Author’s note – this File has been completely rewritten in Autumn 2006 to take advantage of the mass of information released or obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It covers the complete history of the central government relocation site and in some instances the information here supersedes earlier information in other Files.
The Strath Report
The Strath Report resulted in many significant changes to Britain’s defence plans. The Chiefs of Staff now thought that the next war would be much shorter but extremely severe with the attack lasting from 2 to 7 days in what was called the Destructive Phase. This would be followed by a Survival Phase during which both sides would be unable to continue fighting and would concentrate on surviving in the post-nuclear holocaust world. After many months this phase would lead into a Reconstruction Phase (sometimes called the Rehabilitation Phase). Up to this time, it had been assumed that there would be 6 months warning of an impending war but now the planners thought that events might develop much quicker and only a short warning or Precautionary Period would precede the attack. The Precautionary Period was a domestic and covert warning measure limited to the UK and declared by the Cabinet when an attack was expected. It was expected to last at least 7 days during which time the country would be prepared for war. The declaration triggered certain covert measures listed in the War Book such as government departments instituting a 24-hour watch system. As the crisis deepened other measures would be introduced such as activating the Regional Port and Shipping Organisation, implementing the “dispersal of the priority classes of the civilian population” and taking control of agriculture. However, as exercises were to show there was a practical problem in spotting a looming crisis and then an even greater one in taking the political decision to implement the Precautionary Period and the preparations for war that automatically followed. During the one time that a global nuclear war seemed imminent, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, events moved too quickly for any civil defence measures to be activated. Another problem revealed by the Cuban Missile Crisis was that the Government War Book which dictated what had to be done and when only envisaged a global nuclear war and was not flexible enough to cope with unforeseen situations.
The Strath Report resulted in major changes at the operational level of civil defence with the establishment, albeit largely on paper, of joint civil-military headquarters, SRCs and a revised structure for the Civil Defence Corps. It would also completely change the ideas about wartime central government which were being developed under the guidance of Thomas Padmore.
 The separate military
alert process started with the declaration of a state of military vigilance
and then proceeded to the precautionary stage with a simple and then a
reinforced alert ending with a general alert when hostilities started.
The Padmore Working Party
As outlined in File 3 Thomas Padmore, a high-flying career civil servant in the Treasury, was to play a leading role in planning a fundamental change in the organisation of the machinery of government in war. In October 1953 he chaired the first meeting of the “Working Party on the Machinery of Government in War” which over the next 2 years, operating under the direction of the more senior Home Defence Committee, would plan a completely new structure for both central and regional government in war. Until this time it was expected that central government in World War lll would operate in basically the same way as it had in the previous war. The bulk of the civil service would be evacuated from London to run the government machine whilst a small ‘nucleus’ of the main decision makers and their advisers would stay in London working, and if necessary sleeping, in Citadels such as the Rotundas.
Padmore was specifically asked to consider how central government control could be maintained under atomic attack. What should such a government do if it remained in London and if it could not carry on from there where should the ‘shadow government’ be established? The Working Party quickly devised a set of proposals. Its predecessor, the Committee on the Distribution of Government Staff in War had suggested that a nucleus of government would need 12000 staff (mainly taken from the 138,000 civil servants working in London) and Padmore’s working party basically continued with this figure. They readily accepted the generally held view that central government, at least in a nucleus form of the Cabinet and main decision makers, must stay in London for reasons of morale. They would have to operate from the protected accommodation in the existing and planned Citadels and Grade A Basements.
Working in parallel with the Committee on the Distribution of Government staff was another committee looking at the availability of “protected accommodation for London headquarters staff”. They were recommending using the citadels used during the last war together with some of the reinforced basements and the new citadels being built at Montague House and as the basement for the projected new headquarters for the Colonial Office in Broad Sanctuary at the southern end of Whitehall. The headquarters was never built and the citadel was to form the foundation for the new Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre. High on the committee’s ‘wish list’ was a new citadel code named PIRATE. This would consist of 3 parallel tunnels dug under Horse Guards Parade (off Whitehall) to provide a new Cabinet War Room with space for 800 -1000 people including meeting rooms for the Cabinet, a Map Room, sleeping quarters for the War Cabinet, etc. This however was a time of severe budgetary constraint and also a major shortage of structural steel and PIRATE was deferred by the Prime Minister in 1951. It kept cropping up in reports for the next few years until it was overtaken by a much larger project. The committee looking for protected accommodation also suggested digging a new tunnel under Abingdon Street close to the Houses of Parliament which would house chambers for Members of the Houses of Commons and Lords. There is also a hint that a ‘bomb proof shelter’ was built for the Royals at the Royal Lodge in Windsor.
At this time the South Rotunda was earmarked to provide a home for the Cabinet Office including the War Cabinet and parts of the Ministry of Defence notably the Chiefs of Staff. The North Rotunda would house the Central Government War Room and parts of the Home Office. The existing Whitehall Gardens citadel was allocated to the War Office whilst the Air Ministry was expecting to get the new Whitehall Gardens citadel. The Air Ministry was also using the New Public Offices (the site of the old Cabinet War Rooms) whilst the Admiralty had its Citadel. The old Dollis Hill War Room was allocated as the main London War Room.
These Citadels and Basements were expected to survive the blast from an A bomb but the surrounding streets would be rendered impassable. This lead to the rather odd suggestion that the isolated government machine living in them could be resupplied by boat from the Thames.
Padmore’s Working Party on the Machinery of Government in War worked on the basis that these Citadels and Basements could accommodate 6000 people who would control the higher strategy of the war, foreign relations and major issues of home defence. But it was still thought that around 12,000 would be needed for all the essential business of government and rest could be housed in SUBTERFUGE.
SUBTERFUGE, as will be shown later, was the adopted code name for Spring Quarry at Corsham near Bath. SUBTERFUGE is first mentioned in early 1951 as an ‘alternate seat of government if London became unusable in another part of the country suitably equipped with accommodation and communications’. It was however kept quiet possibly because the officials concerned feared that they might lose PIRATE if the potential of SUBTERFUGE as a home for the nucleus of government became more widely known and nothing was done to develop it.
Padmore took over the interest in SUBTERFUGE and the committee’s initial idea was that it could accommodate 12,000 people albeit in makeshift conditions, using the communications left behind from its war time use as a factory and even then only after 6 months warning. The Working Party’s first report therefore recommended that a nucleus of some 6000 should stay in London and work from the citadels. Another 12,000 would be accommodated at SUBTERFUGE. If it was necessary to evacuate the nucleus from London they would move to SUBTERFUGE and 6000 of its less important occupants would go elsewhere.
The remainder of the civil service would be evacuated from London at the start of the war in a proposal that was very similar to the ‘moves’ planned some 20 years earlier. Most would be scattered around the country but some 15 – 30,000 of those with the most to contribute to the war effort would be accommodated in what was called the Sterling Area which seems to have simply meant the towns in the Midlands and West Country which would have been occupied under the Black Move planned some 20 years before. It should be stressed that this first set of proposals was only produced in outline and the numbers of people allocated to each site was based on the capacity of the site and not to any consideration of the numbers of people actually needed for the proposed tasks which were themselves only considered in broad outline by this stage.
The Working Party also considered what might happen to Parliament and proposed that it did not continue to meet in London but should meet as soon as possible after the outbreak of war at some place to be decided at the time, such as Stratford on Avon. The idea of a tunnelled citadel for Parliament appears to have been abandoned, forgotten or overlooked.
The Working Party submitted its first proposals to the Home Defence Committee in January 1954 and then turned its attention to considering the regional organisation. But before any action could be taken the scale of the physical destruction that would be caused by the new H bomb started to be realised and Padmore suggested to the Working Party that in the face of such a weapon the London citadels would be untenable and even SUBTERFUGE needed further thought. The Home Defence Committee said that for political reasons a centre of government must remain in London but an alternative should be arranged outside London and this should be manned at the start of the war. Although SUBTERFUGE could no longer be considered safe it was the best site available. The Committee were also in favour of spreading the bulk of the civil service around the country whilst devolving as many functions as possible to regional headquarters with now Ministers acting as Regional Commissioners.
Padmore was asked to reconsider his proposals and the Working Party decided that using the London citadels was no longer feasible as anyone in them would be killed if the Russians attacked London with H bombs. They suggested that even though morale might suffer leaving London should be considered although the final decision should be left for the government of the day. To allow for this the citadels should be maintained but no further work to should be undertaken to build new or modernise existing citadel accommodation. One suggestion made which would allow the nucleus to stay in London whilst avoiding the citadels was that it could use the 3 bunkers in North West London prepared for the purpose before the outbreak of World War II even though the Dollis Hill War Room had been designated by this time as the main London Region War Room.
The Working Party suggested that to supplement the nucleus in the citadels also now to take over from it if it were destroyed or cut off, and to give the government of the day the option to move the higher direction from London, SUBTERFUGE should be kept. But an additional underground site should be found. The Ministry of Works were asked to find suitable sites. They suggested the Meadow Bank salt mine in Cheshire and the Cocklakes Gypsum Mine in Carlisle however both these sites were considered inferior to and more expensive than their third suggestion – the underground factory site at Drakelow. Although none of the sites were considered to be as good as SUBTERFUGE the Working Party would recommend Drakelow, now code named MACADAM as the second site.
The modified idea was now that one of the underground sites would be manned before the start of the war with a team of ministers and officials as an alternative seat of government to London while the second would be physically prepared ready to receive the nucleus should it decide to evacuate from London. At this time Padmore had not approached the government departments for their ideas on the roles to be performed by the nucleus and the numbers of people required and appears to have been assuming that only a few hundred people would be needed and these could all be evacuated from London overnight in a fleet of cars. However, and rather confusingly, whilst a revised set of proposals submitted in October 1954 included all these ideas it also now included the recommendation that as well as the central nucleus responsible for the higher direction of government there would need to be a headquarters staff whose functions would have to be discharged centrally and could not be devolved to the regions. These people should be accommodated near to the central nucleus but not necessarily underground.
These revised proposals were approved by the Home Defence Committee but final approval was deferred until the Strath Group had considered the implications of fall out. The Working Party also stopped further consideration of the regional headquarters for the same reason but by May 1955 they had revised proposals for both central and regional government. These proposals took into account the Strath Group’s conclusions that fall out would spread over vast areas of the country and completely paralyse virtually every aspect of life including government for many days if not weeks. They again said that it should be left for the government at the time to decide whether or not to leave London but the suggestion that such a nucleus based there could not operate efficiently was even more strongly put. The report emphasised the idea of having 2 underground sites set up outside London. As before one would be fully manned in advance and the other only prepared ready to receive the Ministers and officials who would leave London but now the support staffs at both sites as well as the ruling nucleus would be found space underground. There was an initial suggestion that MACADAM should be abandoned in favour of a new purpose built site in the West Country but this was quickly abandoned and the final report only mentioned SUBTERFUGE and MACADAM. There would also be no plans made for the bulk of the civil service who would remain in London. They might be included in any general evacuation plans but otherwise would be told to go to their offices if possible but with a vague suggestion that they might be told of general areas in the country where their departments might at some indeterminate time after the attack reform so that they somehow might make their way there. The final report which was submitted to the Prime Minister in August 1955 also emphasised the need for the headquarters of the Regional Commissioners, who would now definitely be Ministers, to be co-located with the Army District headquarters for mutual support and in a reflection of the Strath Report’s suggestion that in particularly badly affected areas the military would need to assume control. Some consideration was given to the sites and layout for the joint operational headquarters but the detail was to be left to a new Working Party set up by the Home Office. The final report also repeated the earlier suggestions about reforming Parliament after the attack and that consideration needed to be given to where the Queen might go.
The plan was formally approved by the Prime Minister in September 1955 but it seems to have been quickly realised that there was a serious flaw in it. The idea was that one site, probably the smaller MACADAM would be fully manned in the pre-war Precautionary Period by what was often referred to as ‘the second eleven” whilst the other would only be prepared ready to receive ‘those exercising supreme control’ evacuating from London at the last moment. It was recognised that this second group might not escape although in the mid-1950s and for several years to come the strategists assumed the attack would be by aircraft, and radar would give ample time to allow the Prime Minister and his final party to leave London. In the 1960s when ballistic missiles would be used this time would be cut to minutes, possibly just the infamous “4 minute warning”, and the chances of them leaving were much less. As work on MACADAM was not to be started until SUBTERFUGE was complete, a process that would take several years, this could mean that there would not be a central government at all especially given the unprepared state of the regional headquarters. So within a year the working plan had been modified and MACADAM was, to all intents and purposes, left out of the plans. Instead, SUBTERFUGE would be fully manned with the support staff and what would in effect be a reserve nucleus of Ministers and senior officials ready to act as the central government if necessary and only a very small team headed by the Prime Minister would stay in London from which they would, hopefully, leave at the last moment.
The new strategy would be dictated by the scale of the damage and the paralysing effect of fall out. As many central government functions as possible to be devolved to the enlarged joint civil-military headquarters which would be responsible, now under the direction of a government Minister, for the day-to-day running of the country. Any government function not vital to immediate survival would be put into ‘cold storage’ to be reinstated weeks or months after the attack. The much reduced central government in SUBTERFUGE would confine itself to the most important, strategic matters. Implicit in this post-Strath strategy was the idea that SUBTERFUGE’s role was no longer to direct the war. There would be no war to direct, only the survival and restoration phases which would follow the destructive phase.
Over the next 50 years the ‘main relocation site of central Government in global war’ would have several code names and it was invariably referred to by the current name in official documents. In the interests of security the code name was changed periodically as follows –
The sites for SUBTERFUGE and MACADAM were chosen in 1951 (possibly earlier) and 1955 respectively. SUBTERFUGE would be in Spring Quarry at Corsham to the east of Bath and MACADAM at Drakelow near Kidderminster.
Although known to the Spies for Peace since at least 1967 and possibly the Russians for several years before that the sites for both emergency seats of government and their roles was strictly Top Secret and would remain so for 50 years until Christmas Eve 2004 when the Ministry of Defence, which had taken over custody of Spring Quarry some 10 years earlier from the Cabinet Office issued a press release (in reality it was written by the Cabinet Office) announcing that “A formerly secret Government underground site, which was a potential relocation site for the government in the event of nuclear war was declassified at the end of 2004”. The disclosure was however not from any particular desire to let the public know but as part of a larger plan to dispose of the redundant but expensive to maintain site which was by this time referred to as ‘Site 3’ (the nearby RAF Rudloe Manor was known at this time as Sites 1 and 2).
Spring Quarry is some 10 miles to the east of Bath and just south of the small town of Corsham. It is one of several sites in the area which were used from the nineteenth century to mine building stone. Although called a quarry the site is in fact completely underground. As fully explained by Nick McCamley in his book ‘Secret Underground Cities’ many of the mines were taken over by the military during World War ll mainly to store ammunition although the northern part of Spring Quarry was converted at great expense into a factory producing mainly aircraft engines and employing several thousand people. Above ground, the area has been the home to many military units from all 3 services and over the years it has became a particularly important hub in the military communications systems. Many of the stores continued to be used after the war and the factory site was taken over by the Admiralty for storage although it was still designated as an emergency factory in the event of another war.
Spring Quarry had been used by thousands of workers during the war and was largely self-sufficient. So, when Padmore came looking for a home for a site for the central government nucleus the quarry must have seemed almost ideal. Most of the original factory site was taken over and the protected area taken for the relocation site measures some 2300 feet from east to west and 900 feet from north to south. The operational areas, which are all on one level, are around 90 feet below ground level. The Bath stone (a type of oolitic limestone) which was mined in the quarry occurred in beds between 15 and 30 feet thick. These are overlain by up to 40 feet of a coarser grained rock known locally as ‘rag’ and this in turn is covered by a variable thickness of sand, clay and other rock The original quarrying operations had left randomly scattered pillars of rock varying in size and shape from 100 to 1000 square feet supporting the roof which take up some 22% of the floor area. When the conversion work started some of these pillars were strengthened with concrete and in some areas the roof was reinforced with girders. The height of the accommodation areas varied from 12 to 20 feet. The original and often wide roadways were kept and the remaining areas partitioned off into some 800 rooms, signals areas, dormitories, kitchens, a canteen, a sick bay and a laundry.
Outline planning for SUBTERFUGE was started in 1953 although it was decided that no work would be done on MACADAM until it was completed. Responsibility for the project was given to the Machinery of Government in War Sub-Committee of the Home Defence Committee but they in turn delegated the detailed work to a dedicated Planning Team under Padmore’s chairmanship. Overall co-ordination of the project was handled by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
By early 1954 the basic site plans had been drawn up and the Treasury was approached for money to start work on the basic plant and equipment such as reservoirs, drainage systems and lighting. In September 1955 the plan received official approval from the Prime Minster, Anthony Eden and in December the Treasury gave financial approval. The actual building work started in 1956 with the construction of a concrete blast wall between 41⁄2 and 6 feet thick completely enclosing the working areas.
The post-Strath change in strategy from a headquarters which would direct a lengthy war to one which would direct the ‘struggle for survival’ following the destructive rain of hydrogen bombs seems to have had little impact on underground works and the internal layout was finalised by early 1956.
The original cost estimate for the construction works and the plant (excluding furniture and communications equipment) was £1.2 million (roughly £30 million today). This however steadily crept upwards particularly as parts of the wartime factory’s plant were found to be inadequate for the new requirements but the expenditure was buried in the budgets of various departments and never came to the attention of Parliament or the press. This was at a time when defence expenditure was being squeezed and SUBTERFUGE probably accounted for up to 10% of the entire home defence budget in the late 1950s. At the time, apart from the underground posts for the Royal Observer Corps it was the only significant home defence expenditure. It should have been paralleled by purpose built regional joint civil-military headquarters and the Sub Regional Controls to form a unified infrastructure for the machinery of government in war but these were constantly deferred. Even with its high status the work on SUBTERFUGE proceeded slowly with much of the delay caused by the interminable references to different committees and the need to have every cost overrun approved.
By 1957 however the structural and engineering work was well underway and the following major structures were complete –
The main work still to be done was the installation of additional lighting and ventilation in the communications areas and the testing of the complete installation under shut down conditions. The external communications systems although being planned were not due to be installed until the structural work had been completed.
The site would need surprisingly large quantities of water. This was distributed throughout the site from a pressurised 250mm diameter main fed from the public supply. If this was, as expected, disrupted water could be taken from an underground culvert and treated before being stored in tanks capable of holding 440,000 litres. There was also a spring in the complex. Two further tanks held 1.85m litres of water to provide cooling water for the air conditioning plant and 1.25m litres to provide cooling water to the diesel generators.
Ventilation was provided by a central plant taking in 84,000 cubic feet of fresh air per minute (cfm) and exhausting an equal quantity and if all the fans were running 428,000 cfm of air was recirculated. Air filtration was by electro-static filters. A large floor to roof duct known as the North Drift running round much of the north side of the protected area distributed the air aided by fans with the many internal roadways acting as return ducts. The air was conditioned by 2 Sulzer compressor evaporator condenser units, each rated at 250 tons of refrigeration capacity. The units operated in a heat pump mode, using waste heat from the condenser, to heat the air.
The electrical distribution to the protected areas comprised an 11 KV ring main fed from the surface which supplied 34 500 KVA transformers giving a total transformer capacity of 17 MVA. Standby power would be generated at 11 KV by 4 Mirrless 12 cylinder V type diesel generators. (A 1982 report said that although these were still in good condition they had proved unreliable when used elsewhere). The generators were fed with diesel fuel from 12 tanks which could hold 176,400 gallons.
In 1957 the expected completion date for building work had slipped back from 1959 to September 1960 but there was considered to be no urgency as the regional headquarters which would work to the nucleus did not exist and there was no money for the communications equipment.
By June 1959, the project was about 65% complete and although nothing had been done to stock the site with food, water, etc it was thought it could be pressed into service albeit with a reduced compliment of 2000 staff although the conditions would be very basic. In fact, it had been proposed as early as November 1956 that the site even in its unfinished state would provide a better site for the seat of government than the London citadels.
The slow progress lead to the planners considering if the work on STOCKWELL, as SUBTERFUGE was now called, and the reserve at MACADAM should be accelerated. It was however realised that there was little point in completing STOCKWELL if the rest of the civil defence system of which it was an integral part did not exist. The building programme was therefore not accelerated although it was considered prudent to authorise further expenditure to enable interim use to be made of the site in an emergency.
By 1958 detailed plans for equipping and furnishing were being finalised and by the end of 1960 the bulk of the furniture, stationery and canteen equipment had been delivered underground and food stocks were available. By May 1960 under an interim plan the site could have taken 3000.
The relocation site in detail
Internally, SUBTERFUGE was divided into various Areas. The inner core of the headquarters was Area 14 where the Prime Minister, the War Cabinet and the War Cabinet Organisation would be housed. Nearby were the governmental departments which would have the most active roles to play such as the fighting services and UK Land Forces (responsible for home defence), the Foreign Office, the BBC and the main communications centre. The government departments which would have little active role and which were, as one report put it, ‘held in cold storage’ such as the Treasury were located in the outer areas.
The accommodation space was divided into 3 categories -
The rooms in the working areas were divided into 4 basic types and the official lists of furniture for each type hint at the spartan conditions the occupiers would meet when they went underground –
There were also a few ‘VIP’ rooms for Ministers and the most senior officials with the Prime Minister being allocated VIP1. This designation may however not have referred to the quality of the accommodation but to the type of telephone installed in the room.
As well as the domestic and office accommodation large areas were set aside for the plant and equipment which would be needed to allow the site and its staff to function completely independently of the surface for up to 30 days. This included generating sets and their associated fuel stores, ventilation plant, water storage and sewage plants. Personnel access was by 2 lifts and an escalator (left over from the wartime factory) and there was also a large goods lift. There were also 7 emergency exits into adjoining areas.
When converted the main protected area (sometimes referred to as ‘The Keep’ or the ‘Citadel’) was flanked by 2 areas known as the West Lung and the East Lung. These ‘lungs’ were used as air supply reservoirs for the personnel and equipment needs within the protected area and were served by several air supply shafts. There is a comprehensive under floor duct system which takes air from the lungs and distributes it throughout the protected area. Significant amounts of water percolate through the rock into the lungs and this is drained by gravity to a pumping sump in the East Lung. From here it is discharged via a culvert into a storm water drain in the adjacent Box Tunnel.
By the middle of 1961 the massive amounts of office and other furniture, stationery and canteen equipment had been delivered and stored underground. This was not however distributed to the various rooms where it would ultimately be needed. Instead, like most of the communications equipment which would follow it was stored in a few places ready to be installed on the day. This was to disguise the site’s function and help to reinforce part of the cover story that the site was a government stores depot.
The list of stationary items which were provided to keep the headquarters operational for 28 days hints at the scale of the operation. It included –
There were also 400 typewriters
Apart from a few items which needed to be turned over the majority of these supplies would be untouched and unconsidered for the next 15 years until it was decided that the amounts held could be reduced.
As well as the above items the HM Stationery Office also arranged for copies of some reference books to be held at the site at the request of the various departments. Many of these were updated annually. The list asked for by the BBC is both odd and interesting consisting as it did of –
To feed the 4000 staff fully equipped kitchens and bakeries were installed under the direction of the Army Catering Corps. It was hoped that a supply of fresh food would be laid in as part of the manning operation and then replaced as necessary. But in the probable event that fresh food could not be obtained standard army ration packs would be used and 120,000 rations were held together with tins of vacuum packed biscuits. These were stored in huts on the surface to allow half of them to be changed very year without compromising the security of the underground site. The NAAFI would also supply an initial stock of canteen items such as toilet requisites, chocolate and cigarettes. To cater for non-physical needs there would be a welfare officer and the army would provide 2 padres – one Church of England and one Roman Catholic. Among the pre-stocked items were an altar cover, an altar cross, 100 Army Prayer Books and 100 Roman Catholic Prayer Books. There were also 3 designated recreation areas although ‘facilities for recreation are limited’.
The site would need its own medical facilities although the extent of these was the cause of much debate. The original plans included a fully functioning hospital with an operating theatre, dental surgery and 40 single bed wards. The cost of this, requiring as it did its own independent ventilation system was prohibitive and the requirement was reduced to only 6 small wards although the examination equipment was retained. The aim was simply to keep the staff fit for work. Once operational, if staff were seriously ill they would be sent elsewhere for treatment and X-ray and other diagnostic facilities were installed to aid diagnosis.
There was an industrial scale laundry but this was only for “house keeping washing”. The staff would be expected to wash their own clothes by hand in sinks provided. The complex contained 31 ablution blocks for both male and female staff. The effluent drained by gravity to an ejector station and was pumped from there to the main surface drainage system. Kitchen waste was similarly ejected. If this system failed sewage could be pumped into the Box Tunnel.
In recent years, there have been ill-informed suggestions in the press that the site had its own pub, usually said to have been called the Rose and Crown. Unfortunately, this is an urban myth. A bar in fact had been considered and rejected with the Planning Team reporting in 1957 that “The provision of a wet canteen for the sale of spirits and beer had been considered and decided against in view of the austerity conditions which would prevail at SUBTERFUGE, the number of additional staff required to run a wet canteen and the difficulties of arranging supplies of beer”. The House Rules drawn up in 1961 which detail the serving times for meals, the availability of canteen supplies, etc also make no mention of such a comfort. However, reliable reports say that a bar was installed in one room in the north west corner of the site but this was in all probability a much later refinement connected with the Quarry Operations Centre or one of the other military facilities which were incorporated into the site in the 1970s and 1980s when the original headquarters areas had been run down.
By August 1962 the construction work was complete. All the telephone circuits had been made together with 50% of the telegraph circuits. Food, furniture and stationery were on site. The departments had drawn up lists of staff, manning instructions had been issued to Departmental Establishment Officers and a transport plan completed. To all intents and purposes the emergency government war headquarters was operational.
The role of the ‘relocation site of the central Government in global war’.
When it was first conceived in 1953 the ‘central government nucleus’ site was planned to be a reserve for Whitehall in case that key area of central government activity were destroyed. From the site, a nucleus of the main decision makers would steer Britain through World War III. They would be supported by their advisers and representatives of all the government departments and nationalised industries, etc which would have a role in directing and supporting the military effort and directing the home front. This concept had really changed little from the days of World War II when the nucleus operated from the Cabinet War Rooms and the War Rooms of the various fighting services and the “due functioning” departments. With the change in strategy brought about by the Strath Report SUBTERFUGE would now take over from Whitehall at the start of, if not actually before, the outbreak of hostilities but its planned role would not be to direct a lengthy war but to direct the immediate and urgent struggle for survival after Britain had been destroyed as a political and economic entity by Soviet H-bombs.
The structure designed to govern and administer a shattered Britain would be very different and markedly less democratic than its peacetime predecessor. The basic plan for wartime government was now summarised as -
In 1961 Sir Norman Brooke, the Cabinet Secretary, wrote a private paper on cabinet government. In it he described government in war as being based on “…a very small nucleus at the centre concerned in the main not with matters of internal domestic concern but rather with those outward-looking activities of government which must be carried out if we are to remain in control of our affairs – contacts with others and liaison between civil and military power – and the maintenance for as long as possible of the supremacy of the civil power”. He then added “We plan to maintain central direction of that sort, even in the most rudimentary form, for as long as possible in the intensive period of nuclear attack and – and this is the point I want to stress – the capacity to re-assert civil control and, as soon as possible, central political control, for the period of recovery after the initial nuclear phase”.
SUBTERFUGE fitted into the new concept of decentralised or regional government that would create “a machine of government, which relied on the effective executive organisation at regional level and the paramount consideration is to be a truly regional system of government operating under effective control by Regional Commissioners”. It would be a “nucleus of central government to whose directions Regional Commissioners would be subject and which itself would discharge those functions of government which must be discharged in one place and that place the seat of supreme control.” As instructions prepared for Exercise Four Horsemen put it “the headquarters of central government would be established in protected accommodation, equipped with the necessary communications with overseas countries, military commanders and regional headquarters, and would be manned by staff representing almost all departments and services acting in support of the War Cabinet and other Ministers. It would carry out such essential functions of government as must be performed centrally and these would be of 2 kinds: firstly, there would be such activities as maintaining control with other countries, directing the military effort and (in a Home Defence sector) controlling the regional organisation: secondly, such tasks as exercising central control over shipping, land communications and the movement of essential supplies such as food and oil.”.
Another report from 1956 said that the first requirement would be “a machine of government to take the country through the attack and survival periods i.e. until central government can be organised on a larger scale. SUBTERFUGE is concerned only with the national struggle for survival, control of military and civil defence authorities, supervision of the central control of essential supplies, shipping, and communications, and communications with the civil population. Most functions of government which could not be done by the nucleus or regional headquarters would cease.”
Following further consideration of the role of SUBTERFUGE and the joint civil-military headquarters in 1957 the concept of regional government was expanded to create a government machine which would rely on the Regional Commissioners acting as the effective central government authority for all home defence and internal matters from the time they took up post (or possibly when the central government represented by the Prime Minister left London and authority was effectively transferred to SUBTERFUGE) subject only to some general guidelines from SUBTERFUGE if communications permitted.
A Ministry of Defence report on the Machinery of Government in War from 1963, by which time SUBTERFUGE had been renamed TURNSTILE, said “Plans for the maintenance of government in war are based on the assumption that in the face of nuclear attack there would have to be a departure from the traditional system of individual ministerial responsibility and departmental control to a system of regional government by Regional Commissioners.
The essential features of this system are firstly, the establishment in a war time headquarters of a nucleus of central government to whose directions Regional Commissioners would be subject and which would itself discharge “those functions of government which must be discharged in one place and that place the seat of supreme control”; secondly, the appointment of a senior minister in each region as Regional Commissioner who would have full powers of the Crown and Government in his Region subject only to his acting in accordance with any instructions or directions which might be given to him by central government.
“Following attack therefore central government could not rely on being able to do more than give broad policy directions to Regional Commissioners who for the immediate aftermath at least would have to rely largely on the resources of their own Region with little or no help or direction from the centre. Therefore, the extension of central government control would be a gradual and uneven process.”
The directions given to departments to plan what they would do at the relocation site and in particular what staff they would need to do it were not precise and the Planning Team largely left the departments to work out their own plans. In 1958 the communications planners calculated out that to man the communications that the departments, etc were asking for would need 1600 people against a planned maximum number of 1040. This lead to a realisation that some of the departments were not following the command post concept under which the HQ would only deal with the highest levels of strategic decision making and delegate operational activities to lower controls, notably the joint civil/military HQs. The Home Office for example planned to control prisons and children’s homes from the nucleus. New directives were therefore issued telling the departments to plan on the basis of only carrying out at the nucleus those functions which could not be carried out elsewhere and where decisions could only be made at the highest level. Functions should be restricted to broad policy e.g. relations with overseas governments, supreme military control and central control of strategic stocks of food and fuel.
The military had a particular problem. They expected to fight the war from the nucleus. This meant they would need it to be a fully active headquarters not just in the destructive phase and beyond but in the precautionary period which would precede the arrival of the H-bombs and which would involve mobilisation and perhaps some conventional fighting.
In 1961, a study was made as to what extent STOCKWELL could take over central government functions in a precautionary period. It was planned that most of the important tasks would be carried out from Whitehall with STOCKWELL, once manned, taking some of the massive load of preparing the country for war. STOCKWELL and the new Regional Seats of Government, which would replace the joint civil-military headquarters, would be manned in the precautionary period. This would denude Whitehall of many of its senior service and civilian personnel at the very time when they would be needed most.
Matters came to a head later in 1961. The Cabinet Secretary told Departments that in the period of tension the Government’s main task would not be to prepare for war but to avoid it and at the same time keep Parliament and the public informed. Therefore the most senior decision makers and their advisers would have to be in Whitehall throughout. Any move of senior people to relocation sites would disrupt things at exactly the wrong moment and also be bad for morale. From now on the plan would be for the Government to stay in Whitehall throughout the Precautionary period.
This lead to a reconsideration of STOCKWELL (now renamed BURLINGTON) that resulted in a change in role. In July 1961 the Prime Minister directed that “planning should proceed on the basis that central government will remain in London throughout the precautionary period, that the machinery of government will function broadly as it does in peace and that the Prime Minister and his colleagues (with the exception of any who may be sent to Regional Headquarters and to BURLINGTON in order to man the governmental organisation for the survival period), will work at their normal places. Planning of BURLINGTON will continue on the assumption that its functions are –
This meant that while BURLINGTON would still be manned in the precautionary period it would have no role and central government would continue from London as usual. This caused problems for the civil and services departments as it meant that they would have to staff their peacetime offices at a time when they would be fully stretched and at the same time provide staff for BURLINGTON and the new Regional Seats of Government.
The directive implies that the Prime Minister would stay in London throughout the pre-attack precautionary period and was probably a response to the increasing threat from Soviet missiles rather than aircraft. It is an oddity of British government that the Prime Minister could not give orders to the RAF to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack. This could only be done through the RAF’s chain of command so that the Prime Minister needed to be in Whitehall at the centre of a communications network in contact with UK and NATO headquarters, the Foreign Office and civil departments. If a missile attack was detected the Prime Minister would ask the Chiefs of Staff to retaliate. They would then order the Chief of Bomber Command to release the V-bombers which would no doubt be airborne and holding at their positive control points and launch the Thor missiles. In the 1950s before the advent of Soviet missiles the PM could stay in London in touch with the Whitehall machine until the enemy bombers were spotted on radar. This would spell the end. The Prime Minister could either then order the RAF to retaliate or leave for Corsham where facilities would exist to contact Bomber Command to launch the deterrent. However, by the early 1960s this had changed. The Prime Minister and his advisers would now have a matter of minutes from the time the incoming Soviet missiles were detected by the new radars at Fylingdales. If London were not initially targeted they would leave for BURLINGTON by helicopter, but if London were targeted then they would probably never leave.
This revised role for BURLINGTON was echoed in draft plans drawn up by the Cabinet Secretary in 1961 in case the Berlin Crisis escalated. He proposed that the main government departments would establish permanently manned Control Points linked to a Central Control Point in the Cabinet Office but significantly the plan said “we will not go underground nor have executive decisions taken by map rooms”.
At this time, national policy in the post attack period was envisaged as being:
Directing this policy from BURLINGTON as “the ultimate source of authority” would be the War Cabinet. This was expected to consist of “the Prime Minister and 5 other Ministers with the Chiefs of Staff and others attending as necessary”. It was assumed that the Prime Minister would take on the responsibility for defence as Churchill had done during the last war.
By this time the RAF’s V-bombers formed a potent attack force armed with H-bombs and supplemented by 60 intermediate range Thor missiles armed with 1-megaton warheads.
The operational staff would work as what was termed a ‘command post’ operating as a single unit rather than a collection of independent departments all reporting to their own ministers and permanent secretaries as was the case in normal peacetime government.
Operationally, below the War Cabinet the work would be divided in broadly two areas. The overseas sections would consider foreign affairs and anything to do with the war whilst the home defence sections would concentrate on the domestic situation. Supporting the War Cabinet would be a combined civil/military secretariat and several committees –
The military elements supporting the War Cabinet were the Joint Intelligence Committee and its staffs, the staff of the Chief of the Defence Staff and a Map Room staff. The Map Room would collect and analyse all the available information about the situation of the country to support the decision-making committees. It would be the core of the Central Government War Room within the nucleus of central government and the more important decisions would come from it. In total the war cabinet organisation consisted (in 1961) of 210 people of whom about a third were clerks and typists. A breakdown of this group is given in the appendix.
One factor which was hardly considered by the planners was that of basic operational efficiency. The concept envisaged a complete civil and military central headquarters with several thousand people, a major but untried communications system and all their domestic accommodation and facilities being set up from scratch in a matter of days. No training was allowed at the site and this lead the Ministry of Defence to suggest that a dummy site should be set up for the purpose but this was turned down. A 1962 report by the Chief of Staffs Committee aimed “to draw attention again to the limitations of the site as an operational headquarters in war” pointing out that it would take up to 4 weeks to install and work up the communications required by the armed forces. The very existence of the site and everything about it was Top Secret and it was protected by a cover story. None of the departmental planners were told the site’s location. There is a heart felt comment by a Ministry of Defence planner writing in 1962 that he had no idea where the site was and no one in the Ministry had been allowed to visit it although he was making decisions about how it would be used. Eventually, the Cabinet Office relented and allowed “one senior officer from each service in civilian dress to visit the site” but “they must be careful what they say said because most of the workers there do not know what it is for.” The BBC complained, apparently without success, that unless they knew the location of the site they could not make plans to broadcast from it.
But there was a perhaps a more important problem and one which increasingly occupied the minds of the planners – that of security. It was thought that with the increasing Soviet nuclear capability if the relocation site’s location and function became known to the Soviet Union it would be attacked and destroyed. And if the site were made operational even on a restricted basis before war broke out it was certain to become known to them. In response, various options were contemplated including building a completely new site possibly bored into a mountain. The question of the designated reserve site was also reconsidered but no action was taken on it. The main problem however came down to a choice between operational efficiency and security at STOCKWELL.
But the needs of security were held to be paramount. Once manned and its communications, particularly radio transmissions, activated secrecy would be lost and if its existence was then discovered it would be attacked. Because of this, it was felt that the implications if manning STOCKWELL were such that Ministers could only take the decision in the light of circumstances at the time. This meant that the site would not automatically be occupied at the start of a Precautionary Period and consequently STOCKWELL could not be given a substantive pre-attack role.
The Queen and Parliament
All these plans related to the continuity of central government which would consist of the decision making War Cabinet, its advisers and those needed to implement its decisions. There is no mention of a role for the Sovereign or for Parliament. The Padmore reports said Parliament would not be able to function during or soon after an attack so it would have to disperse to reform somewhere in the country but by 1959 another report said that no provision existed for Parliament to continue. Later, a 1963 report said, “Members of both Houses would be expected to disperse to their homes or constituencies or (like members of the Royal family other than the Queen and Heir Apparent) to their country houses.” Unfortunately, the file in the Public Record Office from which this information comes did not answer the intriguing question of where the Queen would go.
A Cabinet Office file from 1964 shows that at that time not only did the Royal Household not have a copy of the Government War Book it was not clear which government department was responsible for informing them of the implementation of the Precautionary Period but in 1963 plans had been drawn up for Operation CANDID to protect the Royal Family in war. CANDID was not only Top Secret but on a strictly need to know basis. It would also take priority over any general war tasks the army had.
Although details of the plan changed over the years the basic idea was that a strengthened army battalion plus support troops would constitute a Royal Duties Force. This would be centred on the Guards battalion based at Windsor which would be the mobilisation point for the Force, reinforced with a special squadron of the Household Cavalry equipped with armoured cars to provide a reconnaissance unit together with a light aid detachment and a substantial radio troop. The force would be about 1300 strong, fully mobile and self-supporting for 7 days. It was well equipped with lorries and there is mention of “6 Queen’s baggage vehicles”.
It was given 4 tasks –
The Force was to be capable of splitting into 4 independent units and “should be…prepared to move to different locations to provide guards and establish communications with the nearest RSG” and also “it would be in radio communication with CHQ, the HQ of the district it is moving through and other groups in the force”. Information in the PRO gives no details of where the Queen would be but the Force was specifically set up as an infantry unit to provide static guards at one or more places once it had reached its objective. It was not for example just an escort unit to take the Queen from Windsor to a pre-determined place such as Corsham. The impression given is that the Queen would, in a repeat of the World War II practice established only 20 years earlier, find refuge in an isolated country house probably in the midlands.
In 1961 senior officials started to give thought to the roles to be allocated to ministers in a war emergency and to divide them between those who would be needed in London during the Precautionary Period, those who would be sent to the relocation site and those who would be sent to the regions to act as Regional Commissioners and their Supporting Ministers. Although it was usually stated in documents at the time that these appointments would be made on the day lists were drawn up and approved by the Prime Minister although the Ministers themselves were not told of their designated role.
In August 1962 the Ministers who would stay in London would be –
Those who would go to BURLINGTON would be –
At this time the Regional Commissioners would have been –
Each Regional Commissioner would have a Supporting Minister who would be the junior minister who was designated to head the region’s Civil Emergency Organisation.
If all the ministers designated to be at BURLINGTON were joined by the helicopter party ministers there would be an accommodation problem at BURLINGTON as there was only accommodation for five Ministers besides the Prime Minister in the central Area 14. It was therefore decided that the remainder would be accommodated in the VIP rooms originally allocated to Ambassadors.
The planners also recommended to the Prime Minister that he allocate 2 senior ministers to the roles of First and Second Nuclear Deputies who, in the absence of the Prime Minister, would be authorised to launch the nuclear deterrent albeit only after discussions with the US President. They would formally assume their roles at the start of the Precautionary Period. The Second Nuclear Deputy would be among the Ministers who would go to BURLINGTON whilst the First Nuclear Deputy would stay in London. His role would be to act if the Prime Minister were temporarily absent from Downing Street for example when he was travelling. The Nuclear Deputies were first appointed in 1961 and in selecting Rab Butler and Selwyn Lloyd for the roles the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan wrote against their names ‘First gravedigger’ and ‘Second gravedigger’. The documents detailing these arrangements reveal, probably for the first time, the extent of consultation, which had been agreed with the Americans that would take place before the British deterrent would be launched and also that ‘the competent military authority’ could order nuclear retaliation if he was certain that a nuclear attack had been made and if consultation with the Prime Minister were impossible.
The relocation site would function for up to 30 days completely divorced from the surface and so without extensive, survivable communications to points throughout Britain and the wider world it would be deaf, dumb and blind. The scale of the communications planned and finally installed at the relocation site was in every sense gigantic and within Britain was only matched by the systems installed in and around Whitehall. The telegraph centre alone was 5 times larger than any other centre in the UK. The communications installation even merited its own codename of “woodland”.
At the start of the planning process it was decided that the various communications systems would not be installed until the building work had been completed but a dedicated Communications Working Party was set up at the outset to plan the installations.
The main means of communication would be by telegraph, by which typed messages could be sent and received along a cable, and telephone. The circuits were either carried on dedicated point-to-point private wires which were routed away from potential target areas or on cheaper rented GPO trunk lines although these were more vulnerable because they were routed through major cities which might be targeted. A dedicated spur to the GPO’s Backbone radio system was also installed and a radio tower for it specially built close to the site. There was also a standby radio system provided by the army to link to the regional headquarters.
The principal communications system was the telegraph but the capacity of the system was limited and the transmission times were slow. This would be supplemented by standard telephone calls again either using dedicated private wires or using exchanges and the public network. Both systems were vulnerable in that the lines themselves could be destroyed and the exchanges and their associated repeater stations put out of action. The lines, most of which were rented from the Post Office were also very expensive.
The scale of the communications links considered the minimum acceptable in 1958 illustrates the intended set up and also illustrates the intended role of the nucleus. The main system would be telegraph and telephone lines mostly using “private wires” and directed through RAF switching centres but with many domestic lines available through up to 11 GPO exchanges. Internally, there would telephone extensions linking virtually every room, regular “messenger” runs and a Lamson tube system for sending written messages. The Forces Postal and Courier Communications Service would provide a twice-daily air courier service between the central headquarters and the civil defence regional headquarters and one report recommended that 3 helicopters should be allocated to the headquarters. The principal external communications facilities would be –
As well as the circuits within Britain connections were needed overseas to allied and commonwealth governments, British embassies, NATO centres, military headquarters, etc
In 1958 a long-term plan existed for the number of circuits needed. But as none of these would be available for several years emergency use could be made of the circuits originally installed in the wartime factory.
The planned and actual number of circuits available in 1958 was –
In addition there would be connections to the public trunk network and, by using the RAF's major switching centre in South West Control situated a few hundred yards to the north of the relocation site, to the various military networks. All together the 1958 plan required 767 circuits which would cost £610,000 to establish and then £919,000 a year to rent and maintain. This compares with the initial cost for the building work of £1.2m. The telephone plan required a PABX capable of taking 2000 extensions and a 40 position switchboard for connecting to outside wires. A 14 position switchboard would also be needed for an overseas service. The planners anticipated 1000 telegraph messages would be sent each day.
There would also be extensive cipher equipment.
progress report in May 1960 showed site was still reliant on the wartime communications facilities but the requirements had now been significantly reduced to -
The magnificent telephone exchange was located in the northern part of the site together with the main telegraph rooms. All incoming and outgoing written messages were handled in the communications centre further south. This was subdivided into 5 operational groups -
Over a thousand people would be needed to man the communications systems on a 3 shift basis. Most of these would be telephone and telegraph operators employed either by their own departments and services in Whitehall or by the GPO.
As with furniture and stationery, most
of the telephone and telex equipment was not installed in their final
rooms for security purposes and circuits were not connected but it was
estimated that if the order to prepare the site was given on Day 3 of
the Precautionary Period then 80% of the communications could be working
by Day 6 although the necessary lines to Bomber Command needed for the
nuclear deterrent could be made ready within 12 hours. This was more than
sufficient given the limited need for communications in the early days
after the attack when the main task of bringing order to the country would
lie with the RSGs. It might take up to 3 weeks to have all the communications
To help pass written messages around the site and particularly to and from the communications centre a large Lamson tube system was installed with 40 individual tubes connecting to a central station. A regular messenger service would also be available. There was also an internal intercom to broadcast messages and, apparently music, around the site. The staff could, in theory, send and receive letters and would be given a dedicated BFPO number. Although, how this would work in a bomb blasted Britain is a matter for speculation.
Everything about the emergency central government war headquarters at Corsham - both its role and location were strictly Top Secret and remained so for some 50 years. This secrecy was protected physically by such methods as positive vetting of all those who knew about it and by establishing a cover story.
A cover story was needed from the time the extensive construction work began. There was a problem in that a lot of the initial construction work was carried out on the surface and obvious to passers by, and then many workers would be involved with the work both on the surface and then underground and the later fitting out, all of which would take many years. The story had to be good enough to satisfy the locals and workforce but not attract any particular interest from the press or the Soviets. The first cover story devised was that the site had been acquired during the last war, a fact widely known in the locality, and was being generally tidied up for some general, unspecified war use. By 1959 with, the imminent installation of the massive communications systems the idea of a purely civilian wartime use eg as an art repository would not match the physical work. A particular problem would arise from the need to label where the various communications circuits were going and as these would be mainly military or government sites it would be obvious to many GPO engineers that originating site was a military or government one of considerable importance. Now the story, which would only be given when necessary and not generally spread around, was that it was intended primarily as a Post Office communications centre with other space allocated to a standby regional civil defence HQ and for government storage. At this time a full time Security Officer was appointed for the site whose main task was to vet staff who were or needed to be 'indoctrinated' into the 'central secret' as the combination of both the role and location was referred to. The Security Service (MI5, or 'Box 500' as it was often called at the time after its postal address) were actively involved in the cover story and reported that local rumours suggested that the site was to be used to store Big Ben, as a refuge for the Royal Family or more likely as something for the Admiralty, which at this time were using other local quarries for storage. The Security Service suggested that the idea that it would be used by the Admiralty should be subtly encouraged but this raised a problem in itself because if the Soviets thought it was an important enough naval establishment they might attack it and destroy the central government nucleus by accident.
In late 1959 the Daily Express journalist Chapman Pincher drafted an article mentioning 'a huge underground city from which the nation would be controlled in the event of an H-bomb attack'. Before he could publish this he was apparently fed part of the new cover story and the article which finally appeared, whilst mentioning a 'chain of H-forts' (the proposed purpose built joint civil/military headquarters) did not refer to an underground city.
By 1961 the cover story was revised. The site was now to “provide regional organisations with stand by facilities for the maintenance of emergency services”, as well as a Post Office communications centre and general storage. But by now the problem of the communications circuits was becoming serious. It was thought that about half could be connected and labelled without compromising the central secret. A further quarter could be connected to the neighbouring RAF South West Control communications centre to be connected through to their final destinations when needed. The remaining quarter could be disguised by only connecting them to a nearby repeater station with, again, the idea of connecting to the final destinations when needed. To fit in with the idea that the site was a store and a possible communications centre the large number of telephones and telegraph machines and their associated equipment were generally not installed in their operational areas but were stored in various rooms underground.
The numbers of people knowing the ‘central secret’ was kept as low as possible and they were all positively vetted before being indoctrinated. Nevertheless, in January 1961 the Site Security Officer reported that 562 people knew the ‘central secret’.
By the early 1960s the Security Service was openly speculating that the Russians would be aware of the ‘central secret’. There seemed to be little that could be practically done but it is interesting to note that, when in 1967 the Spies for Peace wrote to the Prime Minister saying that ‘The Government has its own shelter system at Corsham’ it caused little concern.
As a postscript there was an interesting ‘incident’ in 1976 when the navy commissioned a private company to make an aerial survey of the whole Corsham area which included Spring Quarry. This caused great concern and the anonymised photographs were passed to the RAF to see what they might reveal to an expert (i.e. Russian) interpreter. The RAF noted all sorts of signs such as military style flagpoles and anchor designs on well-tended lawns and concluded that there were substantial and significant underground facilities such as a major communications centre or a government headquarters in the area. The Cabinet Office however decided that it would be safer to allow the private company to continue with the work rather than bring attention to the area. It was however accepted that Russian satellites had been over flying the area for several years and could give equally good resolution photos. Even if they were not aware of the true purpose of the site they must certainly know by now that there was something significant in the Corsham area.
The London Citadels
When Padmore suggested that all future planning should depend on SUBTERFUGE and its reserve he suggested that the London citadels which had up to then been intended to house the nucleus of government in war should be abandoned. But it was decided to keep them maintained although without any plans to use them until SUBTERFUGE was ready just in case they were needed and also to hide the fact that they would not be used, a fact which would encourage a potential enemy, or anyone else interested, to look for their replacement. However, in 1957 in view of the progress made with SUBTERFUGE it was decided to review their status. The planners noted that virtually all the citadels were in and around the Whitehall area which would be a prime target for Soviet H-bombs. If the area were attacked, even if the citadels were not “in the crater” they would be badly affected by flooding and “oscillation of the structure”. It was decided to quietly remove any defence use from the central citadels (the Admiralty Citadel, the Rotundas, the 2 Whitehall Gardens bunkers, the former Cabinet War Rooms and the former London Region War Room at the Geological Museum). The ‘peripheral citadels’ at Dollis Hill, Cricklewood and Harrow could however be turned over to civil defence uses.
Although there were no plans to use the citadels in war the North Rotunda was pressed into service as a nominal Central Government War Room for the exercises Cloud Dragon and Fallex62. This however was essentially to preserve the security of the Corsham site and encourage the idea that the government would stay in London during a future war. To further strengthen this idea when, in the early 1960s, groups of journalists asked to see around the citadels they were allowed to tour some parts of the Rotundas but cleverly some parts were kept ‘off limits’ to them even though, in reality, they contained little of importance.
In reality, there would no longer be any protected accommodation maintained in London for machinery of government in war purposes. Also, from the mid-1950s government departments were told that there would be no general evacuation of the civil service as had been contemplated in the last war. Apart from those who would have ‘specific war stations’ the civil servants were divided into those who ’whilst not needed in the survival period would be valuable in the recovery period’ and the rest. It might be possible to safeguard this first group by sending some of them to existing departmental premises outside London, but no other accommodation could be reserved for them. The remainder, in fact the majority, would be told to come into their usual offices until they were unable to reach them. They should then report for duty to any local government office.
Level of protection
Despite the high level of security and the cover stories it was always assumed that if the ‘central secret’ was discovered the Soviets would consider the site a priority target. Was it therefore proof against such an attack? Even though the site was deeply buried in hard rock the first work was to construct a blast wall completely encircling the working areas and separating them from the adjacent Admiralty storage areas and designed to resist a blast over-pressure of 80 pounds per square inch (psi). The access openings for stairways and lifts were protected by reinforced concrete headworks and blast doors also designed to take 80 psi. The main ventilation shafts were designed so that they did not open directly into the protected areas but into adjoining, relatively unimportant parts of the quarry which would act as expansion chambers and dissipate the blast. The initial thoughts were that the site was protected against collapse or spalling (lumps of rock coming away from the sides of the underground areas) caused by a 10 megaton ground burst weapon exploding between 3⁄4 and 2 miles away. By the early 1960s the planners assumed that the Soviets would use smaller 3 megaton H-bombs and the safe distance would be one mile from the impact point. However, the accuracy of missiles expected to deliver these weapons had improved and if the missile had 50% chance of landing within 1⁄2 mile of the site then there would be a 99% chance of it being destroyed, or as the report at the time put it, of the bomb “defeating the protection”. The site was however considered to be virtually invulnerable to an air burst.
The main problem was not however the vulnerability of the site itself but of its vital communications and in particular the cables these relied on. Most of these went through the neighbouring RAF communications centre which was not protected to the same degree and a 3mt bomb up to 31⁄2 miles away could be expected to put it out of action. Many of the lines also relied on unprotected surface repeater stations. The Backbone spur tower was thought to be vulnerable to a 3mt blast up to 10 miles away.
It was however considered impractical to increase the level of physical protection but at one point the military suggested that it was leaked that the site at Drakelow was the main site to draw attention away from Corsham.
In the early 1970s a Security Service examination of the site suggested that it was vulnerable to an attack with chemical or biological weapons which lead to the recommendation that suitable protective clothing should be held at the site.
A nominal maximum figure of 4000 was imposed for the site at a very early stage possibly on the basis of the physical capacity of the site and the planning teams constantly battled to keep the demands of the various users down to this total. The 4000 were however not all to be administrators. Above all, the site had to be a major communications centre and in some ways the number of administrators was dictated by the available communications. The message handling systems, telephone exchanges and in particular the telegraph machines were very labour intensive, and whilst the administrators would work whatever hours were needed the communications personnel would work in three shifts which effectively tripled their numbers. The usual figure for the communications operators was 1024 although at one stage this was projected to rise to 1500 which lead to a reconsideration of the site’s role and the rigid imposition of the idea that it was to be a high level strategic decision making battle headquarters and not responsible for any tactical or day-to-day control.
In 1962 the planned staff totalled 3780. The main groups were –
1. War Cabinet Organisation
2. Home Defence Secretariat
3. The establishment Officers Branch
4. Armed Forces
5. Departmental Contingents
6. Signals Organisation
7. Common User Staff
8. Guard Company
9. Site Maintenance Staff
Included in the total figure would be 18 ministers. The original plan also envisaged rooms being found for 15 Ambassadors and 8 High Commissioners but by 1961 they, like representatives from the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers’ Confederation were no longer on the lists.
By 1958 planning had advanced to the point where the Treasury who had overall responsibility for planning the HQ and its operations had settled the numbers of staff and issued guidance to departments. The staff for the site were chosen on the basis of their ability to do the job, which usually meant they were designated because they had a similar job in peacetime. They were selected by the Establishment Officers (i.e. personnel departments) of the ministries, etc and in complete secrecy. They were not volunteers and given the secrecy of the site and its function the vast majority of them were not told of their wartime designation. Although the debate about whether or not to tell people of their wartime designation continued for many years it was constantly over-ruled by the need to maintain security. Even when permission was given to inform some designated RSG staff of their designated wartime roles staff those allocated to Corsham remained in ignorance. This meant that they could not receive any training for their role.
Allocating roles to named people really
got underway in 1957. Establishment Officers were told to select staff
who would be “physically and psychologically” able to stand
up to the conditions. Working conditions would be “austere and crowded”
and “there is no room for passengers”. No one with a poor
sick record, physical handicaps or claustrophobia should be considered.
“Adaptability, team spirit and steady temperament are necessary
as well as physical fitness”.
Getting the 4000 staff to the relocation site would be a major undertaking. The basic plan from the early days was that the site would be manned in the Precautionary Period and then as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. The staff would establish themselves and then wait for the Prime Minister’s party to arrive in the last moments of peace. Their arrival would effectively signal the transfer of power from Whitehall to Corsham. Interim operational orders for manning Stockwell were issued in November 1960 followed a year later by more definitive ones. These said that once the order had been given the Establishment Officers would hand the designated member of staff the “First Information Slip’ which told them for the first time that “you are one of a number of key personnel selected for duty at an important wartime headquarters for the department”. They should “go home now, pack up personal effects, make pay arrangements and return”. They would be allowed one bag or suitcase but not a radio or camera. “Clothing may be informal” but as “facilities for entertainment will be limited it is suggested you take a book or so with you”. Just before the final order was given telling them to proceed they would be given the “Second Information Slip” although this told them little more than the first one and neither of the slips gave any indication of where they were going or what their role would be when they arrived. In 1961 passes were printed and distributed in sealed envelopes to establishment Officers.
The interim manning scheme envisaged a fleet of 200 coaches ferrying the staff from London. To preserve secrecy the coaches would drive to a check point several miles from the HQ and then return empty. Other coaches would then ferry the staff to the HQ itself.
By 1961 this transport plan had been simplified. Now the London based departments would be responsible for organising the transport of their contingents to Kensington (Olympia) railway station near Earls Court in west London. There, under the direction of the army, they would board main line trains. The first trains were expected to be ready within 2 to 6 hours of the order to man, thereafter 6 or 7 trains would be needed leaving at 2 hourly intervals. A ‘second station’ is mentioned in one report which would be ‘in the provinces’ and would serve staff working at ‘out stations’ i.e. not in central London. This was possibly Bristol. The trains would take staff to ‘Check Point’ from where they would be taken to the main site.
Even while TURNSTILE was being manned the Prime Minister would be expected to remain in Downing Street at the centre of an established support and communications system until all hope of averting war had gone. He and a few chosen senior people might then make a last minute dash for Corsham by helicopter. The composition of the Prime Minister’s helicopter Party was fixed at 25 –
However, even had all these plans worked like clockwork there would still have been delays for example if the manning order were given at night or at a weekend and then in actually getting people underground using the available lifts and escalator followed by the problems of them finding their places in an untested and hastily prepared site.
Check Point was planned to play a vital
if low key role in the operation of the war headquarters and its location
was treated with the same degree of secrecy as that of the headquarters
itself. However, War Office records show that it would have been at Warminster
some 10 miles south of the main site. Trains would arrive at the station
there (‘Check Point Station’) and then a fleet of coaches
would take the staff and their luggage to the cinema block of the School
of Infantry which was based in the town and would be designated as Check
Point. On the receipt of the code word CARONIA the Garrison Commander
of Warminster would arrange for the Check Point to be manned. As the headquarters
staff arrived they would be given a ‘stew meal’ from a field
kitchen. Once the code word DETONATOR was received Check Point would start
moving the staff to the headquarters in a fleet of army lorries. For security
purposes the routed would not be sign posted but would be patrolled by
a company of Military Police. The idea of Check Point was to protect the
secrecy of the headquarters site and to avoid any congestion occurring
there. Everyone detailed for the headquarters whether the arrived by train,
helicopter or private car would report to Check Point and then be taken
onwards in an army lorry. Check Point was also used as an assembly point
for the army units with roles at the headquarters and for receiving supplies.
Security would be strictly enforced and anyone turning up without the
correct identification would be detained. It was expected that all the
staff would pass through Check Point in a matter of hours.
When Thomas Padmore made his suggestions for the preservation of the machinery of government in war in 1954 he recommended that a site, to be called SUBTERFUGE should be constructed as a reserve seat of government should London become unusable. But following the Strath Report he recommended that any idea of the government remaining in London should be abandoned in favour of basing the wartime central government nucleus at SUBTERFUGE, but with a new reserve site to be known as MACADAM constructed and manned to serve as ‘The alternative relocation site of the central Government headquarters in global war’. The code name MACADAM was used from 1955 to 1960 when it was replaced by QUADRANGLE. This name continued in use until 1962 when it was replaced by LINSTOCK. This code word was withdrawn in 1965.
Since Duncan Campbell’s revelations in War Plan UK published a quarter of a century ago it has been generally thought that this reserve headquarters would be at the Valley Works site at Rhydymwyn near Mold in North Wales. This site included an extensive series of tunnels originally constructed during the last war to store chemical weapons. The tunnels were used into the 1950s and it appeared that some work had been done at the site after this time which fitted in with the idea that the site was at least earmarked as the reserve war headquarters. However, it is now known that in the early 1960s the tunnels were earmarked as a possible war time site for 2 NATO wartime agencies. These had originally been destined for the main Corsham site but had been relocated (without NATO being aware) to the Valley Works to protect the secrecy of Corsham. There were also tentative plans to use the Valley Works tunnels as a war time home for part of the Bank of England’s gold reserves and possibly for a Sub Regional Control. The proposed use by the NATO agencies lead to the tunnels being ‘tidied up’ but although plans were drawn up to convert the site it appears that no meaningful work was ever done although intriguingly the Property Services Agency works office safe at Corsham contained in the 1980s, as well as files relating to Corsham, one on Rhydymwyn although by that time the wartime home for the 2 NATO agencies had moved to the former RSG in Cambridge.
In fact, the plan from 1955 was to base the reserve nucleus at Drakelow in the tunnels dug out during the war as an emergency factory although it was decided at the outset that no work would be done either to prepare the site or to plan for its use until Corsham was completed. The original working idea was that a staff of some 1500 (2000 in some reports) headed by a team of Ministers and senior officials would occupy MACADAM in the Precautionary Period at the same time as SUBTERFUGE was being manned. The Prime Minister and the ‘first eleven’ would however not leave London until the last minute and possibly not at all. If this happened or if SUBTERFUGE was not operational then the Ministerial Team at MACADAM would assume the role as the central government.
In reality there would be many practical problems. Finding sufficient Ministers and staff for Corsham and the regional headquarters was a particular problem and this would only be worsened by the need to find 1500 people for the reserve. Then it was unclear what its real role would be. If the main relocation site was operational MACADAM would have no role but if it was not its 1500 staff and very limited communications would seriously hamper its abilities to act even ignoring the problem that the some at least of the Regional Commissioners might be of higher rank or status than those Ministers at MACADAM. These problems lead to the idea being put forward in 1958 that the site would not act as a true reserve but should be in some vague sense a ‘reserve of experience and expertise’.
By this time the Home Office were looking for sites for the planned regional civil/military headquarters and Drakelow was considered. It was decided that the site was large enough to take the 450 staff planned for the regional headquarters and still have space for a reserve central nucleus. There were concerns that the existence of the regional headquarters, which was expected to become known would jeopardise the secrecy of the reserve site and it was suggested that the 2 should be physically separated from each other although other reports suggested that they could share communications facilities. The Drakelow site was established as an RSG (see File 5) but no work was done to prepare for the reserve nucleus. In 1961 a report suggested that the site could still be used as a reserve for central government but with a team of only 300. Even with this small number security was deemed to be a potential major problem and it was considered that the site was very poorly protected compared to Corsham. Again nothing was done and in 1962 the plan was changed. The site would now be a reserve but only for 100 staff although it would act as an accretion centre or rallying point for other staff (presumably including Ministers not occupied elsewhere).
Outline plans to accommodate this LINSTOCK group within the Drakelow RSG were prepared and a staffing list drawn up. This staff would include a Reserve Prime Minister and Minister of Defence supported by a Reserve Ministers, one for Overseas Affairs and the other for Home Affairs. They would be supported by a team of 37 officials to cover Cabinet Office functions, military affairs, overseas affairs and home administration. They in turn would be assisted by some 60 junior administrators, communications operators and domestic staff. If BURLINGTON were destroyed the LINSTOCK team could offer at least a nominal central government to give political direction to the armed forces, liaise with overseas government and at least suggest to the survivors that there was some overall political control. However, problems soon emerged over the cost of the necessary works in the Drakelow tunnels and work on LINSTOCK was suspended.
Also in 1962 and in parallel with LINSTOCK another idea known as TACK was developed. This concept would be Top Secret like BURLINGTON and LINSTOCK but would also be on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. Under the TACK concept small groups would be set up any of which could act as a ‘third line reserve Seat of Central Government’. Each of the 4 groups would consist of a Deputy Reserve Prime Minister, one other Minister and 2 Private Secretaries. They would be supported by an official from the Cabinet Office and 6 from the military, together with 2 officials to deal with overseas affairs and 3 to deal with home affairs. There would also be a communications adviser, an information adviser and a scientific adviser. They would all be assisted by 9 junior administrators. The idea was that one group would each lodge in the RSGs at Dover, Hope Cove, Reading and Shipton but by 1963 it was realised that there was no money for the additional infrastructure required and in any case there was no spare space in the RSGs. It was also realised that the RSG sites were known to the Russians and might themselves be attacked.
Neither LINSTOCK nor TACK was developed and it was realised by 1964 that there was no reserve for TURNSTILE although it was generally thought by then that the Russians almost certainly knew about it. This lead to suggestions that a replacement was needed. It was thought that building a new site which would be safe against any attack was impractical and other ideas were contemplated. One which had been floated in 1963 suggested that the idea of one large relocation site was impractical. It would be better to set up smaller, functional groups to be dispersed throughout the country. The groups that survived could then link up to form a new central government. TURNSTILE would still be maintained as a site both because of its continued potential as an accretion centre and also as a cover story for the new plan. This outline plan appears to have been adopted as the basis for the PYTHON concept.
As explained more fully in File 6 by 1965 the PYTHON concept had replaced the original idea of a single nucleus of some 4000 people with the idea of several smaller teams which would be scattered about the country. The TURNSTILE site however continued to be used for the next quarter century as an accretion centre for PYTHON Groups and their successors. In 1968 following the introduction of ‘care and maintenance’ to all home and civil defence activities the food stocks, then still sufficient for 4000 people for 30 days were halved. This was an economy measure made simply by not replacing the stock of ration packs which were due to be turned over that year.
The planners were however unsure at the time as to how many people might need to be fed in future.In June 1969 the codename TURNSTILE was replaced with CHANTICLEER. About this time, possibly as part of the wholesale reduction in civil defence expenditure from 1968 the accommodation was drastically reduced and only Areas 8 to 16, 21 and 22 were retained in active use. But the site still needed maintaining. Additional water storage was being installed but it was reported that the lifts, boiler house, etc needed updating and the escalator no longer worked. Surplus equipment, notably for telecommunications, was often simply dumped into unused areas and left to rot. In 1976 the site still had its original quantities of stationery although they were turned over on a regular basis. The whole justification in retaining the site was being actively questioned. It was still to be used as an accretion centre but the exact numbers who would man the site were unknown and it was suggested that stationery could be cut to serve just 700 people rather than the original 4000.
There was now a surplus of space in CHANTICLEER.
Some parts were taken over for other purposes and in 1977 it was considered
as a war location for UKLF. At one stage rations were only held 250 people
and that figure would only be reached after 30 days but the army ration
packs were however still turned over every 2 years and stored at the site.
At this time the School of Infantry at Warminster was tasked with providing a Special Duties Force which would take care of all the administration, domestic duties, etc at the site. The numbers for each role show how the potential manning of the site had fallen since its heyday. The Special Duties Force consisted of –
The Special Duties Force together with 41 building, construction and engineering staff provided by the Department of the Environment and 74 communications staff would now occupy the site at the start of a crisis but the site would have no role in any period of tension or conventional war. But after the general nuclear attack it would provide ‘…protected accommodation for selected control elements in the event of a general nuclear attack on the UK’ and act as an accretion centre for the PYTHON-type groups who would act as a basic central government. It was assumed that within 30 days of the nuclear strike (at least) 2 PYTHON Groups (including 8 ministers) would be established at the site together with other supporting groups which together with the advance party would total about 1000. In terms of function the 1000 were expected to break down into –
The plan was for the site to be manned covertly and be operational within 48 hours. It would then be able to operate independently for up to 30 days before a strike and then for up to 60 days after.
As well as the Special Duties Force the School of Infantry was also tasked to supply a General Composite Reserve infantry company site in war. This only became apparent during Exercise Square Leg in 1980 and came as a complete surprise to both the long serving Camp Commandant (Designate) of CHANTICLEER and the RAF commander of Rudloe Manor who promptly wanted to include the company in his own defence plans. It was eventually discovered that this company had originally been designated to act as an escort for the Special Duties Force but it was quickly agreed that it was not needed and withdrawn.
The site continued to be maintained throughout the 1980s. In 1980 the stationery stocks were reduced but they would still include 3000 black ballpens, 4000 A5 writing pads and 3 million sheets of A4 duplicating paper. Stocks of toilet rolls were also reduced but now, perhaps of some comfort, they were to be ‘toilet rolls, soft’.
By 1982, as previously mentioned only Areas 8 to 16, 21 and 22 were in use by CHANTICLEER. Areas 1, 6, 7, 17 and 18 had been abandoned as too wet to use. Area 19 was used as the main Property Services Agency workshops and power station and Areas 4 and 20 were earmarked as possible stores. Areas 2 and 3 were held by the RAF and Area 5 was interestingly mentioned as a possible store for art treasures.
In 1982 a feasibility study called Project Albatross was made into the future use of the Chanticleer facility. The primary aim of the study was to consider ways of reorganising and consolidating the occupied areas. The aim was still to cater for 1000 staff but the study considered how the site could be made secure against conventional weapons (which might penetrate the various openings to the surface), chemical and biological weapons, fall out and ‘unconventional forms of attack’ which meant a direct assault by ground forces or sabotage. Decontamination facilities were also to be provided and the site was to be able to operate in a completely shut down state for up to 7 days. Several schemes were suggested all of which involved reducing the occupied spaces which would be enclosed and isolated from other parts of the quarry. The water supply would be modified (and restricted), chemical toilets would be used, the access to the site reduced to one main entrance plus a few emergency exits and the food supply restricted to army compo rations cooked with microwave ovens. It was however pointed out that irrespective of which if any scheme were adopted significant and costly engineering works would be needed to maintain the site. It was recognised that the size of the occupied area would have a major influence on the running costs both during peace and under active use because the space directly influenced the amount of ventilation, heating and other users of power. The ‘minimum area scheme’ was therefore conceived which would reduce the occupied area to just 8, 9 10 and 11. The communications facilities would be reduced and concentrated and the space available for people cut. Open office space would be provided for 500 people at any time and a hot-bunk system would be set up based on 2-tier bunks and a 12 hour shift pattern. Single bedrooms would be provided for 10 VIPs and smaller combined bedroom/offices for 24 senior staff.
However, it appears that nothing happened as a result of the feasibility study and in 1988 the Cabinet Office, faced with the growing costs and obsolescence of PERIPHERAL commissioned the Project Albatross Design Study which would continue the work of the 1982 study. It would now cost the ‘minimum area scheme’ but interestingly would also consider the possibilities of setting up the site so that it could be made operational within a 28 day period and examine the costs of completely abandoning the site.
The Study which included plans for a BBC studio were still based on 1000 potential staff and included lists of proposed telephone and telex circuits which is interesting to compare with the numbers actually provided 30 years before. Private circuits would go to –
There would also be 20 exchange lines.
It is also possible that by this time the plans had been modified so that CHANTICLEER/PERIPHERAL would be manned not by Python type groups but by an ‘Advanced Party’ to be followed at some later stage by a dedicated ‘Main Party’ of about 500 under a scheme known as FLEX. Whether or not this was the case the surviving facilities at PERIPHERAL were now only a sad shadow of those planned for SUBTERFUGE 30 years earlier.
The site continued to be maintained throughout the 1980s at an annual cost, according to the Cabinet Office, of some £500,000. By 1991 plans were being made to remove all the stores and with the end of the Cold War the site was decommissioned although it took a further 10 years for it to be put up for disposal under plans to redevelop the whole of the still extensive government estate in the Corsham area.