The decommissioning team at AWE Burghfield with the last WE 177 to be broken down, pictured in 1998.
In the late 1950s, the Chiefs of Staff had identified a need for
a multi - purpose nuclear weapon which could be deployed with the
low level attack aircraft TSR-2, then under development.
Despite the eventual cancellation of TSR-2 , development of the
bomb went ahead. Known simply as WE 177, it was lightweight and
versatile - the first of a new generation.
At Aldermaston, warhead design was pursued with urgency. On 1
March 1962, 1200 feet below the Nevada Desert, the test device was
successfully detonated in the first of Britain's underground
nuclear tests, codenamed Pampas.
Access to the Nevada Test Site was one of the benefits flowing
from the 1958 Agreement. Later that year, AWRE's warhead designers
were able to advise their Director, Dr. N. Levin (William Penney
having left in 1959) that such a weapon could be produced by
The first WE 177 (the thermonuclear Type B) was delivered to RAF
Cottesmore in September of that year. A single stage version (Type
A) was delivered to the Royal Navy in 1972.
Over the following years a remarkable range of aircraft was
fitted to carry the weapon. They included the Vulcan, Jaguar and
Tornado and - in the Naval role - the Sea King, Scimitar, Buccaneer
and Sea Harrier. By the time of its final withdrawal in 1998, WE
177 had been in service longer than any other British nuclear