Village Hall Meeting: The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis

How close did Britain come to nuclear Armageddon?

Speaker: Bill Pyke

Cuban Missile December Meeting

Wednesday 14th December 2023; 7:30 pm

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BMMHS Meeting Venue

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

The Cuban Missile Crisis

14-27th October 1962

How close did Britain come to nuclear Armageddon?

A U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft makes the mid-Atlantic interception of a Soviet freighter carrying Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs), October 1962
Image acquired by a USAF U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, 14 October 1962

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 Crisis deepened following the covert siting of offensive Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba. This all 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, under a clandestine operation codenamed ANADYR, 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.

How and why did this the crisis happen? What preparations were in place in the U.K.’s top secret ‘War Book’? Just over six decades have passed since the Cuban Missile crisis, and with the current fraught situation in Ukraine, what lessons can we learn?

Thor missile being raised for fuelling. RAF Feltwell, Norfolk, ca. 1960
RAF Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Flight crew scrambling to their Vulcan bomber, early 1960s
Regional seats of Government (RSGs) in the event of the likelihood of a nuclear attack.

About the speaker - Bill Pyke

Bill Pyke is an independent air power researcher who has focused on the role of the RAF in areas of policy, intelligence, and operations both during the Second World War and the Cold War. Bill completed an MA in Air Power studies with distinction at the University of Birmingham in 2016 under the guidance of Air Commodore (Retd.) Pete Gray. He has subsequently written in the RAF’s Air Power Review and his new biography of Air Marshal Sir John Slessor was published in March 2022.  He has given presentations on various Cold War themes at conferences and talks at King’s College, London, and at both RAF museums: Hendon and Cosford. Bill previously had a 42-year career in the oil industry.

 He has always maintained his keen interest in the role of the RAF during the Cold War.

RAF Association
Bill's nominated Military Charity for this BMMHS Event
Bill Pyke

Biographical notes – Bill Pyke

Bill completed an MA in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham in 2016. His talk is based on his dissertation, and focuses on Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, and his role and influencing developing Britain’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Bill subsequently published this in the RAF’s Air Power Review in 2017, and gave a lecture in March 2018 at RAF Cosford as part of their Cold War lunchtime lecture series.

Bill previously had a 42-year career in the oil industry. He continues as an independent air power researcher, with a special interest in the role of the RAF in air intelligence and reconnaissance (1945 – 1960).         

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