Whatever happened to Greenham Common airbase?
Greenham Business Park is surrounded by Greenham Common which has been, for most of its history, a valuable piece of common land and a shared sustainable resource for local farmers and cottagers. But this has not always been the case. Early in World War II the War Ministry acquired Greenham Common and it was taken over for military use and transformed into an airbase. On December the 12th 1944, 33 American servicemen were killed in a glider accident at Greenham Common. The glider’s two pilots, along with 31 paratroopers onboard died at the military airbase, when the glider crashed shortly after take off. To commemorate this tragedy Greenham Common Trust, the owner of Greenham Business Park, has a policy of naming new buildings and roads at the business park in honour of those who died in the crash. Just three days later servicemen from the 368th and 423rd squadrons of the 306th Bombing Group were returning from a tough mission in the industrial heartland of Kassel when their two B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers collided, killing all but two of the 18 crew. Each December a memorial service to remember those that died in the Glider accident is held at Greenham Business Park. Greenham Common Trust has also agreed to help Newbury Royal British Legion raise money for a new memorial to mark both tragedies and to recognise the important part that Greenham Common played in the preparations for D-Day. A memorial fundraising brochure has also been produced to help raise support for the new memorial. Please click here to find out more. The 17th Airborne Division Association (in the USA) is keen to hear from any relatives of the victims of this glider crash. If you wish to make contact with the association please e-mail us and we will pass on your enquiry. Click here to see a copy of an article regarding this tragedy that appeared in "Thunder From Heaven" the official news bulletin of the 17th Airborne Division Association in September 2005. Greenham was prominent in the glider based offensive launched in 1945, and it was at Greenham that Dwight D. Eisenhower made his famous ‘Eyes of the world‘ speech in advance of D-Day.
General Eisenhower talks to camouflaged paratroopers waiting to board C-47 Skytrains, 5th June 1944.
For a brief period after 1947 the military left the Common, but the onset of the Cold War brought it back into military occupation. During 1950 an agreement was reached between the US and British governments for the US Air Force to redevelop and reactivate four airfields, including Greenham Common. In the late 1950s the runways were extended with two 1,000 foot overruns added at each end of the runway, this was to provide aircrews an increased safety margin in addition to 12,000 feet of runway. At this point the Greenham Common airbase reputedly had the longest runway of any airbase or airport in Europe.
As the Cold War progressed Greenham was home to a variety of tactical aircraft, but in the late 1970‘s a Nato decision was taken that would bring nuclear weapons to Greenham and make the airbase world famous for the peace protests that it attracted. More site history: 1980-1992 The era of Cruise Missiles and the Greenham Common peace camps