Air Marshal Sir John Slessor: The Unsung British Cold War Strategist

26 April 2023 

At 5.15pm on Wednesday 26 April 2023, Bill Pyke will examine the key achievements of Air Marshal Sir John Slessor during the early-Cold War. This lecture will be hosted in-person at the University of Wolverhampton and livestreamed on Crowdcast.

Air Marshal Sir John Slessor (RAF)

Talk Outline

“Sir John Slessor…one of the very few who had thought through the significance of nuclear weapons, and if he had not invented had certainly popularised the concept of ‘nuclear deterrence’, which he introduced into British defence policy in 1951, some three years before it was accepted by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.” (Sir Michael Howard, 2006)

Air Marshal Sir John Slessor (1897-1979) stands out as the most effective Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) of the Cold War period. But what justification is there for this claim? What made Slessor unique? This talk seeks to answer these questions by focusing primarily on Slessor’s time as CAS between January 1950 and December 1952, and examines his key achievements in that fraught period.

In summary, Slessor changed the thinking about Britain’s defence policy through nuclear deterrence and how that later influenced American thinking. He dealt effectively with the political and military challenges of a fraught Anglo-American relationship, particularly during the Korean War. Through his persistent drive, he started the build-up of the British V-force against a background of national austerity. Finally, Slessor was directly involved in initiating the early Anglo- American reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union. Through his achievements as CAS, Slessor left a legacy that ultimately led to the era of British strategic nuclear deterrence through air power, during the twelve years between mid-1957 and mid-1969.

Slessor’s background and experience sheds light on why he was so well suited to his role as CAS in those critical years of the early Cold War. His air force career of 37 years spanned the period that included the inception of military air power during the First World War through to the atomic air power era of the late-1940s and 1950s.


This hybrid lecture will be hosted at the University of Wolverhampton (room TBC) and live-streamed via Crowdcast.


This lecture is free to attend in person or via the RAF Museum’s Crowdcast channel. Registration is required to attend virtually. Booking is quick and easy. To attend in person, you can reserve your space through Eventbrite (Air Marshal Sir John Slessor: The Unsung British Cold War Strategist Tickets, Wed 26 Apr 2023 at 17:15 | Eventbrite)

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About Bill Pyke

Bill Pyke is an independent air power researcher who has focused on the role of the RAF in areas of policy, intelligence, and operations both during the Second World War and the Cold War. Bill completed an MA in Air Power studies at the University of Birmingham in 2016 under the guidance of Air Commodore (Retd.) Pete Gray. He has subsequently written in the RAF’s Air Power Reviewand his new biography of Air Marshal Sir John Slessor was published in March 2022.  He has given presentations on various Cold War themes at conferences and talks at King’s College, London, and at both RAF museums: Hendon and Cosford. Bill previously had a 42-year career in the oil industry. He has always maintained his keen interest in the role of air power.

About the RAF Museum Research Programme

The RAF Museum’s 2023 programme includes Lunchtime Lectures at the RAF Museum, Cosford; Air Power Lectures, co-organised with the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University; and Air Power Seminars, co-organised with the University of Wolverhampton. You can attend these lectures in person or join us online as we live-stream from the venue.