Communications and Emergency Planning During the Cold War

By Sanne Aagaard Jensen & Andreas Marklund

28. Aug. 2014

It was “strictly confidential”, obviously. Top secret. Yet during the years of the Cold War, some of Denmark’s sharpest minds were busy preparing the country’s telecommunications for the possible event of a nuclear apocalypse. If Denmark was attacked with nuclear weapons, the Post and Telegraph Service and the private telephone companies – in conjunction with NATO and the Danish Military and Civil Defence –were expected to ensure the continued functioning of vital government communications. A new research project at the Danish Post & Tele Museum will delve into the country’s telecommunications emergency planning during the formative period from 1945 to 1990. 

The Gurrebunker in Krogenberg Hegn, November 2013.
 

Half a century ago, the Danish military built a top secret, nuclear-safe bunker in the forest Krogenberg Hegn, southwest of Elsinore. Today, the bunker is sealed and has been emptied of content, and a visit to the green and fluffy area brings neither nuclear warfare nor ‘the End of Days’ to mind.

However, the prospects for the future were much gloomier when the bunker – known as the Gurrebunker or BOC1 – was completed in 1961. The battle plan was basically that if Denmark was attacked by a hostile force, i.e. the USSR or one of its satellites, the government and its crisis unit should move underground and run the state from its nuclear-safe hideout through a possible World War III. By the end of the 1960’s, however, the military built a new and larger bunker in the area, which, eventually, made the Gurrebunker redundant.

The old and somewhat obsoleted bunker was therefore designated for other emergency purposes. More precisely, the Gurrebunker was used for emergency planning and strategic coordination of telecommunications. The securing of telecommunications had by then developed into a backbone in the military strategies and defence planning of the NATO-alliance. 

In the 1970’s, NALLA began using relocation premises in Jægersborg for signal exercises, e.g. WINTEX in 1987 where this picture was taken.
 

NALLA DENMARK

Important to mention in this context is NALLA DENMARK (National Long Lines Agency) – a coordinating organ, established in 1954 and made permanent in 1961, consisting of representatives from the Danish Military, the Civil Defence and the national telephone administrations. In case of crises or military conflicts, NALLA was expected to take command over the entire Danish telecommunications network – and proceed into action in case of damage. Securing telecommunications was a hot political potato in the 1950’s and 60’s, not publically but in the secretive milieus of civilian and military decision makers so common to the era of the Cold War. Funding from the Marshall plan and the common infrastructure projects of NATO – along with some government grants – were used to expand and secure the Danish telecommunications system. For instance, telephone cables were laid in circles around Copenhagen and the larger towns and cities of Denmark, thus securing the communications networks from the possibility of an all-out attack against the metropolitan areas.

This communications emergency planning was part of a larger military and political development in the 20th century. In the post-war period, the foundation was laid for the so-called “total defence” model, where the responsibility for defence and emergency planning was not only placed on the military institutions, but on the society as a whole, including public authorities, private companies and civilians. Due to security concerns, many aspects of the total defence model – and the comprehensive cooperation between civil and military authorities – have been kept secret for many years. For the same reason, much is yet to be explored concerning those essential tasks that the P&T and the telephone companies have solved for the Danish Military and NATO during the Cold War era. 

After a thorough renovation and a colourful decoration by the artist Poul Gernes in 1992, the Gurrebunker became the new relocation site for NALLA.  

A New Research Project

The Danish Post & Tele Museum will now redeem this through a new research project on telecommunications and security during the Cold War. Based on historical artefacts from the Gurrebunker and archive material from Denmark and abroad, the project will scrutinize the telecommunications emergency planning, as it evolved from 1945 to 1990 – a period characterised by international tensions as well as significant technological progress. The Danish telecommunications sector underwent a rapid development, as the telephone gradually turned into the primary means for inter-personal communication in society.

The research project will investigate how telecommunications developed into an increasingly important security issue, both in the NATO-alliance and in Denmark. An important research question regards the involvement of Danish telecommunications authorities in the solving of essential defence tasks for NATO. The project will also look into how NATO’s emergency planning was challenged by the technological development of the period, e.g. full automation, satellite communication, IT and mobile telephony, not to speak of the liberalisation of the European telecommunications market introduced in the 1980’s.

The research project will be carried out by PhD Fellow Sanne Aagaard Jensen and is a joint-venture between the Danish Post & Tele Museum and the University of Copenhagen.
 

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