World War II decoys for Hull docks, 1580m south east, 600m west and 90m south west of Little Humber
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1020022
Date first listed: 18-Sep-2001
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: East Riding of Yorkshire (Unitary Authority)
National Park: N/A
National Grid Reference: TA 19182 23710, TA 19810 23611, TA 20488 22282
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
World War II saw the emergence of aerial bombardment as a decisive instrument
of warfare, and to counter this threat, the United Kingdom maintained a
flexible and diverse mechanism of air defence throughout the war. This
included the early warning of approaching aircraft, through radar and visual
detection, and the local defence of towns, cities and other vulnerable points
using anti-aircraft gunnery and balloon barrages. But less conspicuously, many
potential targets were shadowed by decoys - dummy structures, lighting
displays and fires - designed to draw enemy bombs, by subterfuge, from the
intended points of attack.
Britain's decoy programme began in January 1940 and developed into a complex
deception strategy, using four main methods: day and night dummy aerodromes
(`K' and `Q' sites); diversionary fires (`QF' sites and `Starfish'); simulated
urban lighting (`QL' sites); and dummy factories and buildings. In all, some
839 decoys are recorded for England in official records, built on 602 sites
(some sites containing decoys of more than one type). This makes up the
greater proportion of the c.1000 decoys recorded for the United Kingdom.
The programme represented a large investment of time and resources. Apart from
construction costs, several thousand men were employed in operating decoys,
the fortunes of which were closely tied to the wartime targets they served.
The decoys were often successful, drawing many attacks otherwise destined for
towns, cities and aerodromes. They saved many lives.
`QL' decoys were first operational in August 1941, and at its peak in December
1942, 209 were active. Most of these were Civil QLs, serving non military
targets, the majority of which lay in the industrial Midlands and north, with
other concentrations on the Tyne and Tees, and in the Bristol and Avonmouth
areas; many were co-located with Starfish. Like Starfish, QLs were sited in
clusters with a dozen or more decoys protecting the larger towns and cities.
In operation the decoys would usually be illuminated in groups, representing
the apparent extent of the target. In addition to Civil QLs, several
specialised series of QL decoys were established: the A series comprising a
handful of sites operated by the army, mostly protecting ordnance factories;
Mobile QL sites which were created in the south east in May 1943 in response
to a sudden upsurge in night bombing attacks; and the N series established for
the protection of naval installations, and usually co-located with Naval QF
sites. Also in this last group were the decoys comprising mobile equipment
used to simulate activities around dummy embarkation points in the cover plan
for Operation Overlord.
QL sites relied upon diversity to retain realism, and no two were alike.
Standard layouts were explicitly avoided and sophisticated light displays
varied from 5-30 acres in area, the size depending on the target it was
intended to replicate. Since most were co-located with Starfish, their night
shelters and ancillary structures were often also used to serve the QL site.
Isolated sites were, however, provided with shelters of their own. Some 230
decoys in England had a QL component; 142 of these were QL sites alone.
Very little now survives of any of these decoys, most having been cleared
after the war. All sites with significant surviving remains will be considered
of national importance, as will those where a well-preserved night shelter has
Hull was described by the war-time Home Secretary as the worst bombed town or city in Britain. During the course of the war it was raided 82 times, for the last time in March 1945, with more than 1200 civilians killed in total. Destruction was widespread with over 3,500 houses and 25 schools destroyed, with a further 80,000 houses and 85 schools seriously damaged. The decoys for Hull docks successfully contributed towards limiting this destruction. The remains that form the monument are well-preserved. The decoys for King George V and Alexander Docks especially have changed little since being photographed by the RAF in 1947. They are nationally unique in their form and design and are a fine example of the ingenuity of World War II decoys.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the remains of World War II decoys designed to attract
enemy bombers heading for Hull Docks. The monument is in three separate areas
of protection: the first and largest includes the decoys for King George V,
Alexandra and Victoria docks all lying along the Humber foreshore on The
Outstray to the south west of Thorney Crofts; the second area includes the
decoy for the River Hull, centred 700m west of Little Humber Farm; the last
area lies immediately to the south west of this farm and includes the decoy's
shelter from which the operation of the decoy was controlled. The decoys for
the rest of Hull docks have been largely lost to land reclamation or coastal
erosion and are thus not included in the monument.
The decoys for Hull docks were operated by the Royal Navy and were part of a
wider area of decoys of different forms which were designed to mimic the town
and surrounding features. The whole set of decoys were constructed at about
one third scale and displaced 9km-10km to the south east of the town. A
further pair of shelters, which controlled decoys for other parts of the town,
lie just east of Paull Holme. From the 19th February 1941, German bombers
started targeting ports, with Hull being particularly badly bombed on the 18th
of March, the 7th-8th of May, when around 450 people were killed, and on the
18th of July. The secret Air Ministry department which oversaw bombing decoys,
known as Colonel Turner's Department, drew up a decoy scheme for Hull in March
1941 to be operated by the Navy. A letter from the Admiralty the same month,
however, initially rejected the need for decoys around the Humber. Shortly
thereafter a letter dated 26th May 1941 from the Humber Vice Admiral Flag
Officer to Colonel Turner accepted responsibility for all decoys protecting
Hull. Coincidentally this was on the same day that Germany attacked the Soviet
Union, which marked the effective end of the main bombing campaign against
Britain. The decoys are believed to have been operational by August 1941 and
are known to have successfully misdirected a proportion of the attacks that
were intermittently directed against Hull throughout the war. Further
correspondence suggests that the Navy was not entirely happy with the
responsibility as there was a reluctance to transfer personnel to decoy work.
On the 8th March 1945 the Admiralty finally ordered the closure of all decoys
along the Humber.
The decoys that form the monument were of a typer known as `QL' decoy sites
which used lights to mimic those typically still visible during the night-time
blackout. The lights mounted on 3m high poles were directed to shine on water
which in most cases was contained in specially constructed concrete ponds.
Together these formed a display that, when viewed from high altitude, appeared
to be the outlines of the individual docks around Hull, with the lights
mimicking essential dockside lights. The concrete ponds each have a concrete
floor and side walls 0.5m high, along with a concrete base for the timber post
which supported the light. Most, but not all, of these posts have since been
removed or sawn off. The ponds are of three types: rectangular, typically 9m
by 5m; right-angled triangular, 6.5m by 6.5m representing the internal angles
of the docks; and five sided, being 9 sq m-10 sq m with a triangle removed
from one side, designed to represent the re-entrant angles of the docks. These
ponds can be clearly seen on RAF aerial photographs taken in 1946 and 1947.
They were mapped at 1:2500 by the Ordnance Survey in 1968-69 and were surveyed
archaeologically in 1992 by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments
The eastern-most decoy was that for King George V Dock which was represented
by 16 concrete ponds, all of which can still be identified, most being still
intact. Next there is a north-south line of three rectangular ponds which
represented the Holderness Drain. Further north west along The Outstay, almost
due south of Old Little Humber Farm, there are eight concrete ponds that
mimicked the landward, northern half of Alexander Dock. The RAF photographs
clearly show that in the 1940s, as now, the foreshore here was too narrow to
allow the representation of the southern half of the dock. The foreshore
narrowed still further to the north west so that the representation of
Victoria Dock, which lies south of Little Humber Farm, was limited to five
ponds sited at the foot of the sea wall with five additional posts protruding
from the mud below the high water mark. Unlike the ponds to the south east,
those representing Victoria Dock have all been badly disturbed, most only
surviving as the buried base with some associated fragments of the sides.
However, four of the five posts below the high water mark survive in situ to
full height. The remains of the other decoy docks to the north west have been
largely lost to erosion, land reclamation and demolition and are thus not
included within the scheduling.
To the west of Little Humber Farm there are a pair of drains, which unlike
most others in the area, are not straight. They are approximately parallel
with each other, 50m-80m apart and run southwards from Pant Drain for 240m-
280m to turn WSW to the Humber. During the operation of the decoy the drains
were dammed to flood the area in between them to mimic the River Hull. These
drains, the area between and remains of flanking banks form the second area of
The last area that forms part of the monument includes the decoy's night
shelter from which the lighting of the decoy was controlled. This lies just to
the south west of Little Humber farmyard and is a cement rendered brick
structure further protected by earth banking with a flat reinforced concrete
roof. It has two rooms either side of an entrance protected by a blast wall to
the north. The western room originally contained diesel powered electricity
generators and associated switch gear for the lights. The eastern room, which
has an emergency escape hatch through the roof, was the accommodation for the
decoy's crew and acted as a bomb shelter.
All modern fence posts and the shooting hides on the foreshore are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 34704
Legacy System: RSM
Typescript report, RCHME, Bombing Decoy at the Outstray, (1992)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing