Switch to low level

From the mid-1960s onwards, the Vulcan’s white paint-scheme was replaced by green and grey camouflage, the change in colour being a very visible sign of a change in tactics from high-level to low-level attack. Advancing Soviet SAM technology meant the V-Force could no longer rely on speed and height for protection.

XH557 and XH558 show off their new camouflage scheme over the Ballistic Missile Early Warning station at RAF Fylingdales on the North York Moors. (Crown Copyright)
XM647 of the Near East Air Force Bomber Wing, RAF Akrotiri, off the coast of Cyprus in the 1970s. (Crown Copyright)

The switch to low-level operations seriously reduced the effectiveness of Blue Steel, which could now only be launched from a range of 25 miles. Consequently, the task of destroying primary targets was passed to the Yellow Sun squadrons, the ­Blue Steel units being restricted to peripheral targets.

Responsibility for the British nuclear deterrent was handed over by the RAF to the Royal Navy, and its Polaris submarines, on 30 June 1969. QRA ceased on midnight that day and brought to an end the longest period of constant alert ever maintained by a British military force.

XM648 of 101 Squadron at very low level in the wrap around camouflage scheme introduced in the late 1970s. (VRT Collection)

Following the hand-over, the Vulcan force was re-tasked to the low-level conventional bombing role, although it retained a tactical nuclear capability using the WE177B parachute-retarded bomb.

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