Thor, Anatomy of a Weapon System

Title: Thor, Anotomy of a Weapon System 
Author: Geoff Goodchild

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-568-2

 

This is a very detailed account covering the Cold War IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) which was stationed in the UK, and operated as a joint effort between the RAF and the USAF.  It was the first nuclear missile to go into operational service, with bases in the UK from 1959 until it was withdrawn in 1963.  With a range of about 1500 miles, they were stationed in the UK under joint US/UK control.  They were withdrawn once longer range ICBM's went into service, from bases in the USA.

The deployment was known as Project Emily and the book provides an incredibly detailed look at the whole story of the Thor Missile system.  The missiles were stored above ground rather than in silos, and were stored horizontally, mounted on TEL trailers (Transporter Erector Launcher).  Within the book are the various main bases, each of which had a number of satellite stations, so the locations for the missiles were spread out over the large number of wartime RAF bases which still existed across Lincolnshire.  It details the arrangements of the buildings, launch pads and ancillary equipment that had to be laid on.  There are even drawings of the buildings specifically associated with the missiles. While most of the bases have since been redeveloped and the facilities removed, there are a couple where the Thor facilities still exist and the author has been able to visit.  The result is included with plenty of detail, and drawings, of the various buildings associated with Thor.

The development story of each element of the missile is covered, with engines, guidance, gyros etc.  Things like the maths and physics of how to make an inertial guidance system work reliably is amazing in itself, and the maths involved with calculating how to be sure the missile launches and then gets on course to be at the right spot in space for the warhead to then continue on a ballistic trajectory to the target is enough to make me wonder who actually worked all that out!  One or two of the explanations I had to read a couple of times in order to get a good understanding of the workings of some of those calculations.

Thor was a missile which led to the development of other types which have served on for many years since.  It never had to be used for its' intended purpose thank goodness, so in terms of Cold War deterrence, it did its' job successfully.  As time has now moved on and the visible remains of the old bases get less and less, so it could be overlooked.  This book ensures it will be remembered, and for the historian interested in the Cold War era and the development of missile systems, This was an important stepping stone after the end of WW2.  Also some interest for the modeller, as there has been a 1/76 scale model of the Thor TEL with missile and tractor unit in the old BW Models range, though I don't think it is currently available but most of the BW Models range was taken over by Matador Models, so it may come back on the market at some point.  The book will be a great modellers reference just as well as for the historian and makes for fascinating reading, with the story providing a good idea of the complexities involved with making any missile system work properly.

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Robin