Nuclear Bunkers in the UK
The Cold War stand off
between the USA & Soviet Union meant the fear of a Russian nuclear
attack was never far away. The British Government required a base to
lead from should the feared nuclear attack materialise. The building
of four large underground bunkers (known as R4's) was ordered.
The construction of
these bunkers was an immense undertaking. The ground was excavated
to a depth of 125ft. A layer of gravel 20ft thick was then used as a
shock absorber to cushion the shock wave from any nuclear blast. The
supporting walls were 10 ft thick and had tungsten reinforcing rods
placed at 6 inch intervals for additional strength. The outer walls
were then covered in brickwork, over which a layer of wire netting
had been placed and soaked in pitch. Not only would this help
prevent water ingress, it would also make the perfect "Faraday
Cage", thus preventing any electronic equipment housed inside the
bunker from being susceptible to the Electro-Magnetic Pulse caused
by nuclear detonation. All internal doors were also lined with metal
to aid the protection of the equipment. Concrete rafts were placed
on top of the structure, followed by 15 foot of soil to add extra
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The sites for the four
bunkers were Box, Shipton, Bawburgh and Kelvedon Hatch. The Kelvedon
Hatch bunker was only 25 miles from central London, and 6 miles from
the North Weald RAF base. The bunker was completed by 4th August
An innocent looking
woodland path, leading to the secret bunker.
At the end of the
path, a fairly conventional bungalow. Or is it?
The roof is, in fact,
An ordinary bungalow
or an entrance to a secret nuclear bunker
built to protect the British Government? You decided. *
The entrance corridor
leading to large steel blast doors. *
Space is limited
underground. Bunk beds are situated even in corridors. *
These generators were
used to provide electricity to power the bunker. *
The BBC radio room.
This would have been where the Prime Minister
would have spoken to [the remains] of the British nation. *
Teams of civil
servants would have co-ordinated county council's response
for up to two months after the initial attack. *
The Prime Minister's
Personal Quarters *
The back entrance to
the bunker. If the main blast doors were blocked this was the only
other way out. If this was blocked, there was no escape. As the
bunker was secret, no one would come to rescue the occupants.......
no one would know they were there.
A small communication
mast would have been used to communicate to local authorities.
Telephone wires buried deep underground would have provided a vital
link to other Government bunkers, and the armed services.
To enable the
occupants of the bunker to communicate with the outside world a
large mast was constructed several miles away, so as not to attract
* These Kelverdon Hatch pictures © Target
As well as these
large, strategic bunkers, smaller constructions were erected at
numerous points around the county. One, which until
recently, was open to the public was...
Furze Hill bunker is
an example of an Anti Aircraft Operations Room (AAOR) bunker.
Twenty-seven of these were initially built around Britain. Their
role was to act as command centres for the deployment and firing of
anti-aircraft batteries. Construction of the bunker began in 1951.
The project cost £500,000, which in today’s terms would equate to
The advent of the jet
engine, which allowed an enemy aircraft to approach more rapidly
than a propeller driven aircraft, effectively made these sites all
but redundant by 1954.
Although the bunker
was not constructed to survive a direct hit from a nuclear weapon,
the walls are 2 ft thick, re-enforced with steel mesh. The roof is
around a three foot thick, and the foundations are approximately
nine foot in depth. All entrances are protected by heavy blast doors
made from military grade tank steel.
If warning of an
attack came the bunker would have been hermetically sealed and those
inside would have begun the task of co-ordinating vital emergency
services within the County and plotting the sites of bomb bursts.
fallout would be a real danger to those within the bunker should
particles of radioactive elements get into the bunker. The
ventilation & air conditioning were vital to ensure the safety of
those working within. Normally fresh air would be drawn into the
site from the outside. This would be warmed or cooled as required
dependant on the ambient temperature. During a nuclear attack the
air in the bunker would be automatically recirculated and cleaned by
large filter banks. During recirculation all the air in the bunker
would be cleaned once per hour. This system would be able to provide
"fresh" air for the occupants of the bunker for up to twenty days.
Once an attack had
taken place the civil servants would need to communicate with
emergency services, the military and Government. This communication
would have been conducted using telephone cables buried deep
underground, and shielded from the effects of a nuclear explosion.
The bunker had its own telephone exchange. This exchange originally
housed "dolls eye" manual exchanges. However, a refit which took
place in 1980 removed this system and replaced it with the more
modern digital exchange. These allowed over 500 outside lines to be
connected to over 150 internal extensions within the bunker. The
sensitive electronics used by the exchange were housed in special
green cabinets which shielded them from the effects of the EMP pulse
produced when a nuclear devise is detonated.
The map room would be
used to plot all bomb bursts in the locality. As reports were
telephoned in by official observers scientists could calculate the
exact location, strength and effects of the blast. This data would
then be collated with predicted weather patterns from the MET
Office. Thus allowing the scientists to calculate where any fallout
would be likely to spread too.
When fully manned the
bunker would hold around 90 – 100 personnel. There was not enough
space for the construction of dormitories large enough to
accommodate so many people. Thus a system of hot beds was used. This
simply meant that personnel took it in turns to sleep for six hours
in the beds available, after this time they would return to their
stations and a colleague would then use the bed for his or her six
hours of rest.
The centre of the
bunker housed the Central Operations Room. This was the nerve centre
of the establishment and it was from here that all the available
data from the outside would be analysed and acted upon.
Representatives from each County Council department would liase with
officers from the military and fire, ambulance and police services.
This room contained the infamous war telephones which, should an
attack have been imminent would have received the three minute
The radio room was
used to monitor radio traffic and although any broadcasts from the
bunker would have been send via telephone lines to the main
transmitters located several miles away, should these have been
damaged or destroyed, then smaller back up transmitters could have
During a time of
heighten tension the UK would have been divided into 18 regions.
Each would have its own Regional Government HQ (RGHQ), which would
have been used to co-ordinate and administer Government business up
to and after an attack. The RGHQ would have been controlled by a
senior civil servant, who in turn, would have taken orders directly
from the UK Combined HQ, Cabinet War Office or from the chief’s of
staff or Prime Minster located in an airborne command centre.
Centre (Comcen) would be the hub of all communications both into and
out of the site. Vast amounts of stationery were stored here, and as
information poured in it would be sorted and taken around the
building to the relevant departments.
Visit the links page
to find out more about nuclear bunkers which are open to the public.