Long viewed as a kind of British 'Area 51' , the vast underground complex at Corsham, Rudloe Manor, Box near Bath, England was the wartime home of a joint War Office/ U.S. Government plant for the assembly of the famous 'Jeep' light reconaissance truck. The plant turned out over 15,000 jeeps between 1942-45 releasing thousands of tons of shipping space for other uses. The complex was not however, excavated for military use being originally a quarry for the famous Bath Stone. Parts were also used as an ammunition store as well as a large district which was earmarked for government office and residential use.

Jeep manufacturing in the UK was carried out in the Rudloe Tunnels near Bath, England. This secretive outfit was buried (literally) deep in the west country at Corsham, home of the uk top secret strategic steam reserve just outside Bath, England.

The rebuild plant at Rudloe operated in a section of the huge underground quarries at Corsham in Wiltshire and produced thousands of jeeps in the war - saving priceless shipping space on the North Atlantic convoys. The Jeeps produced at Corsham are today much prized by military vehicle enthusiasts as they contain many features not found on the US built versions including soft seats, cigar lighters, starters that work all the time and windscreens that don't have a horizontal bar at exactly eye level.

strategic exercise

Practice makes Perfect

An unidentified American unit on manouvers near the Strategic Reserve in August 1948.

Note that the censor has blacked out the locomotive in the background. All strategic reserve locomotives had their numbers removed to prevent identification.

Although the main part of the strategic steam reserve was stored in the Corsham quarries there were sub depots at varies locations throughout the UK which could hold up to a couple of dozen locomotives.

Conspiracy theory buffs have suggested the original Woodhead tunnels on the former trans-penine Sheffield-Manchester route as the possible location of a northern strategic reserve.


After hostilities ceased, the plant was 'mothballed' untill 1954 when increasing cold war tensions required the creation of a 'strategic steam reserve' for use in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. British Railways Standard Class and ex Great Western Railway steam locomotives were withdrawn from time to time and kept in storage ready for use after 'the balloon had gone up'.

Sub Depot for strategic reserve  1978

Where are they?

The locomotives were generally taken over at the end of their alloted span on B.R by crews from the Royal Engineers, who had been trained on the relevant class on the Longmoor Military Railway.

Accompanied by a British Rail inspector, the squaddies would generally take over the loco at the start of a shift soon after 'booking on' and the regular crew would be given the day off as an incentive not to be too curious.

The engines would be replaced by a spare for their rostered working and then run light to a number of depots around the UK. They were then prepared for storage and diesel hauled to the SSR. They would also be removed from the B.R. records and listed as scrapped.

Secure underground storage

As well as acres of secure storage space, the mothballed Jeep factory provided both the tooling and the skilled pool of local labour - former employees who were fitters, metalworkers, machinists etc. - necessary to keep the stock of over over 160 locomotives in working order. As late as 1982, long after the demise of steam on Britains railways, a small staff of dedicated personnel were still carrying out care and maintenance on the stock of slumbering giants. Astonishingly, they were still using four or five slatgrill jeeps on a daily basis almost forty years after production had ceased!

(Picture shows unidentified SSR depot with assorted rolling stock and diesel loco)

strategic reserve exit  1984

Chargehand Bob Watson who had been at Rudloe since 1943 explained why in a local newspaper interview in 1992, almost ten years after the storage facility was closed:
'When we stopped production at the end of the war, there were half a dozen Jeeps in various areas of the factory that had failed QC [quality control] for various reasons. When the last batch of production vehicles was despatched, they were left and remained in the plant untill it was re-opened in the mid fifties. A few of us decided they would be a bit better than the ministry issue bike for getting around the site [over 100 acres on several levels] so we rebuilt them from the stocks of parts that were left -
I kept mine running for years and, as they were never on inventory, when I retired on March 28th 1988, I just got in one and drove it home...'

In 1983 however, as a result of another round of defence cuts, the strategic steam reserve was deemed 'surplus to requirements' and the locomotives were disposed of for scrap.

bunkers, pill boxes and ex-military buildings

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