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Cold War structures at the former Upper Heyford Airbase

A Scheduled Monument in Somerton, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.9421 / 51°56'31"N

Longitude: -1.2433 / 1°14'35"W

OS Eastings: 452110.713

OS Northings: 227340.7497

OS Grid: SP521273

Mapcode National: GBR 8WT.BG9

Mapcode Global: VHCWW.DGK0

Entry Name: Cold War structures at the former Upper Heyford Airbase

Scheduled Date: 30 November 2006

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021399

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30906

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Somerton

Built-Up Area: Upper Heyford

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Somerton

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


A group of Cold War structures at the former Upper Heyford Airbase comprising
five distinct areas of protection. These are, firstly, the QRA (quick
reaction alert) or Victoria Alert Hardened Aircraft Shelter complex,
including aircraft shelters, security fence, watch tower, fuel supply point
and hardened crew building; and, secondly, to the north-east, the Northern
Bomb Stores and Special Weapons Area contained within a security fence;
thirdly, the Avionics Maintenance Facility; the fourth area of protection is
the hardened Telephone Exchange; and fifth, the Battle Command Centre.
Upper Heyford Airfield has a long history of military aviation activity which
spans the 20th century. It retains a number of buildings and elements of its
earlier World War II phases but its most important and unusual structures
relate to its Cold War phase.
The United States Air Force began to operate nuclear bombers at Upper Heyford
in the 1950s and it is during this phase that the Northern Bomb Stores were
built. These consisted of four individual concrete mounded `Igloo' stores
built within a double fenced enclosure, a feature which typifies the
protection against ground attack of nuclear facilities in the period. At each
corner of this complex stood an octagonal guard tower on a concrete base. All
but one of these towers have since been removed but the bases remain. As more
specialised nuclear weapons and delivery systems were developed, the storage
needs changed and a further double fenced Special Weapons Storage Area was
built immediately to the west. This included a guardhouse and pillbox
controlled entrance and a set of two rows of a total of twenty one Igloo
cells for storing weapons. In addition, a further large Igloo store was also
constructed along with a trigger store; built in concrete with no windows but
disguised externally to look like a double storey office block.
During the 1970s the change in aircraft design and capability led to a new
policy of all weather and around-the-clock quick reaction. It was at this
time that the key hardened buildings began to be constructed with a view to
co-ordinating a NATO counter-attack to any pre-emptive strike by the Warsaw
Pact. This included a hardened Battle Command Centre from which aircraft
could be controlled and the airfield defence organised, a hardened telephone
exchange to provide secure landline links around the field and to other NATO
sites, and the Avionics Maintenance Facility. These structures all had
decontamination facilities and generators to allow them to function after an
attack. The Avionics facility was designed to continue to maintain aircraft,
primarily F-111, for as long as possible after an attack, even when the
aircraft were contaminated. Its size and construction reflect this. The
aircraft themselves were housed, when on alert, in the Victoria Alert
Hardened Aircraft Shelter complex, a complex of nine massive hardened
aircraft shelters within a double fenced compound. The shelters each measured
21.5 metres wide by 36.6 metres long and stood up to 10 metres above ground
level. Each housed a single 'ready to roll' aircraft and the complex also
included hardened crew facilities, access to fuel and a steel Brunswick watch
In 1986 F-111s from Upper Heyford and Lakenheath attracted worldwide
attention for a retaliatory strike on Libya, while in 1990 Upper Heyford's
F-111s participated in operations Desert Shield after Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait and Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait. In 1993 in the defence draw-down
after the end of the Cold War, and in part due to the obsolescence of the
F-111, the aircraft was withdrawn from the base. Shortly afterwards Upper
Heyford was returned to the RAF which declared it surplus to military needs.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The archaeological remains of the Cold War are the physical manifestation of
the global division between capitalism and communism that shaped the history
of the late 20th century. Of particular resonance are the remains of the
Cold War airbases, with their nuclear weapon capability which defined the
military strategy of the period. This was based on providing a nuclear
deterrent to the perceived threat to Western Europe from the Soviet Union.
From the early 1950s, the doctrine of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) with
its emphasis on the early use of nuclear weapons and massive retaliation led
to the creation of ever larger and more advanced stockpiles of weapons and
the necessary infrastructure to maintain and deliver them to their targets.
Following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 and partly as a result of changing
military technology, the potentially apocalyptic policy of MAD, with its
reliance on wholesale nuclear retaliation to a Soviet attack, was replaced
during the 1960s and 1970s by the more pragmatic doctrine of `flexible
response' designed to provide a graduated reaction to any Soviet aggression.
Upper Heyford is representative of both the above strategic doctrines. During
the 1950s, when it was one of the four main American bases in England used by
the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC), Upper Heyford hosted the long range
strategic nuclear bombers, such as the B-47 Stratojet, which were the West's
strike force prior to the development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles
(ICBM) in the early 1960s. The Northern Bomb Stores at Upper Heyford are
illustrative of this period.
The introduction of the ICBM and the long range B-52 Stratofortress, as well
as the creation of Britain's nuclear armed V-force and US economy drives and
involvement in the Vietnam War, meant that there was little development on US
airbases during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, the new tactics
developed as a result of the `flexible response' strategy included the basing
of the sophisticated F-111 all weather bombers at Upper Heyford. The primary
role of these aircraft was to carry NATO's intermediate-range nuclear weapons
and to be effective in this role they needed to be ready for immediate
take-off and were therefore permanently armed and located in `quick reaction
alert' areas. The 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War highlighted the vulnerability
of aircraft in unprotected shelters and from the early 1970s, under the
European Defence Improvement Programme, NATO began to build hardened shelters
to ensure that sufficient forces would remain in the event of a Soviet
pre-emptive strike to mount a counter-attack. This resulted in a range of new
structures and security compounds at bases both in Germany and Britain
including Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HASs), Hardened Avionics Maintenance
buildings, Hardened Telephone Exchanges and Hardened Battle Command Centres,
all contributing to the infrastructure required to protect and maintain
aircraft capable of rapid launch in the event of a conflict with the Soviet
Upper Heyford therefore retains some of the key buildings related to the Cold
War policy of deterrents. Within the context of Upper Heyford as a whole,
they form an iconic group of related and nationally important Cold War

Source: Historic England

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