Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines
Title: Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis
Author: Jim Wilson OBE
Total Number of Pages: 200
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8
‘When ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise’, is a well-known and oft-repeated phrase that indicates that there are times when a lack of knowledge can be advantageous. It is also an effective summation of the events described within this volume, with the subtext that ‘Those with the political power’ are not necessarily those who are in in control.
On the weekend of 27/28 October 1962, in what became known as ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, the United States of America, NATO and Great Britain faced off against their mutual enemy the Soviet Union. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and this event was the closest that the protagonists ever came to direct, nuclear weapon-using. confrontation; an event which would probably have seen the extinction of mankind. Incredibly, the political leaders of one of the protagonist countries (Great Britain) knew almost nothing about what was occurring. How this came-about is the focus of this volume. It details and describes the political events surrounding the event, revealing both the Russian and Western Allies actions which ultimately led to the confrontation. While this in itself is of interest, the revelation that the British participation in the conflict was ultimately in the hands of a single member of the Royal Air Force is more so. Most astonishing of all is evidence that contemporary British politicians were largely unaware of the seriousness of events occurring around them, and acted accordingly. ‘When ignorance is bliss’, indeed! There are two stories within this volume; while usually running in parallel, they sometimes intersect. One story is of British, American and Russian political activity at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The other is of the use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the nuclear-equipped (and American-built) ‘Thor’ Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), a weapon loaned to Britain by the United States of America at a time when Great Britain had no viable nuclear weapons of its own. As they were (at least nominally) the owner/operators of the missile, the RAF’s story is the larger of the two, and is enhanced by personal reminiscences which give insights into the realities of life and thoughts at a time of international uncertainty. Details of the interaction between the RAF and the United States Air Force are also given, and make for interesting reading. The technical development of both ‘Thor’ and the long-range, nuclear-armed missile, is also covered in depth.
The largest section of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. They are preceded by an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to the finished work. Two Appendices are included. One provides technical details of the missile itself, the other a list of the RAF units which operated it. Included in this section are details of Unit Numbers, Base (Station) locations, deployment periods and Commanding Officers. A Bibliography details reference sources, while an Index completes the volume. Sixteen pages of captioned photographs appear in the centre of the work; these are from a variety of sources.
Although this book is both well written and illustrated, no mention of its photographs appears within the Contents section. The Contents sections also contains no reference to the existence of a map (Thor and Jupiter Sites in Europe and their effective range) on page 32 or of technical diagrams on pages 36 and 37. The absence of these details was a disappointment.
In this Reviewer’s opinion, this volume is likely to be of greatest use to historians specialising in the geo-political events of the ‘Cold-War’ era (of which the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ was the apex), although more generalist historians may also find it of use. It could well become a valued resource. Aside from historians (and due to the breadth of its subject), this work may well be of interest to other groups. These could include those interested in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force and the equipment and history of those organisations. Readers interested in military aviation, ‘rocketry’ space exploration and Twentieth Century technology may also find it informative.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8. It should have been higher.
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