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World War II fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick, 120m south and 340m north east of Oran House

A Scheduled Monument in Killerby, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.3617 / 54°21'42"N

Longitude: -1.6138 / 1°36'49"W

OS Eastings: 425195.2193

OS Northings: 496307.332

OS Grid: SE251963

Mapcode National: GBR KL50.F7

Mapcode Global: WHC6N.5MSM

Entry Name: World War II fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick, 120m south and 340m north east of Oran House

Scheduled Date: 30 July 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020990

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34719

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Killerby

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Catterick St Anne

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


The monument is formed by two protected areas designed to include a sample
of the best surviving remains of the World War II defences for RAF
Catterick. The first protected area lies 120m south of Oran House and
includes a pillbox with a group of three earthwork fighter pens. The
second protected area lies 340m north east of Oran House and includes
built and earthwork remains of another fighter pen of a different,
twin-bayed design. Castle Hills, a medieval motte and bailey castle 700m
north east of Oran House, also includes World War II defences, but is the
subject of a separate scheduling.

Sited on level ground between the A1 main road and the River Swale to the
east, Catterick was one of the first military airbases in the world, and
was first used by the 8th (Training) Wing of the Royal Flying Corps from
February 1915. Throughout World War I it was in use as a training
establishment, although from September 1915 to the end of the war it also
had an operational role as the base for C Flight of 76 Squadron,
responsible for defending the Yorkshire area. After the war it was one of
those sites earmarked for disposal, although the land, which was
previously leased, was bought by the Air Ministry in 1924. In 1926 plans
were drawn up for the construction of technical buildings, married
quarters and other structures and in October 1927, RAF Catterick once more
became operational with the arrival of 26 (Army Co-operation) Squadron.
Further expanded and modernised in 1935, by 1938 it had become a key
fighter sector station in the RAF's 13 Fighter Group. In the first three
years of World War II, RAF Catterick played a vital role in defending the
north east and convoys in the North Sea against attacks that were mainly
launched from occupied Norway and Denmark. In 1940-41 it was provided with
a hard surface runway and a set of airfield defences. RAF Catterick hosted
a succession of different squadrons, mainly flying Spitfires, but at times
also including other single-engined fighters, as well as the twin-engined
Beaufighters which were used in a night-time role. Several of these
squadrons were foreign, including Czech, Polish, Norwegian and Canadian.
During the Battle of Britain, RAF Catterick was also used as a rest
station for fighter squadrons from southern England's 11 Group. The
station's front-line operational role was run down during 1943 and for
most of the rest of the war it was used by reserve units. In 1946 RAF
Catterick was taken over by the RAF Regiment, initially as a depot and
then, from 1964, as a Wing Headquarters and training establishment. In the
mid-1990s RAF Catterick was transferred to the army, forming Marne

Most of RAF Catterick's living quarters and technical buildings were on
the north western side of the airfield. However, because fighter aircraft
were considered to be very vulnerable when on the ground from either air
attack or possible ground assault, they were held in dispersed pens
arranged around the perimeter of the airfield, away from the main
buildings. The hangers on the north western side of the airfield only
housed aircraft undergoing major repairs. Most of the fighter pens
followed the standard E-shaped pattern with two open fronted bays
protected by earth banks retained by dwarf brick walls, each bay designed
to hold one aircraft. Buried within the rear bank, with access from both
bays, was an air-raid shelter designed to protect the ground crews. The
four E-shaped pens along the eastern perimeter track were designed for
twin-engined planes such as the Blenheim and Beaufighter. All four of
these pens have been modified for reuse and are thus not included in the
monument. On the south side of the airfield there were a further eight
E-shaped pens which are slightly smaller in scale, being built for
single-engined fighters such as the Hurricane and Spitfire. One of these,
depicted on the 1:10,000 map about 340m north east of Oran House, survives
effectively complete, and is included in the monument. It measures nearly
50m by 20m externally, defined by banks up to 2m high, with each concrete
surfaced bay measuring about 15m by 15m and open to the north east.
Running along the top of the outlining bank is a barbed wire fence with
angle-iron fence posts. This fencing is thought to be original and is
included in the monument. The air raid shelter also survives effectively
complete and is also similarly included. In addition to the entrances at
the rear of each bay, it has a third entrance to the south west.

Within the second protected area is a group of three well-preserved
fighter pens, immediately south of Oran House's rear garden wall. A fourth
pen, immediately west of the protected area has been infilled and is thus
not included in the monument. These pens are of a simple earthwork design,
each formed by a V-shaped bay cut into rising ground and extended with
earth banking. Constructed by the Royal Engineers, they were designed to
protect a single-engined plane with its tail to the back of the V. Each
measures about 18m wide at the mouth of the V and are around 10m deep.
Being set back a little way from the airfield, these pens, which would
have been easily camouflaged with netting, are thought to have been used
for reserve rather than operational aircraft. On the natural rise to the
south, overlooking the southern and eastern approaches to the pens, is a
well-preserved pillbox which is included in the monument. This is a
thickened type 22 pillbox for five Lewis or Bren machine guns and was
built right up against a mature tree, presumably for camouflage. Hexagonal
in plan, it has 2 feet (0.6m) thick walls constructed with an outer and
inner cladding of brick over reinforced concrete.

The telegraph poles and concrete fence posts are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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.

RAF Catterick is the best surviving RAF fighter station in the north of
England. The fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick
are a well-preserved sample of World War II defences. The single E-shaped
pen is important as its a rarely surviving example of the standard design
of fighter pen. The V-shaped pens, (which are believed to be unique to
Catterick) are equally important as they are an example of local
initiative which was a typical feature in the development of World War II
airfield defences.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Barrymore Halpenny, B, Action Stations 4: Military Airfields of Yorkshire, (1982), 41-47
Francis, Paul , RAF Catterick Historical Aerodrome Survey, 2000, Typescript Report for MoD

Source: Historic England

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