Original Thunderbird SAM concept


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28 November 2006
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In the book "The Early Development of Guided Weapons in the United Kingdom, 1940-1960" (it may be partially browsed at books.google) there is a brief remark on very early concept of the Thunderbird SAM:

The original concept of Thunderbird was as a weapon for the Army, to be used in the air defence of the UK; hence the original launching concept was essentially static in nature. The missile was to be stored in a central site depot, in which it was prepared for firing and then carried on trolleys to the launch site via a miniature railway.

I am quite sure that years ago I saw in a book at a library a drawing of such an arrangement: big bulding (a bunker?) with fire-control radar(s) on top of it, and several (eight?) launching pads around it with 'railway' connecting the bunker with the launchers and supplying them with missiles.

I wonder whether someone here could remind me what a book it might have been or perhaps has further information on that 'original launching concept'.

The image I think you're referring to is in Chris Gibson's Battle Flight.
It is not Thunderbird however but a SAM defence scheme study from 1952 using a notional beam-rider similar to Sea Slug.
Hood said:
The image I think you're referring to is in Chris Gibson's Battle Flight.
It is not Thunderbird however but a SAM defence scheme study from 1952 using a notional beam-rider similar to Sea Slug.

Thank you. The book has been just ordered (looks very interesting).

As for what I've seen at a library that for sure was a publication from the 1950s, perhaps a primary source used by Gibson (it'll turn out when the book will arrive).

The 'SAM defence study from 1952' is called Thunderbird in The Early Development of Guided Weapons in the United Kingdom, 1940-1960 by Stephen Robert Twigge ( https://books.google.pl/books?id=uLqzata5_QQC ). Interestingly the books explains relationships (in name at least) between various missile designs of that era (see attachment). According to the scheme what eventually became Thunderbird had previously been named Sea Slug, co both authors may be right using the two designators.


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The "Battle Flight" has just arrived. It really seems to be a fascinating piece of work.

As for this topic Chris Gibson has indeed published a drawing of what looks like a land-based Seaslug system with triple launchers (taken from HMS Girdle Ness?) and radars strikingly resembling Type 901 radar. What is more, however his book contains a reference to the source of the original drawing, which is a book "Development of the Guided Missile" by Kenneth W. Gatland published in 1952 (and it is the very book that I read some twenty years ago!). The book is still available at my library in Warsaw, so I have borrowed it and here you've got some info and drawings.

K.W. Gatland describes an air defence system for London that was to consist of eight launching sites equally spaced on a circle at a distance of 25 miles from the city's centre each with a battery of eight launchers. There were to be two types of the sites. The first was to consist of a number of trailer-mounted ramps (ie launchers), with the radar and control trucks/trailer and supply vehicles for the missiles and propellant. The ramps were to be drawn up in a circle round the radar and control vehicles. This type of installation could have been moved by road and established at short notice in almost any part of the country.

A more permanent installation was to have eight trailer-type launchers (my understanding is that they were to be of the same type as in the system's mobile/transportable version) deployed around a central block-house. This building was to have an underground store rooms for the missiles and a control tower on the roof. A service road was to lead to the store rooms through a short tunnel. Eight loading bays were to be provided round the building with rails extending to the launching stations on the perimeter of the site. The missiles having been brought up from the the store room by elevator were to be placed on trolleys and moved through bays for final checks, fuelling and fitment of boosters prior to being sent out along the rails to the launching ramps.

The fire-control equipment (radar etc.) were to be housed in trailers that, together with the trailer-type lauchers could have let the system be mobile.

The missiles are quite similar to the Shorts GPV test missiles: they had eight (or rather four twin) boosters, and the sustainer liquid-fuelled engine. Launched from a single-rail lauchers they were to use the beam-rider guidance system. Interestingly their range was to be near 50 miles, which may correspond to the very early requirement for guided weapons that called for the range of 100,000 yards (which, as it turned out quite quickly was unattainable with the beam-riding system hence further developments of semi-active guidance) - something like 'the original Red Heathen' in the Missiles Relationship table in my previous post.

It is really intriguing whether the system described by Gatland in 1952 was his own invention or rather he was inspired by actual designs or at least ideas of that era. Having browsed through his book I have a feeling that he was writing about rather real projects than fantasies. The quotation from "The Early Development of Guided Weapons in the United Kingdom, 1940-1960" in this topic's opening post may also suggest that in the early 1950s such a concept might have actually been considered.



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Absolutely fascinating, thankyou for sharing!
Indeed, thanks for sharing these.
Gatland's view was his own speculation as to the future - he had no official status, and so these proposals should be regarded in that light.
I don't know if this is the right thread however a short clip from the 1957 shows the test-launch of a Thunderbird SAM at Woomera:

"THUNDERBIRD" SHOWS ACCURACY The Thunderbird - first ground-to-air missile ordered for the defense of Britain - tested at Australia's Woomera proving grounds. Although purposely steered off course, the guided missile finds its way back to high-flying target.

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