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World War II defences of the former airfield of RAF Cranage

A Scheduled Monument in Cranage, Cheshire East

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Latitude: 53.2214 / 53°13'17"N

Longitude: -2.4024 / 2°24'8"W

OS Eastings: 373231.1872

OS Northings: 369451.2945

OS Grid: SJ732694

Mapcode National: GBR 7Y.14YX

Mapcode Global: WH99M.2996

Entry Name: World War II defences of the former airfield of RAF Cranage

Scheduled Date: 24 July 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020762

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34989

County: Cheshire East

Civil Parish: Cranage

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cheshire

Church of England Parish: Byley-cum-Less St John the Evangelist

Church of England Diocese: Chester


The monument, which falls into six separate areas of protection, includes
the upstanding and buried remains of part of the defences of the former
World War II airfield of RAF Cranage. In particular it includes the battle
headquarters building from where defence of the airfield was coordinated,
an anti-aircraft gunpost, three upstanding pillboxes, the buried remains
of a fourth pillbox, and an aircrew sleeping shelter, all of which are
located on or close to the now disused airfield perimeter.

Cranage airfield is an area of flat ground north of Byley village flanked
by Moss Lane on the south, King's Lane on the north, the B5081 on the
west, and a bridleway and the M6 motorway on the east. It was built as an
aircraft storage facility shortly before the outbreak of World War II but
by August 1940 had become a Relief Landing Ground for No.5 Flying Training
School. In November Cranage became the No.2 School of Air Navigation with
training being undertaken using Avro Ansons. This unit was renamed Central
Navigation School in 1942 and remained at Cranage until February 1944.
During the latter half of 1940 No.96 (Night Fighter) Squadron was formed
at Cranage flying Mk.1 Hurricanes in the air defence of Liverpool as the
Luftwaffe targeted the bombing of British cities. From May 1941 seven Avro
Manchester bombers were stored at Cranage pending refitting with new
engines. Wellington bombers also operated from Cranage; they were
assembled at an adjacent Vickers-Armstrong shadow factory and test flown
from Cranage prior to delivery to their units.

In October 1941, with the Luftwaffe now concentrating on the Russian front
and air raids on Britain lessening, 96 Squadron moved from Cranage to RAF
Wrexham. During 96 Squadron's stay at Cranage concrete runways had been
requested to replace the three grass runways. These were never built, the
only concession being the laying of Army Track wire mesh. By April 1943
this mesh had been replaced by American Pierced Steel Planking (PSP).
Between early May and mid-June 1944 United States Army Air Force's (USAF)
14th Liaison Squadron arrived at Cranage with Stinson L-5 Sentinal
aircraft as part of the preparations for the D-Day landings. This unit was
part of the 9th Air Force and General George Patton's 3rd Army. Patton
himself visited Cranage in May from his nearby headquarters at Peover
Hall. As the war drew to a close flying at Cranage was reduced. A
detachment of No.12 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit operated from February
1945 and in May Cranage's last RAF unit, No.190 Gliding School, was formed
using Kirby Cadet gliders. After the war the RAF used the base as a
storage unit until 1954 when it was allocated to USAF who stationed a
number of non-flying units here. At the end of June 1957 the USAF returned
the base to the RAF and it was closed shortly afterwards.

Airfield defences were constructed in two main phases. The first phase,
introduced during the 1930s, was designed to provide protection from air
attacks. The second phase followed the realisation in Spring 1940 that
airfields could be targets in a strategy aimed at capture. This latter
phase is represented at Cranage by the construction of pillboxes and
battle headquarters buildings.

The battle headquarters building at Cranage is located at SJ73236945 and
is the standard Air Ministry design 11008/41 which became operational
after mid-August 1941. It was sited to give a good view over the whole
airfield and acted as the command post for the airfield defence commander,
whose office was central to the structure. Telephone connections to the
defence posts (via the telephone exchange room) and runners enabled the
commander to monitor the development of an attack on the airfield, and to
exercise control over the whole defence force, as well as receiving
incoming information on the movement of enemy troops and aircraft. The
battle headquarters was originally surrounded by a blast protection wall
consisting of an earth bank which has now eroded away. It was constructed
of concrete and brick and is entered from the western side originally
through a steel entrance hatch and down a short flight of stairs.
Internally there is an office, messengers room, sleeping accommodation,
telephone exchange room and chemical closet, while at the eastern end
there is an observation post with a narrow viewing slit all the way
around. On the battle headquarters' south side there is a modified 3/23
brick and concrete-built machine gun post with light anti-aircraft
position. It had a duel role as an anti-aircraft and point defence and
housed four men, armed with three light machine guns and a rifle.
Ammunition was stored in a central underground store and protection for
the gun crew was provided by earth banks which here have eroded away. The
three upstanding pillboxes are all of local design being hexagonal in
shape and of brick and concrete construction. They have an internal
ricochet wall and stepped gun loopholes in each face giving a 360 degree
range of fire. The northern pillbox is located at SJ73587011 and stands up
to about 1.5m high with traces of an entrance porch or blast wall on the
north east side. It has walls approximately 5m long and measures about
9.2m maximum diameter. The southern pillbox is located at SJ73046930 and
stands up to about 2m high with an entrance on the northern side together
with an entrance porch or blast wall. It has walls approximately 3.8m long
and measures about 7.2m maximum diameter. The eastern pillbox is located
at SJ73836925 and stands up to about 1.5m high with traces of possible
entrances on the east and west sides. In size it is similar to the
southern pillbox. At SJ72486982 are the buried remains of a fourth
pillbox, now a grass-covered rubble mound about 12m in diameter. At
SJ73926945 there is a brick and concrete sleeping shelter which provided
night accommodation for a number of airmen. It measures 12.8m long by 3.6m
wide and had an entrance, now blocked, in its northern end. Internally
there were eleven cubicles separated by brick partitions either side of a
central passageway, with two bunks provided per cubicle. All the
partitions, apart from one at the northern end of the building which still
contains a cubicle with two in situ wooden bunks, have now been removed.
The internal layout indicates that a maximum of 22 men could have been
accommodated in the sleeping shelter. External blast walls protecting the
sleeping shelter have now been removed although brick and concrete
foundations for the blast wall exists at the southern end of the shelter.
The original southern entrance was removed and widened to allow access for
farm animals once the building had gone out of use.

All fences and fenceposts and the surface of a bridleway adjacent to the
eastern pillbox are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath these features is 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.

The remains of part of the airfield defences of RAF Cranage survive well
with a battle headquarters building, gunpost, three pillboxes, the buried
remains of a fourth pillbox, and a sleeping shelter all surviving in a
near complete state. In particular the battle headquarters building and
sleeping shelter are now rare survivals nationally and, along with their
associated structures, they illustrate well some of the measures taken to
protect airfields from the threat of capture. As such the site provides
tangible information about a period of history when Britain was under
severe threat and suffering from deprivation as a result of the land war
in Europe and the effects of German air attacks upon British targets.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20

Source: Historic England

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