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RAF Sawbridgeworth World War II airfield defences

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: RAF Sawbridgeworth World War II airfield defences

List entry Number: 1020978

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Hertfordshire

District: East Hertfordshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: High Wych

County: Hertfordshire

District: East Hertfordshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Thorley

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 24-Feb-2004

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 32451

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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 remains of the north western sector of the former airfield RAF Sawbridgeworth centred on Matham's Wood survive very well with three of the five fighter pens constructed in this sector surviving in a near complete state, along with an associated sleep shelter and sections of the perimeter roadway. Fighter pens are now rare survivals in England, and with their associated structures they provide a valuable illustration of the measures taken to protect fighter planes during World War II.

The provision for defence against capture at RAF Sawbridgeworth also survives exceptionally well with nine pillboxes remaining in the northern and western sectors of the airfield, one associated with infantry firing trenches. The associated Battle Headquarters - the nerve centre of the defensive operations is a rare and particularly important structure.





History

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

Details

The monument includes the defensive structures situated around the perimeter of the former World War II airbase known as RAF Sawbridgeworth. The airfield dates back to the First World War when it was built as an emergency night landing ground for pilots experiencing difficulties returning to their home bases. In 1937 the airfield, known as Mathams Wood, was designated as an advanced landing ground (ALG) providing the RAF with a training facility for the squadrons in 22 Group, Army Co-operation Command. From 1940 onwards Mathams Wood ALG was extended and upgraded ready for full-time operations during World War II. The flying field was extended into a three runway layout, constructed using Sommerfeld wire mesh, encircled within a concrete perimeter road complete with dispersed aircraft pens and hardstandings. Other associated buildings constructed at the time included sleep shelters, pillboxes, ammunition stores, Blister hangars, operations rooms, barracks and a watch office. Following the cessation of RAF operations here in the late 1940s many of these were removed.

The monument is in eight separate areas of protection. The first area encloses a large brick and concrete pillbox sited in the corner of a field 200m south east of Blount's Farm and some 250m north of the southern perimeter road of the airfield. The square pillbox has a diameter of 7m and a wall thickness of 1.5m. Each gun aperture (six in all) measures 250 sq mm at its interior wall and fans out to 1.4m by 0.9m at its exterior wall. Two of the apertures have Turnbull machine-gun mounting pivots.

The second protected area encloses a large brick and concrete hexagonal pillbox and an adjacent road barrier stanchion situated near Fiddlers Brook, on the northern side of Parsonage Lane. The pillbox has a diameter of 7m, a wall thickness of 1.5m and an entrance on its south eastern face. The pillbox has two gun apertures, facing north west and south east along the road. The road barrier stanchion, originally set closer to the road, would have supported a wooden barrier designed to block unauthorised traffic to the airbase.

The third protected area encloses a brick and concrete hexagonal pillbox at the south western corner of Matham's Wood. The pillbox has a diameter of 6m, a wall thickness of 1.5m and a covered entrance with anti-ricochet walling. Two gun apertures afforded a good view over the open ground to the south and south west.

In the north west corner of Matham's Wood a fourth protected area encloses a hexagonal pillbox of the same design as that at the south western corner, except that it has three gun apertures, facing to the north, north east and north west. A covered entrance in the south eastern side gives access to the pillbox from the direction of the airfield.

Further to the south east, along the northern edge of Matham's Wood, a fifth protected area encloses two infantry firing trenches and a hexagonal pillbox. The pillbox is of a similar design to the others in Matham's Wood: 6m in diameter with a covered entrance faced with anti-ricochet walling. As with the others it has only limited apertures to enable views north and north east over open land, and a single entrace facing towards the airfield. The trenches lie to either side of the pillbox forming a line of defence approximately 40m in length which would have defended the airfield from attack from the north. The trench to the north west of the pillbox is crescent-shaped in plan providing a wide field of fire to the north. The inner face of the trench is lined with corrugated iron sheeting held in place by 13 vertical angle-iron stakes. Remains of concrete-filled sandbags survive along the trench's front parapet, and to the rear is an earthen bank. The trench to the south east is also crescent-shaped in plan, brick-lined and with a brick-built ammunition recess at its western end. As with the western trench, the remains of concrete-filled sandbags are in place along the northern edge.

The fifth area of protection includes part of the northern circuit of the airfield perimeter road, forming a 600m long arc around the north west corner of Mathams Wood, complete with three aircraft dispersal pens (set approximately 200m apart) two further pillboxes, a sleep shelter, a small arms ammunition store and the Battle Headquarters. All three dispersal pens have the same design and means of construction: a banked earth enclosure, partially supported by brick retaining walls, 3m in height and built in a crescented E-shape, incorporating an air raid shelter built into the central junction of the arms. The outer arms of each pen enclose an area with a maximum width of approximately 25m and have a light tarmac surface, strengthened in the centre where the aircraft would have stood. Each pen would have accommodated two aircraft within the shelter of its three arms. The air raid shelters could accommodate up to 25 men during an attack. They each have a central room made from concrete `Stanton' parabolic shelter panels bolted together and set into a concrete base slab. Two brick-built passageways gave access from the two aircraft bays and a third provided an emergency exit leading out of the pen. The pens are linked to the outer perimeter road by concrete aprons. In between the first two pens, set back approximately 70m from the airfield perimeter fence, is a brick and concrete hexagonal pillbox measuring 7m in diameter. It has four gun apertures and covered entrance. An inscription on the internal face of the door lintel reads `APL.11.1940'.

To the south of the south eastern dispersal pen is a rectangular brick and concrete sleep shelter - effectively an air raid shelter with fixed bunks for overnight accommodation. The building is approximately 7m long by 3m wide with a flat roof. Internally it is divided into a series of sleeping bays and could accommodate up to 33 men. Lacking windows, ventilation was afforded by air bricks and an air extractor system.

To the south of the sleep shelter is the final group of structures within Matham's Wood: a pillbox with associated small arms ammunition store and the airfield Battle Headquarters. The pillbox is of brick and concrete construction, 7m in diameter with three gun apertures and a covered entrance with internal anti-ricochet walling. Approximately 4m to the north are the brick foundations of the small arms ammunition store. The Battle Headquarters lies to the south of these two structures. This is a largely subterranean structure with only the look-out post projecting above-ground. The entry stairs give access down to a further five rooms: sleeping quarters; mess room; office; lobby and latrine. A small escape hatch with an iron ladder provides a secondary (emergency) exit adjacent to the look-out post. The look-out post has a 360 degree observation slit and a signal mortar tube in its roof.

The last two protected areas each enclose a hexagonal pillbox. Both are 6m in diameter and each has only two gun apertures. The first is located on a field boundary 200m to the east of Matham's Wood. The second is positioned on the same field boundary a further 100m east.

All modern fences, fence posts and metalled-surface trackways are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000)
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 60-1
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995), 17
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995), 75
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995), 32-3
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Doyle, PA, Where The Lysanders Were: The Story Of Sawbridgeworth's Airfields, (1995)
Buchan Innes, G, 'Aviation Pocket Guide' in Aviation Pocket Guide 1: British Airfield Buildings of the Second World War, (1995)
Buchan Innes, G, 'Aviation Pocket Guide' in Aviation Pocket Guide 1: British Airfield Buildings of the Second World War, (1995), 46
Buchan Innes, G, 'Aviation Pocket Guide' in Aviation Pocket Guide 1: British Airfield Buildings of the Second World War, (1995), 40-1
Buchan Innes, G, 'Aviation Pocket Guide' in Aviation Pocket Guide 1: British Airfield Buildings of the Second World War, (1995)
Other
10.4.73, Ordnance Survey, OS-73-066-479, (1973)
10.4.73, OS, OS-73-066-479, (1942)
10.4.73, OS, OS-73-066-479, (1973)
10.4.73, RAF, OS-73-066-479, (1973)
11.10.46, RAF, CPE-UK-1788-3403, (1946)
16.8.61, RAF, 58-RAF-4627-0169, (1961)
18.5.48, RAF, 58-36-Pt I-5090, 1, (1948)
18.5.48, RAF, 58-36-Pt. I 5090, 1, (1948)
18.5.48, RAF, 58-36-Pt.I-5090, (1948)
18.5.48, RAF, 58-36-Pt.I-5090, 1, (1948)
18.5.48, RAF, FNO-68-1096 and 2096, (1942)
21.5.52, Ordnance Survey, OS-2R21-0111, (1952)
21.5.52, Ordnance Survey, OS-2R21-0111, (1952)
21.5.52, RAF, OS-2R1-0111, (1952)
21.5.52, RAF, OS-2R21-0111, (1952)
26.7.42, RAF, FNO-681096 and 2096, (1942)
26.7.42, RAF, FNO-68-1096 and 2096, (1942)
26.7.42, RAF, FNO-68-1096, (1942)
26.7.42, RAF, FNO-68-2096, (1942)
RAF Hendon Museum, RAF, RAF Sawbridgeworth, (1944)
RAF Museum Hendon, Air Ministry, RAF Sawbridgeworth, (1944)
RAF Museum Hendon, Air Ministry, RAF Sawbridgeworth, (1944)

National Grid Reference: TL 45347 18335, TL 45602 18735, TL 45659 18818, TL 45864 17854, TL 45895 18651, TL 46213 18510, TL 46642 18582, TL 46736 18554

Map

Map
© Crown Copyright and database right 2017. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2017. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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This copy shows the entry on 23-Nov-2017 at 09:31:31.

End of official listing