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Royal Air Force Greenham Common

Royal Air Force Station Greenham Common is perhaps best known for the Peace Camp in the 1980's, set up to protest against the deployment of Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) to RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth. Greenham Common's history starts back in World War Two, constructed in 1941 and in 1943 its long association with the United States Army Air Force and later the United States Air Force began. On the 18 June 1951, RAF Greenham Common was handed over the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) for use as a strategic bomber base. The take over saw the construction of a new 10,000 ft runway and the upgrade and expansion of every aspect of the airfield. This first phase of American operations was relatively short-lived, SAC aircraft left the station on the 30 June 1964.

 

The base continued as a relief landing ground and as a storage depot. Things changed when France withdrew from NATO and the units formally stationed in France need new homes. On the 1 November 1968 SAC handed control of the airfield to the United States Air Force Europe (USAFE). The base only operated as a dispersal airfield for F111s based at RAF Upper Heyford with the only regular flights flying being those carrying US military mail to and from the sorting facility at the base.

 

Things were about to change, and in 1980 it was announced that the 501st Tactical Missile Wing of the USAF would be stationed at Greenham Common operating 96 BGM-109G Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles, a further 64 at RAF Molesworth. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was enraged and set up the Women's Peace Camps in 1981. The missiles were organised in sub-units which were comprised of four Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) Vehicles and two Launch Control Centre (LCC) vehicles. The six vehicles were housed in concrete six bunkers built to the south of the airfield; each bunker contained 4 TELs and 2 LCCs. The structures were known as 'GAMA' or GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area. The GAMA site was a maximum security zone that provided a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) GLCM capability. The GAMA were huge affairs designed to withstand a direct hit from a 2,500 lb conventional bomb as well as an air-burst nuclear blast above the airfield. The first missiles arrived in November 1983, flown in aboard C-5 Galaxy airlifters. Following the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1897 the planned removal of all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from the UK began. The last weapon systems left RAF Greenham Common in March 1991 with the 501st Tactical Missile Wing disbanding on the 4 June 1991. The USAF returned RAF Greenham Common to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the 11 September 1992, and the MoD declared the site surplus to requirements on 9 February 1993 and consequently the site was closed and placed for disposal.