Don your flight suits and climb into the cockpit with us this wee as we discuss Strategic Air Command (1955). A film that blends beautiful aerial cinematography, awe inspiring aviation engineering and blatant Cold War propaganda. We’re joined by David Schroeder the host of the Cold War Channel to discuss this early Cold War classic which gives us a window into the objectives and operations of the USAF’s nuclear bomber arm – the Strategic Air Command.
‘Shoot to Live’ is a British Army marksmanship training pamphlet published in the late 1970s and early 1980s
‘Shoot to kill’ had long been a British Army slogan, appearing in numerous training films and pamphlets. One training film from the 1970s, which features in our video, can be watched here.
But in the late 70s and early 80s a new introductory pamphlet on marksmanship filed the old slogan on its head. In the video above we take a look inside an original copy of ‘Shoot To Live’.
Below are some pages from the booklet:
The ‘Shoot To Live’ manual is now part of our reference collection and we were able to bring this video/article thanks to the support of our Patrons. We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.
This week we tackle a truly harrowing film. Arguably director Peter Watkins’ finest work, 1966’s ‘The War Game’. An anti-nuclear war film that takes Watkins’ pseudo-documentary style to its pinnacle to tell the story of what a Britain during a nuclear war might look like. Suppressed by the BBC and government the film still won an Oscar. We are joined by author and host of the Atomic Hobo podcast, Julie McDowall to discuss this very important film.
Today we have a bit of an interesting unpacking/unwrapping video. I’ve saved up a few parcels with some new additions to the TAB reference collection and I thought I’d bring you along for the ride. The manuals we’ll be taking a look at span about 60 years of British Army doctrine and weapons. The materials range from a Hotchkiss machine gun manual from 1917 to an AFV identification handbook from the late 60s. There’s some quite interesting and rare stuff here including a 1951 provisional manual for the 3.5in rocket launcher.
These manuals and this sort of primary material is really important because we can learn how the weapons were actually intended to be used. It’s support from our Patreon supporters that enables us to pick up items like these to share in videos. So if you’d like to support our work, check out the TAB Patreon page here.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River, the Korean War battle perhaps most closely associated with the UK’s involvement in the conflict. Sadly, Korea remains a largely forgotten war and only one film has ever been made about the British Army’s experience 1956’s ‘A Hill In Korea‘. In this video we’ll discuss the battle, the super bazooka and the classic war film!
The film follows a fighting patrol which is cut off behind enemy lines and forced to fight a desperate last stand. The film borrows elements from the battle of Imjin River and the war as a whole. Today it is best known for its strong cast including Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, Harry Andrews and George Baker and for being Michael Caine’s first film credit. Interestingly, Caine was a veteran of the war, having served with the Royal Fusiliers during his National Service.
We recently covered the film in an episode of our Fighting On Film podcast and a scene featuring a 3.5in Rocket Launcher stood out. The patrol uses the rocket launcher against a Chinese tank, which appears to be a captured British Cromwell. The film shows the bazooka being assembled and its team moving closer, stating that to be sure of a hit they want to be just 80 yards away. This is comparatively close for a 3.5in rocket launcher, which had an effective range of 300 yards.
The 3.5in was a brand new weapon in 1951. It had been developed in the US before the start of the war and facing communist T34/85s it was rolled out to most of the UN ground forces in the theatre (alongside recoilless rifles and smaller M9A1 rocket launchers). Better known as the M20 Super Bazooka in US service urgent operational requirements saw the 3.5in R.L. replace the PIAT as the British infantry’s platoon anti-tank weapon. In the TAB reference collection we are lucky enough to have an original copy of the provisional manual for the 3.5in R.L. which was compiled during the war in 1951.
The film shows the weapon being fired twice, successfully knocking out the tank. It’s perhaps the only depiction of British troops using the 3.5in rocket launcher and certainly one of the better depictions of it in film. We don’t get to see the rocket being loaded but we do see the No.2 attaching the contact wires at the rear of the tube. The first round hits the tank’s hull while the second strikes the track and the tank rolls backwards and explodes! Once the rocket launcher team get back to the main defensive position we even see the No.1 breaking the weapon down into its too parts.
During the battle of Imjin River itself, the bazooka was put to good use by a number of units including the Gloucestershire Regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles and the Belgian battalion. Using the weapons to knock out Chinese machine gun positions and break up the human wave assaults. During an attack on Gloster positions in the early hours of the 22nd April, Lance-Corporal Joe Farrell recalled how the Glosters blasted Chinese troops using some boulders as cover. After three days desperate fighting the 29th Infantry Brigade had lost almost a quarter of its strength, suffering over 1,000 casualties. The rest managed to fight their way out.
I felt it was important to discuss the battle on its 70th anniversary as it sadly continues to be largely forgotten. The Glosters and the men of 29th British Independent Infantry Brigade Group fought a very hard battle against massively overwhelming odds, I would definitely urge you to read more about the battle and the war itself. I would also recommend seeking out A Hill In Korea, it is a fascinating film.
This week we look at two of acclaimed British director Peter Watkins’ formative amateur films: The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (1959) & The Forgotten Faces (1960). Perhaps best known for his later 1964 film Culloden and 1965’s ground-breaking nuclear war film The War Game. These two early films are especially fascinating as you can see Watkin’s distinct style develop through them.
It’s the 1980s and the British Army Of the Rhine is still stationed in West Germany facing down the USSR’s forces. The Cold War has gotten hot and the 3rd Shock Army is approaching your dugout but how do you differentiate a BTR from a BMP? This handy British Army THREAT Recognition Guide booklet gives you everything you need to know about the Soviet armour, infantry and aircraft you’re facing!
Continuing on from our earlier look at a British Army threat Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during the Gulf War, we dig into the TAB reference collection again and take a look at this Threat Recognition Guide looking at Soviet air and ground forces facing the British Army of the Rhine in the 1980s.
The Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) in East Germany throughout the Cold War were an ever present threat to West Germany and NATO. This recognition guide covers all of the USSR’s main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as artillery systems and some of the close support aircraft which would have accompanied the attacking Soviet forces.
The pages of the recognition guide include photographs, diagrams, basic specs and recognisable features of the various enemy vehicles. It was put together by the Intelligence Directorate of BAOR’s 1 Corps.
The MB-1/AIR-2 ‘Genie’ was the world’s first nuclear-armed air-to-air weapon and remains the most powerful missile ever deployed aboard U.S. Air Force interceptors. Developed as the Cold War began to heat up it would be carried aboard a succession of aircraft including the F-89, F-101B Voodoo, and the F-106 Delta Dart.
The MB-1 (later the AIR-2) was an air to air rocket with a 6 mile range and a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. It was ostensibly a tactical nuclear weapon designed to take on Soviet strategic bomber formations. The early 1950s saw the Soviet Union’s strategic bomber capability expand from the Tu-4, B-29 Superfortress copy, to include the Tupolev Tu-16 and Tu-95 and the Myasishchev M-4. These new long-range, nuclear capable bombers posed a serious threat to the continental United States. It was decided that only nuclear anti-aircraft weapons could counter the new high-flying Soviet bombers. Development began in 1954 with the project code-named “Genie” by the Air Research and Development Command.
We’ve previously looked at the Boeing BOMARC, the world’s first long-range surface to air missile, whose role was similar to the air-launched MB-1 – to engage incoming Soviet bombers. During the early 1950s, before the emergence of ICBMs, the USAF expected the main nuclear threat to the United States to come via massive attacks by Soviet long-range bombers carrying atomic bombs.
The USAF hoped that weapons like the BOMARC and the MB-1 would be able to engage and neutralise large soviet formations before they reached their targets. This would be achieved by USAF interceptors scrambled to meet the incoming Soviet aircraft, the interceptors would move into engagement range and launch their MB-1 missiles, turning away to avoid the blast. The Genie would detonate inside or near the Soviet formations breaking up their attack. For this role, attacking massed enemy aircraft, the Genie certainly appears to be an efficient weapon concept. However, like the BOMARC it quickly became obsolete as the Soviets moved away from strategic bomber aircraft and embraced long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Development of the MB-1 was carried out by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Physically, the plump-looking air-to-air nuclear rocket was 9ft 2in long and 17.5in in diameter, weighing in at just over 820lbs (372kg). The weapon had four fins, which spanned over 3 feet, these deployed once launched and helped to stabilise the Genie’s flight.
The Genie carried a 1.5-kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead and was powered by a solid-fuel rocket engine developed by Thiokol. It could reach speeds up to Mach 3.3 and travel just over 6 miles before detonating. It’s effective blast radius was estimated to be just short of 1,000 feet (300m), the Genie relied upon this area effect as guidance systems small enough to be fitted to a missile were in their infancy, as a result the Genie was essentially an unguided rocket with no onboard guidance.
An Northrop F-89J has the distinction of being the only aircraft to fire a live MB-1 Genie during the Operation Plumbbob tests on 19th July, 1957. The F-89 was flown by Captain Eric W. Hutchison, with Captain Alfred C. Barbee acting as Radar Intercept Officer. They launched the Genie at around 18,500 feet, the nuclear-tipped Genie accelerated to Mach 3 and travelled 2.6 miles in less than 5 seconds. While operationally the weapon would have detonated by a time-delay fuse the Plumbbob detonation was triggered by a signal from the ground.
Test shot John was a form of controlled human testing, with not only those on the ground, beneath the blast tested for radiation dose sizes but also the crews of the aircraft that launched the rocket. This contemporary film about the test notes that “neutron and gamma doses for the three crews did not exceed 5 Reps and 3 Roentgens respectively.
A later report noted:
“Neutron and gamma radiation dosages received by the crew members were less than had been predicted. To some extent this may he attributed to the effect of aircraft shielding. which was not utilized in the theoretical predictions. No crew member received more than 5 Reps neutron and 3r gamma during his participation. The experiment proved that the MB-1 air-to-air rocket can be successfully launched by the F-89 aircraft at 19,000 feet MSL with a radiation dose to the delivery crew within acceptable limits.”
The yield of the explosion was estimated to have been 1.7 kilotons. 18,500 feet below, at ground zero, five USAF officers and a photographer volunteered to stand under the blast to prove that the weapon was safe for use over populated areas. The radiation doses received by the F-89 crew and the men on the ground were reportedly small.
The MB-1 became the primary air to air weapon of the F-106 Delta Dart, this footage includes and illustration showing how the MB-1 was deployed from the F-106 as well as some of the live missile tests with inert missiles during the development of the Delta Dart’s launch system for the Genie.
Douglas built more than 1,000 Genie rockets before terminating production in 1962. In June 1963, the MB-1 Genie rockets were re-designated in the AIR-2 and later the ATR-2A. The USAF’s operational deployment of the Genie ended in late 1980s with the retirement of the last F-106 Delta Darts. The Genie’s other operator, the Royal Canadian Air Force, continued to operate the Genie aboard until 1984.
OPERATION PLUMBBOB, Technical Summary of MiIitary Effects, 1962, Defense Atomic Support Agency, (source)
‘MB-1 Documentary’, Douglas Aircraft Company via US National Archives, (source)
‘Five Men at Atomic Ground Zero’ Operation Plumbbob Test Shot John footage, Atomic Central, (source)
‘The F102A – F106A Annual Review 1957’, technical review of the Delta Dagger, USAF via San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives, (source)
’19 JULY 1957 – FIVE AT GROUND ZERO’, CTBTO, (source)
Join us, on the 53rd anniversary of the week the Tet Offensive began, as we take a look at 1989’s ‘The Siege of Firebase Gloria’ starring R. Lee Ermey, Wings Hauser & Albert Popwell. Directed Brian Trenchard-Smith its a Vietnam last stand movie that riffs on its predecessors.
While doing some archival digging I found some interested newsreel footage of early Cold War British missiles. The footage features the Malkara anti-tank missile and the Thunderbird surface-to-air missile.
The Malkara was developed in the early 1950s. It was a wire-guided anti-tank weapon with a 57lb HESH warhead. It had a range of up to 2.5 miles. In the footage we see it guided through a hole in a target net.
The Malkara was mounted on a number of platforms and vehicles and remained in service into the mid-1960s. It’s bulk and weight saw it eventually replaced by the smaller Vickers Vigilant and the Swingfire.
The second missile featured in the newsreel is the English Electric Thunderbird, a British Army SAM with a 75km range and a speed of Mach 2.7. The Thunderbird was replaced by the Rapier in the 70s, which is still in service today.
Hope you enjoyed seeing some of these British cold war missiles in action, it’s amazing what you find in archives when you aren’t looking for it!
Footage Source: Universal Newsreel Volume 30, 1957, via US National Archives, (source) Anti-Tank Weapons, T. Gander, (2000)