Laying in the Berkshire countryside just south of Newbury sits an open stretch of common land. Its actually made of two neighboring commons, Cookham and Greenham. Stand however on the random piece of tarmac in the middle of the wildflower haven and you start to notice things. A control tower, random US style fire hydrants and wires sticking.out of the ground, and wait, whats that? Missile silo’s?
In 1941 Greenham Common was acquired to build an airfield, the first runway being laid in 1942. It was used by RAF training units initially before being handed over to the US Army
Air Force (USAAF) Ninth Air Force. It was used by the USAAF and later the US Air Force (USAF) as a fighter/bomber station until 1946.
It remained inactive for 5 years and if it were not for the Cold War would probably have remained so to this day. In 1951 major building work began to.prepare the base for cold war bomber aircraft in particular the building of a 10,000ft runway. This was further extended in 1958 to allow 1000ft overrun areas at either end of the runway. In addition massive concrete hard standings were built to accomodate aircraft such as Boeings B47 and Convair B58. It fell under the USAF’S Strategic Air Command until the SAC bombers left in 1964.
In 1968 SAC transferred control of the base to the USAF in Europe (USAFE) who used largely as a forward postal centre and for supplies distribution. However aircraft did return occasionally such as the F111’s of RAF Upper Heyford using it as a dispersal airfield and more frequently as the home of the Royal International Air Tattoo from 1973 to 1983.
The GLCM Years
In 1980 it was announced that GC would be home to the UK’s share of the NATO plan to place Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) in europe to counter the soviet SS20 threat. In total 96 (+4 spares) GLCM’s would be placed there under the command of the 501st Tactical Missile Wing of the USAFE. A further 64 would be placed at RAF Molesworth. A major building plan got under with the construction of 6 large above ground silo’s which would house the Missile Flights. This area was known as GAMA (GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area). Each shelter contained 2 launch control vehicles (LCC) and 4 Transporter Erector Launcher vehicles (TEL) which were each armed with 4 live nuclear GLCM’s at all times. One silo was active as a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) which was manned at all times and would have been the first flight to “react” probably from within the borders of GC itself. The remaning flights would disprersebto.predertimed sites in the countryside to.make targeting them more difficult.
The first missiles arrived in 1983 and the mission lasted until 1991 when the last missile was removed. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty was signed in 1987 which limited then outlawed short to medium range nuclear missiles. The 501st Tactical Missile Wing was deactivated in 1991 and GC became an inactive base governed by the INF treaty and open to inspection by the soviets at an time. In 1992 the base was returned to the UK government and officially put up for sale in 1993.
The entire site was redeveloped by an enterpise group which converted the buildings into a business zone and the runway was ripped up and returned to open common land. The peace camps that had been the centre for anti-nuclear protests during the GLCM years remained until 2000. The GAMA area remains largely as it was and now is a scheduled monument meaning it will always stay as a reminder of the bases history. Other buidings remained unchanged for a ling period due to the INF treaty including the 501st tactical missile wings HQ. Little of the rest of the base remans but a quick look around and you see reminders everywhere.