World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, at Trickey Warren Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020492

Date first listed: 02-Oct-2001


Ordnance survey map of World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead, at Trickey Warren Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Somerset

District: Taunton Deane (District Authority)

Parish: Churchstanton

National Grid Reference: ST 20354 14425, ST 20487 14397


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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 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 Picket 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 Picket Hamilton forts, fighter pens and their associated sleep shelters, gun positions and Battle Headquarters closely associated with defence structures, are of national importance.

The remains of the south western sector of the former airfield of RAF Culmhead at Trickey Warren Farm survive exceptionally well with five of the six fighter pens originally constructed in this sector surviving in a near complete state along with many of their support buildings and sections of the perimeter runways. Fighter pens are now rare survivals in England, and with their associated structures they illustrate well some of the measures taken to protect fighter planes during World War II by means of dispersed and well- defended pens. The site also provides tangible information about a period of history when England was under severe threat and suffering from deprivation as a result of the land war in Europe and the effects of German attacks upon seaborne convoys.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument, which falls into two separate areas of protection, includes part of the former World War II fighter station known as RAF Culmhead. In particular the monument comprises a group of dispersed fighter pens, each pen intended to house two aircraft, together with their support buildings, crew accommodation, perimeter runway, and defences, including two pillboxes and two gunpits. All of these remains are located on the south west perimeter of the now disused airfield at Trickey Warren. Trickey Warren is an area of flat ground at the east end of the Blackdown Hills, approximately 9.5km south of Taunton and close to the village of Churchstanton. It was selected early in the course of World War II as an emergency landing ground and a little later Trickey Warren Farm and its surrounding land were requisitioned for the War effort. Construction of a three-runway airfield intended as a satellite station of the principal sector airfield at Exeter began at the site in 1940. However, the airfield was subsequently equipped as a fully operational fighter station and was officially opened on 1st August 1941. Known as RAF Churchstanton, the station was redesignated in 1943 and it is usually referred to by its later name of RAF Culmhead. 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 a standard `E'-shape with two bays, one bay for each aircraft. At Trickey Warren five out of an original group of six dispersed pens survive in the south west sector of the airfield; further pens were built on the eastern side of the runways but these do not survive in anything like the same condition. The five standard Fighter Command Works aircraft fighter pens within the scheduling were built along the `L'-shaped western perimeter track and all were of the larger type to house two twin-engined fighters, each one in its own bay. The layout of a twin fighter pen consists of three arms outlined with dwarf brick retaining walls and earthwork traverses which partly enclosed both aircraft in order to offer some protection from bomb blasts. At the rear of each pen is a precast concrete Stanton type air-raid shelter for 25 men with access from either bay. Associated with each pen are detached defended brick walls with rifle loopholes. These walls appear in a variety of designs and positions depending upon the location of the pen and the most likely direction of ground attack. Additional ground cover was provided by two groups of three pillboxes located beyond the main runways. Two of these pillboxes, one from each group, survive virtually intact and standing to their full height, one to the south of the pens and one to the west. Both were constructed with seven sides (considered to be a rare and unusual design) and set upon a concrete raft approximately 4.2m square. The walls are of concrete with external half-brick shuttering and the roof is of reinforced concrete. The pillbox to the south of the fighter pens, which lies within its own area of protection, has six rifle loopholes, two of which flank the single entrance, and two larger recessed openings for a heavy machine-gun, one loop facing south west towards the outlying countryside and one loop facing in towards the airfield and runway. The pillbox just to the west of the most northerly fighter pen is very similar but has only one opening for a machine-gun which faces north east towards the airfield. Both pillboxes possess brick-built internal partition walls representing anti-ricochet devices. At least eight anti-aircraft machine-gun sites were also located around the airfield perimeter. These sites are known as gunpits and two lie within the scheduling, one to the south of the fighter pens and one to the west. The gunpits were built to a standard keyhole shaped design with the machine-gun mounted in the apsidal forward section allowing a 360 degree field of fire. They are of brick construction, partly sunken into the ground and partly protected by earthwork traverses against bomb blasts. The two which survive in the south west sector of Trickey Warren both have elements of their machine-gun mounting surviving. A number of support buildings servicing the needs of the fighter pens on the western perimeter lie within the scheduling. These buildings provided the means by which the aircraft housed within the pens could be ready for duty under `scramble' conditions (ie: able to respond instantly to any reported threat). These buildings include two flight offices providing accommodation for flight officers and clerks, two latrines, sundry service structures such as transformer plinths and at least one static water tank, and a blister hanger for the storage and maintenance of small aircraft. A number of different squadrons were stationed at RAF Culmhead throughout World War II all of which, for the most part, carried out anti-shipping sweeps over the Channel alternating with bomber escort duties. In the early part of the War the principal fighter aircraft stationed at the base were Hawker Hurricanes but Spitfires were employed from 1941 onwards and the airfield was in operation on D-Day (6th June 1941) with 131 Squadron in action over France. The station witnessed the arrival of the very first jet propelled aircraft to enter service when two Gloster Meteors flew in on the 13th July 1944 to join 616 Squadron. RAF Culmhead ceased to operate as a fighter station in August 1944. It was utilised as a training airfield until July 1945 when it was relegated to Care and Maintenance; it was finally decommissioned in August 1946. A history and condition survey of the fighter station at RAF Culmhead was commissioned in 1997 by the Blackdown Hills Project, Somerset County Council, and Taunton Deane Borough Council and was undertaken by Paul Francis of Airfield Research Publishing. Those sections of the original perimeter runway of the airfield, and those sections of hardstanding for aircraft which lie within the area of protection are specifically included within the scheduling. Excluded from the scheduling are all modern farm buildings constructed after August 1946, all unwheeled caravans on blocks, and all modern fencing and gating, although the ground beneath all 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: 33028

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 33-35
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 23-37
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 35
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 33
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 36
Francis, P, RAF Culmhead, (1997), 24

End of official listing