World War II defences of the former airfield of RAF Cranage


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of World War II defences of the former airfield of RAF Cranage
© 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.

Cheshire East (Unitary Authority)
Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 72473 69826, SJ 73036 69297, SJ 73231 69451, SJ 73585 70115, SJ 73833 69255, SJ 73919 69448

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 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 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 Pickett- 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 part of the airfield defences of RAF Cranage survive well with a battle headquarters building, gunpost, three pillboxes, the buried remains of a fourth pillbox, and a sleeping shelter all surviving in a near complete state. In particular the battle headquarters building and sleeping shelter are now rare survivals nationally and, along with their associated structures, they illustrate well some of the measures taken to protect airfields from the threat of capture. As such the site provides tangible information about a period of history when Britain was under severe threat and suffering from deprivation as a result of the land war in Europe and the effects of German air attacks upon British targets.


The monument, which falls into six separate areas of protection, includes the upstanding and buried remains of part of the defences of the former World War II airfield of RAF Cranage. In particular it includes the battle headquarters building from where defence of the airfield was coordinated, an anti-aircraft gunpost, three upstanding pillboxes, the buried remains of a fourth pillbox, and an aircrew sleeping shelter, all of which are located on or close to the now disused airfield perimeter.

Cranage airfield is an area of flat ground north of Byley village flanked by Moss Lane on the south, King's Lane on the north, the B5081 on the west, and a bridleway and the M6 motorway on the east. It was built as an aircraft storage facility shortly before the outbreak of World War II but by August 1940 had become a Relief Landing Ground for No.5 Flying Training School. In November Cranage became the No.2 School of Air Navigation with training being undertaken using Avro Ansons. This unit was renamed Central Navigation School in 1942 and remained at Cranage until February 1944. During the latter half of 1940 No.96 (Night Fighter) Squadron was formed at Cranage flying Mk.1 Hurricanes in the air defence of Liverpool as the Luftwaffe targeted the bombing of British cities. From May 1941 seven Avro Manchester bombers were stored at Cranage pending refitting with new engines. Wellington bombers also operated from Cranage; they were assembled at an adjacent Vickers-Armstrong shadow factory and test flown from Cranage prior to delivery to their units.

In October 1941, with the Luftwaffe now concentrating on the Russian front and air raids on Britain lessening, 96 Squadron moved from Cranage to RAF Wrexham. During 96 Squadron's stay at Cranage concrete runways had been requested to replace the three grass runways. These were never built, the only concession being the laying of Army Track wire mesh. By April 1943 this mesh had been replaced by American Pierced Steel Planking (PSP). Between early May and mid-June 1944 United States Army Air Force's (USAF) 14th Liaison Squadron arrived at Cranage with Stinson L-5 Sentinal aircraft as part of the preparations for the D-Day landings. This unit was part of the 9th Air Force and General George Patton's 3rd Army. Patton himself visited Cranage in May from his nearby headquarters at Peover Hall. As the war drew to a close flying at Cranage was reduced. A detachment of No.12 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit operated from February 1945 and in May Cranage's last RAF unit, No.190 Gliding School, was formed using Kirby Cadet gliders. After the war the RAF used the base as a storage unit until 1954 when it was allocated to USAF who stationed a number of non-flying units here. At the end of June 1957 the USAF returned the base to the RAF and it was closed shortly afterwards.

Airfield defences were constructed in two main phases. The first phase, introduced during the 1930s, was designed to provide protection from air attacks. The second phase followed the realisation in Spring 1940 that airfields could be targets in a strategy aimed at capture. This latter phase is represented at Cranage by the construction of pillboxes and battle headquarters buildings.

The battle headquarters building at Cranage is located at SJ73236945 and is the standard Air Ministry design 11008/41 which became operational after mid-August 1941. It was sited to give a good view over the whole airfield and acted as the command post for the airfield defence commander, whose office was central to the structure. Telephone connections to the defence posts (via the telephone exchange room) and runners enabled the commander to monitor the development of an attack on the airfield, and to exercise control over the whole defence force, as well as receiving incoming information on the movement of enemy troops and aircraft. The battle headquarters was originally surrounded by a blast protection wall consisting of an earth bank which has now eroded away. It was constructed of concrete and brick and is entered from the western side originally through a steel entrance hatch and down a short flight of stairs. Internally there is an office, messengers room, sleeping accommodation, telephone exchange room and chemical closet, while at the eastern end there is an observation post with a narrow viewing slit all the way around. On the battle headquarters' south side there is a modified 3/23 brick and concrete-built machine gun post with light anti-aircraft position. It had a duel role as an anti-aircraft and point defence and housed four men, armed with three light machine guns and a rifle. Ammunition was stored in a central underground store and protection for the gun crew was provided by earth banks which here have eroded away. The three upstanding pillboxes are all of local design being hexagonal in shape and of brick and concrete construction. They have an internal ricochet wall and stepped gun loopholes in each face giving a 360 degree range of fire. The northern pillbox is located at SJ73587011 and stands up to about 1.5m high with traces of an entrance porch or blast wall on the north east side. It has walls approximately 5m long and measures about 9.2m maximum diameter. The southern pillbox is located at SJ73046930 and stands up to about 2m high with an entrance on the northern side together with an entrance porch or blast wall. It has walls approximately 3.8m long and measures about 7.2m maximum diameter. The eastern pillbox is located at SJ73836925 and stands up to about 1.5m high with traces of possible entrances on the east and west sides. In size it is similar to the southern pillbox. At SJ72486982 are the buried remains of a fourth pillbox, now a grass-covered rubble mound about 12m in diameter. At SJ73926945 there is a brick and concrete sleeping shelter which provided night accommodation for a number of airmen. It measures 12.8m long by 3.6m wide and had an entrance, now blocked, in its northern end. Internally there were eleven cubicles separated by brick partitions either side of a central passageway, with two bunks provided per cubicle. All the partitions, apart from one at the northern end of the building which still contains a cubicle with two in situ wooden bunks, have now been removed. The internal layout indicates that a maximum of 22 men could have been accommodated in the sleeping shelter. External blast walls protecting the sleeping shelter have now been removed although brick and concrete foundations for the blast wall exists at the southern end of the shelter. The original southern entrance was removed and widened to allow access for farm animals once the building had gone out of use.

All fences and fenceposts and the surface of a bridleway adjacent to the eastern pillbox 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. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20
Smith, D, Harratt, T, Budgen, H, 'Swift: journal of the North West Aviation Heritage Museum' in RAF Cranage: A Fighter Station In Rural Cheshire, (2000), 16-20


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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