Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Greenham Common is a piece of land in the south of England near the town of Newbury, Berkshire. During World War II it was taken over by the military to be an airfield, serving as a base for airborne troops. Subsequently the airfield was best known both for the International Air Tattoo held there, and for the long-term peace camp held outside its gates. It was returned to civilian use in 1997.
World War II
The common was taken over by the military and converted to an airbase, called RAF Greenham Common during World War II. It was used for glider assembly and as a base by the US 101st Airborne Division, and airborne elements of the Battle of Normandy were launched from there.
The Cold War
In the post World War II years the United States Strategic Air Command was based at three major airfields in eastern England; RAF Lakenheath, RAF Marham and RAF Sculthorpe. The increasing tension of the Cold War lead to a re-evalutation of these deployments and by 1953 SAC bombers began to move further west, behind RAF fighter forces, to RAF Greenham Common, RAF Brize Norton, RAF Upper Heyford and RAF Fairford.
Of these airfields Greenham Common was perhaps the least developed, beginning in 1951 SAC spent over £2m building a new 9,000ft runway and massive new hardstandings. Two 1,000ft overshoots were added to the runway in 1958. To the south west of the runway a new munitions area was built and this is where the cruise missile complex would later be sited. Eight 1,000,000 gallon (4,546,000 litre) underground fuel tanks were also constructed at the base.
In February 1958 a hangar was destroyed at Greenham Common when a B-47 jettisoned its drop tanks
SAC departed Greenham common on June 30 1964. From 1967 the base saw occasional use, for example in the NATO Reforger exercises. From 1973 the base became the home of the International Air Tattoo, a large scale international military Airshow. In 1977 the USAF announced plans to reactivate the base to house KC-135 aerial refueling tankers due to a lack of capacity at the KC-135's main UK base, RAF Mildenhall. This lead to widespread local opposition and in 1978 the British Defence Secretary vetoed the plan.
The Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile from 1975 caused major concern in the NATO alliance. The longer range, greater accuracy, mobility and striking power of the new missile was perceived to alter the security of Western Europe. It was feared that the Soviet Union could launch a nuclear strike against Western Europe with a reduced threat of nuclear retaliation (i.e. than an attack on the continental United States). After discussions, NATO agreed to a two part strategy:
- To pursue arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce their and the American INF arsenals
- To deploy in Europe from 1983 up to 464 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM), as well as 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles.
The UK's share of this total was 160 missiles, 96 based at Greenham Common and 64 at RAF Molesworth. At Greenham Common six hardened shelters were built and operated by the US 501st Tactical Missile Wing; each of which held two launch control centres (LCC), four mobile launchers and one or two recovery vehicles. To launch the missiles the system would leave the base to pre-determined dispersal sites, increasing the surviability compared to fixed sites.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which called for the removal of all INF systems from Europe, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 lead to a massive draw down in United States nuclear forces in Europe - particularly Cruise.
A "Women's peace camp" was established in protest and drew worldwide press and attention. They came to be known as "The Greenham Women."
Return to Civilian Use
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