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Group of seven World War II fighter pens at the former airfield of RAF Kenley

A Scheduled Monument in Kenley, Croydon

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Latitude: 51.3068 / 51°18'24"N

Longitude: -0.0934 / 0°5'36"W

OS Eastings: 532997.509632

OS Northings: 158137.877023

OS Grid: TQ329581

Mapcode National: GBR H1.K3T

Mapcode Global: VHGRZ.BFH1

Entry Name: Group of seven World War II fighter pens at the former airfield of RAF Kenley

Scheduled Date: 6 September 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021243

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30904

County: Croydon

Electoral Ward/Division: Kenley

Built-Up Area: Croydon

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Coulsdon St John the Evangelist

Church of England Diocese: Southwark


The monument, which falls into seven separate areas of protection,
includes part of the former World War II fighter station known as RAF
Kenley. These seven fighter pens are part of a group, originally numbering
twelve, dispersed around the runway perimeter track of the airfield. Seven
survive within the monument and a further four pens are the subject of a
separate scheduling.
During World War II fighter aircraft were considered to be very vulnerable
when on the ground either from air attack, or, during the early years of
the War, from possible ground attack, and elaborate precautions were taken
to prevent any loss of aircraft when not in action. As a result, fighter
aircraft were often held in dispersed pens located around the perimeter of
the airfields but with easy access to the main runways. These pens were
often constructed in an E-shape with two bays, one for each aircraft. At
Kenley all but one of the original 12 pens survive, providing protection
for up to 24 aircraft at a time.
Kenley was first used as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome in 1917 although
the buildings associated with the grass flying field have all now gone. An
Act of Parliament in 1939 following agreement to provide all-weather
runways and perimeter tracks for critical fighter stations led to the
expansion and rebuilding of RAF Kenley to provide two 800 yard (732m)
runways which were completed in December 1939. By April 1940 all 12
fighter pens had also been completed and the Station was fully
operational. The aircraft based at Kenley formed part of 11 Group and it
was able to house two squadrons of twelve aircraft each in the fighter
pens and a further squadron dispersed on open hard standings. Kenley was
subjected to some of the most sustained attacks on fighter stations by the
Luftwaffe in 1940. On 18th August one raid led to the loss of three
personnel, three hangers and two aircraft ; photographs of an attack on a
fighter pen appeared in the German Der Adler magazine. On 30th August 39
personnel were killed and 26 wounded and on the following day the
operations block was damaged. Despite these sustained raids Kenley
continued to launch fighter aircraft and played a vital role throughout
the Battle of Britain and the later Blitz of London.
The eight standard Fighter Command Works aircraft fighter pens within this
scheduling were built in three groups. Two lie to the north, immediately
west of the end of the main runway. A further four lay east of the
perimeter track on the east side of the airfield with the site of the
former battle headquarters to their south and the final two lie on the
south west side of the airfield, close to the southern end of the main
runway on the western side of the perimeter track. Together with four
further pens on the north side they provided a 360 degree dispersal of
aircraft and allowed at least some operational capability even if one of
the runways or the perimeter track were damaged or fell to enemy ground
The layout of a twin fighter pen consists of an E-shaped set of stone and
brick dwarf retaining walls and earthwork traverses which protected three
sides of, and separated, two bays, each for one aircraft. These measured
about 50m along the rear axis and 22.5m along the side with the banks
measuring 6.5m wide. The two bays each measured approximately 16.5m and
provided ample room for one Spitfire or Hurricane aircraft in each. At the
rear of each pen is a precast concrete Stanton type air-raid shelter for
up to 25 men with access from either bay.
All modern fences, gates and all post-August 1946 ground surfaces are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all of 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.

Although Kenley no longer has the pillboxes and other elements of an
airfield defence surviving, it is the only example identified through a
national survey to retain nearly all of its dispersed fighter pens. As
such, and in association with its historical significance, it is a
nationally important monument which demonstrates both planned defence of
aircraft from attack while on the ground and the success of this policy,
as so few aircraft were lost on the ground despite repeated and heavy
aerial attack.

Source: Historic England


PRO station record book, AIR 28/419, Operations Record Book, (1939)
See 146460, (1939)

Source: Historic England

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