Copehill Down – Sleepy English Village with a Difference

19 August 2016

Copehill Down is situated on Salisbury Plain in the English county of Wiltshire.  Built on the windswept chalk plateau it looks, at a cursory glance, a peaceful and welcoming place. Stonehenge is just a short drive away and the area around it is rich with history. Yet look again and you get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Where are the people? And the houses – the architecture doesn’t look quite as English as perhaps it should.

Copehill Down is a sleepy English village with a difference.  No one lives there. No children play in the neat gardens around the houses. No worshipers go to mass on a Sunday at Saint Jude’s church. The village is a mock-up or, more accurately, a FIBUA – an acronym standing for Fighting in Built Up Areas.  The pictures you will see here are closer than most people will ever get to the village as civilian access to Copehill Down is generally restricted.


It is used by the UK Ministry of Defence to train the armed forces in the art of close quarters combat in an urban area.  Copehill Down Village (CDV) is part of the Urban Operations Wings (UOW) run by Land Warfare Centre, Warminster (LWC).  The quiet of Salisbury Plain is often disturbed by the sights and sounds of warfare.

Saint Jude’s at the center of the village was named by someone with a very British sense of humor.  As the patron saint of lost causes, it is appropriately named – it has been at the heart of many a last stand.  Yet although the church retains, structurally at least, a sense of belonging to this part of the English countryside, why do the houses look so central European?

Image Credit Flickr User Stoic
© Crown copyright 2012
The answer lies in the place’s history. Copehill Down was built in 1988 and was built to look like a German Village in the heart of Bavaria.  As such the troops training there were provided with a realistic European theater in which to prepare for the real thing.

Image Credit Flickr User Stoic
© Crown copyright 2012
The Cold War was in full swing.  Although Gorbachev had announced Perstroika and Reagan had openly invited him in a Berlin speech to tear down this wall, the Soviet Union was still perceived by NATO to be the single greatest threat to world security.  It was highly anticipated that if the Warsaw Pact nations invaded, it would be through Germany.

Image Credit Flickr User Stoic
Image Credit UK Ministry of Defence
It was paramount that Western European troops were able to hold the tide of Soviet soldiers, tanks and planes.  If any invasion of West Germany could not be contained then the use of strategic nuclear missiles would have to be considered.  Once they had been used by NATO aligned forces the Soviet Union would very possibly retaliate by using their own.  After that, proliferation would be almost unavoidable and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) might well come to pass.  So, it was vital that NATO troops could hold their ground and halt the invasion through non-nuclear means.

Image Credit Flickr User Stoic
Image UK Ministry of Defence
Fortunately for the world, this particular scenario never played out.  The year after Copehill Down was built Poland saw its first non-Communist leader since the Second World War ended.  The people of other Eastern European nations overthrew their communist regimes and in 1991 the Warsaw Pact was finally dissolved. Yet although the threat from the Soviet Union and its satellite states was at an end, Copehill Down remained.  

Image Credit Flickr User Stoic
Image Credit Flickr User Paul9979
The world is never without war and British troops were still being posted to Northern Ireland as well as other areas such as the Balkans – it remained an important training facility.  It is still used today and has been expanded to reflect more recent areas of British troop deployment.  A shanty town of cargo containers was built ten years ago to resemble potential theaters of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The village is also used to test new technology to support ground troops in urban areas.

Image Credit UK Ministry of Defence
Image Credit Flickr User scotbot
Yet it is the village – which might even now be described as a relic of the Cold War despite its still being in use – which fascinates the curious.

Image Credit Flickr User scotbot
First Image Credit Flickr User Think Defence


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