Wednesday, 16 May 2007

When we took British boffins for granted

Once watching a tiny Shetland pony stallion attempting to herd a harem of hunters of about 18hh, it was clear the thought never occurred to him that he was too small to mount them. The same applies to dogs.

So when, after having lent the US our boffins to develop the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, they declined to share the know-how with us (probably wise, given that MI6 was run by the Kremlin in those days) we saw nothing at all unusual in setting out to build our own.

The US had ten thousand square miles of desert complexes, vast primitive computers, tens of thousands of scientists and a budget that would have kept the whole of South America afloat for a decade.

We had William Penney and John Challens working in a couple of timber huts in an old chicken pasture. With slide rules. And a tea urn. Every morning as soon as they'd cracked the Times crossword, they'd crack on with building atomic bombs.

Maud, Hurricane, Mosaic, Totem and Buffalo all went bang before they started looking in the scrap bin for bits to build an H-bomb with. Fifty years ago today their first try went bang, but not in a big way. They added some bits from a Morris Minor wiper motor. In November 1957 Grapple X went bang in a big, 1.8 megaton sort-of-way.

True British heroes.

4 comments:

Nick Drew said...

What a great post, Raedwald. All it needs is a photo of the TSR2.

Now, about that 'independent deterrent' we need - home-baked cruise missiles, anyone ?

Where are the 1950s when you need them ...

Newmania said...

Enjoyed that enormously . Sorry to busy to be around much

hatfield girl said...

Blue Streak is in a museum in Munich; don't know what's happened to Spadeadam, probably a housing estate. But it wasn't just the bomb that was built; there was a bomb bay for it to be ordered into. Quite a lot of technological development was ceded in those days, how about Blue Streak's Rolls Royce engines, or the guidance systems?

Polaris? PAAH!

Roger Thornhill said...

Blue Streak was a fantastic device. TSR2 can be joined by all sorts of other aircraft that Jerry Anderson would be proud to feature.

Most mourned was the Fairey Rotodyne, which was a "combination Helicopter" - Imagine something like Chinnok that could fly (by now) well over 500mph.

Logistics-wise it would go down a storm in places like Afghanistan.