A purpose-built storage and servicing building for Blue Steel missiles, built in c.1963.
Reason for Listing
HISTORIC INTEREST: The facility was built to store and service the Blue Steel missile, and represents an important stage in the development of Britain's "stand-off" nuclear weapons of the Cold War.
RARITY: It is unique as the only purpose-built facility for the Blue Steel missile.
GROUP VALUE: It forms part of an important group of Cold War structures at RAF Wittering including the Blue Danube nuclear fissile core stores (all listed at Grade II*) and the Gaydon Hangar (listed at Grade II).
The Blue Steel servicing and storage facilty at RAF Wittering was erected c.1963. Even before the first British nuclear bombers were in service it was recognised that they would have a limited lifespan, as Soviet air defences were constantly being improved. As early as 1954 the Air Ministry set up a study for the design of a 'stand-off' bomb that could be launched many miles from its target. The main contractor for this weapon, known as 'Blue Steel' was A. V. Roe of Woodford, Cheshire.
Blue Steel was a difficult weapon to handle and maintain, requiring specialised equipment and structures. It had its own integral navigation system, automatic pilot, flight computer and electrical power supply for heating and operating its control mechanisms. Storage and maintenance of the warhead took place in existing unit stores areas, but additional special facilities were required for fuelling its rocket engine. Blue Steel was deployed on only two V-bomber airfields, RAF Scampton and RAF Wittering, although in times of tension fully fuelled and armed weapons would have been flown to dispersal airfields. The missile entered service in autumn 1962 at RAF Scampton and became fully operational during 1963 with, ultimately, a total of 40 aircraft able to carry it.
Despite the heavy investment in ground facilities at RAF Wittering, the Victor Blue Steel squadrons based there, Nos. 100 and 139, were disbanded in the last few months of 1968, as the Victors were not suitable for the low-level flying required to evade Soviet radar. Low-level flying also reduced the range of the missile to 25-50 miles (40-80km) which led in part to the complete withdrawal of Blue Steel squadrons by December 1970.
The building is constructed of a reinforced concrete and steel frame, clad with pressed aluminium sheets, and rectangular in plan.
A flat-roofed double-height hangar with no windows. The east and west elevations of the hangar are accessed via pairs of large concertina doors. Attached to the south side is a centrally placed missile loading bay which projects from the five central bays of the hangar and connects with the main hangar floor via a sliding concertina door. The loading bay has a 13-bay, single-storey, garage range at basement level, originally used to house handling equipment, including the missile transporters and trolleys. A narrow two-storey range along the north side of the hangar houses offices, mess room and toilet facilities.
Steel-framed lattice roof trusses divide the interior space into 13 bays. The walls and ceiling of this large, environmentally-controlled storage area were sealed with insulated panels to reduce heat loss and to help prevent dust getting in. Most of these panels remain in place. The loading bay was originally fitted with an overhead gantry crane, now removed, used to transfer the missiles from airfield transporters onto the storage stillages in the main servicing hangar.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.