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The Secret Nuclear Bunker Built as the UK’s Last Hope via BBC

Dug for an underground ‘shadow factory’ for aircraft during World War Two, the Drakelow tunnels were re-purposed as a nuclear bunker to be used by the UK government. We went inside.

Deep beneath a hill in the Worcestershire countryside, about 20 miles west of Birmingham, lie a series of hidden tunnels. Once home to a secret aeroplane factory during World War Two, they were later repurposed to protect the UK in the event of a nuclear war: it’s from here that the government would have continued to run the country.

“This would have been the last resort of the UK government,” says Michael Scott, a volunteer with the Drakelow Preservation Trust, which is restoring the site. The Trust’s aim is to reopen parts of the tunnels as a museum to preserve their history in World War Two and the Cold War. But the organisation remains some years away from finishing the work, and without much funding, the volunteers are restricted mostly to repainting walls.

Given how important they once were, it seems surprising that the tunnels are all but forgotten today.


Adit A shows many signs of the alterations that were made to Drakelow Tunnels to retrofit it for use as a nuclear bunker – including covered air vents that would have protected those inside from fallout. Through the heavy steel door, visitors would have had to strip, incinerate their clothes and shower as they decontaminated themselves.


Deep impact

As you might expect from an assembly line, never mind one confined underground, Drakelow was designed for efficiency. Walking around the 250,000sqft site, it’s hard not to notice the number of toilets in each tunnel. “The idea was to make sure that workers spent as little time as possible going to the toilet,” says Scott. “They wanted to keep employees on the shop floor for as long as possible so they could keep churning out parts.”

The workers ate underground, too – a canteen capable of feeding 700 employees sits in the middle of the site. Ovens, potato peelers, dough mixers and hotplates rust slowly in the damp air.


Having seen the effect of a nuclear attack in Japan, the British government commissioned the Strath Committee, led by head of the Central War Plans Secretariat William Strath, to analyse the potential effects of a nuclear attack on the UK. In 1955 the committee published the Strath Report which found that even a ‘limited’ attack would have devastating consequences. Food and water would be contaminated, the NHS would be overwhelmed with four million serious casualties and 12 million deaths, and industry would shut down. In short, the “social and economic fabric of the country [would be] destroyed”.


“We would love to reopen the site to the public,” says Scott. “It’s one of very few sites in the UK with such an important involvement in both World War Two and the Cold War. There are a few shadow factories, but not many that are easily accessible or that weren’t destroyed after the war, or that are as interesting as Drakelow. And there are several Regional Seats of Government – some of which are now museums – but they’re either much smaller or purpose-built, so to us are much less interesting.”

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