Norfolk airbase's cold war secret

Secret Ministry of Defence documents revealed yesterday how a Norfolk air base narrowly avoided being on the front line of the Cold War nuclear stand-off between the United States and Soviet Russia.

Secret Ministry of Defence documents revealed yesterday how a Norfolk air base narrowly avoided being on the front line of the Cold War nuclear stand-off between the United States and Soviet Russia.

A BBC radio investigation uncovered classified reports that seem to show that the former American airbase at RAF Sculthorpe was one of 12 UK sites lined up to house US nuclear missiles in the 1980s.

Between 1983 and 1991, the US military stored 96 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 yesterday David Fairhall, a defence expert at the time, said that the documents showed that RAF Sculthorpe would have been the first choice for the missiles had the Thatcher government put “public safety” ahead of “operational convenience”.

The reports, produced by Aldermaston nuclear research station in 1980, warned that Greenham Common presented the greatest danger out of the 12 sites and threatened 10 million people in Newbury, Reading and London.

During the Cold War, Sculthorpe had 10,000 personnel and became the biggest atomic bomber base in Europe.

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Its importance diminished with the thaw in US-Russian relations and it was returned to the RAF in 1963.

Anti-nuclear protestors yesterday said had the Norfolk base been chosen it would have unleashed years of protest upon Sculthorpe, similar to the 19-year-campaign mounted by the women's peace camp at Greenham Common.

Davida Higgin, chairman of the Norwich branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “If it were chosen there would have been a concerted and robust protest from the anti-nuclear campaigners in Norfolk from the very vigorous group in place at the time.”

Peter Futter, 72, who grew up in Sculthorpe and worked as a chef on the base, added: “There was some talk of putting nuclear missiles there but we never heard anything concrete.

“I don't think it would have changed people's attitudes, it was during the Cold War, people accepted such things and there were a lot of people from the village who worked on the base.”

Ralph Howell, MP for North Norfolk, said he had not been informed that Sculthorpe was being considered during his time in office.

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