Former Combat Support Building (Building 273), Greenham Common
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Location Description:
- Statutory Address:
- New Greenham Park, Greenham Common, near Newbury, Berkshire
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- Statutory Address:
- New Greenham Park, Greenham Common, near Newbury, Berkshire
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- West Berkshire (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Former Combat Support Building, circa 1984-5 with more recent modifications.
Reasons for Designation
The Combat Support Building for the former Greenham Common airbase, built circa 1984-5 as part of the Cold War redevelopment of the United States Air Force base to accommodate cruise missiles, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Political interest: one of a group of buildings at Greenham Common specifically constructed as part of the USAF redevelopment of the base to accommodate cruise missiles in the 1980s: a key component of NATO’s strategy to maintain nuclear parity with the Warsaw Pact countries and one of only two bases nationally (the other being Molesworth in Cambridgeshire) where cruise missiles were deployed; * Functional historic interest: an important building of an internationally significant Cold War airbase which, as its name suggests, provided protected accommodation for troops who would defend the base from enemy infiltration following conventional, chemical or biological attack; * Rarity: no examples of comparable buildings are known from other Cold War airfields nationally at the present time and it is therefore possible that this is a unique design; * Architectural interest: a structure which reflects NATO’s policy of hardened and camouflaged specialist buildings during the Second Cold War of the 1980s; * Group value: with the 1980s cruise missile shelters and support buildings of the scheduled Ground launched Cruise Missile Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA), also with the Grade II-listed control tower and the adjacent Wing Headquarters Building.
Greenham Common was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in May 1941 as a satellite airfield for RAF Aldermaston, 10 miles to the east. RAF Greenham Common was associated with a number of key war-time events including Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa. In 1943 the airfield became a United States Army Air Force (USAAF, later to become the United States Air Force or USAF) base accommodating two fighter groups and was involved in preparations for and support for the D-Day landings (specifically at Utah beach). Between 1945 and the closure of the base in June 1946 the airfield reverted to the RAF and was finally decommissioned in 1947. However, its Second World War association with the USAAF was to pave the way for its reoccupation of the site and the construction of the Cold War base.
During the late 1940s political tensions between east and west increased dramatically. Against this background, and particularly prompted by the Korean War (which began in 1950) and a consequent re-armament programme, the Air Ministry announced its intention to re-requisition land at Greenham Common in 1951. The worsening international situation prompted the USAF to deploy aircraft in Britain and the base was reconstructed in preparation for the arrival of USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-47 Stratojet bombers and KC-97 tankers. The Second World War airfield had to be substantially rebuilt, the principal development being a runway capable of servicing these large aircraft. The single landing strip, at circa 10,000 feet (3,051m) was one of the longest military runways in the world. Also constructed were new dispersal areas and a new administrative and technical area, built on a U.S. grid pattern.
The base returned to the RAF between 1964 and 1968 when it again re-opened as a USAF stand-by base in response to the French decision to leave NATO and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S troops from France. In 1979, in response to the USSR’s increased nuclear capability, NATO decided to deploy intermediate range weapons in Europe. In June 1980 it was announced that Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) were to be deployed at six sites in Europe including Molesworth in Cambridgeshire and at Greenham Common. At both sites this necessitated the construction of new storage facilities for cruise with that at Greenham known as the GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area or GAMA. (The significance of this part of the site has been recognised by its inclusion on the Schedule of monuments.) Other ancillary buildings, such as the Combat Support Building, were also required. The first cruise missiles were delivered in November 1983 and by 1986 there were 96 missiles and five spares made up into six mobile cruise missile flights housed at GAMA. The longest commissioned of the six European bases to house cruise missiles, Greenham Common and GAMA in particular provided a national focus for the peace movement. Peace camps were established around the base perimeter fence and the Greenham women, in opposition to the deployment of cruise missiles, used non-violent protest to bring the nuclear capability of Greenham Common airbase and the campaign for nuclear disarmament to the attention of the world. It is for this reason that Greenham Common is a name which is internationally famous; a site which is symbolic of international anti-nuclear protest.
The Combat Support Building reflects NATO concerns to harden its bases again first strike conventional, biological and chemical attack. The building’s purpose was to provide protected accommodation for about 100 military personnel who could be immediately available, even after a conventional, biological or chemical attack, to defend the base against enemy infiltration. Its colloquial name of ‘The Armoury’ undoubtedly reflects the fact that weaponry for the soldiers would also necessarily have been stored here.
The USA-USSR Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and which came into force in 1988 saw the last cruise missiles removed from Europe by mid-1991. The airbase was again surplus to requirements and finally closed in 1992. It was purchased by Greenham Common Community Trust in 1997, and the majority of the airbase gifted by the Trust to the local authority, together with substantial financial contributions for restoration, the Trust retaining only the ‘Technical Area’ for development. The airfield has subsequently been restored to heathland with open public access. The Combat Support Building, which is located in the Technical Area, is now (2014) in use for secure data storage.
Hardened combat support building, constructed circa 1984-5, subsequently modified.
MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, heavy steel doors.
PLAN: the Combat Support Building is located to the south of the former runway in the technical area of the former airfield. It is located immediately north-east of the Wing Headquarters Building (Building 274: this was the airbase command centre in the 1980s) with which it is functionally related. It is a single-storey, flat-roofed rectangular building with its longer axis oriented west-east. A courtyard at the south-east corner of the building with high blast walls protects the two entrances comprising a main entrance in the south elevation and a sliding door in the east elevation. Access to the courtyard is via dog-leg entrances to the west and east. Inside the building, to the west of the entrance, is a reception area, to its north, the boardroom, and in the eastern half of the building are data storage areas.
EXTERIOR: the exterior is largely blind with a slightly projecting eaves band. The main entrance is in the south elevation. This is a very deep and solid steel blast-proof door with external hinges. In the east elevation is a similarly thick steel sliding door on external runners. There is a solid steel escape hatch in the north elevation with external hinges. On the building’s south elevation, within its blast yard and to the east of the entrance, are remnants of white stencilled instructions within an orange painted border. Entitled ‘Clearing Procedures’, the instructions are now much faded but in part appear to be instructions for weapons handling. The yard floor is concrete hard-standing made up of large pre-cast slabs. There are two air vents on the roof in the south-east corner. A number of external air cooling fans, security cameras and cabling and downpipes are not part of the original building being very recent additions; these are not of special interest.
INTERIOR: to the west of the entrance, in the south-western part of the interior, is an inserted modern reception area/office with a part glazed wall. This inserted wall is not of special interest. Within this room, against the south wall, is a rectangular brick construction which is presumed to be original and has the appearance of some kind of cooking/heating facility. Along the west wall of the original building, and therefore within both the current reception area and the board room to its north, are a series of steel-shuttered ‘windows’, the centre of which is recessed in an upside-down ‘T’-shape. These are not true windows however, as they do not extend through the considerable width of the wall to the outside of the building. In the north elevation is a solid steel escape hatch.
An internal north-south wall divides the building in two providing data storage to the east. This area was not inspected but is understood to include an old plant room with original ceiling-hung air circulation plant.
Books and journals
Cocroft, W D, Thomas, R J C, Cold War - Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989, (2003)
Cocroft, W D, Cold War Monuments: An Assessment by the Monuments Protection Programme, (2001)
Fiorato, V, 'Diverse Legacies of the Cold War' in Greenham Common: The conservation and management of a Cold War archetype, (2007), 129-144
CGMS, Historic Buildings Record in respect of former RAF/USAF Greenham Common Base, New Greenham Park, near Newbury, Berkshire, 2006,
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing