Jeffrey LewisNo Nukes At Lakenheath

Well, maybe they aren’t, after all.

As we discussed last week in the comments, there are no U.S. nuclear weapons at Lakenheath Air Base.

The non-presence of U.S. nuclear weapons was confirmed by several sources to Hans Kristensen last week, which is pretty much consistent with what I’ve heard.

Hans thinks they came out after the 2004 deployment authorization — which is plausible. There was certainly a reduction in 2004. There were also reports in 1996 that the US withdrew nuclear weapons from Lakenheath.

The bottom line is that the number of nuclear weapons in Europe is probably around 200.

No word yet on what the folks with the Lakenheath Action Group will do now.

Maybe I can get one of those missile suits on eBay …


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Here is the 1996 article from the London Sunday Telegraph, as reprinted in the Montreal Gazette.

    The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)

    October 27, 1996, Sunday, FINAL EDITION

    U.S. nukes out of Britain



    LENGTH: 311 words


    American nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from Britain, ending their 35-year presence on British soil, defence experts said last night.

    The secure compound used to store the bombs at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk – the only place in Britain where U.S. nuclear weapons had been kept – was deserted and unguarded last night.
    Its gates were open, armed security patrols with dogs withdrawn and watch towers unmanned.

    “We believe that nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from Lakenheath,” said Stephen Young, nuclear analyst for the British American Security Information Council, a think-tank which analyzes defence policies.

    “It is a continuing sign of the decreasing role for nuclear weapons in security.”

    The Pentagon in Washington refused to comment on the claim. The removal of the bombs would not be a shattering military change. Hundreds still remain on the European continent, and stocks could be rapidly moved here. The U.S. strategic nuclear-missile umbrella and Britain’s own independent nuclear deterrent remain. Politically, however, a pullout would be more significant.

    “If this is true, it closes a very significant chapter in the history of Anglo-American relations,” said Eddie Goncalves of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “Britain’s role as America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier could be coming to an end.”

    “European-based nuclear weapons may not have the same role to play in policing the Middle East as they did in defending against the Soviet Union,” said Malcolm Spaven, a defence analyst. “There is clearly less need for them now.”

    No other operational U.S. bases in Britain have the facilities to store the weapons, B61 nuclear gravity bombs. It is possible, but highly unlikely, that the bombs could have been moved to the mothballed storage facilities at one of Britain’s disused U.S. bases such as Upper Heyford.

  2. Gridlock (History)

    We’re an advanced bunch here in the UK, we’ve moved onto the desirability (or lack thereof) of being one of the forward deployments of ABM radars (Fylingdales) yet being outside the coverage of any ABM shield.

    How about USN’s warheads – I believe they used to be stored at Macrihanish along with a SEAL team (giving rise to numerous “Aurora”-type speculation as well, due to the 12,500ft runway on this remote Scottish mull)?

    We do still have perhaps the USAF’s largest overseas ammo dump though, in the form of RAF Welford.

    RAF Fairford (historically one of the larger USAF bases here) currently has the distinctive climate-control shelters needed to house B-2, so I wonder whether there’s WS3s here?

  3. Hans Kristensen

    The 1996 report doesn’t fit the November 2000 weapons deployment authorization, which authorized 110 B61 bombs for Lakenheath. We’re now back down to the inventory size estimate that was used in the late 1990s and early part of this decade, although some of the locations have changed. But other than trying to avoid a public debate, can anyone tell me why this is secret?

  4. John Bragg (History)

    Does that mean the US nuclear umbrella no longer covers UK?

    US guarantee to UK no longer as credible?

    Because that’s why we have nukes in Europe, right? Credibility or symbolism or something?

  5. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Yes, the house of cards is looking very flimsy at this particular moment.

    In the long run, the best argument for withdrawal is to stop pretending that the alliance is based on shared hardware, when it is really based on shared interests and sacrifice.

    Really, would you be more deterred by 200 obsolete B61s or the memory of Omaha Beach?

  6. Twiddle (History)

    in reply to what will lakenheath action group do now…..
    USAF Lakenheath is the home to more than just the nukes, and we are not just a ‘ not in our bck yard’ group…Cluster bombs are still being deployed even after recent UK support for a ban. They are still involved in the bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been talk of the base being used for Interceptor Missiles for National Missile Defence too. Could this be part of the reason for the move?
    And where have the B-61’s gone? How where they taken there? And are they coming back?
    Any one have any idea?

    I believe that Lakenheath is the only place in UK that has WS3’s, 33 in total, these where put in place in 1995, so to remove the nukes in 1996 does not make sense…

    Could the move be down to the security issues stated in the Blue ribbon Report? As they must have known the issues way before the report was written.
    As some of us who have entered USAF Lakenheath know, the security is far from up to scratch!

    But what I know for sure that those of us who are against the on going military aggression will be keeping up the protest and keeping an eye on what is going on at the largest US air base in Europe.
    P.S you don’t have to wear a white paper suit to be a supporterof LAG, so no need to bid on ebay!

  7. Felix (History)

    <blockquote>The bottom line is that the number of nuclear weapons in Europe is probably around 200.</blockquote>

    Does this number include France’s and UK’s own weapons? If so, the number should be somewhat higher, shouldn’t it?

  8. Ak Malten (History)

    Dear Felix,

    sorry to say, but your quote is out of context. We are discussing the “US” B61 Bombs deployed in Europe here…

    But yes, you are right to point out the total number of deployed Nuclear Weapons, including the “US” B61 Bombs, in Europe is much higher:

    Where are they situated:

    Information on the deployed Nuclear Weapons in Europe can be found at:

    Ak Malten,
    Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance

  9. Stephen Young (History)

    Thanks for digging out the ’96 article quoting me – I had just been about to go look for it myself.

    In fact, rather than withdrawn, in 1996 the warheads in the UK had simply been moved from the old igloos to WS3 vaults in the airplane silos. At the time, I was both slightly misquoted and generally speculating after being told that the igloos were standing empty.

    Personally, the most interesting part of the ’96 escapade for me was being told by a former Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) staffer that I would now be a target for British intelligence, and that I should be careful in the tube as I might “accidentally” fall in one day. I never saw any evidence to this effect.