Greenham Common Former GAMA Site for Cruise Missiles



Early in the planning stage it was decided that RAF Greenham Common would act as the 'bed-down' site for the ground launched cruise missile system, while negotiations continued with the other NATO partners. An area in the south-western corner of the airfield, formerly occupied by hardstandings and the 1950s bomb store, was identified as the site for the missile shelters. Construction was sufficiently advanced by late 1983 for the first missiles to be delivered to Greenham Common, but it was not until mid 1986 that all ninety-six missiles were operational. This became the most controversial nuclear site in the country and the focus for anti-nuclear protesters. 

The Missiles were housed in six hardened shelters with a high security compound known as GAMA. It was surrounded by a triple boundary of fencing topped with razor wire, creating two sterile strips. The main access was guarded by a hardened entry control point of a type common to other nuclear weapons stores, and the tall Brunswick steel tower that overlooked the compound was also typical. Additional guards could be held in the hardened reserve fire team facility with its integral garage, and troops could also be positioned outside the compound in another hardened structure known as the combat support company building, situated close to the wing headquarters. 

The two launch control centres (LCCs) and four transporter erector launchers ( TELs) of each flight and probably two recovery vehicles were housed in one shelter - a massive reinforced concrete structure 173ft 5in x 58ft 4in (52.5m, x 17.8m) and 17ft (5.2m) high, sub-divided into three lanes closed by large, pivoted, steel blast doors. The shelters' design reflected intelligence assessments that Soviet missiles might soon be able to hit a target as small as a single shelter. The doors were operated by hydraulic rams and were lowered over a pit ( like a medieval drawbridge) to permit vehicles to drive out. the reinforced concrete roof of the main structure was protected from bomb or blast damage, whether hostile or accidental by a 8ft 6in (2.6m) layer of loose sand and a 5ft (1.5m) thick reinforced-concrete burster layer , designed to absorb the shock waves of an explosion. The slab extended 35ft 6in (10.8m) to either side of the structure in order to protect its flanks, which were also reinforced by compact sand. Pedestrian access consisted of two concrete tunnels that doglegged to a single blast door which gave entry to the shelter. 



One shelter was designated for a quick reaction alert (QRA) flight. Its design differed from the other by having a permanently manned annexe on one side. This was occupied around the clock against the threat of a pre-emptive nuclear attack. On warning of such an attack the vehicles within would have driven onto the airfield from where the missiles could be launched. The annexe was a self-sufficient unit. Approximately two thirds of its floor area was occupied by a plant room that was protected by a blast attenuator chamber designed to dissipate the sudden increase in air pressure cause by an explosion. The remaining third of the two level structure contained four bedrooms, a toilet, a lounge and an allied military communications panel room with direct links to its wing, USAFE and NATO headquarters. Less visible security measures included closed circuit television cameras and radar intruder alarms.

The cruise system was designed to be mobile and elusive, deploying from hardened shelters to pre-surveyed dispersal sites. To retain its credibility, the vehicles and missiles had to be maintained at high states of readiness and serviceability. To achieve this integrated maintenance facility and missile storage building was placed nearby and was also used for de-fuelling the missiles. It is a three-bay, steel framed structure clad in plastic-coated corrugated sheeting. The two-storey central bay contained workshops, storerooms and offices, and was flanked on one side by a tall, single storey vehicle bay and on the other by the missile bay-both side bays were served by overhead gantry cranes. The support vehicles were housed and maintained outside the compound, chiefly in hangers and at a ten-bay vehicle maintenance facility. Parts of the 1950's bomb stores were renovated, the original sliding doors were replaced by hinged ones: one was used as the warhead store and the maintenance and inspection building retained its original role. Extra capacity for maintenance was later created by converting one of the igloos into another maintenance and inspection building. The remaining igloos were used as conventional munitions stores.