RAF Greenham Common

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RAF Greenham Common
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Newbury, Berkshire in England
RAF Greenham Common runway.jpg
RAF Greenham Common during the 1980s
RAF Greenham Common is located in Berkshire
RAF Greenham Common
RAF Greenham Common
Location within Berkshire
Coordinates51°22′43″N 001°16′56″W / 51.37861°N 1.28222°W / 51.37861; -1.28222Coordinates: 51°22′43″N 001°16′56″W / 51.37861°N 1.28222°W / 51.37861; -1.28222
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force
US Army Air Forces (1943–1945)
US Air Force (1951–1992)
ConditionClosed
Site history
Built1943 (1943)
In use1943–1993
Fate
EventsGreenham Common Women's Peace Camp (1981–2000)
Airfield information
IdentifiersICAO: EGVI, WMO: 037435
Elevation121 metres (397 ft) AMSL
Runways
Direction Length and surface
11/29 3,048 metres (10,000 ft) Asphalt (built 1950s)
10/28 1,798 metres (5,899 ft) Asphalt (WW2)
14/32 1,256 metres (4,121 ft) Asphalt (WW2)
02/20 998 metres (3,274 ft) Asphalt (WW2)

Royal Air Force Greenham Common or RAF Greenham Common is a former Royal Air Force station in the civil parishes of Greenham and Thatcham in the English county of Berkshire.[1] The airfield was southeast of Newbury, about 55 miles (89 km) west of London.

Opened in 1942, it was used by the United States Air Force during the Second World War and during the Cold War, and later as a base for nuclear weapons. After the Cold War ended, it was closed in September 1992. The airfield was also known for the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp held outside its gates in the 1980s in protest against the stationing of cruise missiles on the base. In 1997 Greenham Common was designated as public parkland.

History[edit]

Second World War[edit]

The Greenham Lodge Estate, which was set in the midst on Greenham Common, was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1941.[2]

The first arrival was the 51st Troop Carrier Wing Headquarters, arriving in September 1942. The 51st TCW controlled the three troop carrier groups at RAF Keevil (62nd TCG), RAF Aldermaston (60th TCG) and RAF Ramsbury (64th TCG) as part of Twelfth Air Force. An area to the east of Bowdown House, a mansion on the northeast end of the airfield, was used as "bomb stores".[3]

The 51st TCW HQ followed its groups to North Africa as part of Operation Torch in November 1942.[4]

In late 1943, Greenham Common airfield was turned over to the USAAF Ninth Air Force. An American advance party soon arrived to ready the airfield for the incoming units. Greenham Common was known as USAAF Station AAF-486.[5]

354th Fighter Group[edit]

As troop carrier groups began arriving in the UK in late 1943 and deployed in the Greenham area, Greenham Common was one of the airfields used by the Ninth Air Force for fighter groups arriving from the United States. On 4 November the 354th Fighter Group arrived from Portland Army Air Field, Oregon and they were informed they were to fly the North American P-51 Mustang. The unit transferred to RAF Lashenden in April 1944.[6]

368th Fighter Group[edit]

A few weeks later on 13 January 1944, the 368th Fighter Group arrived from Farmingdale, New York, flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. They had the following fighter squadrons and fuselage codes:[7]

  • 395th Fighter Squadron (A7)
  • 396th Fighter Squadron (C2)
  • 397th Fighter Squadron (D3)

The 368th was a group of Ninth Air Force's 71st Fighter Wing, IX Tactical Air Command. The 368th FG moved to RAF Chilbolton on 15 March 1944.[7]

438th Troop Carrier Group[edit]

General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike), at Greenham Common Airfield about 8:30 pm on 5 June 1944.

Literally as the 368th FG was moving out, the 438th Troop Carrier Group was flying into Greenham Common from RAF Langar. Flying Douglas C-47 Skytrains, they had the following Troop Carrier squadrons and fuselage codes:[8]

  • 87th Troop Carrier Squadron (3X)
  • 88th Troop Carrier Squadron (M2)
  • 89th Troop Carrier Squadron (4U)
  • 90th Troop Carrier Squadron (Q7)

The 438th was a group of Ninth Air Force's 53rd Troop Carrier Wing of IX Troop Carrier Command. The unit moved to Prosnes in France in February 1945.[8]

Cold War[edit]

Strategic Air Command[edit]

USAF Boeing B-47E-50-LM Stratojet, AF Ser. No. 52-3363, in flight.
Gate to RAF Greenham Common during 1961

In the post-Second World War years, the United States Strategic Air Command was based at three major airfields in eastern England: RAF Lakenheath, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Sculthorpe. The increasing tension of the Cold War led to a re-evaluation of these deployments and a move further west, behind RAF fighter forces, to RAF Greenham Common, RAF Brize Norton, RAF Upper Heyford and RAF Fairford. The airfield came under Strategic Air Command's 7th Air Division, with the 3909th Combat Support Group as its administrative unit on the base, responsible for all non-flying activities as well as maintenance and logistical support of the flying units attached to RAF Greenham Common. One of the first deployments was 310th Bombardment Wing which arrived with its Boeing B-47E Stratojets in October 1956.[9]

Nuclear Accident[edit]
Aerial view of the former runway at RAF Greenham Common, viewed east-to-west, August 2014.

On 28 February 1958, a B-47E, of the 310th Bombardment Wing developed problems shortly after takeoff and jettisoned its two 1,700 gallon external fuel tanks. They missed their designated safe impact area, and one hit a hangar while the other struck the ground 65 feet (20 m) behind a parked plane. The parked B-47E, registration 53-6216, which was fuelled and had a pilot on board, was engulfed by flames; 2 ground crew were killed and two were injured. [10][11][12][13][14][15]

Two scientists, F. H. Cripps and A. Stimson, who both worked for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, stated in a secret 1961 report, released by the CND in 1996, that the fire detonated the high explosives in a nuclear weapon, that plutonium and uranium oxides were spread over a wide area (foliage up to 8 mi (13 km) away was contaminated with uranium-235) and that they had discovered high concentrations of radioactive contamination around the air base.[16]

However, a radiological survey commissioned in 1997 by Newbury District Council and Basingstoke and Deane found no evidence of a nuclear accident at Greenham Common, suggesting that Cripps and Stimson's statements were false. The seven-month long survey was carried out by the Geosciences Advisory Unit of Southampton University and combined a helicopter-mounted gamma ray detector survey with a ground-based survey. The team analysed nearly 600 samples taken from soil, lake sediment, borehole water, house dust, runway tarmac and concrete, looking for uranium and plutonium isotopes. No evidence of an accident involving nuclear weapons damage was found at the former air force base although the ground survey detected some low-level uranium contamination around the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston thought to be derived from that facility, and the helicopter survey found some anomalies around Harwell Laboratory.[17]

United States Air Forces in Europe[edit]

After Strategic Air Command left Greenham Common in 1964, the site was primarily used as a mail sorting and storage facility under the administrative control of 7551st Combat Support Group.[18] Beginning in 1973 the base became the home of the International Air Tattoo, a large scale international military airshow.[1]

501st Tactical Missile Wing[edit]

On 12 December 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 miles (9.7 km) perimeter of the base, in protest against the decision to site American cruise missiles there

Following the 1979 NATO Double-Track Decision, in June 1980, RAF Greenham Common was selected as one of two British bases for the US Air Force's mobile nuclear armed Ground Launched Cruise Missiles or GLCMs.[19] These were the "Gryphon" type derived from the sea-launched "Tomahawk". Some missiles were deployed at RAF Molesworth, but the majority of GLCMs were deployed at RAF Greenham Common.[20]

A Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was established in protest at the deployment of cruise missiles in 1981.[1] The protestors became known as "the Greenham women" or "peace women", and their 19-year protest drew worldwide media and public attention.[1]

After being equipped with the new weapons, the 501st Tactical Missile Wing was activated at Greenham Common on 1 July 1982.[21] Following the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by United States President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev in June 1988, the last GLCMs at RAF Greenham Common were removed in March 1991, and the 501st Tactical Missile Wing was inactivated in May 1991.[21] On 11 September 1992, the USAF returned RAF Greenham Common to the Ministry of Defence.[1]

Post RAF station[edit]

In 1997 Greenham Common was designated as public parkland, effectively returning it to its pre-Second World War status but with restrictions. Greenham and Crookham Commons became a Site of Special Scientific Interest.[22][23] The Cold War era control tower has recently been redeveloped and is now open as a visitor centre with a historical exhibition and community cafe. Cattle from local farms are permitted to graze the Common and often stray onto the adjacent Burys Bank Road.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

Greenham Common in 2005. The hangars can be seen in the distance.

The airfield was used In the sixth series of London's Burning where the production team built a petrol garage and diner to be used in a large incident in episode 7.[25]

An episode of BBC's Top Gear was filmed at the abandoned airfield, with Jeremy Clarkson and James May attempting to find out if communism had produced a good car.[26]

Beyoncé used the airfield to film scenes for her 2013 self-titled visual album.[27]

Greenham Common airfield was used as a filming location for the 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens and 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The GAMA area was used as the location for the above ground Resistance base on the fictional planet D'Qar.[28]

Greenham Common airfield was also used as a filming location for the 2019 film Fast and Furious 9.[29]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website https://www.afhra.af.mil/.

  1. ^ a b c d e Ford, David Nash (2020). West Berkshire Town and Village Histories. Wokingham: Nash Ford Publishing. pp. 125–133. ISBN 9781905191031.
  2. ^ "Greenham Common". American Air Museum in Briitain. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Bowdown World War II Bomb Stores, Greenham Common". Heritage Gateway. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  4. ^ Historic England. "Former Combat Support Building (Building 273), Greenham Common (1419547)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  5. ^ "RAF Greenham Common". Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  6. ^ "354th Fighter Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  7. ^ a b "368th Fighter Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  8. ^ a b "438th Troop Carrier Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  9. ^ "310th Bombardment Wing". Strategic Air Command. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  10. ^ "1953 USAF Serial Numbers". www.joebaugher.com.
  11. ^ "[PDF] Major Robert A. Mortland Co-Pilot 30 Clarion, Penn. killed LINK. 369BS 306BW MacDill AFB, FL. Mishap on landing. Structural problems - Free Download PDF". silo.tips.
  12. ^ "Usaf Aircraft Accident, Greenham Common". Hansard. 5 March 1958. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  13. ^ "Report on the fire with nuclear weapon on board, with resulting nuclear contamination". Atomic Archive. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  14. ^ "Photo of 53-62-16 the actual plane that burned in the incident". Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  15. ^ "1958 accident at Greenham Common covered up". Wise International. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  16. ^ The Distribution of Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239 around the United States Air Force base at Greenham Common, July 1961 by F H Cripps & A Stimson, AWRE, Aldermaston
  17. ^ Greenham Common given 'all-clear'-leaving childhood leukaemia clusters a mystery Archived 11 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine, Southampton University in-house newsletter New Reporter Vol 14, No 12, 10 March 1997
  18. ^ Cook, Colonel James P. (31 July 2017). "A strategic consideration of the Cold War heritage of the former RAF Upper Heyford Base". p. 40. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  19. ^ Statement of the Secretary of State for Defence, Francis Pym; Hansard 17 June 1980
  20. ^ "GAMA - Cruise Missile Shelter Complex, Greenham Common airbase". Heritage Gateway. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  21. ^ a b "501st Combat Support Wing Heritage" (PDF). 501st Combat Support Wing. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  22. ^ "Magic Map Application". Magic.defra.gov.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  23. ^ "Site name: Greenham and Crookham Commons" (PDF). Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  24. ^ "Drivers urged to slow down and be vigilant for cattle in Greenham". inyourarea.co.uk. 22 December 2017. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  25. ^ "London's Burning (TV Series) Episode No. 6.7". IMDB. 1993. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  26. ^ "Top Gear Series 12 Episode 6". BBC. 4 December 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  27. ^ "Beyoncé's explosive new music video filmed in bomb shelter". News24. 11 October 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Star Wars surprise: Millennium Falcon and X-Wing pictured". BBC News. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  29. ^ "Greenham Common stars in new Fast and Furious 9 trailer (but can you spot it?)". Basingstoke Gazette. 3 February 2020. Retrieved 27 November 2021.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now 1994. After the Battle ISBN 0-900913-80-0
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • Sayers, Jonathan (2006) In Defense of Freedom, a History of RAF Greenham Common
  • Stokes, Penelope (2017). The Common Good: The story of Greenham Common ISBN 978-1-5272-0785-1

External links[edit]