Cold War missile sites get listed status

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke takes a look around one of the sites

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Two Cold War nuclear missile sites are to get listed status to mark the Cuban Missile crisis's 50th anniversary.

The former RAF sites - in Harrington, Northamptonshire, and North Luffenham, Rutland, are the most intact examples of Thor missile bases in England.

They were put on alert as the Soviet Union and the US came to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962.

The USSR eventually agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba and the US pledged not to invade the island.

The Thor missile site at the former RAF North Luffenham, Rutland, has been given a Grade II* listing.

And the site at former RAF Harrington, Northamptonshire, has been listed as Grade II.

The two sites still have concrete launch pads and blast walls, along with mounting bolts for the platforms that would raise the missiles into a vertical firing position.

Cuban missile crisis

President John F. Kennedy makes a national television speech October 22, 1962, from Washington
  • In October 1962, the world held its breath as John F Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev tried to avoid nuclear war
  • On 16 October, 1962, Kennedy was alerted to a secret build-up of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba
  • The US had 25,000 nuclear weapons; the Soviet Union about half that. It was thought that nuclear war would lead to the deaths of everyone in the northern hemisphere
  • With advisors advocating measures from missile strikes to a full blown invasion, Kennedy went public with the crisis on 22 October
  • The stand-off came to an end on 27 October when Khrushchev stood by his pledge to remove the missiles if the US promised not to invade

Source:BBC History

The listing, which recognises the two sites' architectural and historic importance, followed advice from English Heritage and is part of an ongoing project to ensure the best Cold War structures are preserved.

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said the remains of the Cold War were "fading from view faster than those of the world wars".

"These two missile sites are among the few physical reminders in this country of the Cuban missile crisis, a moment when the entire world held its breath," he said.

He added that they deserve to be protected "to remind present and future generations of this knife-edge moment in history".

Similarly, Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said Cold War heritage was "often overlooked", adding that the sites were "an important reminder of a point in history" and therefore "worthy of protection".

"Listing these two missile sites is particularly poignant on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis and serves as a very physical reminder of an uncertain and tense period where the world feared a nuclear war," he said.

In total, 60 Thor missiles, developed by the US, were deployed at 20 sites in the east of England from 1958 under the codename "Project Emily".

They were manned by the RAF, although their warheads remained under US control.

The decision to launch them would have been made jointly by the two countries.

RAF North Luffenham is now St George's Barracks, while RAF Harrington is now mostly farmland.

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