About the current issue
Publication of the 19th quarterly issue of The Aviation Historian marks exactly 60 years since Britain’s Conservative government published “that” Defence White Paper, in which a radical new direction for the nation’s air defence was announced, to howls of fury and outrage in many quarters. The Minister of Defence at the time, Duncan Sandys – whose name to this day still elicits a barrage of boos and hisses – had been tasked with redefining Britain’s defence strategy, partly in response to the bruising events at Suez the previous year, but also in light of the increasingly terrifying prospect of all-out nuclear war.
At the heart of Sandys’ air-defence proposals was the notion that the tactics employed so effectively during Fighter Command’s “finest hour”, less than two decades before, would be hopelessly inadequate against a considerably smaller force of Soviet bombers carrying nuclear weapons; if even one reached its target, the consequences would be unimaginable. Sandys’ answer was to switch resources to the development of a network of surface-to-air missile batteries in place of a conventional manned-fighter force. What effect would this new direction have on industry, particularly Britain’s aircraft manufacturers, those mass-employment “heavy hitters”?
In this issue, Professor Keith Hayward FRAeS examines the political and industrial fallout of the infamous document, in the first of a series of specially-commissioned TAH articles celebrating – or commiserating on, depending on your perspective – the 60th anniversary of what came to be known simply as “Sandys”; an ill-conceived act of political recklessness or a vital rationalisation of a failing industry?
Also in this issue, our cover story examines the joint RAF/FAA aircraft ferry route from Britain to the Far East, established in short order towards the end of World War Two as the focus of Allied efforts shifted to the Pacific; and, staying with that period and operational theatre, we look back at how the USAAF’s 90th Bombardment Group – whose B-24 Liberators went on to give distinguished service – made an absolutely disastrous debut.
Other diverse eras and subjects explored in TAH19 include flying the Avro/Hawker Siddeley 748 for Skyways Coach-Air in the 1960s; the 1916-vintage Salmson-Moineau SM-1, an otherwise undistinguished biplane whose twin propellers were, bizarrely, shaft-driven from a sideways-mounted radial engine buried in the fuselage; and Norwegian airline DNL’s 1930s attempt to establish a transatlantic passenger route.
Meanwhile our three-part series on unconventional anti-bomber weapons tested by the Luftwaffe in World War Two concludes with the SG 116 Zellendusche, a battery of optically-triggered upward-firing recoilless cannon fitted into the rear fuselage of a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
We also explain how Argentinian Gloster Meteors played a major part – on both sides – in the anti-Péronist coups of 1955, and we reveal what really happened to the one-off Hawker Hornet biplane fighter – did it really do what the books say, and take part in a sales tour of Yugoslavia in 1931?
All this and more – including the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird’s deployment in East Anglia in 1974–90, a pioneering Australia Airco D.H.9 and a macabre round-trip to Jersey in a BUA DC-3 in 1965 – is illustrated with rare archive photographs, information graphics, maps, profiles and scale drawings.
Nick Stroud, Editor