Ministers plotted to hide existence of giant Cold War bunker

Government plotted to keep existence of giant Cold War bunker secret from the public during the 1960s in case it sparked panic over a nuclear attack

  • Files show ministers tried to hide the existence of a giant Cold War bunker 
  • In documents marked ‘top secret’, a cabal of ministers and civil servants detailed plans to bamboozle the public and Press about the purpose of the site  
  • Codenamed ‘Turnstile’, the subterranean fortress near Corsham, Wiltshire, was completed just before the Cuban missile crisis in 1962

While most of Britain was revelling in the Swinging Sixties, the Government was planning for World War Three.

Ministers desperately tried to hide the existence of a giant Cold War bunker where the political elite would flee in the event of a nuclear attack, files reveal. In documents marked ‘top secret’, a cabal of ministers and civil servants detailed plans to bamboozle the public and Press about the real purpose of the 34-acre site codenamed ‘Turnstile’.

The subterranean fortress near Corsham, Wiltshire, was completed just before the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. It was to be the base from which the UK would execute retaliatory strikes if it was hit by a nuclear attack.

Encased in concrete, it would house the country’s politicians, military chiefs and as many as 4,000 civil servants for up to three months. Despite years of subterfuge, officials believed its cover was about to be blown in March 1967, when protesters linked to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament allegedly learned of it.

Pictured: A map showing the location of a secret underground bunker in Wiltshire, which was to be the emergency second home of the UK Government in the event of London coming under siege in the 1960s

A newly-released 1967 Cabinet Office file warned: ‘There is some reason to believe that the organisers may suspect both the exact location and the true purpose of Turnstile.’

Officials dreamed up a cover story that described the facility as a base for ‘emergency facilities and public utilities’ in case of war. As part of the plan, which was circulated to just 35 people, ministers and officials called for a minimal police presence guarding the property so as not to arouse suspicion. Officials were also instructed to ‘brush off’ questions from journalists about the real nature of the project. One document read: ‘Every endeavour should be made to limit and discourage Press publication and speculation.’

Officials were told to ‘play down the importance’ of the site if asked about it. If suspicions were aroused, they could point the Press to the existence of a D-notice – an arrangement between the Government and media that prevents publication on security grounds.

In follow-up documents, the authors approvingly noted how the protests at the site were small and that media interest had been allayed.

In 1989 Margaret Thatcher declined to approve a £40million refit, believing the site redundant. It was used as an RAF communications centre until 1992 and decommissioned in 2004.

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