However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit. During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the nation’s nuclear bomber force was known as the V-bombers because the three types of aircraft involved were called the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan. In 1952, Britain had tested its first nuclear weapon detonating a bomb off Western Australia.
A V-bomber Dispersal Unit involved the concept of dispersing nuclear bombers to outlying airfields to escape the effects of enemy attacks on the main bases. As it was essential for the aircraft to take off quickly, this avoided long queues of aircraft waiting to take to the air. Not far away, there was another V-bomber Dispersal Unit at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton.
In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis brought the nation to the brink of a nuclear world war. The aim was to have 200 V-bombers in the air before the Soviet missiles landed. There were three levels of readiness – 15 minutes, five minutes and two minutes. Under the highest level, the bombers would be sat at the end of the runway with engines running. Their role would have been to drop nuclear bombs on Russia. Meanwhile the people of Blandford and the surrounding villages would have had to take cover as best they could. During the Cuban missile crisis, it is possible the two minutes warning stage could have been activated.
As the V-bombers gradually became more vulnerable as a weapon force, the RAF stopped using Tarrant Rushton as a dispersal point. Flight Refuelling left the site in the 1970s and the Tarrant Rushton’s airfield finally closed in September 1980.
(Illustration: Vickers Valliant)