Tuesday, February 02, 2010

When nuclear missiles were stationed near Market Harborough

A story in the Leicester Mercury today brought me up short:
A green energy company is considering an appeal after plans for a wind farm on a former nuclear missile site were rejected.
Nuon Renewables wants to build seven 415ft towers five miles south east of Market Harborough.
A former nuclear missile site five miles from Harborough?

Incredibly, it is true.

The site in question is the former World War II airfield RAF Harrington. It was opened in September 1943 and played host to a number of American bomber squadrons until the end of the war.

Afterwards the airfield fell into use and was returned to farmland, according to Wikipedia, or was used for storage by the RAF, according to the Wartime Memories site. Either way, things changed remarkably in 1958.

The Thor missile programme was the USA's first generation of ballistic missiles. Because of their limited range (around 2000 miles) they had to be stationed in Western Europe if so that it would be possible to use them against the Soviet Union.

With the enthusiastic agreement of the British government, 60 Thor missiles were deployed here: three each at 20 different sites. RAF Harrington was one of those sites, as was RAF North Luffenham in Rutland. The Thor missiles were quickly superseded and were withdrawn in 1963.

I discovered RAF Harrington in one of my teenage bike rides around here. It was clearly a substantial and interesting site - though I did not know then just how interesting - but somehow I never got back there.

This year I will, because it turns out that there is a museum there. According to its website (from which I have borrowed the photo above), the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum:
The Carpetbagger Aviation Museum was formed in 1993 for the 50th Anniversary reunion of the USAAF's 801st / 492nd Bomb Group (The Carpetbaggers) at Harrington. It is housed in the Group Operations Building on the Administration Site of the former Station 179 airfield at Harrington, Northamptonshire, England. The Museum is administered by members of the Harrington Aviation Museum Society ...
Displays and exhibits within the museum depict the history of the airfield and vividly show the work carried out by the 801st (Provisional) / 492nd Bomb Group, especially during Operation Carpetbagger, and their secret missions to deliver agents and supplies to resistance groups in Occupied Europe during the Second World War.
Other exhibits and displays include the secret work of the British Special Operations Executive from their RAF base at Tempsford; the cold war roles of the airfield at Harrington with the Thor rockets; and the Royal Observer Corps.
A "former nuclear missile site" puts you in mind of some blighted wasteland of feral beasts and mutant children, but in reality Harrington is a lovely rural area. And it was the airfield's historic importance, particularly its role in the Thor years, that led Daventry District Council to turn the wind farm application down.

I find it hard to be sorry that they did. The proposal was for seven 415ft towers, and that represents the sort of industrialisation of the countryside that I instinctively oppose.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You'll be telling us next that you didn't know the airfield was being spied upon from a nazi themed swimming pool in Pitsford.

Simon said...

Industrialisation of the countryside, come on Jonathan, the countryside was industrial untill all industry was relocated to the towns due to the need for a greater concentration of Labour.

Rural tranquility is a bit of modern rubbish we tell ourselves to make it all look a bit romantic.

OK so wind farms and nuclear missiles are modern creations, but so is generating power away from the point of use. If we want to 'preserve' our countryside as we remember it now we are likely to preserve it at its deadest, most useless and most dehumanized state since before the last ice age.

Rant ceased at 23:59 GMT

Ian Ridley said...

OK there is an issue with very large wind turbines in locations too close to housing but that needs to be balanced against the question of where are we going to get our power from?

Of course part of the answer is to use less energy but even then we need to find new sources as nuclear and some fossil fuel plants are phased out