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Thor Missiles in the UK

The PGM-17 Thor missiles were manufactured by Douglas Aircraft in the United States, nominally designed in 1957 and produced until 1960. The Thor missiles were classed as an IRBM, or ‘theatre ballistic missile’ (TBM) as its range fell into this category. This meant that it could be used against targets in the theatre of war and, primarily, the Soviet Union.

Thor Missiles.

Here are our comments and questions for this video step:

  1. Project Emily came out of Eisenhower’s concerns in 1957 that long-range ICBMs would not come online quickly enough. Bomber Command thus operated c.60 Thor missiles in RAF colours for the Americans 1959-63.
  2. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the RAF Thors were put on alert – with each having a warhead approaching 1.5MT
  3. Project Emily was cut short by five years – there was never an attempt to build another land-based IRBM missile force in Britain.

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Thor In RAF Colours

There are a few terms that are commonly used when referring to nuclear weapons that give us an understanding into the distance that these weapons could reach.

Some examples are:

  • A medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) is a type of ballistic missile with a range between 1,000-3,000 kilometres.
  • An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) is a ballistic missile with a range between 3,000-5,500 kilometres.
  • An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of 5,500 kilometres or above that has the capability to deliver nuclear weapons and could also deliver more than one warhead at a time.

Thor Missiles

The PGM-17 Thor missiles were manufactured by Douglas Aircraft in the United States, nominally designed in 1957 and produced until 1960. The Thor missiles were classed as an IRBM, or ‘theatre ballistic missile’ (TBM) as its range fell into this category. This meant that it could be used against targets in the theatre of war and, primarily, the Soviet Union.

Project Emily

The designs for the Thor missiles began to be developed in 1957, out of fear that the Soviet Union would soon develop an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S., before the Unites States could develop their’s first. In this sense, they were a ‘stop-gap’ measure to ensure that, when placed in Britain, the Thor missiles would be able to reach the Soviet Union. This was codenamed Project Emily, in which Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harold Macmillan agreed that between 1959 and 1963, 60 Douglas Thor missiles would be transferred to the UK as part of a joint nuclear deterrent programme. However, once manufacturing was completed for the United State’s first generation of ICBM’s, the Thor missiles were swiftly retired and returned to the U.S. by 1963. The SM-65 Atlas was the first ICBM that the United States developed, followed by Titan I and II, and the Minuteman in 1962. The various versions of the Minuteman were ordered in large numbers by the US.

Thor Missile Transfer

Initially, the Thor missile transfer was seen as an indication that relations between the United States and Britain were improving, after the 1956 Suez Crisis considerably strained them. However, in this agreement, it was termed that while Britain were in control of firing the rockets at their chosen targets, the warheads would be under the control of the United States, and so the weapon could only be used if it had approval by the U.S.

The PGM-19 Jupiter missiles manufactured by the U.S. played a similar role as the Douglas Thor missiles, however they were a MRBM and were substantially more accurate, with precision estimates of 0.80km from the target. These missiles were deployed into Italy and Turkey as part of NATO’s Cold War deterrent against the Soviet Union. They were removed as part of an agreement during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The Warsaw pact

As a final note, the Warsaw Pact was the Soviet Union’s equivalent to NATO, which consisted of a mutual agreement of defense between Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union, signed in 1955.

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