLINEA 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.
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