World War II decoys for Hull docks, 1580m south east, 600m west and 90m south west of Little Humber


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of World War II decoys for Hull docks, 1580m south east, 600m west and 90m south west of Little Humber
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Riding of Yorkshire (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
TA 19182 23710, TA 19810 23611, TA 20488 22282

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 been identified.

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.


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 of England. 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 scheduling. 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:
Legacy System:


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

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