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World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Cark

A Scheduled Monument in Lower Allithwaite, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.1624 / 54°9'44"N

Longitude: -2.9526 / 2°57'9"W

OS Eastings: 337899.206016

OS Northings: 474487.676331

OS Grid: SD378744

Mapcode National: GBR 7NT9.KN

Mapcode Global: WH83K.MM7W

Entry Name: World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Cark

Scheduled Date: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020988

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34998

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Lower Allithwaite

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Flookburgh St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument, which falls into ten separate areas of protection, includes
parts of the former World War II airfield known as RAF Cark. The largest
protected area lies on the south east part of the airfield and consists of a
group of dispersed fighter pens each intended to house two aircraft, together
with upstanding structures that include crew sleeping shelters and transformer
plinths for electrical supply, and the concrete bases of flight offices and
blister hangars. Elsewhere, largely scattered around the perimeter of the
airfield, are the upstanding remains of a number of pillboxes, an
anti-aircraft gun platform, a battle headquarters building from where defence
of the airfield could be coordinated, an air raid shelter, and an early watch

Cark airfield lies on a flat tongue of land immediately north of Morecambe
Bay and is flanked by marshes on its south west and south east sides. It
was constructed early in 1941 and the site was laid out to support fighter
operations in the north west by No.9 Group, Fighter Command, based at
Barton Hall, Preston. However, on completion Cark was occupied initially
by `F' Flight of No.1 Anti-aircraft Cooperation Unit who used Hawker
Henleys and Westland Lysanders for target towing around Morecambe Bay to
help train RAF and army gunners. In March 1942 the airfield passed to
No.25 Group, Flying Training Command, and became No.1 Staff Pilot Training
Unit, in order to train operational aircrews as instructors, with the Avro
Anson being used for this task. By mid-1942 `R' flight of No.1
Anti-aircraft Cooperation Unit 1614 Flight was also operating from Cark
using Henleys and Bolton Paul Defiants. In December 1942 `F' and `R'
Flights were disbanded and immediately reformed as 650 Squadron,
re-equipped with Miles Martinets as target tugs and Hawker Hurricane MK
IV's. In November 1944 650 Squadron finally left Cark after which the
airfield primarily became associated with test flying and the development
of remote control target drones. During 1945 the recently formed Mountain
Rescue Team moved to Cark. RAF Cark closed on December 31st 1945.

During World War II aircraft were considered to be vulnerable when on the
ground, either from air attack or from possible ground attack. Elaborate
precautions were thus taken to prevent any loss of aircraft when not in
action. As a result aircraft were often held in dispersed pens located
around the perimeter of the airfield but with easy access to the main
runways. At Cark all six original dispersal pens survive in the south east
part of the airfield. These are identified as `Hurricane Type' pens on the
original airfield site plan and their layout consists of substantial
earthwork banks arranged in an approximate `E' shape which partly enclosed
two aircraft, one in each bay, in order to offer some protection from bomb
blasts. At the rear of each pen, built into the earth bank, is a precast
reinforced concrete air raid shelter with a brick-built entrance from each
bay of the pen and a brick-built exit to the rear.

A number of support buildings servicing the needs of the dispersal pens
are included within the scheduling. These buildings provided the means by
which the aircraft housed within the pens could be made ready for duty
under `scramble' conditions and include two surviving brick and concrete
sleeping shelters, three surviving transformer plinths, the concrete bases
of five flight offices and the concrete bases of three blister hangars.
The sleeping shelters provided night accommodation for up to 22 airmen
each. Internally there were cubicles separated by brick partitions either
side of a central passageway with two bunks provided per cubicle. Two
brick-built roofless structures interpreted as transformer plinths for
housing electrical transformers for providing power to the nearby
structures are located close to the dispersal pens whilst a third stands
to the south at SD37827392. The flight offices provided accommodation for
flight officers and clerks while the blister hangars were mainly used for
aircraft storage and maintenance. Also included within the scheduling at
the south east side of the airfield is a machine gun range consisting of a
partly open-fronted brick and concrete building which functioned as the
firing position, and a buttressed, brick-walled, earth-banked target

On the northern side of the airfield runways, at SD37067471, stands the
airfield's first watch office, a single-storey building from where a good view
over much of the airfield could be obtained. It housed a duty pilot who would
log aircraft arrivals and departures. As the airfield became busier this watch
office was superceded by a larger structure housing air traffic or operations

Nearby, at SD37197479, stands the battle headquarters. It 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 and runners to defence posts such as
pillboxes enabled the commander to monitor the development of an attack on the
airfield, and to excercise control over the whole defence force, as well as
receiving incoming information on the movement of enemy troops and aircraft.
The battle headquarters is surrounded by an earth bank and is constructed of
concrete and brick. Internally there is an office, messenger's room, sleeping
accommodation, PBX (or telephone) room and chemical closet, while at the
western end there is an observation post with a narrow viewing slit all the
way around.

Four pillboxes forming part of the airfield defences still survive. Upon the
airfield itself, at SD37007430, there is a cantilever mushroom-type pillbox
about 6m in diameter with 360 degree vision. It contains an internal ricochet
wall and an entrance on its west side. Three other pillboxes are located
immediately outside the airfield with two being on the south west side and the
other on the south east side. That at SD36907419 is a five-sided brick and
concrete structure of local design with gun loops on its south west and north
sides and an entrance on the south; that at SD36937404 is a type-22 hexagonal
concrete pillbox with gun loops on each face and an entrance on the east; and
that at SD37947412 is another cantilever mushroom-type with an entrance on its
north. Another defensive feature on the airfield's south west side is a 40mm
Bofors anti-aircraft gun platform located at SD36997367. At SD36977424, close
to the mushroom-type pillbox on the airfield, there is a Stanton air raid
shelter of concrete construction with a brick entrance at its western end.
Much of its protective earth banking has eroded away.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These include all
fences and fence posts, the sea defence embankment upon which those pillboxes
and the anti-aircraft gun platform situated around the perimeter of the
airfield are located, a kerb adjacent to the five-sided pillbox, a concrete
retaining wall and short fence adjacent to the type-22 pillbox, and all
paving, steps, gravel paths and a tarmaced road on and adjacent to the battle
headquarters. The ground beneath all these features is included.

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
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.

There are some 18 types of watch office, some reflecting evolving techniques
and technology associated with reporting and observation, and some a
combination of roles, for example, with the incorporation of a meteorological
(`Met') office within the building. There are also differences between the
types of watch office found on fighter and bomber stations, while some
individual structures display evidence for their adoption as the station's
role evolved or changed. During the war years the watch office had one or two
storeys; in the two storey examples, the bottom level housed the Met office,
while air traffic control was confined to the upper level. At the start of
World War II there were no air traffic control or operations (`Ops') staff
working in the watch office, and only operational aircraft had radio. At this
stage the duty pilot would log aircraft movements manually. It was only as the
skies became busier that air traffic control and operations personnel were
employed, and that radio became more widely used. Of the 500 or so examples
originally built, some 220 watch offices survive, all of which constitute
significant and symbolic structures. However, examples are considered to be of
particular importance where they have an obvious and visual relationship with
the flying field and other contemporary structures and buildings; where they
survive as good examples of their type, perhaps with original fixtures; or
where the station has operational significance, such as an association with
the Battle of Britain.

The remains of the south eastern part of the former airfield of RAF Cark
survives exceptionally well with all six original dispersal pens remaining
in virtually a complete state along with the upstanding remains of many of
their support buildings including sleep shelters and transformer plinths,
and the concrete footprints of other support buildings such as flight
offices and blister hangars. Also located in the south east part of the
airfield is a rare and well preserved example of a machine gun range.
Dispersal pens are now rare survivals in England, and with their
associated structures they illustrate well some of the measures taken to
protect aircraft during World War II by means of dispersed and
well-defended pens. Additionally the battle headquarters is another rare
survival and together with the four surviving pillboxes and the
anti-aircraft gun platform these features remain a good example of defence
against the threat of capture. RAF Cark's first watch office, a
single-storey structure superceded by a larger watch office during the
progress of the war, survives well and is a rare example in north west
England of this early World War II type of watch office.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
RAF Cark
SMR No. 6342, Cumbria SMR, Lower Allithwaite WWII pillbox, (1989)

Source: Historic England

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