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Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary

Thumbnail image - RAF Coltishall, Scottow, Norfolk. A lone Hurricane aircraft, many of which were based at RAF Coltishall, makes a final flying display during the closing ceremony. Copyright: © Historic England

To commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, which took place in the summer of 1940 (generally regarded as from July 10 to 31 October 1940) we are taking a look at the records in Pastscape and the Listed entries of the airfields from which the aircraft flew. 

Brief summary of the Battle of Britain

It started with the Channel battle (10 July to 7 August) daylight confrontations over the English Channel attacking convoys and ports in order to destroy Britain’s shipping. There were night raids by single aircraft on targets across the country. The attention then turned to the RAF bases, air defences and radar systems. On the 13th August there were a series of attacks across the south coast radar chain and coastal airfields. From 24th August to 6th September there was a considered assault on Fighter Command. Finally tactics turned to attacking cities, 7th September was the first large scale raid on London. From approximately 30th September to 31st October the air war had settled into a pattern, bomb attacks were biased to the night time and essentially became the Blitz.
At the start of the battle Britain had 42 Squadrons (Hurricane and Spitfire) six squadrons twin-engined Bristol Blenheims, two of Boulton Paul Defiants. 50 squadrons had 656 aircraft (226 Spitfires, 344 Hurricanes).

The Airfields


Locations of the English airfields used during the Battle of Britain. Image produced by Tom Duane © Historic England

The airfields were divided into four groups 11, 12, 10 and 13 and controlled by Fighter Command. There were 50 squadrons across Britain, of which 48 were in England and there is a PastScape record for each of them, in addition, 18 of the airfields have Listed buildings.

Group 11

Located in the south east of England these fields bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe aggression. It was led by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park.
KenleyOfficers’ mess, former Dining room and institute (also known as NAAFI), Scheduled monument - group of Second World War fighter pens, Scheduled monument - group of seven Second World War fighter pens which are on the Heritage at Risk Register .


NAAFI building, Kenley airfield © Wayne Cocroft, Historic England

This airfield is the most complete fighter airfield associated with the Battle of Britain to have survived. It was first opened as an aerodrome for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 and enlarged through an Act of Parliament in 1939. The main runway was located approximately north-south and completed in 1939. The runways were connected with a perimeter track with an earth-bank to protect aircraft dispersals. The aircraft were accommodated in two sheds of the First World War Warren Truss girder Belfast type, and the modest technical area was entered by a standard guard room followed by ‘H’ airmen’s barrack blocks, a parade ground, station headquarters. The Officers’ mess, dining room and institute were designed in 1932 by Air Ministry’s Directorate of Works and Buildings and are Listed grade II.



Kenley Fighter Pens © Wayne Cocroft, Historic England

All 12 of the fighter pens under completion in April 1940 have survived: this is a uniquely important survival. On the 18th of August one of the most determined attacks by the Luftwaffe on a sector airfield took place. During this raid, three personnel were killed and 3 hangars and several aircraft were destroyed. On the 30th of August a further 39 personnel were killed and 26 wounded, raids on the following day damaged the operations block. Its scars can still be read in the form of post-war repair work to the Officer’s mess (prominently sited on the west side of the aerodrome). The Officers’ mess now stands as the most impressive surviving building dating from the rebuilding of the station between 1931 and 1933. The last surviving hangar and the control tower were destroyed by fire in 1978, and the sector operations block was demolished in 1984.

Group 11 Airfields

Name of airfield

Pastscape number

Listed number

Type

Use of site now

Uxbridge

1321296

1392556

HQ

Was RAF Uxbridge until 2010. Site now to be redeveloped.

Lee on Solent

1401642

(First World War Listed buildings)

1406446

Fighter

Was HMS Ariel, reverted to HMS Daedalus 1965-1996. Site is now home to an airfield and business units.

Gosport

1395756

 

Fighter

Transferred to Navy 1945 and became HMS Sultan 1956 – training for Navy Engineers.

Thorney Island

1430956

 

Fighter

Disused airfield

Westhampnett

1431592

 

Fighter

Chichester airfield and Goodwood motor circuit

Ford

1106487

 

Fighter

HMP Ford

Lympne

1402460

 

Fighter

Fields and industrial park

Hawkinge

1396952

 

Fighter

Housing

Manston

1402686

 

Fighter

Kent International Airport

Eastchurch

1138932

1391502 (First World War hangars)

Fighter

HMP Standford Hill

Detling

1393647

 

Fighter

Field and aerodrome estate depot

West Malling

1431479

1390915, 1390913, 1390914, 1020308

Fighter

Mixed use.

Gravesend

1396012

 

Fighter

Field and mixed use

Croydon

1393200

 

Fighter

Croydon airport industrial estate, housing and fields

Hendon

1150915

1915 Aerodrome watch office, control tower, aircraft factory and factory office 199215

Fighter

Housing estate and London branch of the Royal Airforce Museum.

Stapleford

1430098

 

Fighter

Stapleford Aerodrome

Rochford

1410928

 

Fighter

London Southend Airport

Martlesham

1419508

 

Fighter

Housing

Tangmere

609548

1391924, 1403165

Sector airfield

RAF station closed 1970. Now fields and mixed use

Biggin Hill

1385321

1385321, 1416723, 1391606, 1186840, 1391604

Sector airfield

London Biggin Hill airport

Kenley

1400833

1334947, 1334946, 1021242, 1021243

Sector airfield

Kenley aerodrome

Hornchurch

1393680

 

Sector airfield

Country Park

Northolt

1333177

1395116, 1395127, 1392557, 1395125

Sector airfield

RAF Northolt

Northweald

1406974

1413519 (post-war control tower), 1392985

Sector airfield

North Weald airfield – general aviation airport

Debden

1393426

1392874

Sector airfield

Disused airfield

 

Group 12

Located across central and eastern England, four of these airfields have Listed buildings: Coltishall, Duxford, Kirton-in-Lindsey and Church Fenton  (Scheduled fighter pens). Wittering also has Listed buildings but these relate to its post-war use by the nuclear armed V-force and A-bomb stores. Within Group 12 Duxford and Fowlmere were sister stations. They both dated back to the First World War, with Fowlmere as the oldest, built early 1917. However, their fates post-war were very different. Duxford today exists almost as it was then, Fowlmere was mostly returned to agriculture, but the T 2 hangar and  private airstrip survive.
There are 38 Listed buildings at Duxford airfield, which is now the home to the Imperial War Museum (IWM Duxford). Of these, the Officers’s mess (building 45) Listed grade II, externally is in original condition and typical of the neo-Georgian style. It was planned according to the principles of dispersal, whereby dining and recreational facilities are separated from the accommodation wings by lengths of corridor, so bomb damage could be localised.
The first Spitfire to an RAF squadron was delivered to Duxford in August 1938. It was the most southerly airfield in 12 Group, responsible for the defence of the Midlands and Eastern England, and well placed to reinforce and support 11 Group. On the 15th September 1940, during the critical point in the Battle of Britain, five Duxford squadrons claimed their highest score of 52 aircraft confirmed destroyed. The airfield continued to play an important role throughout the rest of the war with the arrival of the US Eighth Air Force in 1943. Post-war it continued as a jet fighter station and closed in 1961. 


     Imperial War Museum, Duxford North Side Buildings -  Building 45, 
    RAF Duxford, Exterior View From South East, Former Officers Mess and Quarters © Crown
     copyright:IWM (HU 100424) (re-produced under the IWM non-commercial licence)


Group 12 airfields 

Name of airfield

Pastscape number

Listed number

Type

Use of site now

Watnall

1415339

 

HQ

Business units

Tern Hill

1414260

 

Fighter

Airfield

Leconfield

1401624

 

Fighter

Disused airfield

Coltishall

1392430

1021425

Fighter

RAF Coltishall closed 2006. Disused airfield.

Duxford

1394137

1392881, 1392878, 1392869, 1392882, 1391610, 1392870, 1392877, 1391605, 1162959, 1067840 etc.

Sector airfield

Imperial War Museum and Duxford aerodrome.

Wittering

1392414

Blue Steel missile servicing facility 1404936, Nuclear bomb loading crane 1402775, Other buildings associated with Cold war use 1402772, 1402769, 1402766, 1402763

Sector airfield

RAF Wittering

Digby

1393727

 

Sector airfield

Disused airfield and masts

Kirton-in-Lindsey

1401174

1422114, 1422117

Sector airfield

RAF owned until 2013. Now subject to development plans. Local gliding club use.

Church Fenton

1318338

1021191

Sector airfield

Owned by Makins Enterprises – renamed airfield ‘Leeds East Airport’ 2015. Air cadets still present.

Fowlmere

1395480

 

Sector airfield

Aerodrome, private airstrip

 

Group 10

Located in the south west and south Wales (Welsh sites are not included in this article) the headquarters were in Rudloe Manor at Box, Wiltshire, Group 10 was to defend the southwest of England. Filton airfield is the only one in the English group with Listed buildings relating to the airfield. Filton, four miles to the North of Bristol, was an early aviation manufacturing site opened February 1910. An RAF camp was constructed to the north side of the airfield after the 501 Squadron formed at Filton June 1929. In 1930 there were improvements to the site. The RAF camp consisted of Belfast hangars, workshops and administration and living accommodation. September 1939 501 Squadron saw little action and moved to Tangmere. They were replaced by the 263 Squadron until they departed April 1940 for the defence of Norway. After the first major bombing raid on the undefended factory on the 25th September 1940, 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Airforce were posted there, but left December 1940 for Exeter. They were replaced by 501 Squadron followed by 263. Post-war the construction began on a lengthened and widened runway for the flight testing of the Brabazon airliner. 501 Squadron returned until 1957 when it was disbanded.
Hangar at Filton Airfield Grade II. Triple Hangar at Filton Airfield  Grade II. Single Hangar GS type (16U) Grade II.These date to 1918 and were designed by the War Office’s directorate of Fortifications and Works. Constructed for the Royal Flying Corps who used the site from 1915 these hangars are rare and form a group.
Post-war Filton airfield became Bristol Filton Airport or Filton aerodrome. This closed in 2012.


    http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/eaw026974 The Aircraft Assembly Hall (Brabazon
     Hangar) at Bristol Filton Airport, Bristol, 1949. This image has been produced from a print marked
     by Aerofilms Ltd for photo editing. - Britain from Above 


Group 10 Airfields

Name of airfield

Pastscape number

Listed number

Type

Use of site now

Box

1521265

Manor House 1022808

HQ

RAF Rudloe Manor closed 2000. Now MoD Corsham

Colerne

1392369

 

Fighter

Airfield

Boscombe Down

1386570

 

Fighter

Airfield

Warmwell

1431188

 

Fighter

Quarry

Exeter

1395162

 

Fighter

Airport

Roborough

1024168

 

Fighter

Plymouth City airport

St Eval

1411212

 

Fighter

Disused airifield, transmitter station

Middle Wallop

1419512

 

Sector airfield

Airfield

Filton

1395384

1391562, 1391563, 1416285

Sector airfield

Was Bristol Filton Airport until 2010. Now to house Bristol aviation heritage museum and housing.

 

Group 13

These airfields were for the defence of the north of England and Scotland. Pastscape’s scope covers England so only these airfields are included in the table. RAF Catterick is the only English site with Listed buildings. It has two Listed buildings: Building 31 Officer’s mess and quarters Grade II , Building 24 Operations block Grade II. There is also a Scheduled Monument area of Second World War fighter pens and associated defences .
Catterick first opened in 1914 as a Royal Flying Corps training base for home defence duties. It opened as a full RFC base December 1917. After the War it was used for flying training until it ceased March 1919.  Mid 1920s more buildings were constructed and two ‘C’ type hangars were built. 41 Squadron arrived in September 1936. In September 1939 it was designated sector station in 13 group to provide local air defence. Catterick played a vital role in the defence of the north east and of convoys in the North Sea. During 11 Group's front-line role in the Battle of Britain, Catterick - which had played its part during the early stages of the battle - was used as a rest station for fighter squadrons returning from the south east, whilst also training new squadrons. By early 1943 operations were slowing down and the last combat unit departed February 1944. The runway was too short for the newer aircraft and could not be extended, so it was allocated to ground training.
Building 31 Officer’s mess and quarters were built 1935 designed by A Bulloch architectural advisor to the Air Ministry’s Directorate of Works and Buildings. It was extended in 1939. A fine composition, externally in original condition, typical of this period in its neo-Georgian style. It also clearly shows the impact of the Royal Fine Arts Commission on designs of the post-1934 Expansion Period, but especially the 'guiding hand' of Sir Edwin Lutyens in its careful grouping of openings, and in the paired chimney stacks. It was planned according to the principles of dispersal, established by Sir Hugh Trenchard (the RAF's first Commander-in-Chief) in the early 1920s, whereby the central dining area and recreational facilities are separated from the accommodation wings by lengths of corridors with the idea of localising the effects of bomb damage.
Post-war it served as a Depot and later as a training centre for RAF fire service. 1994 it was handed over to the Army and became part of the Catterick Garrison.

            Marne Barracks, Catterick, Yorkshire. Officers’ Mess south elevation © Historic England 


Group 13 Airfields

Name of airfield

Pastscape number

Listed number

Type

Use of site now

Newcastle

1413821

 

HQ

RAF Blakelaw of which the Kenton Bunker is Listed 1390494. Site surrounded by housing

Catterick

1391330

1392053, 1392055, 1020990

Fighter

From 1994 part of the Army Catterick Garrison.

Usworth

1431061

 

Sector airfield

Was Sunderland Airport, now Works.

Acklington

1383098

 

Sector airfield

Fields and HMP Acklington

 

Further sources


http://www.historicengland.org.uk/research/current-research/assessing-significance/military/historic-military-airfields/

https://historicengland.org.uk/news-and-features/first-world-war-home-front/home-front-traces/air/airfields/


"RAF Coltishall a photographic characterisation", Research Department Report 68/2007  - https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/raf-coltishall-photographic-characterisation-rdrs-68-2007/