RAF Thor Missile Units: Note

v.1.0 June 21, 2006

 

Ravi Rikhye

 

Sixty SM-75[1] Thor missiles were deployed with the RAF 1958-63. The V-bomber force replaced them. The missile had a 1500-nautical-mile range. Squadrons carried the designation SM for Strategic Missile, as in No.77(SM) Squadron. Thor was an emergency response by the US to what was perceived as a missile gap with the USSR. The “gap” became manifest when the USSR launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957: if USSR could put a satellite into orbit, it was thought it could also delivery a nuclear warhead at intercontinental ranges. These fears proved overblown, but resulted in an explosion of missile technologies, some so advanced – such as Minuteman – that it was thought the USSR was able to match them only decades later.

 

 

RAF Thor from http://www.geocities.com/thor_irbm/images/Photo_17.jpg

 

Launch orders were to be given jointly by UK-US officers from HQ Bomber Command, High Wycombe and USAF 7th Air Division, collocated at the same base. An RAF officer could order launch, but a USAF officer had to authenticate arming the warhead. In peacetime warheads were kept separately, at Faldingworth, Scampton, Lincolnshire. The W-49 warhead had a yield of 1.44-megatons, and weighed 1680-lbs. It used yield, and the missile had a CEP of around 2-3 miles.

 

The fuelling/launch sequence required 15 minutes. Missile gyros were kept constantly powered. The missile used 98,500-lbs of liquid fuel. Cost per missile was $660,000.

 

The missile requirement was defined in 1955, and Thor went almost straight into production because of the urgent need. The experimental/test missiles were assembled on a production line; each missile was expected to be nearer the requirement than the last one. The first test was in January 1957. The 3 companies invited to bid were given one week to submit their bids. Contracts were issued 20 days later.

 

Test missiles 1-5 were failures. The sixth was successful on September 20, 1957. By January 1959, when the first units two years after the first test, 24 missiles had been fired:

 

10 successful

4 partly successful

10 failures

 

Twenty-two more missiles were fired with 20 successes, one part success, and one failure. Twenty more missiles were fired for the space program. In all 462 missiles were manufactured.

 

The above excludes Thors fired by operational missile crews, which included 12 (two failures) fired by the RAF.

 

Sources http://www.geocities.com/thor_irbm/bases.htm

 http://www.harringtonmuseum.org.uk/ThorUK.htm

For maps of sites see http://homepage.ntlworld.com/alan-turnbull/secret2.htm

 

4 strategic missile groups (~1000 airmen each) each of

            5 squadrons each with

                        3 Thor missiles

Groups:

 

§         RAF Driffield

§         RAF Feltwell,

§         RAF Hemswell

§         RAF North Luffenham

The term “group” has to be understood as not the same as the RAF group, i.e., a collection of wings. It is simply a generic term and “wing” would have been a better, more accurate designation. During the Thor period, No. 1 and 3 Groups, Bomber Command, were active. The Thors came under No. 3 Group as nearly as we can tell.

 

 

Group

Squadron

Base

Operational

 

 

 

 

Feltwell

77

Feltwell

9.1.58

7.10.63

 

82

Shepherd’s Grove, Suffolk

7.22.59

7.10.63

 

107

Tuddenham, Suffolk

7.22.59

7.10.63

 

113

Mepal, Cambridgeshire

7.22.59

7.10.63

 

220

North Pickenham, Norfolk

7.22.59

7.10.63

Hemswell

97

Hemswell, Lincolnshire

12.1.59

5.24.63

 

104

Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire

7.22.59

5.24.63

 

106

Bardney, Lincolnshire

7.22.59

5.24.63

 

142

Coleby Grange, Lincolnshire

7.22.59

5.24.63

 

269

Caistor, Lincolnshire

7.22.59

5.24.63

Driffield

98

Driffield, East Riding, Yorkshire

8.1.59

4.18.63

 

102

Full Sutton, East Riding, Yorkshire

8.1.59

4.27.63

 

150

Carnaby, East Riding, Yorkshire

8.1.59

4.9.63

 

226

Catfoss, East Riding, Yorkshire

8.1.59

3.9.63

 

240

Breighton, East Riding, Yorkshire

8.1.59

1.8.63

North Luffenham

130

Polebrook, Northamptonshire

12.1.59

8.23.63

 

144

North Luffenham, Rutland

12.1.59

8.23.63

 

218

Harrington, Northamptonshire

12.1.59

8.23.63

 

223

Folingham, Lincolnshire

12.1.59

8.23.63

 

254

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

12.1.59

8.23.63

Below: http://www.geocities.com/thor_irbm/images/Photo_13.jpg

Thor was stored in horizontal position in a covered shelter and lifted into vertical position for launch,

Note: Whatever may have been the case concerning quality/speed of British works projects during World War II and subsequently, the Harrington Museum site notes the Americans were highly impressed with the quality of the RAF crews and that the civil works were constructed to very high specifications within a short time.



[1] SM = Strategic Missile