Red Beard (nuclear weapon)
Red Beard was the first British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 tactical nuclear weapon
Tactical nuclear weapon
A tactical nuclear weapon refers to a nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations. This is as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons which are designed to menace large populations, to damage the enemy's ability to wage war, or for general deterrence...

. It was carried by the English Electric Canberra
English Electric Canberra
The English Electric Canberra is a first-generation jet-powered light bomber manufactured in large numbers through the 1950s. The Canberra could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber through the 1950s and set a world altitude record of 70,310 ft in 1957...

 and the V bomber
V bomber
The term V bomber was used for the Royal Air Force aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s that comprised the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear strike force known officially as the V-force or Bomber Command Main Force...

s of the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

, and by the Blackburn Buccaneer
Blackburn Buccaneer
The Blackburn Buccaneer was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft with nuclear weapon delivery capability serving with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force between 1962 and 1994, including service in the 1991 Gulf War...

s, Sea Vixens and Supermarine Scimitar
Supermarine Scimitar
-References:NotesBibliography* Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Supermarine Aircraft since 1914. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-800-3.* Birtles, Philip. Supermarine Attacker, Swift and Scimitar . London: Ian Allan, 1992. ISBN 0-7110-2034-5.* Buttler, Tony. "Database: Supermarine Scimitar"....

s of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

's Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

. Developed to Operational Requirement
Operational Requirement
An Operational Requirement or was a UK Air Ministry document setting out the required characteristics for a future military aircraft or weapon system....

 1127 (OR.1127), it entered service in 1962 and was withdrawn in 1971.


Red Beard was an unboosted fission weapon that used a composite core (mixed core in British terminology of the time). The composite core used both weapons-grade plutonium and weapons-grade uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

, and was intended to minimise risks of predetonation that was a feature of all-plutonium designs of that period with yields larger than 10 kilotons. An added benefit of the composite core was a more economical use of fissile material. The design was proof-tested twice during the Buffalo
Operation Buffalo
Operation Buffalo may refer to:* The breakout from the Operation Shingle Anzio beachhead by the U.S. VI Corps commencing on 23 May 1944* Four open-air British nuclear tests at Maralinga in South Australia in late 1956...

 series of nuclear trials at Maralinga in Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 - first on 27 September (a 15 kT explosion, after which the resulting mushroom cloud rose to a height of 11,430 meters) and again on 22 October 1956. Although the design concept of Red Beard was similar to that of the Blue Danube
Blue Danube (nuclear weapon)
Blue Danube was the first operational British nuclear weapon. It also went by a variety of other names, including Smallboy, the Mk.1 Atom Bomb, Special Bomb and OR.1001, a reference to the Operational Requirement it was built to fill...

 warhead, an innovative means of implosion meant that its overall size could be significantly reduced.

Its measurements were 3.66 m (12 ft) in length, 0.71 m (28 in) in diameter and with a weight of approximately 1,750 lb (794 kg). Two versions were produced: the Mk 1, with a yield of 15 kilotons, and the Mk 2, with a yield of 25 kT. The Mk.2 was available in two variants, the No.1 used by high-altitude bombers, and the No.2 variant that was intended for low-level delivery by the Toss bombing
Toss bombing
Toss bombing is a method of bombing where the attacking aircraft pulls upwards when releasing its bomb load, giving the bomb additional time of flight by starting its ballistic path with an upward vector.The purpose of toss bombing is to compensate for the gravity drop of the...

 method, and its "over-the-shoulder" variant referred to as the Low-Altitude-Bombing-System (LABS).

Red Beard's RAF and Royal Navy service designations were:
  • Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2,000 lb MC Mk.1 No.1
  • Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2,000 lb MC Mk.1 No.2
  • Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2,000 lb MC Mk.2 No.1
  • Bomb, Aircraft, HE 2,000 lb MC Mk.2 No.2,

Weighing in at approximately 1,750 lb (794 kg), Red Beard was considerably lighter than the official service designation, which was based on the original technical requirement.

A significant improvement on Red Beard's predecessor, Blue Danube
Blue Danube (nuclear weapon)
Blue Danube was the first operational British nuclear weapon. It also went by a variety of other names, including Smallboy, the Mk.1 Atom Bomb, Special Bomb and OR.1001, a reference to the Operational Requirement it was built to fill...

, was in the provision of electrical power for the bomb firing mechanism and the radar (altimeter) fuzing
Proximity fuze
A proximity fuze is a fuze that is designed to detonate an explosive device automatically when the distance to target becomes smaller than a predetermined value or when the target passes through a given plane...

. Blue Danube had used 6 volt dc
Direct current
Direct current is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through...

 lead-acid accumulator
Accumulator may refer to:* Accumulator , in a CPU, a processor register for storing intermediate results* Accumulator , an apparatus for storing energy or power...

s that were unreliable and had to be installed at the last minute before take-off. There were also potential risks associated with "stray" electrical discharges to the firing mechanisms which might have led to accidental detonation. Red Beard used twin ram-air turbines located in the nose, from which there could be no stray discharges before bomb release. The air inlet can be seen in the extreme nose. They exhausted through "blow-out" patches in the nose sides. Until bomb release, the weapon drew electrical power from the aircraft for heating and pre-heating of the radar fuze
Fuze Beverage, commercially referred to as just Fuze , is a manufacturer of teas and non-carbonated fruit drinks enriched with vitamins. Currently the brand consists of five vitamin-infused lines: Slenderize, Refresh, Tea, Defensify, and Vitalize...


Like Blue Danube, the body diameter at 28 in (0.71 m) was greater than was desirable relative to the overall length of 12 ft (3.66 m). To compensate for this stubbiness, and quickly stabilize the bomb after release, Red Beard was equipped with flip-out fins that were activated pneumatically, triggered by a lanyard attached to the aircraft.

As with Blue Danube, the fuzing arrangements were composed of twin radar fuzes that were activated by a barometric "gate" after release. The barometric gate ensured that the radar fuzes were switched on in the last few seconds of free-fall to a computed burst height, and this technique minimised the possibility of radar countermeasures disabling the radar fuzes. There were back-up contact and graze fuzes to ensure bomb destruction in the event of a misfire.

None of the variants were capable of being armed in flight - "In Flight Insertion" (IFI) of the fissile core. The core was loaded while on the ground; inserted before take-off in a process referred to as Last Minute Loading (LML). For carrier-borne aircraft, landing with the armed weapon was forbidden and the aircraft would instead be diverted to a shore-base. Although the Royal Navy required its Sea Vixen aircraft to be type-approved for Red Beard carriage as "insurance" against delays in Buccaneer development, the Sea Vixen never needed to be deployed in the nuclear strike role. Early models were subject to severe environmental limitations, especially when loaded into Royal Navy Scimitars on exposed aircraft carrier decks in Northern waters. The Mk.2 variants were better engineered to withstand extreme conditions, and other than the yield difference, this was the main area of difference.

Not generally realised, is the fact that when delivered by low-level toss bombing
Toss bombing
Toss bombing is a method of bombing where the attacking aircraft pulls upwards when releasing its bomb load, giving the bomb additional time of flight by starting its ballistic path with an upward vector.The purpose of toss bombing is to compensate for the gravity drop of the...

, the aircraft was almost always at a lower altitude than the burst height; so in effect, the bomb was not really "dropped", but was released and "flew" upwards in a ballistic trajectory, to detonate when it reached the required altitude.


RAF stocks of Red Beard for the Canberra and V-bomber forces totalled 110. Of these, 48 were stockpiled in Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

 to meet the UK's commitments to CENTO
Central Treaty Organization
The Central Treaty Organization was formed in 1955 by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. It was dissolved in 1979.U.S...

, 48 were stockpiled in Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

 (RAF Tengah) to meet commitments to SEATO
Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization was an international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia created by the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or Manila Pact, signed in September 1954 in Manila, Philippines. The formal institution of SEATO was established on 19 February...

, and the remainder were located in the UK. Royal Navy stocks are believed, from archived declassified documents, to total 35 weapons to be shared between five aircraft carriers and shore-based supply and overhaul infrastructure. The carriers were thought (from similar sources) to each have an air-conditioned storage capacity for five Red Beard weapons.

Before the Red Beard codename was issued in 1952, it was frequently referred to in official documents as the "Javelin Bomb", because it was originally conceived as a weapon for the "thin-wing Javelin bomber", a projected derivative of the (thick wing) Gloster Javelin
Gloster Javelin
The Gloster Javelin was an "all-weather" interceptor aircraft that served with Britain's Royal Air Force in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s...

 all-weather fighter. The designation "Target Marker Bomb" was a euphemism
A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase for another more frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience...

 used to disguise the nature of the bomb, so that its dimensions and weights etc. could be circulated to aircraft and aircraft equipment designers without compromising security.

It was replaced by WE.177
WE.177 was the last air-delivered tactical nuclear weapon of the British Armed Forces. There were three versions; WE.177A was a boosted fission weapon, while WE.177B and WE.177C were thermonuclear weapons...

 in the early 1970s.

John Dolphin

While he was working as Engineer-in-Chief at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment John Dolphin
John Dolphin
John Robert Vernon Dolphin CBE was a British engineer and inventor who became the Commanding Officer of the top secret Second World War Special Operations Executive 'Station IX' where specialist military equipment was developed. During his time there his inventions included the Welman midget...

worked on the Red Beard trigger mechanism and in 1959 requested a financial award for his work on the weapon, but was turned down. His claim was that although it was not his job to do so, he invented the device that eventually became the trigger for the bomb but the claim was refused on the grounds that it was within the scope of his duties

External links

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