Lecture: Cuban Missile Crisis – How close did Britain come to Armageddon
28 October 2022
At 12.30PM on Friday 28 October 2022, Bill Pyke will discuss how and why the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, what preparations were in place in the U.K.’s top secret ‘War Book’, and what lessons we can take away from the experience.
This free lecture will be hosted in our Cosford lecture theatre with a live audience. The lecture will also be live-streamed online via Crowdcast.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, a key presidential aid during President Kennedy’s administration described the Cuban missile Crisis of October 1962 as ‘the most dangerous moment in human history’. This comment was by no means an exaggeration. Over 13 days in late October 1962 the covert siting of offensive Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba led to an unprecedented Cold War confrontation that brought the world to the verge of nuclear war.
Between June and October of that year the Soviet Union shipped military equipment to Cuba that included jet bombers, strategic and tactical missiles including their nuclear warheads. In addition, over 40,000 Soviet military personnel travelled to Cuba dressed as so-called ‘civilian advisors’. All this took place in conditions of the deepest secrecy. However, ultimately U.S signals intelligence followed up by air reconnaissance over Cuba revealed the scale of operations and the ominous implications for American security.
But what did all this mean for Britain? What were the reactions of the prime minister Harold Macmillan and his defence chiefs to this deepening crisis? Britain had a formidable array of nuclear weapons: the national independent deterrent comprising the RAF’s V-force 140 jet bombers; the jointly controlled Anglo-American inventory of 60 intermediate-range Thor missiles; and, an undisclosed number of nuclear-armed aircraft that the USAF’s SAC based in England. Soviet leaders recognised that this nuclear arsenal was a direct threat to their homeland. Consequently, this also made the U.K. a priority target should the crisis have ever escalated.
This talk will focus on how and why the crisis occurred, what preparations were in place in the U.K.’s top secret ‘War Book’, and what lessons can we take away from the experience. Nearly six decades have passed since the Cuban Missile crisis. This has enabled American, British and Russian military historians and defence analysts to give a more complete perspective of the period.
The lecture will take place in our Cosford lecture theatre on Friday 28 October 2022. This lecture will begin at 12.30PM.
Please note: That this lecture will also be available to watch remotely via the Museum’s Crowdcast Channel.
To access the lecture you may need to check your internet browser is compatible. It is currently reported that Google Chrome provides the best experience for using Crowdcast.
About Bill Pyke
Bill Pyke is an independent air power researcher who has focused on the role of the RAF in air intelligence and reconnaissance during the early years of the Cold War (1945-1960).
Bill completed an MA in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham in 2016 under the guidance of Air Commodore (retd.) Peter Gray. He has subsequently published in the RAF’s Air Power Review and has previously given a lecture at RAF Cosford in March 2018 as part of the Cold War lunchtime lecture series on the role of MRAF Sir John Slessor in establishing Britain’s independent airborne nuclear deterrent.
Bill previously had a 42-year career in the oil industry. He has always maintained a keen interest in the role of air power.
About the RAF Museum Research Programme
The RAF Museum’s 2022 research programme includes Lunchtime Lectures at the RAF Museum, Cosford; Air Power Lectures, co-organised with the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University; Air Power Seminars, co-organised with the University of Wolverhampton; and the Trenchard Lecture series, hosted at the Royal Aeronautical Society. You can attend these lectures in person or join us online as we live-stream from the venue.
The RAF Museum will also be hosting virtual only lectures throughout 2022. You can find more information on our virtual lectures, and our Crowdcast Channel, by visiting https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/virtual-events/virtual-lectures/