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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 1999, 17:45 GMT
Military history of the common
RAF Greenham Common became home to the US Army Air Force in November 1943, when the 354th Fighter Group moved in.

The Air Ministry had recognised two years previously that additional airfields were going to be needed across the country to counter the Nazi Blitzkrieg.

It earmarked Greenham Common, near Newbury in Berkshire, for a bomber operational training unit, and title for the land was obtained from Newbury District Council in May 1941.

Up until that point, the common had been an unfenced area of grass and scrub land.

As the D-day invasion drew nearer, additional forces were assigned to the base, and its mission changed direction.

Following Operation Overlord, the Americans moved their entire operation to France and Greenham Common reverted to RAF control until it was closed in 1946.

However, in the 50s, Cold War fears led to the site being reopened and the Americans coming back.

In 1951 it became an advance base for the US Strategic Air Command and US military personnel moved in. The base was turned over to USAF operational control in June 1953.

Over the next two years the runway was rebuilt to withstand the weight of SAC heavy bombers.

In 1961 Greenham Common was deactivated - but reopened in 1964, when it also became a NATO standby base.

NATO said that its decision in 1979 - leaked to the Guardian newspaper by civil servant Sarah Tisdall - to base ground cruise missiles at Greenham Common was in response to the Soviet Union's building up of theatre nuclear forces.

It was in response to this announcement that what was to become the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp first protested at the base.

Peace demonstrations were at their peak in the mid 1980s, but protesters have been present - albeit in small numbers since the end of the Cold War - right up to the present day.

In 1987 Ronald Regan, presidented of the United States of America, and Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It established a scheduled for the destruction of intermediate weaponry.

The treaty was ratified in 1988 and marked the end of the Cold War. By March 1991, the last of the missiles had left Greenham Common, scheduled for destruction in the Arizona desert.

Over the following 18 months, the USAF gradually withdrew and the base was formally handed back to the RAF in 1992. Three weeks later the RAF handed the base over to the Defence Land Agent.

Although the military has pulled out of Greenham Common, it still owns three areas - including the silos - which are available for the Russians to inspect under the terms of the INF treaty. The last such inspection was in January 1998.

The most recent owners of the site, the Greenham Common Trust, states on its website: "The Greenham Common Trust is pressing for the sites to be released from the treaty so that they can be put to beneficial use for the local community.

"Our Russian friends will of course always be welcome to visit them."

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sarah tisdall
'The Guardian should have protected it sources'

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