Eight Vulcan bombers at RAF Gan - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Eight Vulcan bombers at RAF Gan

During Lord Mountbatten's visit to HQ FEAF, the Air Commander had briefed the Chief of Defence Staff on Operation Spherical and then told our Boss, who by that time was a wing commander newly arrived from UK, to brief CDS on another operation order which I will refer to as ‘Icing’ for reasons that will become apparent. This was a faded and tatty-at-the-edges document that had always been stored in our safe - actually hidden underneath the tray which held our coffee-making items! On my first or second day in HQ FEAF, I had been told me to study that document and then forget about it because it had never been signed or issued officially. Mountbatten listened intently to the briefing, then sat down and studied the actual document for quite a long time. There was a tense silence in the office, then Lord Mountbatten looked at each of us in turn and asked, of no-one in particular, “Why did I not know about this operation?” None of us, certainly not me anyway, had an answer to that question.

Shortly after Lord Mountbatten’s visit, I had been told that the ‘tatty’ operation order needed updating to make it conform with the current Bomber Command War Standing Operating Procedures. Never having been on a main force Victor or Vulcan bomber squadron, I was not aware that such a document existed; however, a photocopy of it arrived in our office by hand of a courier. I was never given an opportunity to read the new document, but a couple of days later I was given the job of typing a revised version of Icing. It was a long, complicated document and the work took me two whole  days. I never saw the final version of my handiwork and I have no idea what happened to it.

It gradually became clear that plans were afoot at a high level in both HQ Bomber Command and HQ Far East Air Force to practice the rapid reinforcement of the Far East by eight Vulcans instead of Victors. We were ordered to move west to Gan Island as soon as the practice reinforcement was ordered because, as I mentioned earlier, once the bombers arrived at Gan, C-in-C Bomber Command handed control of the force to C-in-C Far East Air Force. At Gan the Vulcan crews would have time for rest after the long flight from UK - they would have flown direct, at short notice, with only a single refuelling stop en route.

I and my colleagues were flown from Changi to Gan in a specially tasked Britannia (above: that's me posing for a pic for the family) and we had only a few hours to wait before eight Vulcan bombers arrived in quick succession. I imagine few people knew that the Vulcans had left UK, let alone arrived in the Far East, such was the secrecy surrounding anything to do with the V Force in those heady days. We each gave a formal briefing to the eight crews about operational matters and then we were flown back to Singapore in the Commander-in-Chief's personal Hastings (my image below).

Singapore ceased to be a state of Malaysia and became an independent republic on 9 August 1965. About then, I and my Victor colleagues in Singapore were sent back to England. I assume we were replaced in Singapore by Vulcan aircrew but I certainly never met any of them. My own job as an AEO instructor at Gaydon had, of course, disappeared with the demise of the Valiant months earlier so I was keen to learn my next posting.
I took these pictures as soon as the eight Vulcan bombers had arrived at Gan. They parked on a distant area which was immediately placed out of bounds to all non-Bomber Command personnel. I probably should not have taken the pictures on my own camera but I did - on the pretext that they were required for our official report when we got back to Singapore - but no-one asked.

In 2007 when I was preparing the first version of my online autobiography, purely out of curiosity I made a FOI (Freedom of Information) enquiry requesting information about Operation Icing for a book I said I was writing. I explained that I had been involved in typing the original operation order in 1965. After about three months, I received a reply which started with an apology for the long delay and went on to state that despite extensive searches they had been unable to find any reference to Operation Icing, adding that all records must have been deleted at some time.

Then, in November 2013, whilst searching for articles about Singapore in general, I came across the following on Wikipedia: “According to British MoD documents declassified in 2000, up to 48 Red Beard nuclear weapons had been secretly stowed in a highly-secured weapons storage facility at Tengah, Singapore, between 1962 and 1970, for possible use by the V bomber force detachment and for Britain’s military commitment to the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)”.  I had certainly not known that during my time in HQ FEAF! I still wonder, however, why the Chief of the Defence Staff had never heard of an operation that, had it ever been implemented, would have changed the world for ever and would, in some eyes perhaps, have been seen as "the Icing on the Cake".

Afterthought in 2015. While checking through the pile of messages that had accumulated in my office at Gaydon during my extended stay in the Far East, I had come across an order dated 1st January 1965 informing me that I had been placed on standby to command a flight of RAF airmen on 'Operation HOPE NOT' - the contingency plan for the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.  I had already been in the Far East for over a month when that order had been issued but my detachment was so secret that no-one had seen fit to advise the admin folk that I was several thousand miles away. In January 2015, when the Nation was marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston, I had an opportuity to watch the now historic 1965 black and white TV pictures of the RAF Guard of Honour marching through London escorting the cortege, but I couldn't see who it was that had taken my place at very short notice.

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