After the end of the Second World War, although Britain, America and Russia had been allies and had signed the Potsdam Agreement to end the war, there was a lot of distrust between them. Britain and America did not like the Communism of the Soviet Union and thought it was a threat. The Cold War started. This was intense rivalry between the capitalist west and communist east, each believing the other was planning to conquer more and more territory. The Cold War became ‘hot’ when wars were waged in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf. There was a great deal of spying going on to find out whether either side had developed more effective weapons. When communism was overthrown in Russia and Germany and several other eastern European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Cold War came to an end.
Royal Observer Corps
This group staffed stations across the country to identify enemy aircraft and relay their sightings to Bomber High Command, who would order anti-aircraft measures. They would also guide friendly aircraft that had been damaged or were off course to safe landings. At the start of the war they were only known as the Observer Corps but after the Battle of Britain in 1940, where they helped save many lives, King George VI changed the name to the Royal Observer Corps. They were stood down when the war was won in 1945 but started up again in 1947 with the threat from the Soviet Union.
There are several Royal Observer Corps stations in Buckinghamshire, all dating to after the Second World War. Do a search for Royal Observer Corps on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal. Answer the following questions:
- Which Royal Observer Post was opened earliest in Buckinghamshire?
- What was the last date any of them were in use?
- How many of them have been demolished? How many still survive?
- Write down the locations of the posts and work out where they all are on a map (press the map the results button.
Observers in the corps were usually volunteers. They were not given shelters from the weather until 1951 when Orlit Ltd of Colnbrook was employed to make prefabricated shelters. The posts in Buckinghamshire eventually had underground shelters from which to observe, but these prefab shelters may have been used early on.
After the Second World War RAF Westcott was not used for a year. In April 1946 the Ministry of Supply set up the Guided Projectile Establishment. Westcott was linked to Waltham Abbey gunpowder factory at first but testing rockets was too dangerous so close to London so all activity was transferred to Westcott, which was better because of its remoteness and the wide open space of the airfield.
Rocket motors for missiles and scientific investigation of the earth’s upper atmosphere were designed and tested at Westcott. During the years after the Second World War, Britain felt that it needed to develop more sophisticated weapons to defend itself against the threat of the Soviet Union and nuclear war.
The airfield kept one runway open for planes to come and go, but the other two runways were taken over as test facilities for solid fuel and liquid fuel motors. Large frames would hold rockets and observation buildings are set back from these to watch what happens from a distance. There were also buildings for analysing rocket components by X-ray and ultrasound to detect any problems. This site was transferred to a private business in 1984 and is now a business park, though the Ministry of Defence have offices there.
MI6, which was known as SIGINT (signals intelligence), maintained a series of secret radio transmitter sites in Buckinghamshire during the Cold War so that agents abroad could keep in touch with headquarters and for intercepting signals sent by enemy agents.
One of these sites was constructed at Creslow during the Second World War and used until the 1990s. Most of the buildings were then demolished and the radio mast bases taken out. This and the site at Gawcott, just south of Buckingham, were Numbers Stations, allowing British agents abroad to report. The Gawcott site is now known as Signal Hill and houses some industrial buildings and a school. The third site is at Poundon. This is now Tower Hill Business Park and houses various businesses.
The UK Regional Air Operations Centre was based in the underground buildings at what had been Bomber High Command, Naphill, High Wycombe from the 1970s. This was one of two main centres, the other being at West Drayton. Its purpose was to identify any airborne threats to Britain, whether planes or missiles. It would be kept in radio contact with several other stations where radars were scanned, so the whole of the UK could be protected.
If a threat of ballistic missiles was confirmed as real by all observation centres, the UKRAOC at High Wycombe would sound ‘attack warning red’ and start a sequence of events that would mean sirens and verbal warning messages would be broadcast from 7000 points across the UK, and broadcast to 19,000 rural warning points that had radio receivers. The BBC would also have been alerted to broadcast the warning on radio and, later, on television. The sirens were mostly taken down in the 1990s.
Why were all these facilities closed during the 1990s? What was happening at this time that meant they weren’t needed any more?
Go back to find out more about Buckinghamshire in the Wars.