View Full Version : The Ministry of Space
May 4th, 2007, 10:49 AM
The Ministry of Space (or Brits in Spaaaace)
Welcome to our fortress tall
Take some time to show you around
Impossible to break these walls
For you see the steel is much too strong
Computer banks to rule the world
Instruments to sight the stars
Possibly I've seen too much
Hangar 18 I know too much.
- Megadeath, Hangar 18.
Here is the MoS-ATL in uninterrupted form!
Many thanks to Birdy and M. Passit and the rest of the Brit-wankers for all your comments, inspiration and ideas.
Comments, criticism and stuff like that are to be posted at:
Ministry of Space
What is it that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse?
- Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, 1979.
We’ve all seen news footage of huge multi-stage rockets lifting off from the Kilimanjaro Launch Facility and delta-shaped rocket ships blasting off from the Woomera Space Center or manoeuvring through the endless star specked space. Or marvelled at the capabilities of the newest Oberon Satellites. Or seen the grainy black and white photos of Malcolm Davis and Ceepak Basheer Saheb as they took their first steps on the pock-marked surface of the Moon. As the mission to Mars is planned and next to five billion non-Commonwealth citizens daily walk in the shadow of the Zuckerman and Churchill Space Stations every day, the British Ministry of Space and their Commonwealth equivalents in the Commonwealth Space Agency – the CSA - can look back at nearly 50 years of space flight and untold successes.
“All right”, the critics said, “let's build the super V2 if we must...but let's have less of this worship of things German. The Germans didn't win the War!” It was a danger signal, a denial of science. The man who builds a swing doesn't plant a tree and wait for it to grow. He selects an established tree and secures his ropes to the stoutest branch!
- Ivan Southall, Woomera, 1962.
Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories!
- Arthur C. Clarke.
The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) formed in Liverpool in 1933, and, due to a peculiar British law - the Explosives Act of 1875 - prohibiting the building of rockets by private individuals, concentrated on theoretical work in astronautics and thus broaden an awareness of the need for space exploration and rocketry. Although the Explosives Act severely restricted rocketry research, certain government sponsored tests were allowed nonetheless. These included amongst others research into anti-aircraft rockets, long-range rockets – very early missiles -, air-to-air rockets and assisted take-off rockets by the Research Department at Woolwich Arsenal in the mid-30’s. Tests which later led to the development of smokeless cordite amongst other things.
Even with the legal bonds placed on them, the BIS had nonetheless done remarkably well - especially if one considers the little or no funding they received before the War and the fact that their advocacy of using rockets to explore space made many views them as cranks. Still, BIS brought together a brilliant group of visionaries. Among the best known were Arthur C. Clarke and the popular sci-fi writer, John Wyndham. The group also included Val Cleaver, an engineer who would play a leading role in the Blue Streak Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) project and other similar projects. In 1937 a feasibility study of a Lunar landing mission began. With it, the BIS hoped to prove that such missions were possible.
Unable to raise the funds needed to build large pieces of hardware in the 1930s, the BIS focussed on tackling the theoretical problems of space travel. However, after the first V2-missile attacks on Britain, some members of the BIS gained prominence. Not for their, at the time, somewhat loony space ideas, but for their knowledge of rockets and ballistics.
The BIS-experts got an unexpected friend in RAF’s in-house technical expert, the ingenious South African, Solly Zuckerman. Zuckerman, even though he never publicly admitted it, saw the possibilities in space travel and exploration at an early stage.
The possibility of launching atomic weapons at the Soviets would by far be the main British incentive for building rockets in the early 50’s. But many who worked on the military weapons saw their initial efforts to build a weapon as part of an unspoken long-term mission to get into and ultimately explore the far reaches of space. To generalise, the technology needed to move an atomic warhead over intercontinental distances is very similar to that which is required to place a satellite in orbit. The military necessities and civilian dreams seemed in many ways contra dictionary, but one man’s Herculean effort brought German and British know-how, weapons of war and the unspoken dreams of an entire generation together in what was to become the British Ministry of Space. As we all know, that man was Solly Zuckerman.
Some time in late 1944, Zuckerman arranged for a meeting between some members of BIS, himself – naturally -, Prime Minister Churchill, Henry Tizard, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Field Marshal Alanbrooke, the head the Imperial General Staff, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff, and Frank Whittle, the man behind the British jetfighter programme. At the start of the meeting, Tizard was very direct in his dismissal of rockets, missiles and other little boy’s toys. It was his firm impression that the Germans were getting increasingly desperate and thus sought refuge in the idea of war winning fantasy weapons. In Tizard’ opinion, the British should concentrate their somewhat meagre resources on real weapons – tanks, planes, ships. Portal, however, noted that the Royal Air Force was unable to stop the V2’s in flight and that they on impact killed British citizens and destroyed property, which, in Portal’s book, meant that they were very real weapons and thus a very relevant threat. BIS-member Val Cleaver noted en passant that not only could rockets be made to transport bombs as the Germans did it, they could also take you into space. In space the possibilities were infinite. At the meeting Cleaver is said to have sketched out the very first spy satellite. At some point Whittle too pitched in with ideas and visions regarding advanced jet and rocket planes. Alanbrooke, an avid birdwatcher and on occasion military visionary, and the ever adventurous Prime Minister seemed to warm to the idea of a concentrated British effort toward designing and building functioning rockets. Strangely enough the thought of space seemed to warm the otherwise rather stern Chief Scientific Adviser to the idea. Later Sir Henry Tizard would lead the Tizard Commission on Unexplained Aerial Phenomenons with great zeal.
The RAF’s Department of Rocketry was thus born with a stroke of the PM’s mighty pen and was subsequently placed under Zuckerman’s direct supervision. After the war the DoR took a leading role in pressing the case for space exploration and research, both in Britain and in the Commonwealth, and got moved from RAF to the Ministry of Aviation and eventually emerged in its own right as the Ministry of Space.
How posterity will laugh at us, one way or other! If half a dozen break their necks, and balloonism is exploded, we shall be called fools for having imagined it could be brought to use: if it should be turned to account, we shall be ridiculed for having doubted!
- Horace Walpole, in a letter to Horace Mann.
Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination!
- Bertrand Russell.
The Allied invasion finally got underway in the summer of 1944 and the Germans began to fall back towards the Reich itself under heavy Allied air, and land, pressure. As the Germans retreated, it became more than obvious that the War was about to be won. The Allies and the Soviet Union thus began to play political games to ensure their influence and dominance in the post-war world – some would, and rightly so, claim that this kind of intrigue had been the norm for the entire war.
Having an energetic and highly intelligent man like Solly Zuckerman leading the DoR fuelled Churchill’s always quite active imagination to a point were Hastings Ismay, his personal chief of staff and unofficial minder, laconically said; “Winnie talks about nothing but space planes and rockets these days!” That was of course not quite true, but the British PM seemed to have seen the wider implications of space exploration and control, and succumbed to what was to become known as the fabled British Space Fewer. Churchill is often quoted as saying to Field marshal Alanbrooke: “He who controls the high ground is destined to win any given battle. And space, dear Alan, is the ultimate high ground!”
Politically the situation was worsening for Britain, and by default its Empire. The United States of America seemed oblivious to the threat posed by Stalin’s Soviet Russia and the immense and unruly Red Army – the news from the occupied Poland and Prussia made tough men blanch. The French under DeGaulle were already making all kinds of trouble as had they actually won the war by themselves. On top of this, the Soviets seemed hell-bent on taking all they could both in Eastern Europe and Asia. Time and time again the US and British diplomats and senior military commanders found themselves arguing opposite views, as the United States were keen to bring in the USSR in the war against the Empire of Japan, and the British not quite as keen. Likewise did the US State Department very much doubt the tales of horror leaking out of Soviet occupied Eastern Europe.
Churchill did not have the same excellent personal relationship with new President of the USA, Harry S Truman, as he once had with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the more anti-British forces within the US administration had begun to manifest their new found strength without the savvy and rather pro-British FDR, and the war, to keep them in check. So much so, that at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945, a near split occurred between the British and the US as the latter sided with the Soviet Union in matters regarding amongst other things Poland. Seen in retrospect one can hardly blame the American President for his very diplomatic - or somewhat spineless if seen from the British point of view – behaviour as it seemed that Churchill and Stalin were about to launch into a highly personal and malign feud. Churchill’s (in)famous words “You dare speak of honour, Sir, when 20,000 brave Poles lie dead from gunshots to the back of their heads?” will forever be remembered by Poles and Britons alike.
One of the crucial effects of abovementioned split, was that information and data from the joint atomic bomb-programme being either withheld or edited by the Americans often leaving the British in the dark. Not surprisingly, the British politicians and senior officers began to feel isolated and alone. Under Churchill’s guidance the British government began to plan for the post-war period; a time where the Empire and Commonwealth might have to stand alone in an increasingly hostile world. It was decided that the Commonwealth should be strengthened, so a conference on a proposed more integrated and united Commonwealth should be arranged some time directly after the end of hostilities. The conference was to be held in Canada – it appears that Churchill had already foreseen the need for more equality between the Commonwealth nations – and would be recorded as one of the deciding moments in British and human history.
Furthermore, Britain and its Imperial Allies needed to be prepared to defend themselves in this brave new world. With this in mind, Churchill gave his favourite trouble-shooter, Lord Mountbatten – who was already involved in gathering intelligence on German wonder weapons via the 30th Assault Unit -, an absolute crucial task: track down the German scientists involved in the German atomic and rocket programmes, and get them to Britain as soon as humanly possible. Seize all relevant material as well, with all means available (The continued progress of the Red Army without question provoked Churchill’s wording and feeling of utmost urgency, not to mention his new personal hatred for Stalin and disdain for Truman). Mountbatten sat to the task with great vigour. Men like Fleming, Knight, Wheeler and the Sterling-brothers will forever be names remembered fondly by the British Ministry of Space, Commonwealth Space Agency and space enthusiasts in the Commonwealth for their participation in Operation Backfire.
While both the US and the Soviets scrambled to gain as much knowledge and as many German experts as they could, men like von Braun (and most of his V-team), Lippisch, Walter, Hahn, Tank and Heisenberg were taken to Britain in either after the war or near its end. It is rumoured, but still classified, that 30AU-personelle reinforced by SAS-commandoes under David Sterling actually engaged the Soviets in several fire fights at the time, and later clashed with the American Operation Paperclips and Alsos teams. Even if the stories are only that, stories, they do tell us how seriously the British took the matter, and just how far they were willing to go. What is known, however, is that several Luftwaffe test facilities near the Russo-German front were bombed by the RAF at the end of the war. A major raid on Dresden was among others cancelled and the bombers diverted to other “more important targets” to paraphrase Charles Portal, Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Some eight special sorties were also flown against targets in Berlin. The only logical reason for this step would be to prevent German technology to fall into Soviet hands.
The German missile assembly centre at Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains of central Germany was captured by an operation under Mountbatten’s personal supervision, as were several other key facilities such as Haigerloch in Baden-Württemberg, in the final days of the War. As British Paras were dropped near Nordhausen’s giant Mittelwerk facility, 30AU and SAS-commandos and a plethora of SOE-operatives infiltrated deep into Germany in order to reach various branches of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute. Where the Paras successfully reached the giant facility mere hours in advance of the Americans, both the Commandos and SOE-operatives suffered numerous setbacks, but nonetheless captured both key personnel and material. Nordhausen ultimately ended up in the Soviet sector, but not until the British Backfire-teams had stripped the place of all that was not bolted down, much to the chagrin of the Americans who were forced to stand by and watch as lorry after lorry carried tonnes of material away at a frantic pace. The much famed American general George Patton is noted for calling the British “a bunch of Limey pirates” as he was forced to watch the trucks roll off.
Nearly all of the very large number of German scientists appropriated by Britain in Operation Backfire was sent to the Department of Rocketry’s Propulsion Study Centre at Westcott near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. The German scientists were from a variety of different backgrounds, not all of them had any specific relation to the V-team who had developed the V2-missile at Peenemünde, but were deemed useful nonetheless and put to work for their new masters. Among them were Dr. Eugen Sänger, Dr. Alexander Lippisch, Konrad Zuse and Dr. Irene Brandt. As DoR originally was an integrated part of the RAF and therefore under military control, the German scientists were at first considered POW’s and were kept in a prison-like environment with barbed wire fences and armed guards. Soon, however, it became obvious that the Germans were no threat, as the Germans self-ironically referred to themselves as PoP’s – Prisoners of Peace –, nor were they uncooperative. Despite some initial apprehension, the barbed wire and armed guards therefore soon focused more on potential intruders and general security than keeping an eye on the resident Germans.
For a while Mountbatten’s merry men in the 30AU served as extra security, bodyguards and minders in relation with the Westcott facility and the PoP’s, but soon went on to serve as special operatives for the military and civilian intelligence services and various black units. Very few of the talented men mustered out at the end of the war, and those who did usually ended up in defence related industries. The 30th Assault Unit and their contribution to rebuilding Britain would become legendary and their actions would form a modus operandi within the intelligence community where industrial espionage and outright techno theft would be prime concerns and goals for its operatives and agents.
At the end of the 40’s the German scientists were more or less integrated in the British society. Quite a few of them would eventually retire to Rhodesia, Australia, the Federation of South Africa and New Zealand. The Germans were, however, not the only brand new Britons. Amongst the many emigrants to the various parts of the Commonwealth were also quite a few Cossacks, White Russians, Croats, Czechs and Poles. That the British protected and shielded said people were seen in Moscow as a direct insult, which perhaps was why the British authorities did it. At the time, Eden strongly disagreed, but after having visited one of the Cossack internment camps in Austria, he came down firmly on Churchill’s side and used all his influence to secure the many East European anti-Communist refugees new homes around the globe.
Furthermore men like Keynes, Bevin – the powerful Minister of Labour and National Service - and Gaitskell along with a series of bright young men were tasked with securing the rebuilding of not only Britain itself, but its entire economy, industrial sector and infrastructure. Their efforts would eventually turn into yet another well remembered Churchill-project, the National Foundation for Unity and Restructuring or simply NFUR (often jokingly called Nephew). Many of NFUR’s initiatives would eventually lead to the much fabled British Modern Model State – a more acceptable term than Welfare State - and was in many aspects based on the 1942 Beveridge Report in which Lord William Beveridge outlined how to combat the five 'Giant Evils' of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, and at the same time increase the competitiveness of British industry and create more healthier, wealthier, more motivated and thus productive workers. Needless to say, Lord William Beveridge’s ideas appealed immensely to the Churchillite Social Conservatives.
May 29th, 2007, 01:19 PM
If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong!
- Arthur C. Clarke.
I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them!
- Isaac Asimov.
In the years after the War, both the Soviet Union and the United States put a significant effort into creating a strategic air force as part of their expansion of, and increasingly reliance upon, their atomic arsenal. But because of the highly successful British Backfire-operations and their pre-war research, the British took another route altogether. The British focused on long-range missiles for military purposes instead. RAF foresaw a day were bombers couldn’t get through – having seen the effect of a first rate air defence on their own bombers during the air war over Germany and taking note of the new series of interceptors proposed by the Whittle-Lippisch-Tank team - and backed the DoR’s programmes, but still build several types of heavy bombers, among them the Victors, Vindicators and Vulcans, albeit rather few in numbers. With a firm eye on its own interceptor programme, RAF insisted on arming the bombers with heavy AGLT (Mark IV through VIII) RADAR-aimed canon even if it was seen as somewhat of backstep in bomber development.
The British post-war bombers all owed a lot to the German scientists as a single glance could tell anyone with just the slightest knowledge of aeronautics and history. The V-bombers obvious grace, Delta shapes and flying wing-design, not to mention the rocket assisted take-offs, did much to endear them to both their crews and the public. The fact that they were engineering marvels and easy to fly – especially after the integration of Automatic Computing Engines - made them into scientific successes as well, and only the first in a long unbroken series.
As Greece erupted in civil war and American Marines had to intervene, politicians and military officials in both Moscow and Washington alike began speaking of a Cold War and increased funding for their air forces even further. The continued civil war in China didn’t help much either, as both the USSR and USA funnelled support and material en masse into the maelstrom. Ironically, Britain made quite a tidy profit from supplying and supporting the American effort in Europe in the late 40’s, just as Japan and Korea would profit immensely from the US involvement in China.
Furthermore the British withdrawal from continental Europe finally completed put further pressure on the US Army as it strove to manage the occupation of Germany. Not surprisingly, the rearmament of France was stepped up and in the late 40’s nearly 20% of all servicemen serving in the occupation forces in Europe were French. The d’Argenlieu Presidency was in many ways remembered for the restoration of French military might; not only did France deploy a substantial force in Germany – some 5 divisions along with Belgian and Dutch units in the Armée du Rhin (Army of the Rhine) – it also fought an uprising in Indo-China and garrisoned its vast colonial empire.
In London, the newly re-elected Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was pleased indeed. Not only had he disentangle Britain from the mess of her former and quite honourless Allies – much to the applause and joy of Poles, Czechs and anti-Communistic White Russians -, he was about to remake Britain’s military as an advanced machine of destruction armed with the newest weaponry; missiles, rockets, atomic weapons and the like. They might be expensive, but the missiles and the associated technology would give the British military and industrial sector an edge for centuries to come, Churchill was sure of that. Slowly, a technology and missile gap began to develop. Eventually, the Soviets and Americans would catch on to the idea, but it would take some time and the British would use their lead to good effect.
In late 1945, a committee was convened under Solly Zuckerman, who, at Churchill’s request recently had taken over as the government's Chief Scientific Advisor as well as acting as the daily leader of the Department of Rocketry, was asked to examine the possibilities of not only producing independent British atomic weapons, but to place them in missiles. The Zuckerman Committee clearly stated that with present day technology it was indeed possible – well, it would take a lot of clever engineering, but still within the realm of the possible - and even advantageous to do so. The true problem at the time was the rather unreliable and inaccurate guidance systems (to be placed in missiles, the atomic devices themselves – often know as the warheads - had to be downscaled, and thus needed to be more accurate to do sufficient damage). Zuckerman recognized this and recruited a handful of young mathematicians from the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park.
One of these mathematicians was Alan Turing. Earlier Turing had proposed an Automatic Computing Engine, which Zuckerman thought could be of help in matters related to ballistics. The guidance system necessary to make atomic armed missiles accurate enough to be effective weapons was thus on its way to be developed. Zuckerman might have been overly optimistic in his statement about the feasibility of atomic tipped missiles, but he did not, as Sir Henry before him, deem it outright impossible. The Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE, would be an indispensable tool in the time to come. As a direct consequence of the Zuckerman Committee’s work, the British efforts were from now on both focused and determined. The ACE would find many other uses, amongst other things as pilot’s aides in the V-series of bombers, but also as a useful tool for the National Foundation for Unity and Restructuring.
After the Commonwealth Conference in Canada in early ´46, a scientific exchange programme had been established between, what Churchill in private referred to as, the core nations. Several economic and military agreements were also signed and the Commonwealth emerged stronger than ever. The Britons still felt like they were a world-spanning power. So did most of the Commonwealth nations apparently, as they saw that the British still wielded considerable military power and were a world leader in advanced technology. Advanced technology used among other things to make advanced weaponry. Weaponry the British made readily available for their allies in the Commonwealth. The core nations soon began to buy their way into Britain’s various projects with men, resources, bases and/or money.
Undoubtedly Wernher von Braun and his fellow German scientists would have liked to go to the USA, but they soon settled in under British protection and, likewise undoubtedly, in somewhat more modest surroundings than had they gone to America. However, now von Braun could do what he always dreamed of doing; building rockets. The DoR was military, no doubt about that, but many of the British scientists, working with the Germans and on the various British projects, still had the civilian dream of going into space.
Said dreams got a boost on the 5th of May, 1947, as Eric Brown in the Miles M.55 smashed through the sound barrier with impressive ease. The M.55 was basically a (seriously) redesigned rocket-driven version of the M.52. During the War, the Air Ministry and Ministry of Supply had tasked the Miles Aircraft Company and the father of British jets, Frank Whittle, to build a supersonic airplane. After some trouble and the subsequent input of captured German scientists, the project underwent serious redesigns. Originally, it was intended that the planes would be driven by a jet engine with an affixed afterburner (the afterburner would later be standard on all British military jets, including the Sea Vixens of the Royal Navy). Now, with the assistance of Alexander Lippisch and Kurt Tank, the Miles Aircraft Company and Frank Whittle came up with a long nosed, cola-bottle shaped aircraft with swept-wings and an all-moving tailplane. The Miles M.55 was part of the British governments new interceptor programme, but its public appearance would serve to remind the world that Britain was the worlds leading nation when it came to aviation, and help boost the demand for British planes around the world. The M.55 would evolve into the expensive, but highly effective Miles M.66 Manticore and De Havilland Anastasia rocket interceptors. The M.55 was also to be the first in a long string of record breaking British aircrafts.
The close cooperation between British and German scientists led indirectly to a boom in turbojet engine research and development. Most war-time British engine designs were of the fairly simple, but bulky centrifugal-flow type, whereas the Germans were fond of the more advanced and aerodynamic axial-flow kind. In the later 40’s a series of slim and highly advanced – especially from a metallurgical view point – engines with a pressure ratio nearly 20:1 saw light. Researchers soon began to dabble in making ever more powerful turbo fanned engines pressure ratio of some 40:1 if not higher. In early 1949, Rolls-Royce tested its first turbofan jet engine, the Valiant – nearly bankrupting the company in the process due to exorbital development costs -, and revolutionized the industry. Soon new fast, more fuel efficient, quieter engines with more manageable exhaust temperatures found their way into a new generation of RAF warplanes.
After several cancellations due to the War, the XIIIth Olympic Games were finally held in London in 1948. Nearly six years of warfare had left its mark on Britain and many feared that the British would be unable to hold the XIIIth Games. Lucky the successful policies of the Churchill Cabinet had helped turn things around. Still, the 1948 London Olympics became known as the Austerity Games. The event itself nonetheless gave British morale and self-worth a boost
Together with Val Cleaver and Arthur C. Clarke, von Braun orchestrated the much acclaimed International Congress on Astronautics in London in the summer of 1951 at which PM Churchill himself spoke. This led to an increase in public interest and to more sophisticated ideas of how space travel and exploration could be brought about. The British economy had naturally been seriously damaged by the War and, even with Churchill at the helm, the government refused to spend large sums of hard earned and much needed money on such idealistic notions as space flight for the sake of space travel alone. Therefore the main focus remained on developing military missiles for the time being. However, the idea of space exploration became a very popular theme, aided by entertainment features like the comic-strip space-hero Dan Dare – the forerunner of the immensely popular Animatics wave of the future -, and the rocket-plane riding Commonwealth fighter-aces of the Missile Musketeers. The influence of matters related to space would be heavily felt in British popular culture from then on and even help create of vast billion pound-marked for a special Indian-British sort of cartoon style – the aforementioned Animatics. Generally speaking, the idea of space gave many people in poverty stricken Britain hope of a better tomorrow and a belief in themselves and Britain. Something that was shamelessly exploited by the Ministry of Information in amongst other things the Our Future Is Bright-campaign.
May 29th, 2007, 01:40 PM
Money was no object. They had not realised - few had - that Britain was bankrupt!
- Ivan Southall, Woomera, 1962.
If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life!
- Gus Grissom.
While war and fear of war dominated much of the world, life in Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth slowly began to return to normal. As the National Foundation for Unity and Restructuring - NFUR – began to make its presence felt, the rationing of most everyday things like for tea, eggs, sugar and dairy products were lifted. Nor were coal rationed for long, but various forms of fuel would be under some form of rationing for the rest the 40’s. By blatant manipulation, subterfuge, reuse of Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act and just good management of resources, the NFUR ever so slowly brought the British economy out of its decline. The hard-line stand – meaning no money for the US if Britain itself did not get paid (just another nail in the US-British coffin, but at the time few Brits really cared) what it was found to be owed by France, the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and numerous other wartime allies - of Churchill and later Atlee in regards to wartime loans and such like provided the necessary breathing space for Britain’s almost ruined economy to recover. As a gesture of total defiance, the British even presented the USA with a bill for technical assistance during the War. Something that hurt the Americans pride deeply as the Bell Aircraft Company – Miles Aircraft Company’s competitor - had been forced to ask for British help in breaking the sound barrier after loosing their 5th plane in an unexplained midair accident just before breaking the sound barrier. Said plea fell on deaf ears, though.
With more money in their pockets the British had the means to create a consumer based economy that eventually would lay the foundation for the modern British economy and fuel the Economic Miracle of the Commonwealth. The fact that the NFUR did much to improve the housing situation as well did much to endear Churchill’s Social Conservative policies to the general public, that and his Basic Healthcare Programme under the Our Future is Bright-programme. As a side note, the massive rebuilding programme sponsored by the National Foundation for Unity and Restructuring also brought new materials and architecture to Britain – the spread of the prefabricated bungalow to the British Isles are a prime example. For most of the 50’s Functionalism was the dominant trend in Architecture and design, and was quite ironically spearheaded by the French-sounding Charles-Edouard Jeanneret. In the early 50’s, after the International Congress on Astronautics in London and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952, many a Briton and Commonwealth citizen alike talked about a Golden Second Elizabethan Age.
“We must lose the Empire in order to preserve it. But it must be a different Empire, an Empire where we in the brotherhood that is the British Commonwealth of Nations shall stand by each other in joy as well as sorrow! We must share all burdens and rewards equally for only as brothers can we survive and thrive in this new world, where an Iron Curtain has descended upon Eastern Europe and a Fortress of Ignorance arisen in the Americas. The eyes of the world now look to us, the Commonwealth of Nations to create a better future. As part of that dream we must look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond!” It is with those words at the International Congress on Astronautics in 1951, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill inspired not only the Britons, but subjects of the Commonwealth Nations all over the world. He challenged them to reach beyond Earth and seek their joint fortunes out in unsailed territory. Most people of course knew that he was referring to space, so with this speech Churchill had given birth to the very impressive British Space Programme.
Unfortunately Churchill would never live to see the first man, a Briton, naturally, in space, nor the launch of the first man-made satellite. One tragic June morning in 1952, PM Churchill died of cardiac-arrest. Doctors believed the heart-attack to be stress-related. Being Prime Minster in a troubled time had been too much for the elderly statesman. But Churchill’s much bemourned death, that truly grieved a billion people – his funeral was quite spectacular as hundreds of former East European refugees marched past his coffin, often in colourful and exotic uniforms and many an emotional speech were given (Cossack-General Andrei Shkuro’s among the most touching) - and made a quite few sigh in relief, would not be in vain. Together with his now famous speech at the International Congress on Astronautics, Churchill’s death galvanized the various Nations of the Commonwealth Nation’s resolve and inspired generation of young men and women to reach for space and unity.
Churchill did, however, live to see his Commonwealth of Nations taking off, with the emerging democracy in South Africa, a beginning peace in India and the forming of the Malaysian Confederation between Singapore, Malaya, Sabah (North Borneo), Brunei and Sarawak. Sadly he also oversaw the lowering of the British colours in Transjordan, Palestine, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Cameroun, Sudan, Gambia, Ceylon, Burma, the Gold Coast Togoland and several other places deemed either unfit or simply too impossible to keep in the Commonwealth. Even sadder is the criticism often placed upon Churchill and his cabinet for the decision to withdraw from so much of the Empire in such a fashion – the British “overnight” withdrawal often caused near civil war and genocides in the various locals evacuated. In a few special cases, locals deemed loyal and useful subjects were given time to relocated. In Palestine a purely humanitarian interest made the British evacuate whoever was interested to mostly Rhodesia, but also South Africa and Kenya. Perhaps in an attempt to atone for past sins, the Polish Regiments, and the Don Light Horse – a British Cossack Regiment -, played a vital role in securing a peaceful exit from Palestine and Transjordan
As the Chinese War seemed to keep escalating with American and Soviet troops being deployed in increasing numbers on each side, Britain exploded a Commonwealth developed atomic weapon at the Emu Test Site in Australia. Initially, the British government relied upon the new series of V-bombers from the Royal Air Force to deliver the atomic weapons to their targets, but soon it was realised, as suspected, that these aircraft were too vulnerable to especially the Soviet Union’s impressive air defences based newly developed and deployed surface-to-air missiles and superguns. As seen in China, where the Red Amy Air Force and US Air Force did their best to shot each other out of the skies, the new defensive systems were truly very dangerous. To many British military experts it seemed like the Soviets compensated for their bad fighter designs with excessive ground based air defences. Actually it was the Soviet Union’s domestically designed jet engines that were flawed, not so much the fighter designs themselves. The Soviets only really caught up when the Mikoyan and Gurevich design bureau got their hands on some SAAB engines.
Thus the British drew the conclusion that long range missiles were the answer to the new air defence systems being deployed in ever increasing numbers around the world. The British never forgot that fact, that the RAF with all its might had not been able to stop the German V2 onslaught on London during the War. Meanwhile, the lessons of China hammered home with brutal force, the Americans found that they needed heavier bombers, capable of reaching higher altitudes and carrying bigger payloads. Soon, the Soviet Union’s Red Army Air Force followed their lead. So while in Britain it was found that ballistic missiles would not only be preferable, but absolutely vital to national security in the future, bigger and bigger bombers took to the skies in Soviet Russia and the United States of America.
It might have been due to rising international tension or just too massive a focus on planes and rockets – or even spurred on by the immensely popular books like Wyndham’s series of apocalyptic alien invasion tales -, but during this time RAF and other official institutions got numerous inquiries from both servicemen and civilians regarding unexplained aerial phenomenons. It got to a point where the Cabinet tasked Sir Henry Tizard to lead an independent commission - Commission on Unexplained Aerial Phenomenons – and find out the truth behind all these sightings. Surprisingly, the dour Sir Henry took to the job with great zeal and after nearly 2 years of work concluded, much to his detriment it seemed, that there was no evidence of non-earthly involvement and much of the sightings were actually military panes or some such.
In 1954 the DoR’s Striker guidance system programme under the Ministry of Aviation developed a highly accurate inertial guidance system. In the same period the Americans, and soon after British themselves, tested a new kind of atomic weapon; the fearsome Hydrogen-bomb. The H-bomb, as it simply became known, was of such hitherto unimaginable power that there was less need to use a highly accurate delivery system as needed for the less powerful A-bombs. Missiles were most definitely in and development was pushed further and faster. The Department of Rocketry was soon one of the largest entities in the British Military, soaking up men and resources to a degree that began to worry the British Minister of Defence and quite a few Generals (not to speak of the Admirals, who saw ship after ship laid up).
Needless to say, the Atlee Government was not quite happy with the mounting expenses, an unhappiness that in tandem with the lack of support for the Space Programme would spell the end of the first, last and only post-war Labour government. Nonetheless, Atlee was quite popular - even if seen by many a Briton as soft on the main issues - and served a full term between 1952 and 1956. With the Conservatives, this time led by the capable Churchillite Anthony Eden, back in Downing Street nr. 10, focus was back on missiles, rockets and the ultimate High Ground.
May 30th, 2007, 03:40 PM
Flight out of the atmosphere is a simple thing to do and should have been available to the public twenty years ago. Ten years from now, we will have space tourism where you will be able to see the black sky and the curvature of the earth. It will be the most exciting roller coaster ride you can buy!
- Burt Rutan.
It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow!
- Robert Goddard.
Things were looking much better for Britain and the Commonwealth in general, but the economy was still recovering after the damage of the War years. While the NFUR in many ways worked wonders, and trade between the Commonwealth Nations rose impressively during the 50’s, money and resources where often quite hard to come by for the various Public Services, Departments and Ministries. In any regards, what was in reality a space programme was immensely popular with the public and had the political backing to match its large public endorsement; Churchill and von Braun by their sheer strength of personality and the highly successful International Congress on Astronautics in London back in ’51 had worked wonders to fuel the public’s imagination. A fact Labour only acknowledge far too late.
The first official step to towards a true space programme had actually been taken as far back as December 1946. A study group of the DoR under the visionaries R. Smith and H. Ross had submitted a design for an adapted space-going German V2-rocket. The adaptation consisted mainly of a pressurised cabin in the nose of the rocket, in place of the usual explosive warhead, which would enable a man to be launched as a passenger on the flight. The cabin was detachable, allowing the astronaut to experience several minutes of weightlessness before it parachuted back to Earth.
Having faced budget cuts and political restrictions under Clement Atlee’s Labour Government, the DoR and its masters in the Ministry of Aviation found it best to beat their own drums, so to say, and rather loudly at that. At the time there were two large projects on the drawing boards of the Department of Rocketry. One was the launch of a small satellite – something few, including the Ministry of Defence and the Admiralty, at the time saw the need for. The other was the launch of a manned rocket. Needless to say the many wannabe Dan Dare’s and rocketeers in the Department went for option two.
Led by Helmut Grottrup – a brilliant ex-pat German scientist and rocket expert - several members of the DoR and in the Ministry of Aviation itself, not to mention key figures in the industry such as Geoffrey Pardoe of the de Havilland Aircraft Company, H. Robinson of future fame and RAF’s new Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, pushed for a manned flight, but not on the basis of the original V2-proposal. Instead planes were being drawn up for a modified version of the new Blue Steak Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile to be launched into space along with a crew of two. Basically, the Blue Streak would serve as a launcher with an almost improvised second stage attached.
Needless to say, Eden, Zuckerman and von Braun was firmly behind the idea, as was many other influential political figures – from both sides of the House; they all saw this as a way to announce to the world that Britain and her Commonwealth allies was to be reckoned with, and on a more earth bound level to get part in the glory. Strangely enough no one at the time ever considered failure an option.
As long range missiles became feasible, the de Havilland Aircraft Company won the contract to produce an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) under the codename Blue Streak, while the Rolls-Royce company gained the contract for development of an engine in cooperation with Department of Rocketry’s Propulsion Study Center. The resulting RZ2 rocket engine would prove to have a better power output and a slightly reduced weight compared to its American rival, the Rocketdyne S3D rocket engine. Many historians and space technology experts today consider it a fact that the RZ2 rocket engine was a reengineered and improved version of the Rocketdyne engine. In August 1956, the first liquid oxygen engines were tested at the Spadeadam Test Site in Cumbria. Soon Blue Streak itself was tested (see Part VI).
In the spring of 1958, the Black Monarch – the codename for the modified Blue Steak - lifted off from newly constructed Woomera-base in Australia - the Australia Government, and to a somewhat lesser degree its public, had from the beginning been one of the British rocket programme’s most stout supporters, and thus it was found to be only fitting that the launch took place in Australia - with astronauts Alan Smith and Roy Radford enclosed in the small capsule on top of the rocket. While the whole world watched Smith and Radford was sent on a suborbital flight and experienced several minutes of weightlessness as the capsule detached from the second stage. Helicopters launched from the deck of the carrier HMS Ark Royal recovered both the capsule and the two unharmed astronauts in the Indian Ocean.
The mere fact, that Britain with the aid its allies in the Commonwealth succeeded in putting together a space programme and launch Man into Space in less than 20 years, speaks volumes of the engineering and scientific successes of said nation. Still, it would be hard to believe Britain capable of such a feat without the Barlow Committee on Scientific Manpower’s groundbreaking work in 1945. The Barlow Rapport was on occasion and mostly in jest called the Zuckerman Bible, but the Committees urgent call for a vast increase in the output of university trained scientists and engineers played a major role in Britain’s conquest of Space in the 50’s. The newly created Royal Colleges of Technology each produced some 500 engineers a year in 1950, and some 1,000 engineers ten years later. Britain had become a nation of engineers. At the end of the Millennium, 442 out of the 659 Members of the House of Commons would list Engineering and Technology as a special interest, and some 33% of knighthoods given in the same year were for services in said fields. The sheer numbers of engineers available in the later 50’s and 60’s provided the base for the great leaps made by the aeronautical, automotive and astronautical as well as nautical industries seen throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Next to astronaut, fighter pilot and fireman – respectively -, engineer was the most popular choice for 10-12 years olds when asked about their future occupation in a 1956 survey in public schools.
The successful flight of the Black Monarch gave birth to the British Ministry of Space as an independent entity in its own. The MoS would become responsible for all space related matters and for interdepartmental policy co-ordination on rocket matters and to establish equivalent organisations throughout the Commonwealth.
The Black Monarch and the new Ministry of Space distracted the British Public from the serious crisis taking place in central Europe at the time. The population of Hungary rose in open revolt and tried, unsuccessfully, to oust the Communists from power and get rid of the Soviet military presence. Eden was in mood to intervene in any way – not willing to gamble the slowly recovering economy or when it came down to it had the means to do so -, but used the uprising as a pretext for doing some house cleaning. Along with other Commonwealth prime ministers, most prominently Xuma in South Africa, Eden orchestrated a crack-down on Communists and their sympathisers. The Hungary Crack-Down saw hundreds of Brits and thousands of Commonwealth citizens put on trial – some in secret – for Undemocratic Behavior and was often imprisoned or simply banned from holding any public office. While Eden is often criticized for crack-down, it nonetheless brought forth the Burgess-Philby spy-ring and several others in the pay of Moscow.
June 4th, 2007, 07:26 PM
You can't say that civilization don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way!
- Will Rogers.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
- Theodore Roosevelt.
As British troops now had finished their withdrawal from many of the world’s potential hotspots or left the main burden of providing security to local forces – like the Don Light Horse in Northern Rhodesia, the number of young men called to do time in the National Service (a less warlike synonym for conscription if you will) was scaled down from 12,000 a month to some 3,000. Generally speaking public opinion was behind the idea of National Service as it was clear that the post-war world was not a safe or stable place. As proven by the recently successfully concluded French campaign in Indo-China and the escalating conflict in Algeria, not to mention the Belgian mess in Congo and the Soviet Union’s ham-fisted rampaging in its own backyard or the recently concluded Chinese War and the Manchurian Crisis. National Service also played a vital role in boosting the standing army - even with its decreased commitment to the Empire, there was still roughly 60,000 British troops posted around the world – and to introduce men into the Military who would otherwise not have considered serving. It is quite telling that some 70% of the officer corps in the later 50’s and early 60’s was former National Servicemen.
At the same time the US Army struggling to cope with its many responsibilities finally succeeded in lobbying for recreating both the German Army and the Japanese ditto, respectively the Bundeswehr and the Japanese Self-Defence Force. Along with the rearmament programmes of both of Greece and Italy – both countries being more paranoid anti-communistic rather than pro-American and democratic – this gave the Americans a more secure feeling, as they and their French allies no longer felt quite so exposed and alone in the world, not to mention a massive boost to the US armaments industry as all four countries sought to reequip their Army, Navy and Air Force more or less from scrap.
Along with Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne and the birth of the British Space Programme another very British tradition was born in the early 50’s as well - Racing.
Once the War had ended in 1945 and the British military gradually scaled back there suddenly were a high number of redundant airfields – not only in Britain itself, but around the world. The now famous Silverstone was one of these left-over airfields. In early 1948, the Royal Automobile Club approached the Air Ministry and was granted the use of Silverstone without much fuss. On October 2nd, 1948, Silverstone’s first racing event took place and was followed be a series of sponsored racing event for the next years. The Formula One Daily Express International Trophy was from the start open for all Commonwealth citizens. The races were immensely popular and spectators flocked to the old airfield.
In 1950 the World Drivers’ Championship was created and the very first World Championship – which naturally was open for all nationalities - took place at Silverstone on May the 13th. It was a significant occasion for motor sport and the event was awarded the title of the European Grand Prix. The event was attended by King George VI, Princess Elizabeth and other members of the upper crust. As Queen, Elizabeth II would return to Silverstone on numerous occasions and seemed to be quite the racing fan. The original races had been dominated by Australians and British, but soon found the Italian drivers to be fierce competitors. After having lost to the Italians for a series of years, former RAF-pilots Brian Trubshaw – an employee of and driver for Bentley – and Ronald Harker – driving for an independent - finally brought the trophy back on British hands in 1958 and 59. The 50’s would establish the intense rivalry between the Italian automobile industry headed by Alfa Romeo and Ferrari and the British ditto headed by Aston Martin and Bentley. Later the Franco-American giants such as Mercedes-Renault, Bugatti and Ford would force their way into the racing elite with a series of spectacular victories in the early 60’s. Trubshaw were by the way knighted in 1969, and made a lord in 1982. Harker died driving one of Morgan’s powerful monocock cars at Brands Hatch in 1961, and was thus indirectly responsible for a lot of the restrictions now placed on the various racing championships.
The late 50’s also brought with it the first new capital ships built in Britain since the end of the War. For almost 15 years the Royal Navy had scaled down and sold off ships, if not simply scrapping them. The habit of selling ships had indirectly led to an arms race in South America where Argentine, Brazil and Chile each viewed the others with great suspicion and thus found it necessary the match any and all steps taken by one of the others. A lot of elderly Royal Navy ships, along with planes, tanks and other surplus military equipment found its way to said countries in the late 40’s and early 50’s before the United States of America put a stop to it – which of course did little to endear the Americans to the British and thus brought with it another low in diplomatic relations.
For some time the two only major capital ships – not counting the handful of heavy cruisers - of the Royal Navy had been the battleship HMS Vanguard and the fleet carrier HMS Ark Royal – the first carrier in the world to fly a flight group of jet planes (Sea Vixens). Both ships were now placed in reserve as the new 47,000 tonnes fleet carriers HMS Malta and HMS Queen Elizabeth I raised their commands with much pomp. The two Malta’s would later in the late 60’s be supplemented by two atomic fleet carriers, HMS King George V and HMS Hood. Big George and Hood were truly monsters and packed a massive punch in form of the largest – some 120 aircraft contra the about 80 or so on the Malta’s - and most advanced air wings ever seen upon the Seven Seas – actually just one of these mammoth ships carried more planes than most air forces. As two further King George V class atomic carries were commissioned and put to sea in the 70’s, HMS Malta and her sister ship were sold to India and South Africa respectively, while HMS Vanguard became a much loved museum ship and Ark Royal was scrapped.
Aside from a new renaissance in shipbuilding both commercial and military, British aviation industry produced a series of new and often ground breaking aircraft in the 50’s and 60’s, the De Havilland Comet, AVRO Midland and Bristol Aeroplane Company Solaris (heir to the famous Brabazon) amongst them. Several of said designs found a military use as well. The earlier Comets were fx. redesigned and became the Royal Navy’s long range multi-purpose Nimrods and the Midlands soldiered on in form of the giant Asteroids.
Naturally the engineering success of the British would not stop with boats, planes and cars. In early 1960, Blue Streak – famed for its role in putting Smith and Radford into space, albeit briefly - became operational as a delivery system for atomic warheads. The criticism of Blue Streak however would in the end lead to the development of submarine-based missiles like the Peregrin. Blue Streak’s underground launch sites were far too vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike and the fuel used gave the missile a long fuelling time. With the Manchurian Crisis in relatively fresh memory, the military planners and their political masters in Whitehall found it prudent to be able to strike hard AND fast if needed be. The first atomic British Ballistic Submarine, HMS Dreadnought, put to sea in late 1962 and Blue Streak was officially replaced by Peregrin Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile system in the summer of 1963 as Britain's atomic deterrent. Submarine-based missiles continue to be the British atomic delivery system to the present day. The dozen Blue Streak underground launch sites, named silos in the US, are to this day used as bomb shelters and emergency control facilities by the RAF.
Atomic power was not only harnessed for military purpose in the 50’s and 60's, but saw use in a ever growing number of atomic power stations throughout, not only Britain itself, but also the Commonwealth in general.
June 7th, 2007, 01:22 PM
If Britain had rejected satellites it would have been easier to reject the next major advance, and the next, and the next. There would have been no end to it. Yes, there would have been an end. Britain would have become a Switzerland with a few specialised skills - an admirable little Switzerland, but not a Britain.
- Ivan Southall, Woomera, 1962.
Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let’s love turbulence and use it for change!
– Ramsay Clarke.
London was far from the only capital were a number of lessons from the Manchurian Crisis were drawn. Not only had the world nearly stumbled into what most likely would have ended as a full scale atomic war over a godforsaken place in the Far East, but in both Moscow and Washington the elites found that they might have lost. In general, the world appeared stunned by the Black Monarch’s suborbital flight, but especially Britain’s ability to lob atomic missiles halfway across the globe shocked both the senior military leadership as well as the Soviet and US politicos. Against ballistic missiles interceptors and ground based air defences were of no use. A missile race now began, where the United States of American and their rivals in Soviet Union tried desperately to catch up with Britain’s lead, and hopefully at the same time outdo each other.
At the newly created MoS it was quite obvious that Blue Streak was not the future, nor were simple semi-orbital flights like that of Smith and Radford in early ‘58, so another design was thus tested; the now famous Black Knight, the true forefather to modern rockets and the deadly Shadow multi-role rocket-planes.
The Black Knight rocket had begun life as a research vehicle programme in 1954. Black Knight was constructed on the Isle of Wight by Saunders-Roe and tested on the island at High Down. The engines were produced by Armstrong-Siddeley using hydrogen peroxide. Under the leadership of H. Robinson a MoS-team of scientists and engineers from the Commonwealth carried through the Black Knight programme. The first launch was in the autumn of 1958 from the now famous Woomera Rocket Base (Later to be named Woomera Space Center). Black Knight proved to be an outstandingly reliable vehicle - setting a series of altitude records and suffering only two mishaps in all of its history -, and unbelievable cheap too; Each vehicle cost less than 50,000£.
The Black Knight had several remarkable features, besides it cost efficiency and reliability, that is. One of the more important ones was the re-entry body made by ablative materials and low-drag shapes, which were of great interest to RAF’s experts. Ablative materials burn up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere, producing a char which is carried away from the rocket's body. The char which is shed carries heat with it, thus allowing the body to lose heat energy built up in the ablated surface. The low-drag shape meant that the re-entry body would re-enter fast and decelerate sharply at a lower altitude than earlier designs, making them more difficult to destroy with an anti-ballistic missile system – something both the USA and USSR worked feverishly on as a response to the Missile Gap.
Further, it was suggested that Black Knight could be stretched and used to act as a satellite launcher. Project Black Prince was thus born. Black Prince used Blue Streak as a first stage and Black Knight as a second stage as part of a three-stage launcher. The Black Prince would later lead to the development of Black Duke and Duchess super-rockets.
The experience with various aerodynamic designs and materials gathered by the teams working on the rocket projects spurred the development of a series of low RADAR-observable shapes and RADAR-absorbent materials that would later be used in the design of the Shadow-series of modern warplanes. But said expertise was not only highly valuable to the defence establishment, but also to civilian sector in general and led to advanced synthetic fluoropolymers and para-aramid polymer fibres that are in everyday use (as fx. coating for frying pans or as insulation or, in case of the PAPF, as a vital component in amongst other things tires and armour of all sorts) today. The discovery and use of PAPF led to a long vicious legal battle between Imperial Chemical Industry and its American rival, DuPont, who insisted on the rights to said material. Black Knight was thus an immensely important programme, gathering expertise and data valuable to Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations alike.
In 1962 the Ministry of Space launched their first satellite, Titania. A Black Knight Rocket lifted the small satellite into orbit. Titania was designed only as a technology test vehicle, and so carried no experiments. It was placed into a 531/1402 Km orbit, and would circle the Earth every 100 minutes for 40 years. The satellite's radio transmitter could be heard broadcasting on 137.56 MHz whenever it passed overhead. Had the Black Monarch and Blue Streak spurred the Soviets and the Americans, Titania positively caused a frenzy.
More importantly, though, the successful launch of Titania cleared to road for Arthur C. Clarke and Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai’s world-spanning system of communication satellites in geostationary orbits. In 1945 Arthur C. Clarke had published a speculative, but highly technical paper on Extra-Terrestrial Relays, where he laid down the principles of the satellite communication. Now some 15 years later his vision was to be realized. As a tribute to this great Briton, the geostationary orbit at 42,000 kilometres is duly named the Clarke Orbit by the Commonwealth Astronomical Society. It would not be long before the telecommunications market would become a major industry, and it would be a major source of income for the British and the Commonwealth, who monopolized nearly the entire commercial launch market.
At then same time, the Ministry of Defence commissioned its first spy satellite, the Prospero. The British would gain much by selling satellite surveillance photos to the Americans until the first of many American spy satellites became operational in 1967.
June 10th, 2007, 07:53 PM
Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events!
- Winston S. Churchill.
The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving!
- U.S. Grant.
The world in the mid-1960’s was a dangerous place. Not just because the United States of America and the Soviet Union and their allies and puppets starred each other in the eyes over open sights at numerous flash-points across the world, but also because several ethnic and colonial conflicts broke out.
In Algeria, France backed by massive arms and aid shipments from their American ally fought a nasty, but highly successful counter-insurgency campaign (as portrayed in the extremely popular Le Chien Algérien) based on their experiences from Indo-China, where they had fought a parallel war to the Chinese Civil War and only recently declared la mission a accompli (mission accomplished). Under talented commanders like Jacques Massu and the victor of Indo-China Christian de Castries, France used innovative tactics that evolved around helicopters and a combination of long range penetrations by elite units and land control missions by conscripted infantry and backed by massed armour (warfare French style, some rather witty British officers called it, or hide behind big, bloody armoured thingies less articulated minds said). France and its armed forces had indeed come a long way since the dishonourable defeats in World War II. And while DeGaulle still was revered as the liberator of France (well, quite a few recent historians of the nouvelle école de l'histoire insist on claiming that once again it was Leclerc who led the way) and its first post-war President of France, he is also remembered as the man who nearly threw France into full scale civil war. Nay, the real heroes are men, soldiers and Presidents alike, like Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu and Jacques-Philippe Leclerc.
Having only just averted a full blown war with the United States, the Soviet Union was getting increasingly worried by the actions of the Sinkiang Peoples’ Republic. The leadership, or lack of same, seemed completely unable to control the vast country and the victorious Chinese Nationalists incessantly sought to increase their influence in the area (and more likely was out to make a few extra bucks selling guns, drugs and women to a whole new clientele). The Old Vultures in Kremlin, Moscow, could ill afford another serious foreign setback and began to wonder whether or nor the Moslem parts of India was ripe for a little revolution. Ironically, the leadership in Washington had exactly the same ideas, they, however, focused on Egypt and the Suez.
Since the Commonwealth Pact and the subsequent agreements on free trade, exchange of technology, manufactured goods, raw-materials, the 1955 Commonwealth Defence Alliance, the custom union and the monetary ditto in respectively 1957 and 1960, and other similar achievements, the Commonwealth had prospered. London had even begun to rival New York as the world’s financial centre and Paris as its cultural hub. Now all that was threatened by a Soviet-inspired Moslem revolt in Northern India, the US-instigated military coup in Egypt and Chinese interference in the Malaysian Confederation.
The true strength of the Commonwealth was seen as British, Canadian, Australian, Indian, Rhodesian, Ugandan, South African, Kenyan and New Zealand forces poured into the Soviet-backed self-proclaimed Moslem Republic of Pakistan and in three months of often savage fighting reduced the area to nothing more than a razed desert and scorched mountains. Some Soviet-made fighters and SAM’s had somehow turned up in Pakistani hands, but were no match for the Commonwealth’s anti-RADAR missile-equipped multi-role rocket-fighters and guided precision missiles, nor were the insurgents (and Soviet Special Forces advisors in form of the notorious Special Purpose Units) any real threat to the highly capable and well-equipped Commonwealth ground forces. Part of the success on the ground could be directly attributed to the extensive use of PAPF-body armour by the Commonwealth Forces. All in all, the Commonwealth’s Armed Forces showed the world the potency of its new weapons, but the most impressive weapon of them all was used in Egypt.
American agitation had given some hot-headed Egyptian officers the idea that Egypt should be a Republic (under the benevolent rule of the very same officers, naturally) and that the Suez Channel should be the property of the Egyptian people (again in form of aforementioned officers). With little difficulty the clique of officers seized power in Egypt and began to sprout anti-British and Commonwealth propaganda as their lives depended on it.
Besides from flying in some few extra hundreds Paras in the great AVRO Asteroid jet-transporters, the only British reaction was to launch all of the five Black Prince-rockets currently in stock in rapid succession from Woomera. Needless to say, this, together with the uprising in Northern India, gave the Egyptians the nerve to begin moving in on the Channel Zone after having disposed of the pro-British Egyptian King.
The boffins at the Special Defence Initiative in Pretoria had in the greatest of secrecy developed a new spaceborn weapon under the code-name of Mjolnir. Each Black Prince launch brought a Mjolnir into orbit. Mjolnir consisted of a solid metallic core clad with ablatives, an inertial guided control system and a rocket engine. Mjolnir was in short a kinetic-impact weapon designed to be launched from orbit against a target on the surface of Earth. On a sunny June morning, British Prime minister MacMillan, in consent with his fellow Commonwealth PM’s, activated three Mjolnirs. Two of the weapons impacted in the proximity of the Egyptian troop-formations moving towards the Channel and the third hit Port Said more or less dead on target. The three hits generated enormous mushroom clouds that could be seen far away. The Egyptian King’s rightful rule was soon restored as the Egyptian Military collapsed completely and Commonwealth troops from the Channel Zone moved inland and took control.
Immediately after the so-called Egyptian Civil War a sombre US-President Nixon signed the Trans-Atlantic Friendship Charter. It seemed that the roles of the two countries were once again turned. In Kremlin the Old Men just sulked and schemed on.
Even though resources at the time were diverted to Defence, the MoS made do. After all, space and all things related were most important for both Britain and its allies in the Commonwealth! In 1966 the MoS and RAF in co-operation sat the altitude and speed record (6,260 kph and an altitude of 96,120 meters) for a rocket-plane with the Saunders-Roe Galahad SR-200. At the same time, the MoS begun to look for the replacement for the Black Prince-rocket and plan for a manned return to space.
The 60’s also became the decade were the Animatics trend saw light. It is agreed upon by most connoisseurs of the genre that the BBC TV-series Space Trek (the title originates in the Boer word trek roughly meaning trip into the wastelands of Africa, but in this case alludes to travels into uncharted space) starring Peter O’Toole as Space Commander Patrick Steele and David Jones as his young protégé, space cadet Tom White, amongst others as a forerunner for the animated Animatics wave soon to be unleashed. The first show aired on 12th of November, 1962, and instantly became hugely popular in the Commonwealth. Space Trek would sprout several shows set in the same universe, but always having the core British/Commonwealth values at the heart of the show.
The show inspired Mohammad Said and Abhas Kumar Ganguly in Bombay, Indian, to create a cartoon show – The Long Separation - with robots, romance, space travel and the occasional song. While it took a while for the genre to be appreciated by westerners, it immediately took off in India and most of Southeast Asia. Most non-fans of the genre disdainfully call it space opera.
June 10th, 2007, 07:55 PM
Black Knight was developed from nothing to its full stature for approximately £5,000,000. A printers error in an early report caused that figure to appear as £50,000,000, and I understand it was stated in America that if Black Knight proved itself to be successful and had cost no more than the £50,000,000 quoted, Britain had bought itself a bargain!
- Ivan Southall, Woomera, 1962.
I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us atomic weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these atomic weapons impotent and obsolete!
- Ronald Reagan.
In 1964 the MoS sent three Commonwealth astronauts on a four day trip around the globe in high orbit, thus proving that man could survive in space for real. After its re-entry the Wellington-capsule landed in the Indian Ocean where the Indian Navy’s flagship, the carrier, HMIS Viraat, picked the crew up some 30 minutes after their landing. The only British astronaut on the trip was Dr. Anthony Llewllyn, but he was celebrated as the greatest hero since Nelson in Britain. Dr. Llewllyn is famous for his stoic quote, standing a little ruffled on the HMIS Viraat’s flight deck surrounded by jubilant Indian sailors: “It's the first time I've had a chance to relax since last December!” His colleagues on the first Wellington flight hailed from Australia and South Africa.
The next Wellington space flight would have an Indian, a Canadian and a Kenyan astronaut on board. Harold Omnagu performed the first true space walk, or extra-vehicular activity (EVA), as he exited the capsule and was photographed by his colleagues while peering into the capsule from the port hole. The presence of a black man in space caused quite a stir in the world at the time and would boost both cultural and political consciousness among many Africans and, not to forget, Americans of African decent. When the Wellington programme was finally cancelled prior to Malcolm Davis and Ceepak Basheer Saheb’s Moon landing, every Commonwealth nation had had a man in space. The original Wellington capsule is exhibited at the Commonwealth Science Museum in Nairobi, Kenya.
After the successful orbital flight of the Commonwealth astronauts in their Wellington capsule, the Ministry of Space in co-operation with the United Commonwealth Command began to plan a true orbital aircraft or space-plane, now possible with the huge breakthrough in synthetic materials and engine technology. Two British and one Canadian developed system were proposed by respectively Miles Aircraft Company, de Havilland Aircraft Company and AVRO. The Miles design was be far the more conventional one with two stages, where the first stage would accelerate the craft to hypersonic (Mach 5) speed using air-breathing engines, at which point the second stage would be released and would then use rockets to navigate the craft into orbit. De Havilland‘s design was much more unorthodox and usually just went by its acronym; MUSTARD (Multi Unit Space Transport And Recovery Device). The de Havilland MUSTARD consisted of three reusable delta-shaped craft that would be sandwiched together. The two outer layers would act as boosters for the third central stage, which was meant to go into orbital. The boosters could then be flown back either by remote control or by a pilot. Fuel could be transferred from the boosters into the orbiter, allowing the orbiter to reach Earth orbit with a full fuel load. De Havilland postulated that their orbiter would have been capable of reaching the moon.
The project decided upon, however, was the AVRO Sparhawk. The Sparhawk was a single-pilot manned reusable delta-shaped spaceplane. It partially evolved from yet another German wartime design, the Sänger-Bredt Silverbird. Walter Dornberger, former head of the German Rocket programme at Peenemünde, had been employed by AVRO together with Dr. Eugen Sänger from 1952 and had among other things worked on perfecting the principles of the lifting body. The lifting body hypothesis had arisen from the idea of a spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere and landing much like a regular aircraft. Wings would have to be built that could withstand stresses and temperatures at hypersonic speeds. A proposed answer was to eliminate wings altogether, so that the craft’s body itself produced the necessary lift. AVRO therefore began to experiment with a combination of the lifting body principles and Saunders-Roe’s Alexander Lippisch’s delta wing concept (not completely unlike to one used in the de Havilland MUSTARD).
Thus was born the AVRO Sparhawk. Since the Sparhawk was a joint Military-MoS project and space based weapons had just ended the Egyptian Civil War most splendidly it was not surprisingly that the United Commonwealth Command in Johannesburg pushed hard for a MOWS (Manned Orbital Weapons System) version, while the Ministry of Space and its Commonwealth equivalents wanted a design that could perform multiple mission-types like orbital supply, transport, satellite rendezvous and inspection. The military, naturally, focused more narrowly on orbital combat, reconnaissance and bombing as the senior leadership and strategists foresaw a need for true orbital combat platforms. Especially since both the US and USSR had begun rather large and apparently sophisticated space programmes of their own.
In the end, the Military was pressured by the MacMillan government to accept a junior-partnership with the Ministry of Space and thus run with their proposal. The AVRO Sparhawk would nonetheless be a full-fledged Manned Orbital Weapons System capable of hypersonic strategic bombardment, reconnaissance and orbital combat.
The development of the Sparhawk was excessively expensive as a series of not only new materials such as those used for the ceramic aeroshell and fuel tanks had to be developed, but a revolutionary new propulsion system had to be designed as well. The Rolls-Royce SABRE engine was and still is one of the most complex and expensive pieces of engineering ever produced. SABRE is the acronym for Synergic Air Breathing Engine and would burn a mixture of liquid hydrogen and pressurized air. Besides the plane it self, a whole new type of weapons had to be constructed from scratch as well, but the first generation of the Sparhawk ended up armed with modified standard air-to-air missiles.
Since the MoS saw no need to develop yet another new orbital launch system – nor really had the funds for it as the Sparhawk seemed to swallow money as a rampant black hole -, the Sparhawk was designed so that the new Black Duke-rockets could lift the space-plane into orbit. The Black Duke was about to be tested and would therefore do nicely. The giant new rocket would be needed by the late 1960's for launch of the new nearly 10 tonnes heavy reconnaissance and communications satellites into low orbit and the ELINT and early warning satellites into high orbit.
The Sparhawk’s first test-flight was in March, 1966, followed by the first all-up boosted spaceflight in late 1967. The same time as the Americans placed their first spy-satellite in orbit. It would, however, be two long years before the Sparhawk would become operational.
In Paris an electrified revolution took place as a black American fired up Montmartre in the XVIIIe arrondissement with his guitar. More or less all by himself Jimmie Hendrix created a totally new sound that soon conquered not only France and his homeland the United States of America, but spread its influence throughout the Commonwealth countries as well (and brought further grey hairs on the heads of the leadership of the USSR). Hendrix’ legendary melancholic twang gave rise to a whole lot of new rebellious bands. The style was immediately adopted by Keith Richards and John Lennon whose collective fame in the Heart Rock Band would eventually overshadow even that of Hendrix. Ironically, Hendrix’s – who was an ardent pacifist - guitar-riffs would forever be associated with the scenes of French Paras riding helicopters in Algeria as the images of Luis Bunuel‘s Le Chien Algérien (the Algerian Dog) with Jean-Claude Carrière as captain Le Pen burned themselves into the minds of the youth of Europe and the Americas. Later other moviemakers would make films about Indo-China, Algeria and China, but the soundtrack to the Algerian Dog as well as the movies imagery had set the standard. The Heart Rock wave invigorated the London music scene just as Hendrix and Cash fired up France and the US. Oddly enough neither had much success outside their own back yard so to say. At a social gathering in Paris, US Army Lt. Colonel E. Aaron Presley (later general, commander in chief of the US Army Group in Germany – USAGG - and contender for the Presidency) once told Rolling Stones reporter Mick Jagger that he found European (meaning British) rock music without much heart (the hard boiled Presley – an army mustang – never was good at making puns), which led to a fierce musical battle between the two scenes for the next 20 years as musicians wasted no opportunity to belittle each other!
Taking a page from the French COIN-ops in Algeria and Indo-China, the Soviet Union, finally getting tired of their unruly puppets in the Sinkiang Peoples’ Republic send Special Purpose Units (eager to redeem themselves after their failure in the Pakistani Revolt) and airborne units into the Sinkiang Peoples’ Republic to restore order and bring the People back into control. Sinkiang would in the years ahead be an annoyance to the Soviets, but ultimately give them the idea for their absolutely disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in ’78. The Sinkiang intervention saw heavy armed and armoured combat transport helicopters of the Mil-variant in action for the first time. Said helicopters did much to gain Soviets airborne and Special Purpose Units (the much dreaded Spetznas) their reputation for being extremely effective, deadly and ruthless on the verge of sadistic (a reputation well-earned in Afghanistan were it became norm for the Spetznas to drown suspected Mujaheddin in pigs blood or kill captives with ammunition or hand-to-hand weapons dipped in pigs blood).
June 21st, 2007, 05:22 PM
I have already described the - shall we say - jockeying for position before take-off on the first flight to the moon. As it turned out, the American, Russian and British ships landed just about simultaneously...
- Arthur C. Clarke, Venture to the Moon, 1956.
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return!
- Leonardo da Vinci.
When Blue Streak was scrapped and Black Prince proved to be far too small to be of any use other than to launch minor satellites, Mjolnirs and the much too cramped three-man Wellington-capsule into orbit, work began on a series of even bigger rockets. Even though the Mjolnirs had proven deadly in the Egyptian debacle and the Wellington space-capsules efficient and reliable, it was judged that there was, or would be, a great need for larger payloads to be sent into orbit. Especially now, that an honest to God Moon Mission were in the works. While the Wellington was the first viable capsule for an extended stay in space, it was extremely cramped indeed due to its small size (unofficially the Wellington capsule was often referred to as the sardine can) and for a Moon landing a little bit more was needed. That little more would be helped on its way by the Black Duke…
The first A/I series of Back Dukes was able to put some 20 tonnes in Earth orbit, while the finally version, the C/IV, could place nearly 80 tonnes in orbit. By comparison, the weight of the Wellington was around 3 tonnes. To further extend the Black Dukes usefulness and flexibility, the rocket system was build with upgrading in mind. Especially the engine system and housing were designed for expansion and clustering – adding several engines together. Furthermore several types of modules were designed for the Black Duke-series, so that separately launched modules could rendezvous in orbit. Rendezvousing with another module in space would be very ambitious, though, as would any arrangements there had to involve docking with other objects in orbit, but the enormous know-how of the British Ministry of Space, the astronauts experience and the Ministry’s access to advanced computers (the day-to-day name of Türing’s Automatic Computing Engines) seemed to make this easily manageable. Further more Britain at the time had a near hubris-like attitude; there were no borders or limits that could not be crossed by the Men and Women of the Empire (to paraphrase Space Commander Steele in Space Trek’s 201st episode Space and Beyond).
The Black Duke and the later truly impressive and powerful Black Duchess series of rockets would be the ultimate expression of the British, and German, rocket scientists dream of exploring space, the Moon and in the end Mars. They were living Churchill’s dream!
There came, however, a great and somewhat unexpected – some would call it a fitting nemesis to Britain’s all to apparent scientific hubris - blow to the Ministry of Space, and the Douglas-Home government as such, when the Soviets successfully launched and operated Luna 18 - a Lunar Rover of the Lunakhod-type - which operated for nine months on the surface of the Moon before its solar panels broke down. The Luna 18-mission was immediately followed up by the even more astonishing Luna 19-mission only two months after Luna 18 touched down on the Moon’s surface. Luna 19 not only landed on the Moon, it returned to the Earth with a few grams of lunar soil from the Sea of Fertility. Of course it was known that both the Soviet Union and the United States had space programmes, and rather large and at times quite successful ones at that, but intelligence failed to estimate the true scope of especially the Soviet programme.
Unknown to most, the Soviet space programme were led by two brilliant men. Men who more or less designed each and every Soviet rocket and rocket engine from scratch. Woking together or at times as competitors – the Soviet military leadership being good Communist and all never ignored that competition at times could be good for getting results - Valentin Petrovich Glushko and Mikhail Kuzmich Yangel did work wonders with their rather limited resources and most notably very limited pool of skilled personnel – unlike Britain, the Soviet Union suffered from a severe lack of highly trained engineers. Usually, however, the two men collaborated as Glushko’s design bureau provided engines for Yangel’s launch vehicles, rockets and missiles. After the collapse of the USSR, Glushko claimed that the Soviet Union could easily have won the space race if one of his old comrades, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, had survived his stay in the Gulag camps. Still, with geniuses like Glushko himself, Yangel, Makeyev and Chelomei one wonders whether one more Russian designer would have changed much.
The history of Soviet space programme was predominantly the story of the Soviet military. Manned or scientific space missions would only be justified in the eyes of the Kremlin as part of a larger military project. The Soviets dominantly military focus is most clearly seen in the many generations of cutting edge cruise missiles, advanced surface-to-air missiles and ballistic missiles developed by Makeyev, Chelomei and Yangel after the Kremlin leadership finally got bored with their big bombers. No doubt, the British use of the Mjolnirs in the Egyptian Civil War really rattled the Soviet leadership. It was estimated by British intelligence that less than 20% of Soviet launches were for national prestige or purely scientific purposes, but was in one way or another tied in to the ever expanding Soviet military apparatus. Still, now and again the Soviet rocket designers got to show their skills outside the purely military fields as seen with the Lunakhod-missions The Soviet economy was a planned economy, and the space programme was closely co-ordinated with the various Five Year-plans. Long range military forces plans were made for a ten year period, and implemented in two five-year phases. The first such plan was approved in 1963 and displayed the USSR’s desire for a long term strategic commitment to conquering space in the name of Marx and Lenin.
The head of the British secret intelligence service, also known as MI-6, Sir John Sinclair, the hero of the Burgess-Philby spy-hunt, retired voluntarily and was replaced by Sir Maurice Oldfield. The Minister of Space himself, Sir Reginald Jones of World War 2-fame, stepped down in the wake of the Lunakhod-scandale and was replaced by the young energetic Douglas Richard Hurd, a promising Conservative from Marlborough, Wiltshire, who would become one of the best liked and most respected ministers in the history of the MoS. Hurd would end his formidable carrier as the first British Commonwealth general-secretary since Konni Zilliacus.
The new Minister of Space was now under intense pressure to get men from the Commonwealth on the Moon, since the Conservative government needed something to boost voter confidence, so the Moon programme was rushed forth. A group of Commonwealth astronauts were picked and began to train.
June 21st, 2007, 05:45 PM
The rockets... can be built so powerfully that they could be capable of carrying a man aloft!
- Hermann Oberth
To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act!
- Anatole France.
Due to numerous factors - the Egyptian debacle amongst others created fear for whether or not the shipping lanes would be closed for Commonwealth ships and the lethargic and apparently eternal Conservative Government – there was slump in the British economy in the late 60’s and many British and Commonwealth companies saw profits and share values dive. Furthermore the rather heavy tax burden was limiting investments and private consumption. The troublesome economy was no doubt part of the reason why the Liberal party managed to gain Downing Street not one, but two times in the 70’s.
In 1969, the industrial conglomerate Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. took advantage of the falling stock marked and launched what can only be described as a hostile takeover of Armstrong-Siddeley (Ironically A-S had once been under the control of Armstrong Whitworth, which was merged with Vickers to form Vickers-Armstrong in the 1920’s. Now, Armstrong-Siddeley was back in the fold). Later the same year Vickers-Armstrong acquired Bristol Aeroplane Company in an unprecedented share-swap. In many ways the huge mega corporation innovated the way to expand by acquisition and often found itself under close government scrutiny because of its methods. Nonetheless, Vickers-Armstrong Ltd continued to grow making a wide variety of products, most associated with vehicles of all sort. In 2004, Vickers-Armstrong Ltd was the world’s third largest corporation, only bested by British Petroleum and American General Electric Company, respective the world’s largest and second largest company. French Thomson SA has challenged Vickers-Armstrong position for the last four years, but has so far failed to wrest the third place from Vickers-Armstrong.
Born from the Saunders-Roe Galahad SR-200 experimental rocket-plane a new supersonic spy-plane took to the skies in Canada in late 1970. Developed in secret by Vickers-Armstrong and produced on said company’s Malton facility. Vickers-Armstrong had bought the Galahad from Saunders-Roe who at the time was in desperate need for a cash infusion to keep pushing the development of the Royal Navy and Marine’s Assaulteer hovercrafts (the heavy crafts need for engine power forced to company into developing a new series of jet engines which nearly along with the costs of the SR-NA22 bankrupted the company). The plane, Vickers Venom (nick-named the Pit Viper by its crew), was one of the world’s absolute fastest planes and could cruise at impressive speeds and heights (just above 3600 km/h and 30 km, respectively). It was constructed of various forms of metallic alloys, ceramics and titanium. The elongated wedge-shaped design - like that of the Shadow - along with unique construction materials and special dark green paint made the Venom nearly undetectable by RADAR. The powerful, but well concealed and shielded engines made it nearly invisible on thermal scans as well. Vickers-Armstrong was, because of design difficulties, forced to buy engines for the Venom from Rolls-Royce. The RR Hobgoblin-engines were designed to fly continuously on afterburner – increasing in efficiency as the speed rose because of its ramjet-like construction - and burn a special type of fuel mash (called Malt because it’s more expensive than the best Scottish Single Malt). Updated versions of the Vickers Venom still fly in service of the RAF – the secretive and highly elite 140th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron flying out of RAF Benson - and MoS and have proven quite handy time after time. While a handful of years behind their American counterparts – the American SR-77 Rooster flew in ’66 -, Vickers had by far created a better, faster and stealthier reconnaissance platform.
Both planes were – in secret, of course – actually used extensively in the air over the Belgian Colony of Congo as the colony tore itself apart in perhaps the most vicious – including the French counter-insurgency campaigns and the Soviet operations in Afghanistan – colonial uprisings ever seen. While the Commonwealth tried to distance itself from bloodletting, Congo’s geographical position forced the political and military leadership to take a keen interest in the situation. Nor were South African mining interests about to let the diamantes and raw materials in Congo slip them by, so numerous mercenaries with a background in local military outfits found their way into Congo fighting, to a certain degree, for the Belgians. France and the US both supported the Belgian government, albeit the Americans were rather reluctant as the Nixon Administration had other things on it mind. The USSR supplied the indigenous rebel groups with weapons and send Prussian and Bulgarian advisors and mercenaries to support their struggle. French Presidents, Teitgen and Mitterrand, however, feared for their own spheres of interest (nobody used the phrase colonies in public after the creation of the French Community) should Congo succeed in toppling the much hated Belgians colonial administration and therefore did their best to support their neighbours. Even though the United States of America tried to stay clear of Congo, the OSS flew frequent Rooster-missions over Congo and several advisors and US Special forces units apparently operated in the area. Such rumours inspired Coppolas’ We Were Green Berets with John Wayne portraying an American Special Forces colonel and Marlon Brando a French legionnaire ditto, which while never as acclaimed as Bunuel‘s Le Chien Algérien it was nonetheless quite popular in the States and French and it had much the same effective blend of music and imagery as Bunuel‘s masterpiece. Although Congo was as bloody a conflict as they come, little attention was paid to it in the larger scheme of things as the greater powers had other interests. Congo gained its independence in 1973, but intervention from France and the USSR kept the nation unable to function and even today Congo is mess of suffering. South African mining operations are, however, still active in the area.
At the same time Goldwater and Nixon together with their Soviet counterparts in the Kremlin escalated the arms and missile race by constructing literally thousands of ballistic atomic missiles. In the USSR, Chelomei designed and build the UR-230 class of intercontinental atomic missile centred on Glushko’s powerful hypergolic fuelled engines. The hypergolic fuel had the advantage of being readily storable in contrast to the cryogenic liquid oxygen and kerosene combination usually used, but had the major disadvantage that it was extremely toxic and dangerously corrosive. In the United States of America, the Militia and Guardsman missiles were designed, constructed and deployed in incredible numbers under the supervision of Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson – a hard-line Democrat of the old school - and project manager Robert McNamara. Even though meeting stiff opposition form the so-called Bomber Mafia – led by the imposing Air General Curtis LeMay – Johnson and McNamara created an impressive 1000 missiles programme consisting of low-maintenance solid-fuelled intercontinental atomic missile that could be produced and cheaply operated in vast numbers. No doubt the drastically expanding expenditure would lead to Reagan’s decision to cut back defence spending by reducing the conventional forces and furthermore the economical and political collapse of the USSR.
June 21st, 2007, 06:34 PM
Soon there will be no one who remembers when spaceflight was still a dream, the reverie of reclusive boys and the vision of a handful of men!
- Wyn Wachhorst, 1995.
It has been said that he who controls the moon controls the earth. Our planners must carefully evaluate this statement for, if true - and I, for one, think it is - then the U.S. must control the moon!
- Homer A. Boushey, U.S. News & World Report, February 7, 1958.
In 1970’s Britain and the Commonwealth was at least ten years ahead of the rest of the world in developing space related technologies and, in the long run more importantly, computers, but the United States under the new energetic President and the Soviet Union was catching up, and catching up fast!
Nearly a quarter of a century of fighting Communist aggression, perceived as well as real, across the Globe, rebuilding Germany almost single handedly and upholding the colonial empire of their French allies had left the USA somewhat dispirited and paranoid, not to mention caught in a slight economic depression. A rebellious streak a mile wide amongst the American youth as represented by idols like Hendrix, Cash and Ames was seen as minor and at times major disturbances on city streets and on various campuses. The Peaceniks protested against the universal 3-year Draft, against US foreign policy (especially Indonesia and to a slightly lesser degree France had a rather bad image due to the excesses of their security and military forces) and the massive taxation (the military swallowed billions upon billions each year and the US civil society suffered for it). Johnny Cash’ famous song 36 Months as well as Josh Ames’ They're Coming to take Me Away – both songs attacked the Draft - portrayed the mindset of feel of the mid-70’s with their catchy lyrics. Especially Ames’ They're Coming to take Me Away became something of a theme song for the 70’s Youth Rebellion. The stagnating Nixon Administration did not improve the moral of the Americans, nor the economy, on the contrary, but when President Nixon was hospitalized in the autumn of 1977 and later died, his VP did step up to the platter and begun to re-establish the American Spirit. Ronald Reagan did like Churchill decades before, he used the space programme and his extremely charismatic personality to rally the American public to a single cause. Reagan ordered a draw back of the US commitment overseas and soon US troops stationed abroad began to return home. Reagan was no fool, and he made sure that atomic weapons – now readily available due to Johnson and McNamara’s huge missile programme - would be used to curtail any overt Soviet aggression, and that the Soviets knew it – a new doctrine was thus born, the Reagan Assured Destruction Doctrine.
The money saved was mostly used to reduce taxation, but quite a few billions found their way into the two American space programmes. Means were distributed equally between the USAFSOA, US Air Force Space Operations Agency and their naval equivalent, USNARP, United States Navy Advanced Research Projects. The money was well-spent and in 1979 Boeing’s X-20 Talon as part of USAFSOA’s space plane programme took to the skies and the year after the USNARP send the first US-citizen, Commander James Wilcox, into orbit around Earth.
With the massive force reduction undertaken by the Reagan Administration, the US allies either felt exposed or set free. The warlords of China (a derogatory term for the many, many short-lived Presidents of China first used by the BBC in ´62) felt very exposed indeed and began to worry (more than usual) about their survival (and their London bank accounts). In an attempt to shore up their ramshackle empire they nearly triggered wars with the People’s Republic of Manchuria (and the USSR) and the Malaysian Confederation (and the Commonwealth). Luckily, the Old Vultures in Kremlin were occupied with Afghanistan and thus rather reluctant to get involved in a war with China over Manchuria (Mao and his successors in Manchuria had not exactly build up a lot of good will with the Soviets) and chose to rely on arms shipments and advisors, not combat soldiers (yet at least). The low key war between China and Manchuria continue to this day. And is a major reason for Hong Kong and Macau’s joint petition to join the Commonwealth in 1992.
During this time hundreds of thousands Chinese citizens either fled their home country or simply stayed abroad. Ever since the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War it had been the norm for better-off Chinese families to send their kids to school in the United States. Now, with the trouble seemingly escalating, many of them chose to stay and build a new life in the USA. Others ended up in the immediate neighbourhood or in rather odd places like Chile, Argentine and Africa. Via Africa many ended up in both Britain and France. Sadly many found their new homes not overly hostile, but less than pleased to see them. Many historians and anthropologists have later claimed that many other non-natives of Britain, most notably Indians and West Indians, and France, most notably Moroccans and Senegalese (for some reason) played a major part in discrediting the Chinese minority due to fierce job-competition. In Indonesia and the Malaysian Confederation, the huge and growing number Chinese caused a lot of tension, some times due to China’s direct interference, and in the end led to serious repercussions and what can only be called state sponsored crimes against the Chinese. Some of the anti-Chinese propaganda was in Britain at least to a certain degree curtailed by the highly popular 1980’s BBC action series, Johnny Typhoon – also featuring in three very popular Pinewood Studios movies and a an Animatics series – where two of the main characters were Chinese. Even today the gorgeous Bai Ling at an age 45 is considered one of the most beautiful people of the British film industry.
The Soviets, however, did not sit idly, while China, the US and the Commonwealth played their games. In 1978, while Reagan was still new in the Oval Office, the USSR launched an invasion of Afghanistan following the play book from Sinkiang. The Kremlin-leadership announced to the world that they were aiding an allied country and was there to put down a Moslem revolt in the name of the Afghan People. In Washington, President Reagan was annoyed, but saw Afghanistan as the Commonwealth’s problem. It is later said, that Reagan and his senior advisors, among them George Bush, John McCain and Oliver North, saw the invasion as suicidal and was quite happy to let the Soviets bled their precious Red Army white in the mountains of Afghanistan. The lessons of Sinkiang and the many British adventures in said country was apparently clearer to the American leadership than to the Old Men in the Kremlin. The Red Army soon overran most of the country, but advanced Commonwealth weaponry and military advisors began to find its way into Afghanistan. A bloody and long attritional war had begun…
With an eye on both the USSR and Chinese nationalists in Peking, the Commonwealth political leadership decided to guarantee Tibet and Nepal’s independence and after some debate assumed the military responsibility of both countries, just in case the Soviets or Chinese got any funny ideas.
In space the Soviets pushed harder than ever and several of their first generation space systems either became operational or were used as prototypes and test articles for the advanced second generation. From the first long range military plan of 1963 till the second in 1973 three major research programs sprung to life. They were code-named Shchit for space systems, Osnova for space equipment and finally Ediniy KIK for ground based systems. A Defence Ministry directive of November 1971 laid out the actions to be taken in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The objective was to integrate space forces into overall military planning, thus taking into account the most cost-effective use of resources. Methodical operations planning were completed in 1980 with Plans Prognoz and Sirius Phase I. From 1971-1981, 14 new space systems entered military service, among them the first of Chelomei's Kosmoplanes.
Needless to say, the Soviet and American advances- especially the flights of the US X-20 and the Soviet Kosmoplane -, and the rumours of a Franco-German space programme centred a round a super-gun capable of launching satellites led to a very hectic period for the MoS, not to mention the Commonwealth military and various intelligence services. Pressured by both Downing Street and the military, the MoS stepped up their preparations for a manned mission to the Moon. The rush, however, resulted in a disaster, the so far greatest in space history, when a Black Duke rocket blew up on the launch pad at Woomera Space Center and killed the three-man crew and razed launch pad C.
Now the space programme would cost yet another head. The explosion forced the otherwise quite popular liberal PM, David Steel, to call for a General Election and while he and his party did their best and played heavily on their youth and progressiveness it would be to no avail, the Liberal Party lost the election and the Tories under Edward Heath entered Downing Street once again.
Finally a Black Duke rocket was launched from Woomera’s secondary launch pad carrying three Commonwealth astronauts, Malcolm Davis, Gerd van der Bruel and Ceepak Basheer Saheb into orbit around the Moon. Davies and Saheb separated their lander from the orbiter and began their descent onto the surface of the Moon. Soon Davies’ voice could be heard through the static all over the Commonwealth; "Woomera control, we have touch down! The Victory has landed!" Following their successful landing both Davis and Saheb soon stepped onto the Moon surface and Saheb made the famous claim: "The Heavens are hereby claimed for the Commonwealth by the Commonwealth – God bless the Queen!” After raising the Union Jack and the Commonwealth Colours and having made a conversation with the PM’s of Britain, India and the South African Federation on the radiotelephone, the two astronauts gathered samples of lunar soil and rocks. Davis and Saheb then re-entered the Victory. Lifted off and rejoined van der Bruel in the orbiter, Shiva. The entire event had been televised to the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Even to day, many people remember the Moon Landing with crystal clarity and think of it as one of history’s truly great moments!
June 28th, 2007, 07:59 AM
The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible!
- Arthur C. Clarke, Technology and the Future.
If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them!
- Isaac Asimov.
The 1980’s saw a computer revolution sweep through in the nations of the British Commonwealth! Since the days of the huge and complex vacuum tube machines during the War computers had truly evolved. Now an Automatic Computing Engine, or simply computer, not only outperformed the ancient beasts, but used only a fraction of the space and costs very little in comparison. Led by visionaries like Clive Sinclaire, Martin Armstrong and Alan Sugar, the owners and founders of Sinclaire Radionics, MARs and AMS Trading respectively, British society as such was forever changed by the invention of the household computer. These new smallish computers were affordable for almost anyone and were soon used both privately as machines for play and games and as vital business instruments. Always noted by historians as a great Briton, Alan Türing now became a national icon side by side with Solly Zuckerman and Arthur C. Clarke.
Computers are credited with the economic boom experienced by the Commonwealth in the 80’s as new technology and jobs became available as a direct result. The consequences of one occurrence in the period are still not completely understood even today, but scholars claim that it was instrumental in the economic dominance Britain and the Commonwealth has since gained. As computers went from highly specialized tools to ordinary household equipment the Military, pressed by the scientific community, opened up for the civilian use of Gateway-technology. Gateway-technology was originally developed to secure the Commonwealth Armed Forces a way to communicate if parts of its infrastructure were destroyed in a (atomic) war. Now Gateway found use by first universities, then businesses and finally private citizens as the perfect way to exchange information and knowledge. Several hundreds so-called Gates sprung up in the mid-80’s where knowledge were posted for all with a Gateway access to see. In the 90’s there would be over 250,000,000 Gates in the Commonwealth and tonnes of information would be accessible, and often free, for all to use.
With the emergence of household computers and all the related technology satellites became even more important and as satellites themselves evolved quite rapidly a new idea was born. One of the bright heads at Woomera, Jocelyn Burnell, apparently got the idea for a spaceborn navigation system one sunny Monday morning in May, 1981, driving from her home in Woomera City to the satellite engineering complex where she worked. After a brief talk with co-workers, astronomer Brian May and space system engineer Colin McInnes, she went to see her boss, Cyril Domb, and the idea was landed on Minister Hurd’s desk before long. The Military as well as the MoS immediately saw the beneficial value of such a system and the Cook Navigational System Project was after an impressively short development time launched.
The Cook Navigational System consisted, and still does, of 24 satellites in a pattern that guaranteed that between five and eight satellites always were available. Four satellites would send encrypted radio signals from their orbits in space to a given ground receiver, thus enabling the receiver to compute position, velocity and time via the signals. The system would have tremendous impact on not only the Military’s ability to navigate and perform precision strikes against enemy targets, but also on the civilian sector. The main control facility for the CNS was located at Woomera Space Center, which soon began to seem a bit too small for all the activities going on.
It soon became obvious to Space Minister Hurd and his Commonwealth colleagues that the Commonwealth had to seriously upgrade its launch capacity both in payload terms and the numbers of launches possible. After a survey it was determined that a new facility was to be build near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. Close to the Equator and out in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, it was the perfect place to construct the world greatest space port and launch facility! Within three years the gigantic Kilimanjaro Launch Facility would become operational.
As the newly created Commonwealth Space Agency and the MoS strived to build the Kilimanjaro Launch Facility and launch the Cook Navigational System, the USSR and USA kept sending men and materiel into space at an alarming rate. In the capitals around the Commonwealth it was decided that the Commonwealth had to answer the unspoken challenge and it found the perfect front women as Margaret Thatcher gained the post as PM in Britain in 1980.
The heavy handed and tough Prime minister dismantled the National Foundation for Unity and Restructuring (NFUR) and thus put immense pressure on the much fabled British Modern Model State – which in Thatcher’s view was nothing less than a socialistic Welfare State. While many historians and economists – prime among them Scottish Socialist Miners Party chairman James G. Brown - even today debate the fact, it was however clear that the Modern Model State and especially NFUR had become hugely expensive and ineffective, not to mention it often put a damper on the unique British spirit of innovation to quote Prime minister Thatcher’s famous Bath speech in ’83.
Thatcher also oversaw a more general liberalisation of Britain as taxes were lowered and a numbers of laws and regulations taken of the books. Still, Thatcher was not all about downsizing as the military, MoS and Ministry of Public Education was kept well-funded during her reign. She did, nonetheless, become very unpopular in academic circles as she opened up for private universities and increased cooperation between public and private sectors. Several ministries were simply closed down, for example the Ministry of Public Information, or severely downscaled. Ironically, considering Thatcher’s general hard-line nationalistic stance, she did impose increased local rule in Britain and something akin to home rule in Wales and Scotland – which led to the collapse of the Liberal Party and Labour as both parties mainly drew support from and had a large number of their MP’s elected in Welsh and Scottish constituencies. Churchill and his Social Conservatives no doubt rotated in their graves.
Two of Thatcher’s pet projects will, however, always be remembered fondly and stands as a great monument to British engineering and the economic boom of the Thatcher era; the Auden Bridge and the Ulster Tunnel. The Auden Bridge was at its construction the world’s largest single-span suspension bridge. It spans the Humber and thus connects Yorkshire and Lincolnshire forming an important part of British infrastructure. The bridge was named after the Yorkshire poet Wystan H. Auden, who albeit for some time spend in the USA during the War gained great fame in Britain in the post-war period as one of the first Spacer poets. The Ulster Tunnel connects Britain with Ulster by both road and rail. With the completion of the Auden Bridge in 1984 and the Ulster Tunnel in ´89, British engineering was once again triumphant!
Of course Thatcher will also be remembered – fondly by some and not so fondly by others - as the Iron Lady due to her handling of the Tri-Party Crisis over the Falklands Isles in the South Atlantic.
June 28th, 2007, 08:08 AM
The moon sailed on contented,
Above the heaps of slain,
For she saw that manhood liveth,
And honor breathes again.
- George S. Patton, The Moon and the Dead.
Satellite vehicles represent a rather fearsome foresight of future wars of nerves, in which aggressive nations could put their pilotless missiles into frictionless satellite motion round the earth for all to see and fear, with the constant threat of guiding them down to a target!
- W. F. Hilton, 1952.
During the 1980’s a full scale arms race in space began as the USSR and the USA followed the lead of Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations and themselves began to militarize space with disturbing haste. In its wake the Commonwealth under the firm leadership of the British PM, Margaret Thatcher, also begun to deploy a broad spectrum of multi-function satellites and armed space platforms, so-called MOWS (Manned Orbital Weapons System), in increasing numbers.
The heightened tension, so to say, between the greater space powers soon spilled over into a steep increase in tension on Earth as well. One of the most dangerous situations arose when Argentine, most likely without any prodding from the USA, began to build-up its forces for a re-conquest of the Malvinas, or Falkland Isles according to the British who saw the isles in the South Atlantics as an integrated part of the United Kingdom.
The Argentine government, being in all but name a military dictatorship, needed to shore up public support. The popularity of the military and its pet politicians had been declining rather rapidly the latest years as ever increasing military spending drove the argentine civil community into ever deeper poverty. The logical step for the military was naturally to use all those expensive toys, and for a moment in mid-1983 Britain seemed vulnerable as internal problems plagued the Thatcher government – chief amongst them a highly unpopular police action in Haiti and internal dissent in the Conservative Party over domestic policies - troubles in Africa – where tension between the growing Jewish minority and indigenous population had come to a boil - and the Far East – the usual Chinese inspired and instigated problems - demanded the Commonwealths attention, both politically and militarily.
Armed and generously equipped by the United States, the Argentine Armed Forces were no laughing matter, nor in any way incompetent, but the nature of the countries leadership would weaken the effort to successfully pull off a re-conquest of the Malvinas. In late April, 1983, two Argentine Naval Task Forces set to sea, one heading directly towards the isles, the other centered around the two carries; the light domestically constructed – albeit with substantial American aid - ARA William Brown and the ex-USN Forrestal, ARA Independencia. Both ships, having air groups consisting of fairly modern planes and helicopters of French and American origin, were considered powerful surface units in their own right. The second task forced was centred on the elderly battle cruiser, ex-USN Alaska, ARA General Belgrano and a modern light cruiser ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, a home grown design. The first task force was to shield the invasion from enemy naval units while the second was to escort and provide fire support to the invasion force itself. The invasion was spearheaded by the tough and capable Argentine marines from the IMARA (Infanteria de Marina Armada Republica Argentina), but the main force was, for political reasons, mostly conscripted youths from the Army.
Of course the machinations of the Argentineans did not go unnoticed in either London, Washington or Moscow. The British immediately put pressure on both Buenos Aires and Washington – to keep their puppets under control, but to no avail. Now it became a race between the Armada de la República Argentina and the Royal Navy as British and whatever Commonwealth forces not already deployed around the globe began to gather to counter the feared and as time went by expected Argentine invasion of the Falklands.
The Royal Navy had a minor base on the Falklands where an icebreaker and one or two minor naval vessels usually were on station. Said units could offer little or no opposition to the Argentines, nor could the isles be reinforced or as it turned out retaken by anything less than a full fleet due to the strong Argentinean naval presence, so London was forced to accept the loss of the isles. The Royal Marines and Naval units gave as good as they got, but on May the 1st, the Union Jack was lowered after a brief but intensive fight.
In both London and Washington politicians and military leaders went through the roof. The Americans feared all-out war – the British operations in Haiti being seen by many Americans as a direct provocation - and the loss of a major ally – few in Washington really believed the Argentines could stand up to the full might of the Commonwealth - and the British were out of their minds due to the first military defeat in ages. The collision between an US Navy destroyer and a British super frigate just south of Port-au-Prince did little to alleviate the situation. Both sides were quick to blame to other, but the fact that the British ship, HMS Ethalion, was one of the new stealthy and extremely fast super frigates most likely meant that the Americans had simply not seen the ship until too late.
One of the reasons why the situation never escalated despite a heavy US naval presence in both the South Atlantic and around Haiti was no doubt due to the fact that Canada never placed their military on full or even raised alert as requested by London. The Canadian move made the American leadership certain that there was to be no major confrontation and slowly US-British/Commonwealth tensions ebbed out.
While the Canadians never got into the same military high gear as Britain, Australia and South Africa it nonetheless contributed to both the Haiti mission – where Canadian Highlanders often was at odds with their more heavy handed and rough British Para and Marine colleagues - and the retaking of the Falkland Isles in late June and July, 1983.
The operations in the South Atlantic were and still are often referred to as the Tri-Party Crisis. While Britain and her Commonwealth allies squared off against Argentina, while the Americans did their best to calm things down and mediate. The presence of a US Navy carrier Group based around the USS Goldwater – one of the new American super carriers meant to match the British class of George V atomic carries – at times made things seem more like a three way fight as the American did their best to prevent clashes outside the war zone.
Still, heavy naval and air clashes took place, but no direct attacks on the Argentine mainland – even though it is rumored that Thatcher demanded both tactical and strategic attacks on Argentina, but was dissuaded by the Chiefs of Staff and her Commonwealth colleagues none too pleased with the prospect of dragging the United States of America into the war – occurred. Commonwealth losses amongst older units were high, but the few new ships and planes available for the operations soon swept the Argentinean forces a side, even sinking Brown and Belgrano. Especially the introduction of the Cook Navigational System proved to be a massive force multiplier in the war. With air and sea supremacy secured, the land war was soon over, but the cost was high on both sides. Again, however, the use of sophisticated PAPF-body armour reduced British casualties quite remarkably. On the 20th of July, 1983, the Iron Lady, ironically a phrase coined by anti-Tory papers, declared the war over.
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