Cruise missile shelter complex, Greenham Common Airbase


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Berkshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 48556 64514

Reasons for Designation

The archaeological remains of the Cold War are the physical manifestation of the global division between capitalism and communism that shaped the history of the late 20th century. Cruise missile sites, through their Europe-wide distribution, testify to the resolve of the principal partners in NATO to maintain nuclear parity with the countries of the Warsaw Pact. They also represent examples of leading edge technological innovation which characterised the western post-War defence industry. Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) were developed during the 1970s, bringing together major technological advances in missile guidance systems, engine technology and warhead miniaturisation. GLCMs, along with Pershing II missiles (not stationed in England), were deployed in response to the introduction of Soviet SS20 missiles and were seen as a major destabilising factor during the early 1980s, a period which has been described by some historians as the Second Cold war in view of the escalating tensions between East and West. The deployment of the mobile GLCM system was also recognition of the increased accuracy of Soviet weapon systems, making fixed sites vulnerable to attack. GLCMs were central to NATO's strategy of countering the Soviet SS20s in Europe during the 1980s, and this is reflected in the massive construction programme to protect the missiles and launcher convoys. At the core of a GLCM site are the shelters, each of which housed a Flight comprising two Launch Control Vehicles and four Transporter Erector Launchers (each of which held four missiles), giving a total of 16 per shelter. The number of shelters built on a site varied depending on the number of missiles allocated. At each site there was one Quick Reaction Alert shelter, which had an attached crew room that was permanently manned. The heavily fortified guardhouse, a reserve fire team facility (security), and double fencing are characteristic of the security surrounding nuclear weapons stores and are vital to maintaining the integrity of the setting. Purpose built or reused warhead and explosives stores may also be found along with fire fighting facilities. Other structures illustrate the imperative to maintain a high level of serviceability amongst the vehicle fleet. Buildings eleswhere on the bases illustrate these operations and the importance of securing command and communication functions to a dispersed missile force under wartime conditions. Six cruise missile sites were constructed in Europe during the mid-1980s, two in England, and single bases in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. The two sites in England are at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire (which remains an active RAF/USAF installation) and Greenham Common, Berkshire (which has been decommissioned); both survive intact. The cruise missile shelter complex at Greenham Common Airbase was the longest commissioned of the European bases and is believed to have been the only one in England to have housed operational cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. The Greenham Common GAMA complex is internationally important as one of the key emblematic monuments of the Second Cold War, signifying an escalation of the nuclear arms race by the introduction of GLCM. Subsequent to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987 most of the missiles and launchers were destroyed; GAMA remains as one of the few tangible relics of this technology. It remains a potent symbol of the positive power of arms control treaties to render advanced military technology obsolete. The Greenham Common GAMA site additionally includes a group of 1950s Igloo bomb stores which were reused in the 1980s but which also illustrate an earlier phase of Cold War nuclear deterrence. Beyond its significance as an exemplar of the infrastructure of GLCM technology, the site has a wider cultural significance in the late 20th century as the focus of mass protest against the nuclear arms race. In this context the third internal and part of the airfield perimeter fence form an integral part of the GAMA site beyond the double boundary fence, forming the object and physical barrier to protestors camped at the so called `Green Gate'.


The monument includes the Ground Launched Cruise Missile Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA), including an earlier 1950s Igloo Bomb Store group, the surrounding double security fence, a further encircling patrol fence and a section of the Greenham Common Airbase perimeter fence closely associated with its defence and connected protest activity. The site lies in the south west corner of both Greenham Common and the former airbase, occupying a position on the edge of the common with the land to the north and east forming a relatively flat open landscape while the ground to the south falls gently down towards the River Enborne. This river is fed by a north-south running stream which runs through the GAMA site in a depression known as Drayton's Gully. Although Greenham Common was an operational airfield from 1941 to 1946 the area around Drayton's Gully was not developed until the base was reopened in 1951 to house United States Air Force (USAF) Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers. B-47 Stratojets were then based at the airfield with its 3048m runway and a bomb store for nuclear weapons was built in the Drayton's Gully. The site remained occupied by the USAF (and briefly the RAF) during the 1950s and 1960s and then became a standby-base in the 1970s. In 1980 it was selected as one of six bases in Europe for the deployment of Ground Launched Cruise Missiles and this made the airbase a prime target for Soviet attack. The site around Drayton's Gully was refurbished and expanded to include the necessary accommodation, maintenance and security facilities required to house and protect the missiles, both from possible Soviet air or ground attack and, subsequently, from peace protestors who set up camp outside the perimeter fence in a series of camps which made the GAMA complex an internationally recognised focus of debate about the nuclear arms race. The GAMA complex consists of a parallelogram, defined by a double security fence surrounded by a third outer patrol fence, topped with razor-wire and enclosing an area 495m from east to west by 450m from north to south. The complex is dominated by six massive earth covered, concrete Ground Launched Cruise Missile shelters which are located in two east to west aligned rows of three shelters, within the north east quadrant of the complex. The shelters all have massive concrete and steel blast doors to each end (north and south) which when open, form drawbridges across deep external trenches. Internally the shelters were three lane tunnels, each capable of housing two mobile launch control centres and four Transporter Erector Launchers (TEL) which each held four missiles. Together, each shelter could house 16 missiles and the complex as a whole could hold 96 launch-ready missiles. The north western sited shelter also contains crew quarters and would have been manned permanently as the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) shelter. To the south, a range of purpose built support buildings were located and these provided missile stores, minor vehicle maintenance facilities (the main maintenance buildings were in a separate complex to the east) and a range of security related structures from guard towers and guard posts to a Reserve Fire Team Facility (RFTF). To the north of the site, at the gate linking the complex to the airbase, a guardroom and control room were located along with fire fighting equipment. The western half of the site is occupied by the 1950s Bomb Store buildings including the five Igloo shelters used for the B-47 nuclear bombs and their support buildings. These were refurbished as part of the GAMA complex and provided fuse stores, an armoury and other support functions. To the south west is a second gate, which provided direct access through the airfield perimeter fence, is located. This was named `Green Gate' by the peace protestors and was the focus of a camp of temporary structures occupied mainly during the 1980s. Here, the perimeter fence of the airfield around the GAMA complex became a focus of activity and the fence shows signs of damage and repairs relating to a number of highly publicised (and sometimes successful) attempts to penetrate the security of the base. The airfield perimeter fence, where it runs around the GAMA complex, forms an integral part of the monument. Following the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty of 1987, the cruise missiles were removed between August 1989 and mid-1991 and the USAF left Greenham in 1992 after which the base was closed. The runway to the north and many other elements of the airbase have since been removed but the GAMA complex remains as a physically dominant and intact Cold War monument.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Cocroft, W D, Cold War Monuments: An Assessment by the Monuments Protection Programme, (2001)
Cocroft, W D, Cold War Monuments: An Assessment by the Monuments Protection Programme, (2001)
Schofield, , Anderton, , 'Queer Archaeologies' in The Queer Archaeology of Green Gate, (2000), 235-250
Schofield, , Anderton, , 'Queer Archaeologies' in The Queer Archaeology of Green Gate, (2000), 235-50


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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