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Wick Airfield bomb stores, 315m and 400m SSE and 470m south east of Upper Ackergill

A Scheduled Monument in Wick and East Caithness, Highland

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Coordinates

Latitude: 58.4625 / 58°27'45"N

Longitude: -3.0916 / 3°5'29"W

OS Eastings: 336407

OS Northings: 953214

OS Grid: ND364532

Mapcode National: GBR L6QC.BGV

Mapcode Global: WH6DG.HK0D

Entry Name: Wick Airfield bomb stores, 315m and 400m SSE and 470m SE of Upper Ackergill

Scheduled Date: 17 March 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13668

Schedule Class: Cultural

Location: Wick

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Wick and East Caithness

Traditional County: Caithness

Description

The monument is part of a complex of airfield bomb stores built in 1939. They are visible as a series of brick and concrete structures, with earthwork banks, connecting concrete roadways and metal loading gantries, on the northern edge of the former RAF Wick.

There are 12 brick and concrete bomb stores, each measuring around 8m square by 5m high, and divided by earthwork blast banks. There are also 2 separate single brick and concrete component stores of around 6m square by 2m high with surrounding blast banks, and a pair of brick and concrete stores around 7m square by 2m high. The latter pair are joined at roof level and have a concrete partition wall, and surrounding earth and concrete blast banks with baffled entrances. The whole complex is connected by concrete roadways. The steel loading gantries, some signage and camouflage netting fixtures survive in and around the bomb stores themselves.

The scheduled area comprises three separate areas, irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is part of a complex of brick and concrete bomb storage buildings, built in 1939, with earth and concrete blast defence walls surrounding them and surviving concrete roadways for vehicles and loading gantry structures. They are structurally intact allowing the nature of the complex and the activities that took place within it to be readily understood.

The largest structures on the site are the 12 high explosive (HE) bomb stores. Each of these has brick walls with concrete floors and door and window lintels, and a reinforced concrete roof. They are grouped into two sets of six stores, with each set of six divided into two rows of three, back to back. Between each of the store buildings is a substantial earthwork blast bank, with concrete retaining elements, to prevent a chain reaction in the event of a detonation in one of the stores.

Each store has 3 doorways in the front, extending the height of the building, and many of the steel doors remain in situ. Along the front of each set of three buildings runs the concrete roadway which was used by vehicles for the transportation of munitions to and from the stores, and eight of the HE stores still retain their steel loading gantries, which was used to transfer the munitions between the vehicles and the store, as they were too heavy to safely move unassisted.

Within and around the HE stores are additional fixtures and fittings, such as operational instruction signage and the fixings for the camouflage netting the site was covered with during the Second World War. Such features are rare survivals.

There are also two other smaller brick and concrete store buildings, each standing alone within an earthwork blast bank.  They each have a single access passage, but with two doors to the building interior. These are the component stores, and would have been used for the storage of the fuses for the high explosive bombs.

To the west of these stores is another pair of brick and concrete stores, which are the former incendiary stores. Each store with a door in both the north and south walls. These are physically linked by a concrete roof gantry, with a concrete partition wall between them, along with a surrounding earthwork and concrete blast bank, with baffled access routes into the stores. The location of these stores away from the others, and with more blast protection, highlights the more volatile nature of incendiary munitions.

Contextual Characteristics

The monument is a very well-preserved example of bomb stores dating to the "Expansion" Period from 1934 to 1939, and Wick is among the final airfields built during this period, just as the war was beginning. During this time an extensive program of construction was undertaken on new and existing airfields within the United Kingdom, in anticipation of the growing threat from Nazi Germany.

The buildings created during the expansion period tend to be more architecturally impressive than the very utilitarian structures constructed once the Second World War was underway. The Expansion Period also marks the beginning of standardisation in building design on airfields, allowing the specialist building functions to be accounted for in their design. Among these specialist buildings, bomb stores were always kept away from the other airfield structures for safety reasons.

Wick airfield was first established as a civilian airfield with grass landing strips in 1933, and was one of three locations used by the first commercial airline in Scotland, Highland Airways, along with Kirkwall and Inverness. In 1939, the airfield was taken over by the Air Ministry, who began an extensive program of construction to prepare the site for military use, including building the bomb stores.

The airfield remained in use by the military until late 1945, several months after the war was ended, and subsequently reverted to civilian use and it remains in use as Wick Airport today. The airfield has therefore gone through significant change but some aspects of its wartime use has survived in good condition, including the bomb store complex. The airfield provides important context for the bomb store complex and adds to its significance.

Many of the buildings added to airfields during the expansion period were later replaced by improved designs during the Second World War and this is particularly true of bomb stores. This makes the example at Wick an extremely rare survival of a generally unaltered Expansion Period bomb storage area. A similar example is designated as a scheduled monument (Historic England UID: 30907) at the former RAF Bicester in Oxfordshire, which comprises a single set of 6 HE stores and one component store, along with a fusing point building.

Associative Characteristics

Wick Airfield came under the jurisdiction of the Air Ministry in 1939, who were responsible for the construction of new hard runways and the various buildings required on the site, including the bomb stores. RAF Wick functioned as part of No 18 Group, RAF Coastal Command, operating out of RAF Pitreavie.

RAF Wick was used throughout the war for a number of operational functions, but the primary function of the base, as part of Coastal Command, was in the reconnaissance and patrolling of the seas and shipping lanes around Scotland.

Aircraft from Wick were responsible for the sinking of multiple German U-boats, and numerous raids against enemy shipping and facilities both at sea and in occupied Norway. It was also home to fighter squadrons, particularly in the early stage of the war, and acted as a staging point for bombing raids across the North Sea.

RAF Wick also housed a Photographic Reconnaissance Unit for part of the war, most famous for locating the German battleship Bismarck at anchor near Bergen, Norway, which directly led to the Battle of the Denmark Strait two days later and the sinking of the Bismarck within a week.

After the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit transferred to RAF Leuchars, a meteorological squadron was based Wick for two periods during the remainder of the war. To fulfil these various roles, RAF Wick saw a wide range of different aircraft over the course of the conflict, among which were Ansons, Hudsons, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Wellingtons, Beauforts, Whitleys, Blenheims and Hampdens.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of airfields during the Expansion period from 1934-1939. The monument is well preserved, with minimal alteration to the structures since they were built. The complex is designed specifically for munitions storage, and uses a standardised building form developed for the purpose. The remains allow the processes involved to be understood. The survival of the site is particularly significant as an example of Expansion Period airfield architecture, and loss of the monument, especially given its rarity, would therefore significantly diminish our future ability to attempt to understand and appreciate the rapid growth of airfields during the expansion period, and the wider impact of the conflict upon Scotland's landscape and society.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number 172647 (accessed on 09/12/2016).

The Highland Council HER/SMR Reference MHG36258 (accessed on 09/12/2016).

Francis, P. 1996 British Military Airfield Architecture: From Airships to the Jet Age Patrick Stephens Limited: Sparkford p.41-42

Secret Scotland (2009) RAF Wick Available at: http://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/RAFWick?from=Secrets.Handley-PageHampdenP2118BenLoyal (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Highlands and Island Airports Limited (2017) About us. Available at: http://www.hial.co.uk/wick-airport/about-us/ (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Myers, P.R. (1982) Caithness CWS - history - articles - air operations RAF wick part 1 - September 1939 - December 1940 (no date) Available at: http://www.caithness.org/history/articles/airoperationsrafwickpart1/airoperationsrafwickpartone.htm (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Myers, P.R. (1982) Caithness CWS - history - articles - air operations OF RAF wick part Two (no date) Available at: http://www.caithness.org/history/articles/airoperationsrafwickparttwo.htm/airoperationsrafwickpart2.htm (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Myers, P.R. (1982) Caithness CWS - history - articles - Air operations from RAF wick -part Three (no date) Available at: http://www.caithness.org/history/articles/airoperationsrafwickpart3.htm Accessed: 19 January 2017).

NCAP (no date) Hunting the Bismarck. Available at: http://ncap.org.uk/feature/hunting-bismarck (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Historic England (2017) RAF Bicester: World War II airfield - 1021455. Available at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1021455 (Accessed: 19 January 2017).

Canmore

https://canmore.org.uk/site/172647/


HER/SMR Reference

http://her.highland.gov.uk/SingleResult.aspx?uid=MHG36258

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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