Military citadels under London
A number of military citadels are known to have been constructed underground in central London, dating mostly from the Second World War and the Cold War. Unlike traditional above-ground citadels, these sites are primarily secure centres for defence coordination.
It is already well known that a large network of tunnels exists below London for a variety of communications, civil defence and military purposes. It is much less clear how these tunnels, and the various facilities linked to them, fit together, if at all. Even the number and nature of these facilities is unclear; only a few have been officially admitted to.
The most important military citadel in central London—and arguably in Britain—is Pindar, a bunker built deep beneath the Ministry of Defence on Whitehall. Its construction, which took ten years and reportedly cost £126.3 million, finally came to a conclusion in 1994, but Pindar became operational two years earlier, in 1992. The high cost became the subject of some controversy in the early 1990s. Much of the cost overrun was related to the facility's computer equipment, which proved extremely difficult to install due to the very limited degree of physical access to the site.
Pindar's main function is to serve as a crisis management and communications centre, principally between the MOD headquarters and the actual centre of military operations, the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood. It is reported to be connected to Downing Street and the Cabinet Office by a tunnel under Whitehall. In addition, despite rumours, armed Forces Minister Jeremy Hanley told the House of Commons on 29 April 1994 that "the facility is not connected to any transport system."
Although Pindar is not open to the public, it has had some public exposure. In the 2003 BBC documentary on the Iraq conflict, Fighting the War, BBC cameras were allowed into the facility to film a small part of a teleconference between ministers and military commanders. Also, in 2008 the British photographer David Moore published his series of photographs, The Last Things, widely believed to be an extensive photographic survey of Pindar.
The Admiralty Citadel, London's most visible military citadel, is located just behind the Admiralty building on Horse Guards Parade. It was constructed in 1940–1941 as a bomb-proof operations centre for the Admiralty, with foundations 30 feet (nine metres) deep and a concrete roof 20 feet (six metres) thick. It is also linked by tunnels to government buildings in Whitehall.
Sir Winston Churchill described it in his memoirs as a "vast monstrosity which weighs upon the Horse Guards Parade" – and Russian vine has been encouraged to cover it in an apparent attempt to soften its harsh appearance. Its brutal functionality speaks of a very practical purpose; in the event of a German invasion, it was intended that the building would become a fortress, with loopholed firing positions provided to fend off attackers.
In 1992 the Admiralty communications centre was established here as the stone frigate HMS St Vincent, which became MARCOMM COMCEN (St Vincent) in 1998. The Admiralty Citadel is still used today by the Ministry of Defence.
Cabinet War Rooms
The only central London citadel currently open to the public is the Cabinet War Rooms, located in Horse Guards Road in the basement of what is now HM Treasury. This was not a purpose-built citadel but was instead a reinforced adaptation of an existing basement built many years before. The War Rooms were constructed in 1938 and were heavily used by Winston Churchill during World War II. However, the Cabinet War Rooms were vulnerable to a direct hit and were abandoned not long after the war. The Cabinet War Rooms were a secret to all civilians until their opening to the public in 1984. They are now maintained by the Imperial War Museum.
The section of the War Rooms open to the public is in fact only a portion of a much larger facility. They originally covered three acres (1.2 hectares) and housed a staff of up to 528 people, with facilities including a canteen, hospital, shooting range and dormitories. The centrepiece of the War Rooms is the Cabinet Room itself, where Churchill's War Cabinet met. The Map Room is located nearby, from where the course of the war was directed. It is still in much the same condition as when it was abandoned, with the original maps still on the walls and telephones lining the desks. Churchill slept in a small bedroom nearby. There was a telephone room down the corridor that provided a direct line to the White House in Washington, DC, via a special scrambler in an annexe basement of Selfridges department store.
Q-Whitehall is the (possibly unofficial) name given to a communications facility under Whitehall.
The facility was built in a 12 ft (3.7 m) diameter tunnel during World War II, and extends under Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to King Charles Street. The project was known as 'Post Office scheme 2845'. A detailed description, with photographs, was published just after the war in the January 1946 edition of The Post Office Electrical Engineers' Journal.
Sites equipped with unusual amounts of GPO/BT telecommunications plant are given a BT site engineering code. This site's code was QWHI, and this is presumably the origin of the name Q-Whitehall.
The site provided protected accommodation for the lines and terminal equipment serving the most important government departments, civil and military, to ensure the command and control of the war could continue despite heavy bombing of London.
At the northern end, the tunnel connects to a shaft up to the former Trafalgar Square tube station (now merged with Charing Cross station), and to the BT deep level cable tunnels which were built under much of London during the Cold War. At the southern end, an 8 ft (2.4 m) diameter extension (Scheme 2845A) connects to a shaft under Court 6 of the Treasury Building: this provided the protected route from the Cabinet War Room. The 8 ft (2.4 m) tunnel was further extended (Scheme 2845B) to the Marsham Street Rotundas.
Access to the tunnel is gained via an 8 ft (2.4 m) lateral tunnel and a lift shaft in the nearby Whitehall telephone exchange in Craig's Court.
Spur tunnels, 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter, were built to provide protected cable routes to the major service buildings either side of Whitehall.
The Whitehall tunnels appear to have been extended in the early 1950s. Some official documents refer to a Scheme 3245: this is the only numbered tunnel scheme that has never been officially revealed or located by researchers. Files in the National Archives which may relate to this have been closed for 75 years and will not be opened until the 2020s.
The journalist Duncan Campbell managed to get into the BT deep level cable tunnels below London, and described his adventure in a New Statesman article in 1980. He found a (closed) entrance to Q-Whitehall below Trafalgar Square. He has since put some pictures of this trip on a web site.
- Laurie, Peter (1979). Beneath the City Streets. Panther. ISBN 978-0-586-05055-2.
- Campbell, Duncan (24 November 1983). War Plan UK. Granada. ISBN 978-0-586-08479-3.
- Hennessy, Peter (2001). "Launching a UK nuclear strike". The prime minister: the office and its holders since 1945. New York: Palgrave. p. 90. ISBN 0-312-29313-5.
- "29 April 1994". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons)..
- Brook, Pete (31 January 2011). "Inside London's secret crisis-command bunker". Wired.com. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
- Derelict London by Paul Talling, page 190, publ. 2008 by Random House, ISBN 978-1-905211-43-2
- "Whitehall tunnels". Retrieved 30 July 2011.
- Duncan Campbell's tunnel trip[dead link]; Duncan Campbell's tunnel trip in the web archive
- Fortifications of London
- Central Government War Headquarters
- Subterranean London
- Civil defence centres in London
- Paddock (war rooms)