Nuclear fears led to secret UK survey of shelters

Public Record Office: Bomb protection plans
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fears of a nuclear war led the Government in 1947 to begin a secret survey of caves and underground tunnels throughout the UK which could have housed thousands of people.

Fears of a nuclear war led the Government in 1947 to begin a secret survey of caves and underground tunnels throughout the UK which could have housed thousands of people.

The project, revealed in documents made public for the first time yesterday, was carried out under a publicity ban in which Ministry of Works officials, who were compiling the information, could not even ask local authorities for help.

A Home Office memo dated November 1947, released by the Public Record Office, said: "The shelters would seem to provide complete protection against all the effects of the atomic bomb as used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

The move followed the detonation of those two bombs in August 1945, which ended the Second World War, and further tests of atomic bombs by the US military in 1946 on Bikini Atoll.

The sites identified include old rail tunnels at Ramsgate which could hold 33,000 people, Chislehurst Caves which could hold 10,000, tunnels at Dover which could contain 10,000, various facilities at Stockport for 13,000 and others in Newcastle, Portsmouth and Birkenhead.

The Civil Defence department noted that the public would be aware that shelters from the last war were being removed because they were obsolete, but that people "would probably react strongly to a suggestion that in a future war no effective provision can be made for the protection of the public on account of the high cost."

A memo from from 1948 added there was probably a "vast amount" of underground shelter which "might serve a useful purpose in any war". "There is therefore an urgent need for a survey to be undertaken of existing and potential underground accommodation, natural caves, disused mines and underground workings of all types," it adds.

Comments