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RAF Wittering: nuclear fissile core stores, buildings A09, A10, A11, A14, A15, A27, Vw28, A29 and A33

A Grade II* Listed Building in Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire

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Latitude: 52.6031 / 52°36'11"N

Longitude: -0.5028 / 0°30'9"W

OS Eastings: 501495

OS Northings: 301643

OS Grid: TF014016

Mapcode National: GBR FW9.ZMD

Mapcode Global: WHGM3.7TVR

Entry Name: RAF Wittering: nuclear fissile core stores, buildings A09, A10, A11, A14, A15, A27, Vw28, A29 and A33

Listing Date: 11 July 2011

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1402763

Location: Easton on the Hill, East Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire, PE8

County: Northamptonshire

District: East Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Easton on the Hill

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Easton-on-the-Hill All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough

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Nine nuclear bomb fissile core storage buildings, constructed in September and October 1952 and designed by the Air Ministry Works Department as part of the United Kingdom and NATO strategic airborne nuclear deterrent.


MATERIALS: Each building is of stretcher-bond buff brick under a shaped flat concrete roof.

PLAN: They are single-cell buildings, six of which are arranged on a square plan for the reception of single cores and three are rectangular to accommodate two fissile cores.

EXTERIOR: Each store or 'hutch' is of one storey and is approached by a concrete path and consists of a square or rectangular block with a single timber four-panelled door clad on the exterior with sheet steel under a plain concrete lintel. Some of the doors retain their original locking mechanisms. There are no other openings. The flat roofs are of shuttered concrete with an irregular wavy profile which casts a shadow similar to that of small trees, designed to confuse aerial observation.

INTERIOR: Each 'hutch' has an electric tubular heater opposite the doorway (some of these have been replaced with hot-water radiators) and there are small double-pole electrical junction boxes and Bakelite switches for the single overhead light. The floors are of concrete and set within them are the fissile core receptacles in the form of single cylindrical stainless-steel flasks contained in a raised concrete collar. The lids are counterweighted, rotate when open and are locked by a simple turn-catch and spigot. Three of the stores have the flasks off-set from the centre to allow space for a second flask, but all second flasks have been removed and the floor re-concreted.


RAF Wittering was established in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps and saw considerable usage in both World Wars; after a period as the main RAF flying school, it became a fighter aerodrome in 1935. The advent of the Cold War and the development of the atomic bomb resulted in the selection of ten existing military airfields in the early 1950s as the main bases for the V-force, which carried Britain's airborne nuclear deterrent from 1953 to 1969, this formed a central part of Britain's and NATO's policy of preventing nuclear war by the threat of unleashing the nuclear bomber force. Wittering is the pre-eminent example of an airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force. It was also the home of the Bomber Command Armament School. The main runway, 2,743 metres long, was re-laid in concrete replacing the existing asphalt runway created in 1940-42, when the neighbouring runway of Collyweston airfield was incorporated into an unusally long overall lay-out. A wide-span Gaydon hangar for the Canberra B2 bombers was constructed along with a new control tower, avionics building and nuclear storage and maintenance facilities. The first British operational atomic bomb, the Blue Danube, was deployed to RAF Wittering in November 1953. The first V-bombers (the Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan) were delivered in July 1955. In 1957-58 tests were carried out at Wittering of the first British hydrogen bomb, which was fitted into the existing Blue Danube casing. Four Valiant bombers flew out of Wittering to Christmas Island in the Pacific one of them dropping the first device on 15 May 1957.

To counter improved Soviet air defences and to extend the life of the V-force a rocket-propelled stand-off missile, the Blue Steel, was developed in 1966 and fitted to Victor bombers. Wittering and RAF Scampton were the only two V-bomber bases to house this weapon. For this purpose new ground facilities were built for its storage and maintenance. These facilities, with the other nine V-bomber bases, constituted Britain's principal nuclear deterrent through the 1960s. However, in the late 1960s NATO's nuclear deterrent policy changed to that of a submarine-based force, as a consequence the requirement for airborne-delivered nuclear weapons disappeared. Accordingly the V-force was disbanded and in 1969 RAF Wittering became the principal base for the Harrier VTOL aircraft.

The fissile core storage buildings, also known as 'hutches', are among the most specialised military buildings ever built. The nine at RAF Wittering are the only ones which retain their stainless steel flasks with their lids, in which the cores were stored, and are also the only ones with a wavy camouflage roof. They are the first of four types of core stores developed between 1952 and the 1970s, and survive at Wittering with their associated six Type-1 bomb casing bunkers, located immediately adjacent at the extreme south-west corner of the airfield, for safety reasons. Four RAF bases were provided with this type of core store (the others are at Waddington in Lincolnshire, Marham in Norfolk and Honington in Suffolk), but those at Wittering are the most intact and were the first to be built in the United Kingdom. RAF Wittering housed the Bomber Command Armament School and was where the atomic bomb became operational in Britain.

Reasons for Listing

The Fissile Core Stores at RAF Wittering, built in 1952, are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* RARITY AND INTACTNESS- They are exceptionally rare and the most complete survivals of fissile core stores specifically designed for arming nuclear bombs during the Cold War.
* HISTORIC INTEREST- They are the earliest such fissile core stores built on an operating airfield in Britain. Wittering is where the Bomber Command Armament School was housed, and where the atomic bomb became operational in Britain.
* The building is a major component of the pre-eminent example of an airfield landscape that was completely reconstructed for the deployment of Britain's principal deterrent force in the post-war years.
* GROUP VALUE- They form a group with four other buildings on the site which together provided the means of maintenance, preparation and delivery of Britain's nuclear weapons. Of the ten former British V-bomber bases, Wittering is the only one which retains all of these elements.

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