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Two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south west of Broomhill Cottages

A Scheduled Monument in Honington, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.3423 / 52°20'32"N

Longitude: 0.7758 / 0°46'32"E

OS Eastings: 589185.0976

OS Northings: 275202.0932

OS Grid: TL891752

Mapcode National: GBR RF7.4Y7

Mapcode Global: VHKCS.DDH8

Entry Name: Two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south west of Broomhill Cottages

Scheduled Date: 3 September 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020779

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30606

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Honington

Built-Up Area: Honington Airfield

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Fakenham Magna St Peter

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection, includes two of
the three Picket-Hamilton forts which were installed late in 1940 as part of
the ground defences of Honington airfield. The third Pickett-Hamilton fort is
believed to have been destroyed during post-war construction work.

RAF Honington was constructed during the period of rapid expansion of the RAF
between 1934 and 1939 and opened in 1937. It was designated a heavy bomber
station, originally with a grass strip flying field, and was one of six
airfields under the control of No.3 Group of the newly formed Bomber Command.
During the period up to the outbreak of war it housed various squadrons flying
Audaxes, Harts, Heyfords, Wellesleys and Harrows, but in 1938 the new
Wellingtons came into operation, and between 1939 and 1942 were flown from
here, as were Ansons, Battles and Blenheims. In the summer of 1942 the
airfield was handed over to the USAAF, who set up an advanced air depot on the
north west side for the repair, overhaul and modification of B17 Flying
Fortresses. A steel mat runway was also constructed, with additional taxiways
and hard standings, and in 1944 the airfield was enlarged to receive 364th
Fighter Group, flying Lightnings and Mustangs. It was handed back to the RAF
in 1946 and remains in use.

Pickett-Hamilton forts were designed specifically for airfield defence on the
flying field and were a form of retractable pill box, the upper section of
which could be lowered flush with the ground surface when not in use, so as
not to obstruct aircraft landing and taking off. Each consisted of two hollow,
concentric pre-cast concrete drums resting on a concrete base. The outer drum
and the base, measuring approximately 2.5m in depth overall, were sunk into
the ground. The inner drum, pierced by three rifle loopholes, formed the
lifting head and was designed to be raised approximately 0.75m by means of a
central jack, using a compressed air bottle or hand pump, although this system
proved unreliable and was later supplemented by oil pumps. When the lifting
head was in the lowered position an external flange rested on the upper
section of the outer drum, which incorporated a precast concrete surround or
collar. Access was by means of a metal hatch in the roof of the lifting head
and metal rungs set into the inner face. The interior fittings included a
free standing circular firing step around the central column, a small electric
light and a telephone for communication with the airfield battle headquarters.

The tops of the lifting heads of the two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington
are visible as circles of concrete approximately 2m in diameter, with the
metal hatches set off centre. The upper sections of the outer drums extend
about 0.3m beyond, giving an overall diameter of 2.6m. The better preserved
of the two, in the first area of protection, is located about 70m to the south
of the main runway of the modern airfield. Its principal components, including
the firing step and the jack, survive and the lifting mechanism is in working
order, having been restored and tested in 1987. In the second fort, located
approximately 500m to the north of the runway, the jack has been removed and
the firing step is broken, but the outer structure and lifting head remain

The metal bars and padlocks installed to secure the hatches for reasons of
safety are excluded from the scheduling, although the hatches are included
in the scheduling.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 1 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 two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south
west of Broomhill Cottages are of importance as comparatively rare surviving
examples of an unusual and innovative type of airfield defence installation.
The outer structure and lifting heads of both remain in good condition, and
the example which is in working order, with its principal internal fittings
intact, is of particular interest.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 58, 60
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 58,60
King, N, (2001)

Source: Historic England

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