The subtitle of this book is “The TSR.2 which might have been 1960-1980”. A great deal of the content is based on official papers and on documentation from BAC – so, while it doesn’t say so, it confines itself to RAF service as well. This seems sensible, as it’s the only period properly supported by the available material. As a result the book can probably be relied on as accurate or, for the later years, convincing. It’s also a refreshing change from some of the more outlandish ideas that we’ve seen recently, where airframes built in 1967 or so were supposedly in service 25 years later with all sorts of countries.
Within a cover that may look strangely familiar, the book opens with a summary of the development of TSR.2 and the circumstances leading to cancellation. After a bit of a stuttering start, the text settles down into a logical laying out of the various roles that were contemplated for TSR.2 and the way that would have determined its payloads. Slightly strangely, the first covered is (in 1960 and again in 1963) possible use as a strategic nuclear delivery platform, which wasn’t TSR.2’s design role. That (tactical strike) comes next, followed by conventional strike and reconnaissance, then a discussion of the countermeasures that would have been developed for the aircraft and a guess at a possible variable-geometry version. What you won’t get is a detailed description of the aircraft itself or what it was like to fly. As this has been pretty exhaustively covered elsewhere, it’s no loss, but it does mean that if you’re looking for a comprehensive look at TSR.2, this isn’t it.
The text is heavily supported by illustrations showing the layout of various payloads and fuel systems, and likely markings for the units that had been earmarked provisionally as operators. These are all good, with colour coding making everything very clear. The author suggests that TSR.2 in service would have been camouflaged – fair enough, as everything else was eventually, but also based on BAC papers for the early versions. Later schemes are necessarily speculative but are well supported by reference to RAF practice for the period and the markings worn by aircraft such as the Hunter and Buccaneer in the units in question. The weapons sections are especially interesting, as they cover a lot of bombs and missiles that were only ever proposals. Some of these have reached the aftermarket but there’s a wealth of others for some enterprising resin caster. Again, nothing is featured here that doesn’t have some sort of real source.
There’s far less in the way of photographs. This is presumably because the intention is to show TSR.2 as an operational weapon system, rather than as a piece of technology. Unfortunately the photos are all rather small, being sized to fit the columns, but as they’re not intended as detailed reference material, this can be forgiven.
A couple of points if you’re intending for using the illustrations as source material. First, not all the bare metal ahead of the prototypes’ flaps has been retained – the author’s view is that more of the boundary layer system would have been painted over. Also, for some reason all the left-side views omit one of the main undercarriage doors. Personally I wouldn’t use such illustrations as measured drawings, but it’s one to watch for, perhaps.
Readability does suffer slightly from the author’s strange reluctance to use commas and apostrophes. In fact, I’ve had to delay this review slightly because I had to keep going back over passages to make sense of them. On the other hand, one of the perennial curses - the Random unnecessary Capital Letter - appears only towards the end. Overall it’s pretty readable, and you won’t come away thinking there’s something you still don’t know about how TSR.2 would have been used in practice.
There’s really only one bum note. Chapter 1 is pretty fair-minded about the troubled history of TSR.2 and comes to the conclusion that it was probably killed by cost. This is a step ahead of a lot of previous publications, which often put it down to spite. But right at the end of the book, in a list of “what-ifs” that might have led to TSR.2 entering service, its failure is partly ascribed to the Labour Government not understanding it properly, and even to people voting Labour. Obviously the decision was taken by Labour, but the way it’s put leaves the impression that only a Labour Government would have done it. Only Labour Governments, it seems, are so inept or evil. This isn’t supported by the evidence in Chapter 1. In fact it’s contradicted by it, as Chapter 1 makes clear that it was the previous Government that had left the country’s finances in the state they were. It also overlooks the fact that, for instance, it was a Conservative Government that published the 1957 Defence White Paper that led to the Avro 730 and Hawker P.1121 being abandoned; or the fact that it was a Conservative Government whose defence cuts in 1981 allowed Argentina to believe that it could safely invade the Falklands. Another omission is the latest information about the cancellation, which essentially indicates that nuclear weapons development had proceeded at a different pace from the aircraft’s and inadvertently rendered TSR.2 obsolete (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAC_TSR-2
). If that’s true – and I find it at least plausible – it would have had the same effect regardless of the colour of the Government of the time, and to judge by their record, I reckon the Conservatives would have been every bit as likely as Labour to cancel TSR.2 because of it. The author may disagree with this new information but, since it was published in 2008, it might have been an idea to compare it with the older version and say which he found the more persuasive. Without that, we’re left with an unpleasant whiff of political bias.
The cancellation of TSR.2 is a curiously emotive matter in the UK. People who weren’t even born when it happened have strong views about it, and some treat it as though it were still a live political issue, one that reads across into the politics of the present day. It would have been nice, for once, to have had an appreciation of the aircraft for its own qualities and to decline the temptation to make a political point of it. This book is so well pitched at people wanting to build models of TSR.2 that that could have been achieved. Ah well. Ignore that last bit and this is still a good book about a fascinating aircraft, one that comes at it from an interesting new angle.