An undergrowth covered mound is Littleport’s secret link to the arms race of the Cold War
- Credit: Archant
Littleport has a secret dating back to the Cold War. In the latest edition the Littleport Society’s magazine, chairman Roger Rudderham reveals all with a special feature on the undergrowth covered mound and concrete hatch in Ely Road.
As Roger writes in his article at the end of the second world war the rivalry between Russia and America was growing with the pair of super powers locked in a terrifying arms race, building ever increasingly more deadly nuclear weapons.
With the weapons came the means to deliver them - long range bombers.
During the second world war the Royal Observer Corps had played a vital role giving early warning of incoming enemy aicraft like the German bombers, but they were disbanded at the end of the war.
But by 1947 they were back and as radar coverage of Britain grew and aircraft became faster their role changed dramatically.
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As Roger explains: “In 1958 the British Government signed a Mutual Defence Agreement with the USA. This allowed the Americans to place their nuclear devices on air bases in the East of England.
“Littleport was ringed by nuclear air bases, and was in a perilous position if an enemy strike had been made on any or all the bases.
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“There were three ‘Thor’ missile launch pads at RAF Mepal, B-47 bombers and nuclear weapon store at USAF Lakenheath; ‘Thor’ missile launch pads at RAF Tuddenham; a large nuclear bomb store at RAF Barham; V bombers and nuclear store at RAF Marham; ‘Thor’ missile launch pads at RAF Feltwell; V bombers and a nuclear store at RAF Honington; nuclear bomb store at USAF Mildenhall; and V bomber base at RAF Wyton.
“Between 1956 and 1960 the government ordered the construction of 1,563 underground monitoring posts, generally placed at 15 miles apart. One of these posts was constructed on Portley Hill, Littleport in 1960.”
To keep the locations secret they were all given a grid reference on maps that was different to where they actually were.
The underground bunker was approximately nine feet deep, with a 12 inch thick concrete floor, seven inch thick walls and eight inch thick roof and the whole was waterproofed with bitumen.
Inside it was small - with enough room for just three people - and it included a toilet, bunk beds, a desk and an area for monitoring equipment.
Instruments included the atomic weapons detection recognition and estimation of yield (AWDREY).
The Littleport Royal Observer Corps trained weekly at the bunker and also with other posts to simulate a nuclear strike. The bunker was kept in a continuous state of readiness stocked with tinned food and water.
The three people manning the bunker would be expected to remain in it and monitoring for three weeks following an attack.
Roger said: “Many of these bunkers were only in operation for a few years. The Littleport bunker was closed down in 1968 and the local Royal Observer Corps branch disbanded, although members were given an opportunity to join some of the surviving corps at Fordham, Sutton or March.
“The bunkers that were kept operational were eventually closed in 1991.”
• The Littleport Society is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. At the end of 2016 they had 1,211 members in 795 families and they claim to be the largest village heritage society in the world.
And as they say: “nobody has yet refuted that claim.” They also say with members all around the world: “the sun never sets on a Littleport Society member.”
To find out more visit: www.littleportsociety.org.uk