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World War II fighter pen, Cold War blast walls and associated remains at the airfield formerly known as RAF Coltishall

A Scheduled Monument in Scottow, Norfolk

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.7544 / 52°45'15"N

Longitude: 1.3642 / 1°21'51"E

OS Eastings: 627118.975481

OS Northings: 322723.172425

OS Grid: TG271227

Mapcode National: GBR WG9.9QL

Mapcode Global: WHMT2.X1S8

Entry Name: World War II fighter pen, Cold War blast walls and associated remains at the airfield formerly known as RAF Coltishall

Scheduled Date: 7 March 2008

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021425

English Heritage Legacy ID: 36351

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Scottow

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Scottow All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Details

The monument is located within the former World War II airfield known as RAF
Coltishall. It includes a single fighter pen and eight pairs of blast walls
and is defined by two areas of protection.

The fighter pen lies at the north west boundary of the runway perimeter
track, and includes the attached air-raid shelter and two hardstandings. The
blast walls lie approximately 460m to the south east, and include
hardstandings and a section of runway which links them.

Planned as a bomber station, construction of 'Coltishall Aerodrome' started
on approximately 500 acres of farmland in Scottow parish in 1939, but in May
1940, it became a fighter station. It remained so throughout its active life,
initially for day fighters and subsequently night fighters. The base was,
from time to time, home to some of the noted flying aces associated with the
Battle of Britain and the first German loss is credited to a spitfire from No
66 Squadron based at Coltishall. However, the base was not directly involved
in the Battle of Britain and arguably had a more crucial role in the battle
of the North Sea as the Royal Navy's Swordfish and Albaco aircraft flew from
Coltishall to attack E-boats off the North Norfolk coast. During 1945-46 the
base was designated RAF Coltishall (Polish) owing to the large number of
Polish pilots who had flown from the base during the war, until the
withdrawal of the East European forces. After 1951, RAF Coltishall was
re-equipped with the new Meteor and after the extension of the runways in the
mid 1950s, re-equipped with Javelins becoming the first Javelin Wing in
Fighter Command. The base has since maintained its association with jet
engine fighters, becoming home to Lightnings and Jaguars in succession, the
latter being deployed in the first Gulf War. RAF Coltishall was due to close
in November 2006.

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 the loss of, or damage to, essential aircraft when not in action. As
a result, fighter aircraft were often held in dispersed pens located around
the perimeters of airfields which, nevertheless, had easy access to the main
runways.

This monument includes the buried and standing remains of a fighter pen and
eight pairs of blast walls. The fighter pen is known as a type A which was
constructed in accordance with Air Ministry drawing 11070/40 and housed a
single-engine fighter such as a Spitfire or Hurricane. It is the only
remaining fighter pen at the base and remains substantially intact, and
unusually, without associated earthworks. The roughly 'E'-shaped pen
comprises a single tarmac floor for a single-engine fighter, a central wall
and enclosing walls in an arc which stand some 3m high. Unlike other
designated fighter pens, constructed from dwarf walls with earth banks over,
the Coltishall fighter pen is a very unusual example constructed of
sand-bags, now vitrified. It has an opening width of 20m, an air-raid shelter
and former brick storage shed to the front. Two hardstandings to the south-
east of the pen are associated with the shelter and pen and are therefore
included in the scheduling.

The blast walls date to the 1950s and are built of concrete. They lead from
the runway to the south east of the fighter pen. Eight pairs of walls
provided shelter for jet aircraft and have adjacent concrete hardstandings
for crew huts. These hardstandings are included in the scheduling, although
the huts themselves are no longer extant. The tab of concrete between the
walls was for parking a fuel browser, the fuel pipes passing through the
circular openings in the adjacent walls and the metal hooks on the walls were
for the fuel pipes. The concrete slab was for missile handling and
preparation for crew buildings.

MAP EXTRACT
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 characteristic of this early phase. With time,
however, the capture of the airfield became a 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 the South or East of 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 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 typically
grouped 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 rest. 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 system to bring
fire on the invading force. The position of the Pickett-Hamilton forts at RAF
Coltishall could not be detected. 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 their
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 structures are rare survivals nationally, and all examples of fighter
pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun positions and Battle
Headquarters closely associated with defence structures are of national
importance.

The archaeological remains of the Cold War are the physical manifestation of
the global division between capitalism and communism that shaped the history
of the late C20. Military airfields, housing fighter-interceptor aircraft
represent one element of a complex air defence system, including radar,
visual reporting and control facilities which were needed to identify hostile
aircraft and mount an interception. The most significant technological change
made after the end of World War II was the re-equipment of the frontline
fighter stations with jet aircraft - Meteors and Vampires, and later Javelins
and Jaguars. The effect of the introduction of this technology on airfield
infrastructure included the laying of long concrete runways and operational
readiness platforms at their ends, dispersal areas and aircraft servicing
platforms. Concrete hardstandings were needed to counter the backwash from
the jet engines. Many airfields were also provided with new control towers
and specialised servicing facilities for aircraft avionics. The armament of
post-war jets differed little from that of their wartime predecessors but
from the late 1950s, with the introduction of new aircraft types, pre-loaded
gun packs and guided missiles began to demand their own servicing and storage
infrastructure. The comprehensive survey of Cold War monuments has identified
the principal post-war fighter interceptor airfields in England, including
RAF Coltishall. Structures have been selected to reflect the development of
post-war military airfield architecture to meet new technological needs and
those that had a specifically operational Cold War role. The group of eight
pairs of blast walls and their associated concrete aprons are well preserved
examples of 1950s airfield defensive features. They were probably constructed
in about 1956 and coincide with the introduction of the Javelin and the UK's
first operation air to air missile, Firestreak. They both reflect the
development of blast pen design since the end of the war and contemporary
threat assessments which foresaw that the Soviet air force had the capability
to attack UK airfields. Furthermore, the blast walls mark the move from gun
to missile technology and the first phase of weapons that made the
generational transition from modified wartime weapons to weapons specifically
designed to fight the Cold War.

Despite limited modification, the World War II fighter pen and Cold War blast
walls at Coltishall are outstandingly well preserved. The associated
structures providing for crewing, maintenance and organisation are all
represented. All of these monument types are rare nationally. The survival of
the original layouts of all the various structures in their complexes with
stretches of perimeter track linking them is exceptional. These remains
represent well the development of airfield design in response to the intense
and changing pressures of a critical period in the history of Britain. In
particular, they are good examples of the provision for fighter units having
been built for this purpose and used as such throughout the history of the
airfield.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Cocroft, W D, Thomas, R J C, Cold War - Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989, (2003), 8735927

Source: Historic England

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