During World War 2, the German high command orchestrated a brutal bombing campaign that saw UK towns and cities decimated by the Luftwaffe – with London and Coventry bearing the brunt of the destruction. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered for the creation of more bunkers, which had previously been used in World War 1, for weapons facilities, Government command and control centres, and storage facilities across the UK. However, the most important of these networks were built in the capital, around the London Underground, with secret tunnels linking them together and with key Government buildings.
The most famous is not a secret at all today, in fact, the Churchill War Rooms under the Treasury in Westminster, have been made into a museum after they were opened to the public in 1984.
This Cabinet War Room was first constructed in 1930 and became a Government headquarters days after World War 2 broke out.
Churchill had his own office and bedroom added to the compound and live-in guards manned the rooms round-the-clock.
However, Whitehall is host to some bunkers that have remained secret, including Pindar – the codename given to the site deep below the Ministry of Defence.
Winston Churchill had secret underground bunkers made
The Blitz reined down on the UK in the Forties
This room would serve as a modern-day war room in the event of World War 3 and is said to be linked to Downing Street and the Cabinet Office via underground tunnels and possibly Embankment Underground station, too.
Oxgate Admiralty Citadel is the name given to a military bunker constructed between 1937 and 1940, for the Admiralty, on the corner of Edgware Road, in north London.
The citadel was designed to be an away-from-Whitehall base for admiralty operations, useful in the event of a need to evacuate the centre of London.
The citadel comprises a three-storey building above ground, with an upper basement and a specially protected lower basement.
The tunnel network below Whitehall is extensive and today is known as Q-Whitehall – a 12-foot diameter tunnel that ran parallel to the Aldwych branch of the Piccadilly Line, known as Trunks Kingsway.
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World War 2 bunkers below London
The project was later dubbed “Post Office scheme 2845” and was equipped with huge amounts of BT telecommunication equipment, providing protected accommodation for the lines and terminal equipment serving the most important government departments, civil and military, to ensure the command and control of the war could continue despite the heavy bombing of London.
It is said to connect with Charing Cross station, the Cabinet War Rooms and Marsham Street.
The idea of moving the Government’s emergency headquarters away from the capital led to a secondary Cabinet War Room – codename Paddock – to be constructed below the Post Office Research Station of Dollis Hill in 1939.
However, it was only used twice and was abandoned in 1944.
During World War 2, London Transport also built eight deep-level air-raid shelters below Camden Town, Belsize Park, Goodge Street, Chancery Lane, Clapham Common, Clapham North, Clapham South, and Stockwell.
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Winston Churchill’s War Room
A modern-day look at WW2 London
There were also plans for a further two at St Paul’s and Oval.
Another Tube station that saw secret war service was Down Street, even though it closed in 1932.
Located between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly line, it was developed as an underground bunker in 1939.
Elsewhere, the Goodge Street shelter was used by Dwight D. Eisenhower – who served as Supreme Allied Commander – and his staff.
This one had two entrances – one on Chenies Street, the other next to the American International Church on Tottenham Court Road.
The Underground became central to WW2 defence
Many stations became refuge for Britons
The RAF also had a headquarters in Uxbridge, on the very edge of Zone 6, and it was here that the Battle of Britain was orchestrated.
Other Government departments also moved to the suburbs, including the Admiralty, who build one in Cricklewood, below a nondescript building called the Admiralty Chart Establishment on the Edgware Road, just south of Staples Corner.
Meanwhile, the Air Ministry had a bunker in Harrow, underneath the Stationery Office, too.
Meanwhile, the Royal Family had their own escape plans mapped out, too.
What many people do not know is the story of the Coldstream Guards – a special British Army unit established in 1940 with the sole purpose of evacuating King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their immediate family.
A woman cleaning the Underground during WW2
Some stations became bunkers for the public
The operation, which came to be known as the Coats Mission, was led by Major Coats and later Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Coats.
Four county houses in remote locations around the UK would be used to smuggle the Royal Family to the north, before reaching the docks of Liverpool, where they would board a boat set for Canada.
Major Malcolm Ernest Hancock, company commander of the Coldstream Company, was one of the lucky few tasked with protecting Her Majesty and previously revealed their locations.
He added: “Whenever the Royal Family left London if they went to Sandringham, the Coats Mission would accompany them.
Other stations were linked via secret passages
Royal Family escape route
“There were four houses, I can only remember three, unfortunately.
“One was Madresfield Court which was near Malvern, which was where Lord and Lady Beauchamp lived.
“Another was Pitchford Hall which I think was on the borders of Shropshire, occupied by Lady Grant, a sister of Lord Rosebury.
“The third one was Castle Howard, I think it’s Yorkshire, I’m not quite sure is it Yorkshire?
“The fourth one I can’t remember but I think it must have been somewhere in Cambridgeshire. Anyway, we occasionally used to have to go round to these various houses.”