Two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south west of Broomhill Cottages

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020779

Date first listed: 03-Sep-2002

Map

Ordnance survey map of Two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south west of Broomhill Cottages
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Suffolk

District: St. Edmundsbury (District Authority)

Parish: Fakenham Magna

National Grid Reference: TL 89185 75202, TL 89390 75872

Summary

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 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 two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25km south west of Broomhill Cottages are of importance as comparatively rare surviving examples of an unusual and innovative type of airfield defence installation. The outer structure and lifting heads of both remain in good condition, and the example which is in working order, with its principal internal fittings intact, is of particular interest.

History

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

Details

The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection, includes two of the three Picket-Hamilton forts which were installed late in 1940 as part of the ground defences of Honington airfield. The third Pickett-Hamilton fort is believed to have been destroyed during post-war construction work.

RAF Honington was constructed during the period of rapid expansion of the RAF between 1934 and 1939 and opened in 1937. It was designated a heavy bomber station, originally with a grass strip flying field, and was one of six airfields under the control of No.3 Group of the newly formed Bomber Command. During the period up to the outbreak of war it housed various squadrons flying Audaxes, Harts, Heyfords, Wellesleys and Harrows, but in 1938 the new Wellingtons came into operation, and between 1939 and 1942 were flown from here, as were Ansons, Battles and Blenheims. In the summer of 1942 the airfield was handed over to the USAAF, who set up an advanced air depot on the north west side for the repair, overhaul and modification of B17 Flying Fortresses. A steel mat runway was also constructed, with additional taxiways and hard standings, and in 1944 the airfield was enlarged to receive 364th Fighter Group, flying Lightnings and Mustangs. It was handed back to the RAF in 1946 and remains in use.

Pickett-Hamilton forts were designed specifically for airfield defence on the flying field and were a form of retractable pill box, the upper section of which could be lowered flush with the ground surface when not in use, so as not to obstruct aircraft landing and taking off. Each consisted of two hollow, concentric pre-cast concrete drums resting on a concrete base. The outer drum and the base, measuring approximately 2.5m in depth overall, were sunk into the ground. The inner drum, pierced by three rifle loopholes, formed the lifting head and was designed to be raised approximately 0.75m by means of a central jack, using a compressed air bottle or hand pump, although this system proved unreliable and was later supplemented by oil pumps. When the lifting head was in the lowered position an external flange rested on the upper section of the outer drum, which incorporated a precast concrete surround or collar. Access was by means of a metal hatch in the roof of the lifting head and metal rungs set into the inner face. The interior fittings included a free standing circular firing step around the central column, a small electric light and a telephone for communication with the airfield battle headquarters.

The tops of the lifting heads of the two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington are visible as circles of concrete approximately 2m in diameter, with the metal hatches set off centre. The upper sections of the outer drums extend about 0.3m beyond, giving an overall diameter of 2.6m. The better preserved of the two, in the first area of protection, is located about 70m to the south of the main runway of the modern airfield. Its principal components, including the firing step and the jack, survive and the lifting mechanism is in working order, having been restored and tested in 1987. In the second fort, located approximately 500m to the north of the runway, the jack has been removed and the firing step is broken, but the outer structure and lifting head remain intact.

The metal bars and padlocks installed to secure the hatches for reasons of safety are excluded from the scheduling, although the hatches are included in the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number: 30606

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 58, 60
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 58,60
Other
King, N, (2001)

End of official listing