|RAF Greenham Common|
|Near Newbury, Berkshire in England|
RAF Greenham Common
Location within Berkshire
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
US Army Air Forces (1943–1945)
US Air Force (1951–1992)
|Events||Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp (1981–2000)|
|Identifiers||ICAO: EGVI, WMO: 037435|
|Elevation||121 metres (397 ft) AMSL|
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. 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.
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".
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 B-47E. The parked plane, which was fuelled, had a pilot on board was engulfed by flames.
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.
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.
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. Beginning in 1973 the base became the home of the International Air Tattoo, a large scale international military airshow.
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. 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.
A Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was established in protest at the deployment of cruise missiles in 1981. The protestors became known as "the Greenham women" or "peace women", and their 19-year protest drew worldwide media and public attention.
After being equipped with the new weapons, the 501st Tactical Missile Wing was activated at Greenham Common on 1 July 1982. 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. On 11 September 1992, the USAF returned RAF Greenham Common to the Ministry of Defence.
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. 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.
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.
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