Europeans were well aware that any land war in Europe
might go nuclear
very quickly. And it was entirely possible a conventional-cum-limited European nuclear war might easily fall out of the bounds of the MAD
doctrine. Few Europeans believed America would sacrifice New York and LA for Berlin and London.
While the power brokers in USA and the USSR
diddled about ICBM
s and signed grandiose SALT
treaties, trading MIRV
for MIRV, and inventing concepts like "build down
", the bagillion short- and medium-range warheads NATO
and Warsaw Pact
armies had in Europe were always off the table. Europe: nuke 'em 'til they glow
seemed to be the only watch word.
During the '70s and '80s the Soviets was busily deploying a vast range of modern missiles in Europe (at a rate of one SS-20
per week). However, the other super power, the USA, was not entirely free to base new warheads in NATO nations. While the European generals would feel safer, the people of Europe wouldn't feel any safer with a seeming escalation in their backyards. Joe Europe would happily make his views known at the ballot box
By the late '70s, the medium ranged missiles NATO had in Europe (the Pershing I
) were older than then soldiers operating them. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, enough politicians in Europe were sufficiently spooked by the Soviets seeming willingness to push out its borders, particularly in the direction of fat, juicy oil fields Europe relied on to grease its economic engine.
The US and the European NATO powers struck a deal to accept new Pershing II
missiles and a new generation of ground launched cruise missile
s. The first European base to accept these missiles was the RAF
's Greenham Common airbase.
Sending cruise missile
s to England had the same effect on the English collective consciousness as maybe rebuilding the World Trade Center
and having the opening ceremonies sponsored by Boeing, with lots of banners for the 767 and 757 dangling about. You know, some things just aren't funny. The English, of course, still remembered the last time someone sent them cruise missiles. That would have been a Mr. Hitler, who kindly delivered hundreds of V-1
s" to the door steps of Londoners.
Greenham Common accepted Europe's first consignment of cruise missiles in 1983. They were originally to be deployed on November 1st but that was delayed when the USA invaded Grenada
. The USA deploying nuclear weapons in Europe the same day it was battling Communist Cubans in Grenada would be far too chilling to the Soviet leadership. The Soviet leadership, of course, was absolutely terrified of these new high precision, undetectable weapons coming to Europe. They could easily fly under Soviet radar and were pin-point accurate. NATO could quickly wipe out the entire Warsaw C&C structure in Eastern Europe without a blip appearing on a radar scope. It was later revealed that the Soviets feared the weapons so much they were actually considering a nuclear strike in response to the basing of these weapons.
November 14th, 1983 was the day the missiles were actually delivered. The protests by the British people were immediate and unrelenting. While some of the protestors engaged in acts of violence (one man drove his truck through a gate and was nearly successful in ramming the missile transport while it was unloading missiles!) the media fixated on the actions of the Greenham Mothers
, a group of mothers who represented the best traditions of passive resistance
In 1992, British Intelligence uncovered startling evidence that Soviet commandoes had infiltrated the protestors and used the protests as opportunities to case the base. The commandoes had a secret cache
of buried weapons and were to use them to blow up the base if given the word by the KGB
The missiles themselves remained in Greenham Common until 1991 when NATO announced all the missiles had been removed. The last 16 cruise missiles were removed from Greenham Common on March 5th 1991.
A few years later the base was completely closed. In 1997, this Cold War landmark
was redeveloped into a public park and a business park. Much of the concrete used to make the base's runway and the missiles' hardened shelter
s were recycled for use in a public highway project.
While Greenham Common became a symbol in the '80s as a torrid
, ugly three way battle ground between the Super Power
s and the common people of Europe, between 1979 and 1981 Greenham Common was a popular airstrip for civilian glider
pilots. In 1980, the base was also used as a proving ground for the Thrust 2
supercar, which eventually broke the land speed record in 1983.