Project Emily

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Thor missile launch, code name "Bean Ball", Vandenberg AFB, 3 August 1959. The third of 21 Thor missiles launched by RAF crews

Project Emily was the deployment of American-built PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the United Kingdom between 1959 and 1963.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command operated 60 Douglas Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, dispersed to 20 RAF air stations, as part of the UK nuclear deterrent force.

Due to concerns over the buildup of Soviet missiles, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower met Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Bermuda in March 1957 to explore the possibility of short-term deployment on UK soil, until more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles were deployed.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, 59 of the RAF missiles, with their W49 1.44 megaton thermonuclear warheads, were brought to operational readiness.

Intended to remain in place until 1968, the missile force was disbanded in 1963, and the missiles were returned to the U.S., most for eventual use in developing hardware and techniques as part of the space race.

RAF Strategic Missile (SM) stations and squadrons[edit]

Originally conceived as a four-squadron deployment, with each squadron controlling five "flights" of three missiles each, these flights were subsequently reconfigured into separate squadrons. For example, on 22 July 1959, C Flight of No. 77 Squadron was redesignated No. 107 Squadron.[1]

The subsequent deployment was based on 4 "Strategic Missile Groups", each comprising five squadrons, and each squadron being equipped with three missiles.

The groups were based at RAF stations at Driffield, Feltwell, Hemswell and North Luffenham,[2] with their satellite bases in close proximity:

North Luffenham and Feltwell came under No. 3 Group RAF, Air Vice-Marshal Michael Harington Dwyer Air Officer Commanding. Feltwell was also home to Bomber Command Strategic Missile School.[3]

RAF Thor Missile Deployment[2][4]
Station County Squadron Reformed[5] Operational Disbanded[5]
Feltwell Group
RAF Feltwell[6] Norfolk 77(SM) 1 September 1958 9 January 1959 10 July 1963
RAF Shepherds Grove Suffolk 82(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 10 July 1963
RAF Tuddenham Suffolk 107(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 10 July 1963
RAF Mepal Cambridgeshire 113(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 10 July 1963
RAF North Pickenham Norfolk 220(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 10 July 1963
Hemswell Group
RAF Hemswell Lincolnshire 97(SM) 1 December 1958 12 January 1959 24 May 1963
RAF Ludford Magna Lincolnshire 104(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 24 May 1963
RAF Bardney Lincolnshire 106(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 24 May 1963
RAF Coleby Grange Lincolnshire 142(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 24 May 1963
RAF Caistor Lincolnshire 269(SM) 22 July 1959 22 July 1959 24 May 1963
Driffield Group
RAF Driffield Yorkshire 98(SM) 1 August 1959 8 January 1959 18 April 1963
RAF Full Sutton Yorkshire 102(SM) 1 August 1959 8 January 1959 27 April 1963
RAF Carnaby Yorkshire 150(SM) 1 August 1959 8 January 1959 9 April 1963
RAF Catfoss Yorkshire 226(SM) 1 August 1959 8 January 1959 9 March 1963
RAF Breighton Yorkshire 240(SM) 1 August 1959 8 January 1959 8 January 1963
North Luffenham Group
RAF North Luffenham Rutland 144(SM) 1 December 1959 12 January 1959 23 August 1963
RAF Polebrook Northamptonshire 130(SM) 1 December 1959 12 January 1959 23 August 1963
RAF Folkingham Lincolnshire 223(SM) 1 December 1959 12 January 1959 23 August 1963
RAF Harrington Northamptonshire 218(SM) 1 December 1959 12 January 1959 23 August 1963
RAF Melton Mowbray Leicestershire 254(SM) 1 December 1959 12 January 1959 23 August 1963


To defend the stations from enemy aircraft, RAF squadrons were raised with the Bristol Bloodhound surface to air missile: No. 112 Squadron was based at RAF Breighton, and No. 247 Squadron at RAF Carnaby from 1960[7][8]

Missile launches by RAF personnel[edit]

One Thor in Vandenberg AFB.

Over twenty RAF crews visited the USA for training, culminating in operational training launches from Vandenberg AFB:[9]

The RAF personnel were trained by the 392nd Missile Training Squadron of the 704th Strategic Missile Wing of the 1st Missile Division, (USAF).

RAF Thor missile launches
Launch date Launch pad Code name Notes
1959
16 April[10] 75-2-8 Lions Roar attended by Air Vice-Marshals W C Sheen[11] and Sir Augustus Walker
16 June 75-2-7 Rifle Shot
3 August 75-1-1 Bean Ball
14 August 75-2-6 Short Skip
17 September 75-1-2 Grease Gun
6 October 75-2-8 Foreign Travel attended by Lord and Lady Mountbatten
21 October 75-1-1 Stand Fast
12 November 75-1-2 Beach Buggy
1 December 75-1-1 Hard Right
14 December 75-1-2 Tall Girl
1960
21 January 75-1-2 Red Caboose
2 March 75-2-8 Center Board
22 June 75-2-7 Clan Chattan First missile returned from the UK for launch
11 October 75-2-8 Left Rudder
13 December 75-2-8 Acton Town
1961
29 March 75-2-7 Shepherds Bush
20 June 75-2-7 White Bishop
6 September LE-7 Skye Boat
5 December LE-8 Pipers Delight
1962
19 March LE-7 Black Knife
18 June LE-8 Blazing Ciders


Listed status[edit]

In October 2012 the former launch sites at Harrington and North Luffenham were granted listed status.[12]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • John Boyes Project Emily: Thor IRBM and the RAF ISBN 0-7524-4611-8
  • Kenneth Cross Bomber Command's Thor Missile Force The RUSI Journal, Volume 108, Issue 630 May 1963, pages 131 - 136
  • Jim Wilson Launch Pad UK: Britain and the Cuban Missile Crisis ISBN 1-84415-799-7

External links[edit]