Struggle for Survival

Governing Britain after the Bomb

Steve Fox


File 6    Regional Government back to contents
Sub Regional Controls – the end of the RSGs and the Corps  
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A new role for local authorities

The civil defence control system which had evolved by 1960 was essentially on two levels. The local authority based Civil Defence Corps and its associated organisations, supported by the Sub Regional Control, would organise the immediate life saving effort while at the regional level, the joint civil-military headquarters would assist with this and act in support of the Central Government War Headquarters if adequate communications survived or if they did not it would provide an interim central government.

The introduction of the RSG was recognition that there was a need to think in the longer term and to devolve central government down to a regional level to direct the “rehabilitation” or “survival” phase after the initial “life saving” phase. However, planners also began to recognise that much of the work of administration in this period would need to be done at the local government level but that the local authorities were not equipped for the role. This would require a radical rethinking of the structure of local authorities in war and lead to the introduction of a new level of post-attack central government – the Sub Regional Headquarters or SRHQ.

 In parallel with these new ideas for administration there was a growing recognition that thinking in terms of life saving efforts based on experiences of the Blitz was totally unrealistic in the age of the H-bomb. These two ideas came together in 1962 when the Ministerial Committee on Home Defence accepted the suggestion from the Official Committee that the emphasis in civil defence should change from an operational, life saving approach to one stressing the preservation of a framework of administration.

The start of this revised policy was announced in 1963. The Whitehall strategists accepted that below the RSGs there were no plans to organise local administration after the life-saving phase though “the survival phase, which would follow the life saving phase, might be long and would certainly be grim.” Whilst “the immediate needs would be to provide food, water, shelter and medical attention for survivors, to marshal and co-ordinate the available resources of essential services and to provide a framework of administration for the taking of necessary measures” which the organs of government would continue to meet they would significantly now “…also preserve a framework of administration to use remaining resources in the best way to keep the rest of the people alive, and to maintain law and order, and to prepare for the restoration of a more normal life.”

The Circular[1] which announced this went onto say that the existing system based solely on operational considerations would not necessarily be the most effective given the need to balance a control system for the life saving operational stage, with that of a “system which could function effectively in the much longer period during which all the governmental resources of the country would have to be used to their utmost to enable the nation to survive.” To meet this revised need the existing sub-region and Civil Defence Corps Group structures were abolished. Each region would now be divided into 2 or 3 sub-regions with a total of 23 in England and Wales. Each sub-region would have a protected Sub-Regional Headquarters or SRHQ with a projected staff of 250. These new SRHQs would be smaller versions of the RSGs, with representatives of the main government departments as well as the emergency services and armed forces. If communications with the RSG were severed the SRHQ could carry on independently. The Sub Regional Commissioners would be appointed by central government and their responsibilities "will not be limited to the control of life saving operations but will extend to the co-ordination and control (subject to the Regional Commissioner) of all services necessary to survival”.

The circular was a public document but the classified notes issued in the same year to Scientific Intelligence Officers gave more information. They said that the functions of the Sub Regional Commissioner would be a reflection at a lower level of the RSG. His responsibilities would be two-fold: –

1.      Overall responsibility for the control of civil defence operations within the sub-region, including the deployment of mobile forces and organisation of reinforcement to counties and county boroughs requiring assistance after the attack, and,

2.      To provide for a further decentralisation of the machinery of central government and a “forward executive headquarters within each region”. Many of the Regional Commissioner’s powers might be delegated to him and he could take all decisions if communications with the Regional Commissioner were lost.

The SRHQs would have a pivotal role between the policymaking RSGs and the local authorities with their extended wartime functions. But, as usual, little was actually done to prepare them. The Bishop Committee had stressed the need for SRCs to be prepared and some money was made available although it was hopelessly inadequate and the plans envisaged finding Crown property or premises that could be acquired rent free from local authorities to adapt but little was actually done. The new plans called for 23 SRHQs to be established with a pivotal role between the RSGs and the local authorities. Plans were drawn for a standard purpose-built semi-sunk control allowing 40 square feet per person for working accommodation and a further 60 square feet for sleeping areas, kitchen, passages, etc. However, none were ever built and in 1964 the designated SRHQs in each region were –

North                           none

North Eastern            none

North Midland            none

East                            both the former Rotor SOCs at Kelvedon Hatch and Bawbugh were available but awaiting rebuilding. The former London War Room at Mill Hill was also available pending completion of a purpose built SRHQ in the basement of a government building being built in Hertford.

South Eastern            the old Tunbridge Wells War Room was available and Stoughton Barracks in Guildford could have been used although it had no accommodation.

Southern                     a World War ll two-level underground site at Harrow was available but it had minimal facilities.

South Western           a former Anti Aircraft Operations Room at Ullenwood near Cheltenham previously used as a Civil Defence Corps Group HQ was nearly ready for use.

Wales                         none

Midland                      a former ammunition store at Swynnerton, previously used as a Civil Defence Corps Group Control was available and Norton Barracks at Worcester could have been used but it had minimal accommodation.

North Western           as at Hertford a purpose built bunker was nearing completion under a government office block at Southport

The SRHQ system was therefore hardly operational. In an emergency ad hoc controls might have been pressed into service but they would have had very limited communications and accommodation. Alternately, the local authority controls could, in theory, have operated directly to the RSGs. Although in many cases the RSGs were in as poor a state of preparation as the SRHQs.

The Scientific Intelligence Officer’s Notes said that the revised control structure was to be based on the peacetime administrative patterns of local authorities “to ensure the maximum continuity of direction through the mobilisation, life saving and survival periods.” Executive or central government functions were now to be exercised by, or devolved to various tiers from the Regional Commissioner through Sub Regional Commissioners to County and District Controllers. There was now to be a layered system of regional government operating for months, possibly years, and no longer just a control chain to direct the immediate life saving effort. Moreover, this would be a system akin to a military chain of command and it would bear little relationship to the peacetime democratic structures of government and administration. The peacetime structure of local authorities with officials and administrators putting into effect the decisions of elected members made in committees could not hope to cope with the wartime need to make and implement decisions, often very difficult ones, quickly and with incomplete information. In war, local authority structures would need to change so they could play their part in the new scheme of regional government.

Local authorities were now told that following the practice in the last war the elected county, county borough and district councils would, in wartime, have all their powers and functions vested in an Emergency Committee of 3 members. They would also need to nominate a Controller who would be appointed by the central government. He would be a member of the regional government hierarchy answerable not to the Emergency Committee but to the Sub Regional Commissioner.

The exact relationship between the Controller who would be an official rather than an elected councillor and the Emergency Committee was not made clear but he would be empowered by the emergency legislation to take over from the Committee on his own initiative. The Controller would also have central government authority delegated personally to him and he would have the power to co-ordinate the exercise of central government and public utility functions such as determining priorities in the allocation of labour, materials and transport. A similar system would be established in districts and the District Controller would act under the direction of the County Controller.

The Circular was not very forthcoming about what exactly these governmental functions delegated to the Controller might be. However, in February 1964 a study was held at the Civil Defence Staff College at Sunningdale called JANUS 64 involving representatives of various local government organisations, government departments, the utility companies, armed forces and so on. The aim of the study was “to examine what is required at county and county borough level and within counties to enable services essential to the continued existence of the nation to be carried on or restarted after attack with nuclear weapons”. The delegates came up with a list of things which would be either essential or desirable and which the Controller would need to be involved with and therefore what his staff would need to be able to carry out. The essential tasks would be –

·        Maintenance of the national chain of control

·        Maintenance of law, order and morale

·        Provision of food and water

·        Restoration of power

·        Provision of fuel for transport

·        Preservation of public health including sanitary measures and the burial of the dead

·        Essential repairs to roads, bridges, houses and other essential buildings


The desirable aims could include –

·        Registration and documentation of the surviving population for morale purposes

·        Provision of shelter, clothing and bedding

·        Keeping people clean

·        Organisation and employment of labour

·        Resumption of agriculture

·        Resumption of chlorine manufacture (for water purification)

·        Salvage of materials

·        Resumption of cultural and recreational activities

·        Organisation of school children

These lists might also serve as an indication of the tasks expected of the RSG and SRHQ at a higher level. They also show how different the role of the County Controllers would be from those of the peacetime councils and how the thinking had moved away from immediate rescue to longer-term survival.


The end of the RSGs

In 1965, the recently elected Labour government ordered a fundamental review of home defence. One of the main driving forces for this was the need to save money but another was the more practical need to respond to the problems caused by the assumption that the precautionary warning period might not last 7 days but might be as short as 2-3 days. The review continued with the assumption prevalent since the 1950s that the nuclear deterrent meant that there was little risk of a major war although it warned, no doubt with the Berlin and Cuban Crises in mind, that “misunderstandings and miscalculations needed to be planned for”. But because of the precarious economic situation future civil defence preparations would have to be “restricted to measures which would be likely to make a really significant contribution to national survival”. The control chain would still be developed but the idea of a permanent RSG that would be manned before an attack was abandoned supposedly to give more flexibility to the control system. In reality, the RSGs were abandoned primarily to save money and also because the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advised the central government on the military threat, was suggesting that as the RSG sites were now widely known they might be directly attacked[2]. One suggested response to this last problem was to man up the existing RSGs effectively as decoys and then establish other secret ones. But this idea was quickly dismissed. The Review in fact said that in future RSGs would “…be established as soon as possible after attack, under pre-arranged plans at locations that would be selected in the light of prevailing circumstances”.

Only the SRHQs would now be permanent controls, to be manned in the pre-attack period. As such they would be pivotal, with their role even more directed towards governing the sub-region rather than supervising the life saving effort. They would gain a BBC studio but their staffs would be reduced from a nominal 280 to about 200. To show their redefined role they would be redesignated, confusingly, as Sub Regional Controls although their task was completely different from the 1950s SRCs. The role of the new SRC was to organise help for any local authority which was overwhelmed, to deploy resources over a wider area than a county and deal with functions such as trade and electricity distribution which were not local authority functions. They would also be essential in the command and control of the armed forces, fire police and the maintenance or resumption of power and water supplies, transport food and other essentials. The Home Office maintained that without them there would be no means of organising any government above the local authority level after a nuclear attack.

The scrapping of the RSGs as permanent facilities allowed some SRCs to use their buildings. By 1966 the designated SRC sites in each region were –

North                           Shipton (SRC 1.2)[3] (ex RSG) and Carlisle Castle (SRC 1.1). In practice Catterick Barracks would have been used). A long term plan to build a site at Hexham was abandoned when all new capital projects were frozen following the introduction of “care and maintenance” in 1968.

North East                  Craiglands Hotel, Ilkley was designated as SRC 2.1 but not fitted with communications equipment. Instead land lines terminated at the Shipton site and would be connected to the hotel in the pre-attack period. In 1968 a former ROC Group Control at Yeadon  was taken over to replace the hotel. Conisbrough (a former anti-aircraft operations room) would be SRC 2.2 and York Barracks SRC 2.3 (to be replaced by the former Rotor site at Bempton in long-term plans). The Grand Hotel Scarborough was also considered at one stage.

North Midlands          Skendelby (a former Rotor site which was about to be expanded) was SRC 3.2, a Derbyshire County Council depot in Matlock SRC 3.1 and Corby Civic Centre SRC 3.3 (this could only hold 40 and would mean dispossessing the existing council control). The former RSG at Nottingham was retained to act as the forward communications centre for all the SRCs in the region.

East                            Bawbugh (SRC 4.1), Kelvedon Hatch (SRC 4.2) and Hertford (SRC  4.3)                           

South Eastern            Dover Castle (SRC 5.1) and The Keep at Stoughton Barracks, Guildford (SRC 5.2) which could only accommodate 75 (possibly to be replaced by the former Rotor site at Wartling when funds became available). Some civil defence communications lines still terminated at the Tunbridge Wells War Room.

Southern                     Warren Row was listed as SRC 6.1 with the Reading War Room as its communication centre. Winchester Prison would be SRC 6.2 until Basingstoke was ready in 1970. Aylesbury Prison was also considered.

South West                Hope Cove was SRC 7.2, and Ullenwood was soon to be acquired from Gloucestershire County Council to become SRC 7.1 although it could only accommodate 100.

Wales                         Brecon Barracks was SRC 8.1 although Bangor University was considered and long-term plans envisaged a site at Colwyn Bay. Brackla was SRC 8.2 using an ammunition storage tunnel at a former ordnance factory.

Midland                      Swynnerton was SRC 9.1 accommodating only 100 although Stafford Prison was considered, with Kidderminster as SRC 9.2.

North Western           Southport was nearly ready although the barracks at Preston still acted as SRC10.1. The Hack Green ROTOR bunker was earmarked as a site pending completion in the early 1970s of a control in the basement of a new office block in Macclesfield as SRC 10.2 but this was cancelled.

In 1970 the Home Office drafted some guidance for SRC staff. The control would be opened by an advance party which would contact the local authorities and departments, arrange with HMSO for stationery supplies, obtain and install laundry facilities, set up local banking arrangements, designate desks, etc. The bulk of the staff would follow and would be told to report to a reception area from where they would be taken to the SRC in a coach acquired under a "dormant hire contract". On arrival they should report to the Camp Commandant and be issued with bedding and cutlery. The nominal holding was for a staff of 220 so that each SRC should have 220 beds mainly in 2 and 3 tier bunks each with 2 blankets, 4 sheets and 2 pillows. Among the other standard furniture would be 156 desks , 100 waste paper bins, 200 ashtrays and 24 Elsan toilets. Everyone would be issued with a knife, fork and spoon which they would be expected to wash up themselves. They would also be expected to make their own beds as "no domestic help is available." The organisation of the SRC would be very similar to that of an RSG. The Secretariat would be the administrative centre and would exercise a general co-ordinating function, identify major problems and assessing priorities. It would be supported by the Information Room. The main work of the control would be organised through standing committees on law and order, communications, welfare and food. In addition to the specialists and government staff there would be the scientific team, communications team, common services and domestic staff.

Reports in the late 1960s suggested that in view of the short precautionary period these sites should be pre-stocked with food, etc and their designated staffs trained but this did not happen. In reality, in 1967 of the required 23 only 6 SRCs were complete, 6 more were considered operational and 5 had been temporarily fitted out . Tentative plans were made for 8 purpose built SRCs but there was never any money for them. At the same time, only about 150 local authority controls were completed, less than half of the planned number. Even then, only about 75% of the required telephone lines for the completed controls existed. A 1967 report summed up the situation by saying “Plans to maintain Government in war are not viable at present and will not become viable without buildings and communications for a control system…”

The RSG team would no longer be operational during the survival period and would not need its own communications and domestic staffs so the nominal compliment could be reduced from around 430 to 200. In the warning period they would be dispersed to 2 or 3 pre-selected sites in the region, called “bolt holes” in one report. Originally, boarding schools were favoured for these sites but this plan was abandoned when it was decided that although schools and universities would be closed during the warning period this would not apply to boarding schools. Prisons were often chosen, as they were government owned, strongly built and equipped with domestic facilities. (About 90% of prisoners - those serving less than 3 years - would have been released on license in the precautionary period). In this way, in the North Region Durham Prison, Langley Castle, Brancepeth Castle and Kendle Town Hall were earmarked. As with the designated SRCs which were not in government owned buildings the owners of private accommodation were not told of the designation and would not have been until the last moment when the site would have been requisitioned. This meant that no communications could be fitted in advance and no equipment was acquired for the dispersal sites. The Regional Commissioner and his senior staff (perhaps 18 people) would have lodged in one of the SRCs in the region so they could keep abreast of the situation and begin planning for the establishment of regional government.

As soon as practical after the attack, perhaps as little as 2 weeks, the dispersed RSG teams would gather at a suitable “accretion centre” to set up a regional capital and provide a central government for the region. Exercise Olympus held in 1967 to study the control system suggested that the Eastern Region accretion centres might be at Cambridge, Chelmsford and Colchester. Those for South West would be Taunton, Exeter and Weston-super-Mare. Former RSG sites not used for SRCs such as Nottingham were considered possible accretion sites. The SRCs would continue to be used as communications centres for as long as necessary and for at least 3 months until more normal communications could be established. The SRC teams would join the RSG staff and others recruited locally to form the government for the region. The regional system would then continue for many months, possibly years until conditions in the country allowed normal democratic government to be re-introduced at all levels.

Under the original RSG concept, the Army District Headquarters would be based at the RSG. Now, under the revised scheme, the Regional Military Commander would be located with the Regional Commissioner but a separate Armed Forces Headquarters would be established in each region.

The new dispersed RSG teams and the Armed Forces Headquarters were given a dedicated radio system provided by territorial army signal units known as CONRAD, (for “control radio”). CONRAD had originally been designed to provide radio and radio teleprinter connections between TURNSTILE and the fixed RSGs but it was now adapted to serve the new dispersed teams. The idea was that after an attack all surviving radio stations would open up on a pre-determined “guard wave” to contact one of 3 “Gateway” stations which would then patch them into the grid. This would provide a basic communications net between the Armed Forces Headquarters, the dispersed RSG groups and the SRCs.

These changes did not apply in Scotland where the Scottish Central Control was retained. This would continue to operate under the Commissioner for Scotland. He would be advised by a senior scientist and senior representatives of the police, fire and health services and have with him representatives from all the Scottish departments and all the Great Britain departments with home defence responsibilities for Scotland. The gas, electricity and fuel industries; and sea, road and rail transport organisations would also be represented. To ensure the closest co-operation between the civil and military services the Scottish Central Control would also be the headquarters of the General Officer Commanding in Chief Scottish Command. The Royal Navy and RAF would also be represented.

Scotland continued to be divided into 3 groups each under a Zone Commissioner who would be responsible, subject to the overriding control from the Central Control for the conduct of civil defence operations in his zone and the government of it. He would be assisted by a scientific adviser, a Zone Police Commander, a Zone Fire Commander and a Senior Administrative Medical Officer. Most government departments and all public utility undertakings would be represented at the Zone Control. The Control would be shared with the Zone Military Commander and all 3 services would be represented. In North Zone, because of its size a Deputy Zone Control would be set up. Below the zone, Scotland continued to be divided for operational purposes into Groups of neighbouring local authorities on a similar, but larger basis to an English county and under a Group Commissioner. The Groups in turn would be sub-divided into Areas.



The cost considerations affecting the RSGs applied even more to the Emergency Government War Headquarters, as did the problems of appointing its 4000 staff and moving them to the TURNSTILE site at Corsham in the 2-3 day warning period. But there were other problems associated with TURNSTILE. The concept really belonged to the days of “due functioning” and although the plan was modified for a short, sharp H-bomb war the idea of an embunkered rump of a central government trying to direct national recovery from an untested facility was never a practical reality. The control chain until 1965 was a rigid top-down command structure from TURNSTILE through the RSGs and SRHQs to the local authority controls. Now that the RSGs would not be set up until the recovery period, the chain was broken and TURNSTILE would have no effective way of giving orders to the more parochial SRCs or of receiving information about the state of the country. The control chain was therefore effectively turned on its head. Rather than a rigid hierarchy of controls the new system was expected to grow  from the grass roots. Local communities, guided if possible by the Civil Defence Corps Wardens would have to organise themselves probably with little outside assistance. It would then take the District and County controls days to sort themselves out and find out the situation in their areas. In reality they would have to think of the longer term more than of life saving and start to plan emergency feeding, housing the homeless, restoring power, etc. Until County Controls were properly functioning the SRCs would receive little information and would have little way of getting their orders put into practice.

These basic problems together with the practical difficulties of establishing TURNSTILE as a viable governing body lead to what was described in a Chiefs of Staff Report as the  “proposal to abandon the single location concept (Turnstile) for central government in war in favour of one based on dispersal (Python)”. The idea was that although TURNSTILE could not be manned in 2-3 days it would be possible to organise groups of say 80 people any one of which could function by itself as a nucleus or an embryonic central government. Some reports suggest the groups would be 150 strong but this may have included communications and non-operational staff. Each Python Group would be headed by a Senior Minister designated to act as the Prime Minister and supported by 2 other ministers. One would be designated to act primarily for defence and overseas affairs and the other for internal matters. Up to 8 Python Groups would be dispersed around the country to Survival Locations with the possibility of some groups being airborne or sea borne[4] and even going overseas. Each Python Group could act as the central government albeit on a very limited, nucleus basis. After say 30 days the surviving groups would come together at TURNSTILE, if it survived or some other “accretion centre” to establish a Central Government Authority for the recovery period. The abilities of the Python Groups would be even more limited than those of a fully operational TURNSTILE and would have meant the regions being left even more to their own devices. The Python Groups would have little knowledge of the state of the country at this time and would lack the information gathering facilities of the Central Government War Room which would have served the central government under the earlier schemes. It is possible that this deficiency was addressed by establishing a unit at TURNSTILE under the control of the RAF, possibly at a rebuilt part of the complex later known as the Quarry Operations Centre, which could have built up the strategic picture and, after accretion, provide communications and other support to the newly established central government.

 The functions of the Python groups acting as the central government would be –

 Additionally, the senior surviving Python Group would have political control of any remaining nuclear forces.



The end of the Corps

Up to this time the Civil Defence Corps had been largely unaffected by changes in civil defence thinking. By 1960, the Official Committee had been suggesting that the Civil Defence Corps was an anachronism and its activities would not significantly reduce casualties although it could provide a valuable element in public control, welfare and first aid. The idea dating back to the Blitz of an army of trained and equipped rescuers digging out a handful of survivors was untenable in the face of the scale of destruction from the H-bomb, the resulting fires and the problems of fallout. Whilst Civil Defence Corps members were taught how rescue people trapped in buildings and to organise the evacuation of survivors from the areas most badly affected – the so-called Z-Zones the officials knew that the idea was a fiction both in practical terms and in the face of the reality that the Corps was, and had always been, under strength and short of equipment particularly for communications.

The idea of dividing the area around a nuclear explosion into W, X, Y and Z-Zones had been published in 1956 as the “Provisional Scheme of Public Control”. The Z-Zones would be categorised as areas where any movement outside a refuge would be extremely dangerous. No one would be sent in to assist and evacuate any survivors for at least 48 hours even then most of those who might be evacuated would not be expected to survive. The Z-Zones would then be abandoned for at least 3 months. The problem was revealed graphically during Exercise Fallex 62 in 1962 when the exercise “bomb plot” had 200 megatons dropped mainly on eastern England and the whole of East Region was declared a Z-Zone in which no one could safely leave cover.

By the mid-1960s, all aspects of civil defence expenditure were under pressure. The new Labour government had been elected on a programme of reducing all military expenditure and was, at the same time, faced with immense financial problems. The Corps was an obvious target and there were major battles within government between the Treasury (against) and the Home Office (for). Eventually, the 1965 Home Defence Review concluded that there was a need to retain some semblance of civil defence activity largely to demonstrate to the public that the government was committed to its civil defence responsibilities. Civil defence activities would however be concentrated on “those measures, which would be likely to make a significant contribution to national survival.” The Corps was to be retained but its establishment was slashed to 75000. Its role would now be to help the local authorities man the control system and to provide limited numbers of specialists to help organise the first aid and welfare resources of the community after an attack. This meant the end of the Corps’s roles in rescue, first aid and welfare – the very roles it had been set up for in 1949. Local authorities should now discharge their civil defence responsibilities mainly with their own employees and look to the Corps and other agencies such as the Red Cross and the WRVS for any specialist skills needed. Civil defence was now to be “essentially the carrying on of government in war” and the role of the control system was now “to save lives and provide a framework of administration to utilise the available resources to best advantage, to maintain law and order and to prepare for the restoration of a more normal life”.[5]

Considerable guidance was now given to local authorities about controls or “control premises” as they were sometimes called which they were now urged set up. Previously these controls had been essentially places from which the short-term life saving effort would be directed but now they would be more involved with longer term administration. They should be close to the authority’s normal administration offices and supplied for up to 21 days. No sleeping accommodation was thought necessary as staff could use nearby accommodation except in period of high fallout when they would seek shelter in the control, which should have a Protection Factor of 100[6]. A typical county control might have a staff of about 90 under the County Controller. These would include -

It is interesting to note that there is no suggestion in the guidelines that the Emergency Committee made up of elected councillors would have a place in the control.

As well as county and county borough controls, counties could establish county sub-controls as a level between the districts and county to assist in the life saving operations and to provide communications. In this way Essex that formed part of Sub Region 4.2 with its SRC at the old Kelvedon Hatch bunker (the other SRCs for Eastern Region were at Hertford and Bawburgh) had its County Control in Chelmsford. Below this were 4 county sub controls at Mistley, Chelmsford, Billericay and Harlow each of which linked between 6 and 10 urban and rural districts. Below the district council control would be the “sector post” which was, in effect, the old Civil Defence Corps warden post where the control officer, as the warden would be renamed, would try and organise the survival around 2000 people.

The numbers of controls required was enormous (and, it could be added, totally impractical). The 1966 Working Party on the Civil Defence Corps envisaged for England and Wales 178 county level controls and 1441 at district or borough level. They had also suggested a need for 1844 sector posts, 11560 warden posts and about 60000 patrol posts.

To reflect the changes new Regulations were introduced. The Civil Defence (Public Protection) Regulations 1967 made it a function of every County Council, County Borough and London Borough: –

a.  To make plans for –

-collecting and distributing intelligence about the attack

-controlling and co-ordinating action necessary as a result of the



-protection against fall out

-advising the public on the effects and protective measures

b.      To carry out such plans

c.      To train staff in the administration of the services to be provided by the plans.

The list of actual tasks is the same as the original 1949 Regulations but the difference is that while in 1949 they were actual active functions of the authorities the 1967 Regulations only required the local authorities to make plans ready to be put into practice if needed.

For the Civil Defence Corps the writing was now firmly on the wall and it could have come as no real surprise when in January 1968 it was announced that home defence (not just civil defence) would be placed on a “care and maintenance basis”, which as one report put it would “cocoon the control system”. Corps authorities were instructed to stop recruitment and training for the Corps but they were to keep and prevent any deterioration of the existing controls and the equipment in them. The Auxiliary Fire Service and the Ambulance Reserve would be put onto the same basis. The TAVR lll which had been set up as a military force to assist with the preservation of law and order was also scrapped. However, the authorities were told that “The Government envisages that emergency planning should continue at the minimum level needed to enable more active preparation to be resumed if necessary without losing too much ground.”[7] The existence of the Civil Defence Corps and local authority responsibility for it was formally ended on 1 April 1968 by the Civil Defence Corps (Revocation) Warrant 1968. Corps members were allowed to keep their uniforms and received a note of thanks from the Queen although in reality it was written by the same civil servants who had decided Corps’ fate.

At the same time the civil defence schools at Sunningdale, Falfield and Taymouth Castle were closed. This lead to some debate about what to do with their “training grounds” which had been used for rescue training. They might be dangerous and should be demolished which is rather ironic as they, and many others around the country, were built as ruins. The school at Easingwold was retained for essential staff training in the local authority’s planning functions and to “maintain a body of knowledge”. The Home Office’s regional civil defence offices were also closed giving the lead government department no real contact with the local authorities that were still, in theory at least, responsible for civil defence at the grass roots level. These offices would also have had a pivotal role in the transition to war period acting as the link between local civil defence authorities and other agencies involved in civil defence. They also maintained the regional level controls in their Region and would have overseen their preparation and manning. To do this they kept their own Regional War Books. The closure of this local presence was a major loss to civil defence.


Training ground, Easingwold

Elsewhere, further expenditure on emergency equipment for ports, the railways and power industries was stopped. Some of the emergency food stockpile was steadily sold off to pay for the upkeep of the remaining stocks. The SRCs were to be maintained and the programme to install broadcasting equipment in them continued. There was to be no further training of any staff although after much deliberation about the cost it was decided that around 200 junior civil servants should be trained to operate the communications equipment in the SRCs. Overall, the already rather meagre home defence budget was cut by two-thirds to only £8 million a year.

However, things seemed to have got out of hand and what should have been a mothballing of the home defence became a wholesale abandonment of it. So much so that later in 1968 the Home Defence Committee was saying that the planned arrangements for the establishment of the Python system and the rest of the control system would not be effective unless there was a minimum of 3-4 weeks notice. The Ministry of Defence was saying that it would require months to re-establish the system and the Home Office was reporting that in the absence of the Corps the control system below county district level did not exist.

There was however to be an afterthought and in 1969 local authorities were told that “The Government’s decision must not be construed as implying the abandonment of all civil defence measures. The objectives of the care and maintenance policy are to retain the very considerable physical assets of operational value (such as existing sub-regional and local authority controls, and central government stockpiles of essential supplies and equipment), to maintain among senior local authority staff some general knowledge about nuclear warfare, to maintain a nucleus of knowledge about civil defence techniques and to continue with essential central and local government planning to enable the level of civil defence preparations to be raised again should the need arise. In other words civil defence activity should consist primarily of planning how to raise the level of preparations should circumstances demand….”.[8]

At this time planners started to think in terms of new strategies. It was now thought that the next war would not happen “out of the blue” but that there would be a political warning period lasting perhaps months and an actual warning of 3-4 weeks before fighting broke out. The idea of a Precautionary Period was abandoned and replaced by a more flexible sequence starting with a period of tension, then a warning period when Government War Book measures would be considered and a final phase when preparations would become overt. This would be followed by the pre-attack period when there was a real threat of nuclear war. However, the strategists now suggested that the war would not necessarily start with an all-out nuclear exchange. Some conventional fighting might be anticipated and military planning assumed there would be 3 weeks of sustained conventional fighting followed by a period of intensive fighting which might last a week and during which tactical nuclear weapons might be used. After this period, the war would either end or escalate into an all-out nuclear exchange. As a result of these ideas, the planners started to consider the need to protect the “home base” during the periods of tension and fighting from saboteurs and disaffected groups such as “communists and Welsh separatists”. Consequently, civil defence was redefined in terms of home defence within the setting of a general war. The armed forces in particular began to concentrate on this role rather than preparing to assist national recovery after an attack.

[1] CDC17/63

[2] A list of probable nuclear targets in the UK is given in the appendix.

[3] The Shipton bunker was technically in North East region but it was designated as an SRC for North region because of its communication links.

[4] In the 1960s the US government maintained a ship as an “Emergency National Command Post Afloat”.

[5] CDC1/67

[6] This means that the radiation level inside would be about 100 times lower than outside. A PF of 100 is about the same as that given by a cellar. A prepared fall-out room in a traditionally built terraced house would by contrast give a PF of about 25 whilst, according to Home Office figures a more modern detached house would give a PF of 7.

[7] CDC2/68

[8] CDC2/1969

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