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  Missiles :: THOR IRBM

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Last updated: 27 Mar 05

In Mar 1957 the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and the US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, met in Bermuda. One of the principal issues for discussion was the possibility of deploying the Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile to Britain. It was agreed that 60 Thor IRBM would be manned up by RAF Bomber Command but that control of the nuclear warheads would remain with USAF personnel sited at each Thor base.

The THOR force consisted of 4 main bases, each with 4 satellite locations, and each with 3 missiles on launchers. Construction began in Lincolnshire in 1958, a natural choice due to the availability of many former airfield sites. In Feb 1959, 63 aircraft delivered to Hemswell the equipment required to support the Lincolnshire deployment. From 1959 to 1963 Lincolnshire hosted 15 Thor IRBM launchers, commanded from RAF Hemswell, as one of the 4 main bases.

RAF Hemswell was the headquarters for the 5 Lincolnshire Wing THOR dispersal sites at RAF Hemswell, RAF Bardney, RAF Caistor, RAF Coleby Grange and RAF Ludford Magna. Each missile was armed with a one-megaton nuclear warhead, controlled by the US Air Force under the agreed so-called dual-key arrangements.

  • 97 (SM) Sqn was based at RAF Hemswell, as well as the Wing HQ.
  • RAF Bardney was home to 106 (SM) Sqn from Jul 1959 - May 1963 with 3 Thor IRBM launchers.
  • From 1959 to 1963 Coleby Grange re-opened with 142 (SM) Sqn Thor IRBM unit and 3 launchers.
  • Between 1959 and 1963 Caistor was a Thor missile base for 3 Thor IRBM launchers of 269 (SM) Sqn
  • RAF Ludford Magna was home to 104(SM) Sqn with its three Thor IRBM launchers during the closing years of activity.

RAF Folkingham also served as a post-war Thor missile base with 3 IRBM launchers under 223 (SM) Sqn. These were subordinated to the North Luffenham Wing rather than the Hemswell Wing. 223 reformed at Folkingham as a Thor strategic missile squadron on 1 Dec 1959, disbanding on 23 Aug 1963. A local historian has written his own account:: click here.

In Sep 1962 the Thor force was notified that it was intended to begin running down the Lincolnshire Wing on 15 May 1963. However the Cuban Crisis brought the entire Thor force to maximum alert until Nov 1962. The Force was finally disbanded at 2359 hrs on 14 May 1963.

 

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