Brighton’s secret plans to cope in event of nuclear war

AS AMERICAN President Joe Biden warns the risk of a nuclear “armageddon” is at its highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, The Argus has uncovered declassified documents from the council which reveal how Brighton would have responded to the build-up and aftermath of a nuclear war.

Correspondence from Brighton Borough Council in 1982, along with documents from a “war emergency plan” from East Sussex County Council, reveal in grizzly detail how an international crisis leading to a war between Nato and the Soviet Union might have played out at the height of the Cold War.

The Brighton documents, in particular, include comprehensive details of how events might play out in the lead-up to the outbreak of war as well as locations for “prepared feeding centres” should the USSR drop the bomb.

The scenario, known as Exercise Soft Rock, was carried out by council staff in May 1982 to consider how the town, as it was then, would cope with the challenges caused by the outbreak of a potential Third World War.

These would include the arrival of thousands of refugees from London, protests from anti-war demonstrators, looting of shops as supplies of food and water diminished, the lack of electricity, food and water supply and the impact of radioactive fallout.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightChurchill Square in the 1980s

The Home Office provided East Sussex County Council with guidelines about the timeline that could take place in the build-up and aftermath of a nuclear war.

A period of international tension of up to seven days would unfold, with a “war crisis” of two to three days leading to a conventional war between Nato and the Warsaw Pact. This would see the UK coming under air attack with conventional weapons for “days or weeks”. Such a conflict would result in a nuclear attack lasting around 48 hours, with a recovery period that could take “decades”.

Soft Rock played out a scenario where an international dispute over West Berlin would escalate into a nuclear exchange on May 21, 1982. Using documents from both Brighton Borough Council and East Sussex County Council, we have written some “reports” about how the days leading up to nuclear war could unfold.

Friday, May 14, 1982

Large-scale demonstrations have erupted across Sussex calling for peace amid rising tensions in the crisis in East Germany.

Thousands of people took to the streets in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings calling for talks to resolve the situation, with many more protesting across the country.

People across Sussex have been contacting councils asking what they should do if war breaks out.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightA CND anti-nuclear weapons protest on Brighton seafront in 1983

East German leader Erich Honecker has demanded that US, French and British occupation forces evacuate from West Berlin, with the borders between East and West Germany closed.

In a marked escalation, the Warsaw Pact has declared a maritime exclusion zone covering a large part of the North Atlantic, to come into force from Sunday (May 16), for the purpose of naval manoeuvres, a move Nato has slammed as inexcusable.

Pakistan has protested to the United Nations following an attack by a combined Soviet and Afghan force “in support of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Baluchi people” in the west of the country.

The government yesterday instructed all local authorities to take “covert measures” to ensure that war plans are brought up to date, including the collection of emergency cooking equipment and radiation detection and measuring instruments, with in-house training of local authority officers undertaken by local councils at their discretion. Civil defence commissioners have also been appointed to oversee “local authority nuclear-free zones”.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightA Brighton sign defaced with an anti-nuclear message in 1985

Saturday, May 15, 1982

An armada of private yachts and motor cruisers have arrived on the coast of Sussex from Europe after East Germany issued a deadline to western nations to leave West Berlin.

East German leader Erich Honecker issued a 48-hour ultimatum to British, French and American forces to leave the enclave, but Western forces have so far refused to entertain this idea.

Long and sometimes unruly queues have been seen at food shops and supermarkets in some parts of Brighton, with queues of cars seen at petrol stations across the town.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightCND demonstrators marching through Brighton in 1983

The government has issued the mobilisation of the armed forces, while police have been ordered to patrol food supply routes.

Demonstrations have also erupted in the Iranian capital Tehran in protest against the invasion of the Balochistan region of Pakistan by the Soviet Union.

The mobilisation of Warsaw Pact forces has continued, with Russian troops occupying all military and economic hubs in Poland after reported resistance.

Sunday, May 16, 1982

Roads across Sussex have been severely congested as thousands of people flee the capital and head to the coast amid fears of a conflict between Nato and the Soviet Union.

Rail networks to the coast, including Brighton, have also been full to capacity as people flee London and the surrounding areas.

More yachts and motor cruisers have continued to arrive from the continent today at Rye, Hastings, Newhaven and Brighton Marina, with some abandoned small craft found along the coast between Beachy Head and Hastings.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightA CND banner hung on West Pier in 1990

It comes as East Germany implements a total air and road blockade of West Berlin after a refusal by British, American and French forces to leave the western enclave.

Warsaw Pact naval forces declared a maritime exclusion zone in the North Atlantic to be effective after implementing it earlier today, while Russian airborne forces launched a surprise invasion of Iran and occupied the capital, Tehran.

The government has declared a “state of national emergency”, with British and American forces in continental Europe being reinforced.

A civil defence campaign, Protect and Survive, has been broadcast on television and radio stations, advising the public on measures to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack.

The broadcast has been denounced by the Soviet Union as “provocative”.

Emergency legislation has been passed to allow local councils to “requisition premises and materials which may be needed for civil defence purposes with immediate effect”.

The government has informed local councils that “overt civil defence measures” may now be taken.

Brighton Borough Council chief executive Reg Morgan announced that it will open and man special bureaux to deal with offers of service and help from volunteers in recent days, following complaints from the public about the inability of the council to make effective use of those offering support.

Monday, May 17, 1982

Violence broke out in the town centre after a large crowd of people demanded entry into the council’s bomb-proof shelter.

Some 800 people chanted slogans and attempted to break into Brighton Town Hall to enter the basement, which would be the council’s headquarters in the event of nuclear war.

Tensions also erupted near Brighton Station after crowds of hundreds who have fled to the town broke into shops demanding food and shelter.

An estimated 10,000 “self-evacuated” people have flocked to Brighton by car, bus and rail over the last few days, with thousands more fleeing the capital every hour. 

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightBrighton’s Palace Pier in 1982

Hotels and boarding houses have been fully booked with the influx of people, while some 3,000 people have camped out in caravans and tents along the seafront and open spaces, including Preston Park, Hove Lawns and Queen’s Park. The numbers of people joining the makeshift caravan and camping sites have been growing rapidly, with councillors warning of a severe risk to environmental health.

Shops and supermarkets across the city have reported severe food shortages as people stockpile food and water to follow the government’s advice to buy a fortnight’s worth of food. Suppliers have warned that replenishment cannot keep up with the intense demand of customers.

Motorists faced long queues across the town at petrol stations amid a shortage of fuel, with several garages forced to close. Shortages have also had a knock-on impact on buses, with services reduced by 30 per cent.

Emergency services were called to Hove beach after a mine washed ashore, with part of the seafront closed due to safety fears.

Tuesday, May 18, 1982

Food shops across the town have been left almost empty as people panic-buy groceries.

Shelves at all of Brighton’s major food shops have been stripped bare after the government advised the public to collect enough food and water for 14 days.

The government has yet to introduce any rationing of food and fuel, despite as many as 15,000 “self-evacuated” people in Brighton alone needing food.

However, efforts have been made to speed up trade deliveries to shops, with a limit on prices to prevent profiteering during the crisis.

Wednesday, May 19, 1982

An estimated 40,000 people have flocked to Brighton and Hove in the last few days following an increasing build-up of “self-evacuated” people.

People fleeing London and the surrounding areas have flooded into the town by car, coach and train for several days amid fears of the outbreak of war.

Many open spaces across Brighton have been occupied by makeshift accommodation and tents, with councillors raising concerns about the lack of adequate sanitation.

Thursday, May 20, 1982

A state of war has been declared between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.

A series of conventional bombing raids have been carried out by Soviet forces, with Gatwick Airport among the places hit.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightGatwick Airport in 1982: credit – Simon Dack

Food supplies are being diverted to the Brighton area to be distributed to major retailers, with a convoy of 15 trucks carrying tinned goods heading to Preston Barracks in Lewes Road.

Friday, May 21, 1982

Sussex has been attacked with nuclear weapons in a devastating escalation of the conflict with the Soviet Union.

A nuclear missile has caused mass destruction in and around Crawley, with other explosions reported at the Dungeness Power Station close to the Sussex border.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightDungeness Power Station in neighbouring Kent was one of the places that could have been targeted in a nuclear attack

Authorities are anticipating the Sussex coast will be a “prime destination” for people seeking shelter from more vulnerable areas, particularly Greater London which has been badly hit by the nuclear exchange.

After the attack

While Brighton Borough Council anticipated nuclear attacks in the region to be directed only at Gatwick Airport and at the Dungeness nuclear power station in nearby Kent, a planned and later cancelled nationwide civil defence exercise codenamed Hard Rock also listed Newhaven and Hastings as targets of nuclear attack.

Following the attack, East Sussex would be run by a county controller, based at County Hall in Lewes, with the county split into seven districts based on the borough councils at the time.

Each of these districts would be run by a district controller. In Brighton, this responsibility would have fallen on the council’s chief executive, operating from the basement of Brighton Town Hall or, alternatively, from a stand-by headquarters in Patcham Place.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightReg Morgan, chief executive of Brighton Borough Council in 1982: credit – Roy Vandyke

They would have had the authority to exercise the full powers of the council and would have been responsible for the distribution, conservation and control of food in the town. They would have only been answerable to the county controller, with an emergency committee acting in an advisory and consultative capacity. The leader of the council, chairman of the policy and resources committee and leader of the council’s minority group would have served on this committee.

Council wards would each have their own control teams and headquarters, which would “be capable of carrying on independently during the initial stages of a nuclear attack”.

Places that would have been used as a base for these teams include The Sportsman in Tongdean Lane, Withdean, the Brighton Centre, Mithras House in Lewes Road, and Coldean Primary School.

‘Brighton’s population could jump to more than one million post-attack’

Thousands of people from across the country would attempt to flee to the Sussex coast in the aftermath of the attack, as the region was likely to be a “prime destination” for those made homeless. Brighton Borough Council warned that, unless action was taken to prevent a potentially very large influx of “refugees”, the wartime population of the town could soar from roughly 150,000 to more than one million.

Details in East Sussex’s War Emergency Plan explain that rest centres for those made homeless would be set up, along with feeding centres to provide food to residents and refugees.

These would be located across the county, including in council buildings, hotels and guest houses, with local authorities having the power to requisition private property where necessary to house people, with an estimated 224,000 people expected to be provided with temporary accommodation in Brighton alone.

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightMulti-storey car parks, like this one in Worthing, could have been used as makeshift temporary accomodation for those made homeless by a nuclear war

According to Brighton Borough Council, multi-storey car parks could be used to accommodate as many as 100,000 people for up to 24 hours in “extreme circumstances, such as a high influx of refugees”.

‘One stew type meal to be issued per person per day’

Documents from East Sussex County Council anticipated that a nuclear attack would result in a “chronic shortage of food over a period of at least two years”, due to heavy losses of foodstuffs in factories and warehouses, the loss of manufacturing and processing facilities and the difficulty in distribution of food in some areas due to radioactive fallout.

People would have been issued with a half-pint of a “stew type meal” with bread or biscuits and a hot drink per day. If demand and supplies allowed, an additional meal could be provided.

One passage in East Sussex County Council’s War Emergency Plan reads: “The adjustment to a subsistence level diet will be a grim process for the public, but one that is essential if survival and recovery is to be achieved.”

Brighton could have seen outbreaks of civil unrest and a wave of'self-evacuated' people from London in the run-up to a nuclear war in the 1980s, declassified documents reveal: credit - Crown copyrightAn image of a nuclear explosion from Protect and Survive: credit – Crown copyright

Teachers, members of the Women’s Institute, as well as staff from hotels, libraries, the Citizens Advice Bureau and private schools would all be drafted to help provide meals for as many as 2.9 million people across the county.

Members of emergency feeding teams would also be required to keep a lookout for the symptoms of radiation sickness in themselves, colleagues and people passing through their centre.

Recovery from the aftermath of a nuclear exchange could take decades, according to information from the Home Office at the time, with a huge impact on manufacturing limiting the ability of services and society as a whole to return to any sense of normality.

https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/22974222.brightons-secret-plans-cope-event-nuclear-war/?ref=rss Brighton’s secret plans to cope in event of nuclear war

Fry Electronics Team

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