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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

RAF Greenham Common, UK

In the early years of the Cold War the British and American governments reached an agreement under which elements of the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) would be based in the UK. Bases had already been established in East Anglia -- at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath -- but they were considered to be too vulnerable to bomber attack and airfields further behind the RAF fighter defences were sought. Four RAF airfields were selected to receive SAC units -- RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford, RAF Greenham Common and RAF Upper Heyford.

Dozens of B-47E bombers rotated through Greenham Common during the 1950s and early 1960s The 341st Bombardment Wing, 15th Air Force, Strategic Air Command (SAC) deployed six B-47s to Greenham Common RAF Station in July 1959 with three more rotating every week thereafter until April 1961. In 1963 Project Clearwater halted large scale rotational bomber deployments to Britain, and RAF Chelveston, RAF Fairford, RAF Greenham Common, and RAF Sculthorpe were returned to the Air Ministry.

Lying on a ridge some 380 feet above sea level, and two miles from Newbury on a pockmarked area of heath and scrub, Greenham Common airfield was first surveyed early in 1941. The airfield was nearing completion in the summer of 1942, by which time Greenham Common became one of the many sites earmarked for USAAF occupation. By the beginning of June 1944 paratroop and glider units were given the task of leading the airborne forces to Normandy on June 5/6. They acquitted themselves so well during the first drop of the 101st Airborne Division. Greenham was declared surplus and closed down on 01 June 1946.

American strategic bomber bases in the UK were agreed between the governments and Greenham Common was included in the second group of airfields chosen to house these detachments. American survey teams moved in during February 1951. The wartime buildings were demolished to allow the construction of a massive 10,000 ft (3,048 m) runway laid E/W on top of the existing one. Parallel taxiways had extensive spur hardstands. In September 1953 Greenham was declared available for Reflex operations by B-47 Stratojets. The first operational use was in March 1954 when 2,200 men moved in and a detachment of 303rd BW B-47s arrived from Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona-the first of the 90-day rotations. The first deployment with 45 B-47 aircraft commenced in October 1956 when the 310th arrived from Schilling AFB.

In April 1958 the 90-day detachments were replaced by a three-week Reflex Alert rotation during which the bombers did not fly, reducing the noise considerably. The runways and dispersals were further strengthened for the B-52 bomber, but none were based at Greenham. From August 1960 the B-52 made periodic training visits, and a B-58 Hustler arrived briefly in October 1963. Reflex operations by B-47 and KB-97s continued until 01 April 1964, and Greenham Common was returned to RAF control on 01 July 1964.

In 1979, NATO ministers decided to deploy the USAF Gryphon BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) and the US Army's Pershing II missiles to counter the growing Soviet SS-20 intermediate range ballistic missile threat. American GLCMs were deployed in U.S. Air Force units on six missile operating bases in five Western European nations: the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, West Germany, and the Netherlands.

RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth were selected as the beddown sites for the GLCM in the UK. The 501st Tactical Missile Wing (TMW) was activated at RAF Greenham Common in July 1982 and the 303rd TMW at RAF Molesworth in December 1986. In June 1987, Headquarters USAFE delegated tactical control of Third Air Force units to the Third Air Force commander.

Three of the GLCM bases in Western Europe were large, centralized, modern bases. Greenham Common in the United Kingdom had 101 missiles and 29 launchers; Comiso in Italy, 108 missiles and 31 launchers; and Wuescheim in West Germany, 62 missiles and 31 launchers. In addition, the United States had its GLCM missile repair facility at the SABCA plant in Grosselies, Belgium. This facility and the three major cruise missile bases remained in active status throughout the second treaty year. In the second half of the treaty year (December 1, 1990, to June 1, 1991), the remaining American INF sites were readied for closeout in accordance with the provisions of the treaty. Once the GLCMs deployed to RAF Molesworth were removed to the US the 303rd TMW inactivated Jan. 30, 1989. The last GLCMs at RAF Greenham Common were removed in March 1991, and the 501st TMW inactivated June 4, 1991. By 31 May 1991 the United States had declared all of its remaining INF sites eliminated.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 03:41:33 ZULU