In October 1962 the world stood on the brink of nuclear war.
On the 14 October, United States spy planes flying over Cuba spotted sites being prepared for Soviet nuclear-armed missiles which could threaten large areas of the USA.
To prevent further Soviet reinforcements, the president, John F Kennedy, ordered a naval quarantine of Cuba. How would the Soviets react? Would the United States attack Cuba?
Later, as newspapers reported the developing crisis, people on both sides of the Atlantic feared it might mean war.
Far from Cuba, down remote country lanes in eastern England, Britain’s nuclear forces were quietly being prepared for action.
Nuclear armed V-bombers were made ready and by Saturday 27th October crews were in their cockpits at 15 minutes notice to take-off. Fifty-nine of the 60 Thor nuclear tipped missiles were readied for launch: the first strategic ballistic missiles placed in the West.
In 2012 DCMS listed two Thor nuclear missile sites – one in Harrington, Northamptonshire and another in North Luffenham, Rutland.
Technologically, the Thors represented the next generation of missiles beyond the wartime German V2s and the first strategic ballistic missiles to be placed, ready for use, in the West.
Symbolically, the sites reflect the special nuclear relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States which endures to this day. The missiles were supplied by the United States, but manned by RAF crews. The launch procedure was based on a dual key system, one held by a British officer and the other by an American.
Sites associated with warfare, from Roman forts and medieval castles to Victorian coastal fortifications, are some of our most prominent historic monuments.
The missile sites and nuclear citadels of the Cold War may represent the final chapter in the national story of fortified structures. Whether they are or not, these modern ruins offer an interesting place to ponder a turning point in history.
Wayne Cocroft – Senior Investigator and Cold War expert
- 9 Places that Reveal the Hidden History of the Cold War
- The Cold War
- Cold War: Building for nuclear confrontation 1946-1989
Great to see your new blog. We hope to be joining you soon on WordPress with a church heritage blog!
Thank you! Good luck with your blog – we’ll look forward to reading it!
Our blog is now live! Our most read post so far has been about church toilets http://nationalchurchestrust.wordpress.com/
Congratulations, it looks great! Loos are very important – we always get a great response when we talk about garderobes!
I requested a few years ago that the Transmitter building at the RGHQ at Kingstandings Ashdown Forest that housed the Political Warfare executive and then the Diplomatic Wireless service for WW2 and Cold War be added to the buildings at risk as it in a seriousley derelict state and a very important building. Is this building now on the list?
Hi Andy, we can’t see the Transmitter building at RGHQ at Kingstandings Ashdown Forest on the National Heritage List for England – do you know if it’s listed? Only listed structures are included on the Heritage at Risk Register. You can apply for it to be considered for listing on our website:
Fantastic to see this 20th century built heritage receiving more of the attention it deserves. Well done! The buildings have great stories to tell, I hope EH can bring them more fully into the publics attention, and appreciation.
Thanks very much, Dr Cawthorne – we hope the blog will give us a place to explore these things more fully!
Excellent news regards the Thor sites – I visited Harrington a few years ago and was fascinated by the concrete blast walls and what they represented
In 100 years time THOR will be respectable history; if there’s nothing left, who will ever know?
Thor is respectable history now! But I agree with the sentiments. There are lot of nay-sayers on a number of sites carrying this story which is massively blinkered. I for one am supremely happy about this.