What secrets did Suffolk hide during the Cold War?

Control rooms such as the one at RAF Bentwaters played instrumental roles in the defence of Suffolk

Control rooms such as the one at RAF Bentwaters played instrumental roles in the defence of Suffolk and the west during the Cold War Picture: WATTISHAM STATION HERITAGE - Credit: WATTISHAM STATION HERITAGE

In an era of secrecy, during the days of the Cold War, Suffolk had something to hide – and came closer to nuclear war than most expect.

Professor John Allen played a leading role in the development of Britain's first nuclear bomb Pictu

Professor John Allen played a leading role in the development of Britain's first nuclear bomb Picture: ARCHANT

From Lakenheath to Woodbridge and Debach to Bawdsey, the county played an instrumental role in the United Kingdom - and the west's - frontline against the Warsaw Pact.

With American servicemen and women stationed across the county in bases including Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Woodbridge, Suffolk played host to fighters, bombers, missiles and bombs - as well as top secret security equipment.

Among the tightest secret sites was in Orford Ness, where between 1956 and 1972 testing was carried out to better understand the effects of nuclear weapons and their components.

Later at the site, the Americans worked on their top secret "Cobra Mist" project aimed to improve detection and tracking of aircraft, missiles and satellite launches from the enemy.

A replica of the Blue Danube nuclear bomb developed in part by Blythburgh man Professor John Allen P

A replica of the Blue Danube nuclear bomb developed in part by Blythburgh man Professor John Allen Picture: WATTISHAM STATION HERITAGE - Credit: WATTISHAM STATION HERITAGE


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Elsewhere, RAF Barnham, near Thetford, was built to store and maintain nuclear bombs - such as the Blue Danube, Britain's first nuclear weapon. A replica is still on display at the base today.

Its developer, Prof. John Allen of Blythburgh, recently passed away.

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A previous book written by historian Dan Sharp showed much of the county - including Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Felixstowe, were in the blast radius for Soviet attacks on military bases.

Now, that history has been told in the latest DVD by the museum at Wattisham Airfield, which is set to be displayed at a new exhibition next year.

The volunteer museum hopes the DVD - which includes an interview with Prof. Allen - will be used in local schools to educate children on Suffolk's secret history.

Museum curator Maggie Aggiss said: "There was so much more going on behind the scenes and under the ground that people didn't know about - they would have been terrified if they did.

"We were actually on the brink of nuclear war over three times more than people think - and Suffolk played a role in that."

Ms Aggiss said those who wish to learn more about the region's history during the era can visit the museum by booking a visit online, or buy the DVD on their website.

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