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World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, at Trickey Warren Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Churchstanton, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.9264 / 50°55'34"N

Longitude: -3.1342 / 3°8'3"W

OS Eastings: 320382.688423

OS Northings: 114715.386646

OS Grid: ST203147

Mapcode National: GBR LZ.PZS5

Mapcode Global: FRA 46BN.DSN

Entry Name: World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, at Trickey Warren Farm

Scheduled Date: 2 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020492

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33028

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Churchstanton

Built-Up Area: Trickey Warren

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument, which falls into two separate areas of protection, includes part
of the former World War II fighter station known as RAF Culmhead. In
particular the monument comprises a group of dispersed fighter pens, each
pen intended to house two aircraft, together with their support buildings,
crew accommodation, perimeter runway, and defences, including two pillboxes
and two gunpits. All of these remains are located on the south west perimeter
of the now disused airfield at Trickey Warren.
Trickey Warren is an area of flat ground at the east end of the Blackdown
Hills, approximately 9.5km south of Taunton and close to the village of
Churchstanton. It was selected early in the course of World War II as an
emergency landing ground and a little later Trickey Warren Farm and its
surrounding land were requisitioned for the War effort. Construction of a
three-runway airfield intended as a satellite station of the principal sector
airfield at Exeter began at the site in 1940. However, the airfield was
subsequently equipped as a fully operational fighter station and was
officially opened on 1st August 1941. Known as RAF Churchstanton, the station
was redesignated in 1943 and it is usually referred to by its later name of
RAF Culmhead.
During World War II fighter aircraft were considered to be very vulnerable
when on the ground either from air attack, or, during the early years of the
War, from possible ground attack, and elaborate precautions were taken to
prevent any loss of aircraft when not in action. As a result, fighter aircraft
were often held in dispersed pens located around the perimeter of the
airfields but with easy access to the main runways. These pens were often
constructed in a standard `E'-shape with two bays, one bay for each aircraft.
At Trickey Warren five out of an original group of six dispersed pens survive
in the south west sector of the airfield; further pens were built on the
eastern side of the runways but these do not survive in anything like the same
condition.
The five standard Fighter Command Works aircraft fighter pens within the
scheduling were built along the `L'-shaped western perimeter track and all
were of the larger type to house two twin-engined fighters, each one in its
own bay.
The layout of a twin fighter pen consists of three arms outlined with dwarf
brick retaining walls and earthwork traverses which partly enclosed both
aircraft in order to offer some protection from bomb blasts. At the rear of
each pen is a precast concrete Stanton type air-raid shelter for 25 men with
access from either bay. Associated with each pen are detached defended brick
walls with rifle loopholes. These walls appear in a variety of designs and
positions depending upon the location of the pen and the most likely direction
of ground attack. Additional ground cover was provided by two groups of three
pillboxes located beyond the main runways. Two of these pillboxes, one from
each group, survive virtually intact and standing to their full height, one to
the south of the pens and one to the west. Both were constructed with seven
sides (considered to be a rare and unusual design) and set upon a concrete
raft approximately 4.2m square. The walls are of concrete with external
half-brick shuttering and the roof is of reinforced concrete. The pillbox to
the south of the fighter pens, which lies within its own area of protection,
has six rifle loopholes, two of which flank the single entrance, and two
larger recessed openings for a heavy machine-gun, one loop facing south west
towards the outlying countryside and one loop facing in towards the airfield
and runway. The pillbox just to the west of the most northerly fighter pen is
very similar but has only one opening for a machine-gun which faces north east
towards the airfield. Both pillboxes possess brick-built internal partition
walls representing anti-ricochet devices. At least eight anti-aircraft
machine-gun sites were also located around the airfield perimeter. These sites
are known as gunpits and two lie within the scheduling, one to the south of
the fighter pens and one to the west. The gunpits were built to a standard
keyhole shaped design with the machine-gun mounted in the apsidal forward
section allowing a 360 degree field of fire. They are of brick construction,
partly sunken into the ground and partly protected by earthwork traverses
against bomb blasts. The two which survive in the south west sector of Trickey
Warren both have elements of their machine-gun mounting surviving. A number of
support buildings servicing the needs of the fighter pens on the western
perimeter lie within the scheduling. These buildings provided the means by
which the aircraft housed within the pens could be ready for duty under
`scramble' conditions (ie: able to respond instantly to any reported threat).
These buildings include two flight offices providing accommodation for flight
officers and clerks, two latrines, sundry service structures such as
transformer plinths and at least one static water tank, and a blister hanger
for the storage and maintenance of small aircraft.
A number of different squadrons were stationed at RAF Culmhead throughout
World War II all of which, for the most part, carried out anti-shipping sweeps
over the Channel alternating with bomber escort duties. In the early part of
the War the principal fighter aircraft stationed at the base were Hawker
Hurricanes but Spitfires were employed from 1941 onwards and the airfield was
in operation on D-Day (6th June 1941) with 131 Squadron in action over France.
The station witnessed the arrival of the very first jet propelled aircraft to
enter service when two Gloster Meteors flew in on the 13th July 1944 to join
616 Squadron. RAF Culmhead ceased to operate as a fighter station in August
1944. It was utilised as a training airfield until July 1945 when it was
relegated to Care and Maintenance; it was finally decommissioned in August
1946.
A history and condition survey of the fighter station at RAF Culmhead was
commissioned in 1997 by the Blackdown Hills Project, Somerset County Council,
and Taunton Deane Borough Council and was undertaken by Paul Francis of
Airfield Research Publishing.
Those sections of the original perimeter runway of the airfield, and those
sections of hardstanding for aircraft which lie within the area of protection
are specifically included within the scheduling.
Excluded from the scheduling are all modern farm buildings constructed after
August 1946, all unwheeled caravans on blocks, and all modern fencing and
gating, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The importance of defending airfields against attack was realised before the
outbreak of World War II and a strategy evolved as the war went on.
Initially based on the principle of defence against air attack, anti-aircraft
guns, air raid shelters and dispersed layouts, with fighter or `blast' pens to
protect dispersed aircraft, are characteristics of this early phase. With
time, however, the capture of the airfield became a more significant threat,
and it was in this phase that the majority of surviving defence structures
were constructed, mostly in the form of pillboxes and other types of machine
gun post.
The scale of airfield defence depended on the likelihood of attack, with those
airfields in south or east England, and those close to navigable rivers, ports
and dockyards being more heavily defended. But the types of structure used
were fairly standard. For defence against air attack there were anti-aircraft
gun positions, either small machine gun posts or more substantial towers for
Bofors guns; air raid shelters were common, with many examples on each
airfield; and for aircraft, widely dispersed to reduce the potential effects
of attack, fighter pens were provided. These were groups together, usually in
threes, and took the form of `E' shaped earthworks with shelter for ground
crew. Night fighter stations also had sleep shelters where the crew could
rest.
For defence against capture, pillboxes were provided. These fortified gun
positions took many forms, from standard ministry designs used throughout
Britain and in all contexts, to designs specifically for airfield defence.
Three Picket Hamilton forts were issued to many airfields and located on the
flying field itself. Normally level with the ground, these forts were occupied
by two persons who entered through the roof before raising the structure by a
pneumatic mechanism to bring fire on the invading force. Other types of gun
position include the Seagull trench, a complex linear defensive position, and
rounded `Mushroom' pillboxes, while fighter pens were often protected by
defended walls. Finally, airfield defence was co-ordinated from a Battle
Headquarters, a heavily built structure of which under and above ground
examples are known.
Defences survive on a number of airfields, though few in anything like the
original form or configuration, or with their Battle Headquarters. Examples
are considered to be of particular importance where the defence provision is
near complete, or where a portion of the airfield represents the nature of
airfield defence that existed more widely across the site. Surviving
structures will often be given coherence and context by surviving lengths of
perimeter track and the concrete dispersal pads. In addition, some types of
defence structure are rare survivals nationally, and all examples of Picket
Hamilton forts, fighter pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun
positions and Battle Headquarters closely associated with defence structures,
are of national importance.

The remains of the south western sector of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead
at Trickey Warren Farm survive exceptionally well with five of the six fighter
pens originally constructed in this sector surviving in a near complete state
along with many of their support buildings and sections of the perimeter
runways. Fighter pens are now rare survivals in England, and with their
associated structures they illustrate well some of the measures taken to
protect fighter planes during World War II by means of dispersed and well-
defended pens. The site also provides tangible information about a period of
history when England was under severe threat and suffering from deprivation as
a result of the land war in Europe and the effects of German attacks upon
seaborne convoys.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 33-35
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 23-37
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 35
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 33
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 36
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 24

Source: Historic England

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