Under the Worcestershire countryside just north of Kidderminster lies a secret which has its roots in World War II and the Cold War. A massive series of underground tunnels known as Rover 1D Shadow Factory or most recently as Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQ) 9-2.
Drakelow Tunnels were originally constructed under the UK Governments World War II Shadow Factory scheme which provided for underground factories to continue operating even under bombardment. These were mainly vehicle and aircraft manufacturers and were involved in the production of Aircraft, Aero engines and munitions. Workers blasted an area of nearly 300,000 square feet underground to create a series of 4 tunnels wide enough to accommodate a shift of around 700 people, Machines and Delivery vehicles. It also consisted of its own medical, kitchen and entertainment facilities consisting of a bar and theatre.
World War II Ends
At the end of World War II ends Drakelow was considered unsustainable to operate due to cost and the factory operations ceased. It was the UK Governments policy however to retain these sites in case of future hostilities, as it turns out they were right to, so Drakelow was used for Ministry of Defence storage. Of what is unclear.
The Cold War
As tensions froze between east and west and the threat of Nuclear War increased almost daily the government set out plans for a series of Command centres built into underground bunkers to protect Central and Regional governments and chain of command. The central government bunkers consisted of two sites, one in central London under Whitehall and later “Subterfuge” an MOD Complex in Corsham, Wiltshire.
Regional Government was divided into 11 sectors known as regional seats of government which were largely converted from the shadow factories or on military barracks. Drakelow was one of these sites and was converted into RSG9 in 1961.
The requirements for RSG’s was that they must be able to accommodate around 300 people, be resistant to a (non-direct) nuclear strike, be totally self sufficient for a significant period (around 6 weeks) and to able to carry out communications and BBC broadcast operations under the Wartime Broadcast System (WTBS).
At this time of the Cold War – 4 codewords would be used for Transition to War (TTW) which were:
- Click – Start Transition to War procedures
- MANUSCRIPT – Whitehall Communications to 24hour Operations
- FENCER – Essential Government Departments and BBC WTBS to 24 hours Operations
- JIGGER – War Book Plans to be implement
- TARPON – Full War Readiness
A large part of Drakelow was converted into RSG9 with the remainder of the tunnels being bricked up. The conversion consisted of new medical facilities, kitchen and canteen, offices for the various departments, BBC studio, BT telephone exchange and male and female dormitories. Strangely entrances were not reinforced and as they were from the Rover days meaning the only protection from a nuclear blast was a series of twisting brick walls.
Under the RSG scheme all sites were given codenames. RSG9 was given the codename MacAdam.
RGHQ replaces RSG.
In 1979 the Conservative government undertook review of the UK’s cold war plans and this included the modernisation of the regional bunker plans. They decided to retire the RSG’s in favour of a series of purpose built bunkers across the country using the same 11 sector system as the RSG network however most sectors would have 2 of the new Regional Government Headquarters or RGHQ’s.
A series of conversions took place of a variety of sites such as former Bomb Stores ( a good example being RGHQ 8.2 at Brackla, Wales) and former ROTOR stations. Unusually Drakelow was one of only two former RSG’s that were converted as most were deemed unsuitable. After some modernisation and upgrades, Drakelow became RGHQ9.2 covering the southern half of Sector 9, The northern half being covered by RGHQ 9.1, A former ordanance factory at Swynnerton, Staffordshire.
The upgrade from RSG to RGHQ comprised of sealing off the older RSG sections that were no longer required, upgrading communications equipment, heating, ventilation, power supplies and adding steel blast doors to the entrances.
In the early 90’s The government was yet again looking at plans for its civil defense strategy in the UK and following the easing of east west/tensions it was decided that the RGHQ network was should be reduced or retired. As a result the RGHQ network including the CGWHQ at Corsham (then known as Site 3) were closed, retired and largely put up for sale. Drakelow was sold into private hands in 1994.
The Tour and Museum Plans
Drakelow tunnels today is operated by Drakelow Tunnels, a trust set up to preserve the tunnels with a view to opening them as a museum. Currently the site is opened to the public several times a year for guided tours at cost of £10pp. The tour takes you around the cold war sections and some of the rover tunnels and is very informative. The tour offers a unique glimpse into the UK’s civil defense system for both World War II and Cold War eras.
Drakelow is unique in many ways and its history is varied. Being one of only 2 RSG’s that became RGHQ’s it is able to demonstrate an unbroken timeline of civil defense attitudes from the 40’s right through to the 90’s.
Visit Drakelow Tunnels for more information and to arrange a tour of the site.