In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the British government drew up Operation Methodical, a plan designed to save the nation's art treasures in case of nuclear war. Under the plan, twelve pantechnicons - trucks or removal vans to you and me - would be loaded with prize exhibits from the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Queen's collection, and driven to remote parts of the UK. The plan was initially drafted four days after John F Kennedy placed Cuba under 'naval quarantine' in an effort to persuade Nikita Krushchev to take his nuclear missiles back. From London, the trucks would have taken the works of art to bunkers at Manod quarry, north Wales, and Westwood quarry, Corsham, Wiltshire. Failing that, works could have been deposited in country houses in Gloucestershire and Henley-on-Thames. Civil servants who learned of the plan were skeptical about its chances of success:

"A great many treasures of high value would have to be left behind to take their chance, which would obviously be slim."

"Whether {the plan} will have the faintest chance of succeeding ... is another question."

The plan could be put into action in six hours, and it was expected that, in order not to induce premature panic among Londoners, it would not be enacted unless Ministers were actively considering a nuclear war scenario. Unfortunately for the ministers, what they didn't know was that any nuclear missiles within range of London would take a maximum of five hours to prepare, arm and fire (some details here), so the plan would have been even more useless than it superficially appeared. Moreover, one person who was involved in the plan and who might have been better informed than most was Sir Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, who shortly after the end of the Missile Crisis confessed to being a Soviet spy. It is not known whether Blunt passed the details of Methodical to the Russians, or what they made of it if he did.

Works to be saved included Sunflowers by van Gogh, Waterlilies by Claude Monet, The Hay Wain by John Constable, the fourteenth-century Wilton Diptych, various works by Turner, Gainsborough, and Dutch and Italian old masters from the Queen's Collection.

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