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World War II fighter pens and defences, and other associated remains, at the airfield formerly known as RAF Perranporth, Trevellas

A Scheduled Monument in St. Agnes, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.3245 / 50°19'28"N

Longitude: -5.184 / 5°11'2"W

OS Eastings: 173463.2725

OS Northings: 52017.2538

OS Grid: SW734520

Mapcode National: GBR Z5.VPCF

Mapcode Global: FRA 0815.L79

Entry Name: World War II fighter pens and defences, and other associated remains, at the airfield formerly known as RAF Perranporth, Trevellas

Scheduled Date: 7 March 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020556

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32957

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: St. Agnes

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Agnes

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The scheduling includes World War II fighter pens and defences, with
accommodation and other associated remains, at the airfield formerly known as
RAF Perranporth, Trevellas. The location is a level coastal plateau, with
steep cliffs to the north west, lying south west of Perranporth. The
scheduling is divided into eight separate areas of protection.
RAF Perranporth was built in response to the threat of German naval and aerial
control of Britain's Western Approaches, as part of the rapid development of
airfields in the early years of World War II. The airfield, constructed on
recently enclosed farmland, opened on 28th April 1941 as a satellite for RAF
Portreath, some 9km to the south west. It was originally known as Trevellas.
The station was intended for one squadron (12 aircraft) of Spitfire fighters,
but was soon used by two, and then by three.
The airfield continued to be used by Spitfires from a total of 21 squadrons
crewed by different nationalities until April 1944, their missions including
offensive sweeps over France and providing bomber escorts, as well as shipping
and coastal defence. It was then used by three squadrons of the Royal Navy's
Fleet Air Arm (FAA), to attack German E-boats (motor torpedo boats) and
shipping in the period around D-Day (6th June 1944), when Allied forces landed
in France. The FAA units were equipped with rocket firing Swordfish biplanes,
and Avenger torpedo bombers. The station was run on a Care and Maintenance
basis from 1st September 1944, interrupted by a period of reuse from 23rd
November to 1st May 1945 as a base for RAF units awaiting transfer to former
enemy airfields.
The airfield conforms to Air Ministry specifications for a night fighter
station of 1941, having a perimeter track around which aircaft were to be
dispersed to minimise damage in the event of attack, giving access to three
tarmac runways laid in an A-shaped plan, and standardised buildings and
structures. The airfield remains in the scheduling are broadly of two types:
fighter pen complexes, and defensive works.
A base consisting of a linked pair of fighter pen complexes was provided for
each squadron, each complex supporting one of the squadron's two flights (six
aircraft). The complexes contain fighter pens, hangars, and standings for the
dispersed protection and maintenance of aircraft, with accommodation and other
facilites for personnel, technical operations and organisation, and perimeter
track linking these elements to each other and to the runways. The two
squadron bases lie at either end of the main runway.
Each flight complex has three intact or near intact fighter pens, designed to
protect aircraft from blasting by enemy aerial bombing. The pens are E-shaped
in plan, comprising a pair of tarmac floors which each held one single-engine
fighter, a bank separating them, a more massive bank in an arc around the
rear, and a central air raid shelter for crews. They have features including
tie-down bars for anchoring aircraft, and variations reflecting development
over time, the earliest pens being on the north east side.
The four hangars in the scheduling, now represented by surface remains,
were of the blister type, roofed with arched steel ribs clad with corrugated
iron. They have tarmac bases with remains of ironwork. Two hangars have arcs
of pegsaround their ends, used to secure the lower edges of canvas coverings.
The north east and south west flight complexes also have tarmac aircraft
standings adjoining the perimeter track; the other two have standings with
approaches, known as pan dispersals from their plan. Tie-down bars can be seen
on both types.
Associated buildings for flight personnel are shown and identified on a plan
of 1945. They survive as concrete bases reflecting their layout and plan form,
some with traces of their superstructures. The latter included Nissen, Laing,
and Handcraft types, built of concrete, brick, corrugated iron, and asbestos.
All the fighter pen complexes have latrines and three have drying rooms. Those
on the north east side of the airfield, more distant from the accommodation
sited south of the main airfield, have crew rest rooms, and night sleeping
shelters to allow rapid scrambling or emergency deployment of crew. The night
shelter on the north west side is near intact. It has block and reinforced
concrete walls and roof, blast walls at each end, and galvanised protective
doors. Three complexes have the concrete base of a flight office, used in
organising operations and as an officers' mess. The fourth office, on the
south east side, is standing. It has concrete block walls and butresses and
asbestos roofing. The interior has remains of fittings, and graffiti including
a representation of a fighter aircraft. Flights also had magazines for
ammunition and other storage provision, again visible as bases with remains of
their superstructures.
The perimeter track in the scheduling, which links the two groups of fighter
pens, has its original tarmac surface, as do the spur tracks connecting it
with their various components. On the north side, segments of the main
runway and runway three are included where the linking track intersects with
them, providing wide turning areas suitable for marshalling aircraft.
Airfield defences and command are represented in the scheduling by a battle
headquarters (BHQ) with its own shield of defences, positioned roughly in the
centre towards the cliffs, and other defensive sites near the airfield
perimeter on the north east side.
The BHQ was intended for use in the event of an attack to coordinate the
airfield's defence. It has an underground control room, and an observation
post with a horizontal viewing slit. The structure is of block and reinforced
concrete with iron fittings. A defended locality around the BHQ is defined by
three complete or near-complete pillboxes, small defence posts with reinforced
walls and flat roofs. They are octagonal in plan, and built of concrete and
brick, but each is topped with an earth mound extending up to 2m beyond its
walls. It is possible that they were capped with earth during the War for
camouflage. A similar pillbox stands near the station's boundary on the north
east side of the airfield. A virtually intact gunpit for an anti-aircraft
machine gun is located in each of these areas with pillboxes, one north east
of the BHQ, and one near the north east boundary. These are keyhole shaped in
plan, having a small below-ground shelter opening from a rounded pit, and
built of brick and concrete. Each pit has an iron access ladder and central
gun mounting, and ammunition storage built into its revetting wall.
The airfield remains described above are associated with others beyond this
scheduling including the runways and control tower.
The modern fencing, gates, doors, and their fittings, farming and building
equipment and materials, water pipe and drinking trough, drainage goods, yard
for livestock, fuel tank, aircraft, vehicles, and boats are excluded from the
scheduling, although the structures or ground beneath them are included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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
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 Pickett-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 Pickett-
Hamilton forts, fighter pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun
positions and Battle Headquarters closely associated with defence structures,
are of national importance.

Despite limited modification and some ploughing and rabbit damage, the World
War II fighter pens and defences and other associated remains at the
airfield formerly known as RAF Perranporth, Trevellas are outstandingly
well-preserved. The associated structures providing for crewing, maintenance,
and organisation are all represented and some are substantially intact. They
include fighter pens, sleep shelters (one near complete), and a defended
locality with gun positions and Battle Headquarters, all rare nationally. The
survival, almost undisturbed, of the original layouts of all the various
structures in their complexes, with tracks linking them and giving access to
the runways, is exceptional.
These remains represent well the development of airfield design in response to
the intense and changing pressures of a critical period in the history of
Britain. In particular, they provide a very good example of the provision for
fighter units, having been built for this purpose and used as such throughout
the War. They supported flying missions which contributed to critical phases
of the nation's defensive and offensive action. The association of
accommodation for airfield personnel with technical and defensive
installations also illustrates the wide and profound impact of World War II on

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Andrew, F R, The history of RAF Perranporth, 1941-1945, (2000), 1-9
Andrew, F R, The history of RAF Perranporth, 1941-1945, (2000), 1-9
Lowry, B (ed), Twentieth Century defences in Britain. An introductory guide, (1995), 82-83
Lowry, B (ed), Twentieth Century defences in Britain. An introductory guide, (1995), 123
Lowry, B (ed), Twentieth Century defences in Britain. An introductory guide, (1995), 82, 83
Smith, G, Devon and Cornwall Airfields in the Second World War, (2000), 152
Walford, E, War over the West, (1989), 118
Andrew, FR, Defence of Britain Project Site Report, 1999, Unpublished MS at CAU
Francis, P, Unknown, 2000, Unpublished report
PRN 53682, Young, A, CAU SMR, (2000)
PRN 53682, Young, A, Cornwall SMR, (2000)
Title: Air Ministry Perranporth 1:2500 Record Site Plan
Source Date: 1945
Airfield Plan No 88 at RAF Museum
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map
Source Date: 1880

Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map
Source Date: 1908

Source: Historic England

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