Skip to main content

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret


Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling.

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)

Comments

  1. I worked at flight refuelling in 1948 during the Berlin Air Lift, such happy memories, especially keeping the mechanics happy with tea and wads. I met my husband there. Can't think anyone would remember me as I am now in my 91st year, but I remember Sir Alan Cobham, Joe Sword , Johnnie and Titch doyens 0f the Canteen, and lots of the pilots who were on a quick turn around, I repeat "Happy Days"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting. Just posted a short piece on Sir Alan and his ‘flying circus’ and also hope to do something on the Berlin airlift later.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey what a brilliant post I have come across and believe me I have been searching out for this similar kind of post for past a week and hardly came across this. Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you Best Waffen online service provider

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Bravest Village Controversy

A Dorset village was once recognised as the bravest in England. That village was Shillingstone in North Dorset. After the outbreak of World War I, the newspaper the Weekly Dispatch inaugurated a competition for the village that sent, in the first six months of the war, the highest percentage of its population into the British Services. According to local newspaper, the Western Gazette Shillingstone sent 90 men out of a total population of 565. (Western Gazette Friday 26 th September 1919) Across the country,  365 other villages sent in their returns. However, the competition would not prove to be short of controversy. The award was made to Knowlton in Kent which with 39 inhabitants and six houses had sent 11 men. However, the Rector of Shillingstone, Dr Cooke protested that Knowlton was too small to be a village and in fact was a hamlet. The matter was referred to the Attorney General, Sir Frederick Smith who held that the original decision should stand as no minimum population ha