This Jubilee weekend I ticked off two small entries on my UK Cold War bucket list.
First up was a visit to the National Cold War Museum at RAF Cosford, just north of Birmingham. I had been itching to see this exhibition ever since I’d visited the RAF Museum at Hendon in 2019.
Hendon is a superb museum with an excellent display of well-exhibited aircraft. I totally enjoyed seeing Tornado ZA457, Buccaneer XW547 (‘Guinness Girl’, in Gulf War colours), and Lancaster R5868.
The star of the show was Vulcan XL318 – very impressive with its conventional bomb load in front of it, and almost as exciting as being able to climb inside Vulcan XJ823 at Solway Aviation Museum in 2019. Hendon also had two fascinating pieces of ephemera on display: an Operation GRAPPLE hydrogen bomb test Test flag (1957) and the original Vulcan Refuelling Plan for the Falklands War raid Operation Black Buck.
What more wonderful delights were waiting at the National Cold War museum?
Unfortunately the Cosford exhibition does not live up to its prestigious name.
There are some excellent and unique Cold War aircraft on display. I enjoyed seeing Nimrod XV249 (unfortunately exhibited outdoors, subject to the elements), the Lightning test-bed WG760, Valiant XD818 in white anti-flash paint, as well as the TSR-2 (of course). There was a somewhat morbid fascination to be had with seeing a Thor IRBM (1.44 megatons yield), a Red Beard ‘tactical’ nuclear bomb casing (yield 15-25 kilotons, mk 1 or 2) and a Yellow Sun strategic hydrogen bomb casing (yield 400kt or 1.1Mt, Green Grass or Red Snow warheads).
However, the aircraft are packed into too small a space to be properly appreciated and I was left mostly underwhelmed by the display, especially Vulcan XM598 which is in a miserable spot.
The following day I exorcised my dismay with Cosford by visiting submarine B-49 which is moored on the River Medway at Strood. B-49 is a Soviet Foxtrot boat, which was diesel-electric powered and conventionally armed with up to 22 torpedoes (6 bow tubes, 4 at the stern). It is currently known by its new owners as Foxtrot B-39 U-475 Black Widow. Foxtrots played a central role in the Cuban Missile Crisis when 4 were deployed to Cuba – three were subsequently forced to surface, while one managed to evade US forces.