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RAF / US / Greenham Common

Last modified: 12 Apr 2021, submitted by: Joker

Country: United Kingdom    Region: Berkshire

Locale: Newbury

Latitude: 51° 22' 40" N     Longitude: -2° 43' 15" E

Area use / Military Branches: Closed


After WW2 RAF Greenham Common had been used by USAF as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base, with joint operating RAF units. Greenham came under SAC 7th Div supervision, with 3909th Combat Suppt Grp as admin unit on the base, responsible for non-flying activities, maintenance and log suppt. Initial bomber wing deployed was 303rd Bombardment Wing (operating B-47 Stratojets) in 1954 staying over a month as the 1st of the short-term temporary (Reflex) missions from bases in the US that continued intermittently over the next decade. In those days 15 hydrogen bombs used in the Reflex ops had been stored at 5122'39"N 118'20"W

Other known SAC deployments were: Greenham Common Task Force (Provisional) 1955. ERB-29Aa and RB-50G/Es Electronic Reconnaissance and Countermeasures, 97th Air Refueling Sqn (may 1956 july 1956) KC-97, 310th Bombardment Wing (october 1956 january 1957) (B-47, KC-97), 40th Bombardment Wing (july 1957 october 1957) B-47, KC-97. As of 1958 the usual 90-day detachments were replaced by 3-week Reflex rotations, in which the bombers were placed on full alert on the ground, reducing noise considerably. Runway and dispersals were strengthened for the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. In 1958 a B-47E of 310th Bomb Wing dropped external fueltanks. One hit a hangar, the other struck the ground 65 ft behind a parked B-47E. The aircraft was fuelled, had a crew on board and was carrying a B28 nuclear bomb! It took 16 hours to extinguish the fire. Although 2 airmen were killed and 8 injured, USAF and UK MoD kept the accident secret until 1985. MoD claimed that a taxiing aircraft struck a parked one and that fire was involved. AWRE Aldermaston released in a report later that the fire detonated initial explosives in the nuclear weapon and that an area of appx 8 mi around the base probably was plutonium and uranium oxide contaminated. From 1960 B-52's made periodic visits and a B-58 Hustler arrived in 1963. Reflex operations by B-47 and KC-97's continued until 1964 when SAC left. For several years the base was used for USAF storage and as a reserve base. From 1967, Greenham Common was used for NATO Reforger exercises and as result of the withdrawal of France from NATO Greenham was handed over from SAC to United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE) with 7551st Combat Support Group in control of the base using it primarily as a US Military Mail sorting facility, with aircraft flying mail in from the US, being sorted at Greenham and distributed to US facilities all over Europe.

Deployment of USSR SS-20 missiles concerned the NATO in 1975. As a countermeasure NATO and US deployed up to 464 Gryphon Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM's) and 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles in Europe. The UK share of this total was 160 missiles (96 at Greenham Common with 4 spares and 64 at Molesworth). A major infrastructure upgrade followed: the GLCM Alert & Maintenance Area (GAMA) in the southwest corner of the base. GAMA was a hi-sec area with 6 large above ground nuclear blast-proof bunkers storing operational cruise missiles. The first squadron of USAFE's new 501st Tactical Missile Wing received its weapons in november 1983 flown in by C-5As. After a series of meetings US president Reagan and USSR secretary general Gorbachev agreed to remove INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads! They signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which led to removal of all missiles from the base. The last GLCMs at Greenham Common were removed and 501st TMW deactivated in 1991. In 1992, USAFE returned Greenham Common airbase to MoD and in 1993 RAF Greenham Common was declared surplus for defences, closed and put up for sale.

Walk around look at the Greenham Common nuclear weapons storage area
501st USAF Tac Msl Wng
GAMA remains

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