World War II fighter pens and other airfield remains and defences of the former airfield of RAF Cark


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020988

Date first listed: 23-Apr-2003


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

County: Cumbria

District: South Lakeland (District Authority)

Parish: Lower Allithwaite

County: Cumbria

District: South Lakeland (District Authority)

Parish: Lower Holker

National Grid Reference: SD 36897 74190, SD 36928 74043, SD 36970 74272, SD 36990 73666, SD 36997 74303, SD 37058 74703, SD 37214 74788, SD 37818 73928, SD 37926 74367, SD 37939 74121


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.

There are some 18 types of watch office, some reflecting evolving techniques and technology associated with reporting and observation, and some a combination of roles, for example, with the incorporation of a meteorological (`Met') office within the building. There are also differences between the types of watch office found on fighter and bomber stations, while some individual structures display evidence for their adoption as the station's role evolved or changed. During the war years the watch office had one or two storeys; in the two storey examples, the bottom level housed the Met office, while air traffic control was confined to the upper level. At the start of World War II there were no air traffic control or operations (`Ops') staff working in the watch office, and only operational aircraft had radio. At this stage the duty pilot would log aircraft movements manually. It was only as the skies became busier that air traffic control and operations personnel were employed, and that radio became more widely used. Of the 500 or so examples originally built, some 220 watch offices survive, all of which constitute significant and symbolic structures. However, examples are considered to be of particular importance where they have an obvious and visual relationship with the flying field and other contemporary structures and buildings; where they survive as good examples of their type, perhaps with original fixtures; or where the station has operational significance, such as an association with the Battle of Britain.

The remains of the south eastern part of the former airfield of RAF Cark survives exceptionally well with all six original dispersal pens remaining in virtually a complete state along with the upstanding remains of many of their support buildings including sleep shelters and transformer plinths, and the concrete footprints of other support buildings such as flight offices and blister hangars. Also located in the south east part of the airfield is a rare and well preserved example of a machine gun range. Dispersal pens are now rare survivals in England, and with their associated structures they illustrate well some of the measures taken to protect aircraft during World War II by means of dispersed and well-defended pens. Additionally the battle headquarters is another rare survival and together with the four surviving pillboxes and the anti-aircraft gun platform these features remain a good example of defence against the threat of capture. RAF Cark's first watch office, a single-storey structure superceded by a larger watch office during the progress of the war, survives well and is a rare example in north west England of this early World War II type of watch office.


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


The monument, which falls into ten separate areas of protection, includes parts of the former World War II airfield known as RAF Cark. The largest protected area lies on the south east part of the airfield and consists of a group of dispersed fighter pens each intended to house two aircraft, together with upstanding structures that include crew sleeping shelters and transformer plinths for electrical supply, and the concrete bases of flight offices and blister hangars. Elsewhere, largely scattered around the perimeter of the airfield, are the upstanding remains of a number of pillboxes, an anti-aircraft gun platform, a battle headquarters building from where defence of the airfield could be coordinated, an air raid shelter, and an early watch office.

Cark airfield lies on a flat tongue of land immediately north of Morecambe Bay and is flanked by marshes on its south west and south east sides. It was constructed early in 1941 and the site was laid out to support fighter operations in the north west by No.9 Group, Fighter Command, based at Barton Hall, Preston. However, on completion Cark was occupied initially by `F' Flight of No.1 Anti-aircraft Cooperation Unit who used Hawker Henleys and Westland Lysanders for target towing around Morecambe Bay to help train RAF and army gunners. In March 1942 the airfield passed to No.25 Group, Flying Training Command, and became No.1 Staff Pilot Training Unit, in order to train operational aircrews as instructors, with the Avro Anson being used for this task. By mid-1942 `R' flight of No.1 Anti-aircraft Cooperation Unit 1614 Flight was also operating from Cark using Henleys and Bolton Paul Defiants. In December 1942 `F' and `R' Flights were disbanded and immediately reformed as 650 Squadron, re-equipped with Miles Martinets as target tugs and Hawker Hurricane MK IV's. In November 1944 650 Squadron finally left Cark after which the airfield primarily became associated with test flying and the development of remote control target drones. During 1945 the recently formed Mountain Rescue Team moved to Cark. RAF Cark closed on December 31st 1945.

During World War II aircraft were considered to be vulnerable when on the ground, either from air attack or from possible ground attack. Elaborate precautions were thus taken to prevent any loss of aircraft when not in action. As a result aircraft were often held in dispersed pens located around the perimeter of the airfield but with easy access to the main runways. At Cark all six original dispersal pens survive in the south east part of the airfield. These are identified as `Hurricane Type' pens on the original airfield site plan and their layout consists of substantial earthwork banks arranged in an approximate `E' shape which partly enclosed two aircraft, one in each bay, in order to offer some protection from bomb blasts. At the rear of each pen, built into the earth bank, is a precast reinforced concrete air raid shelter with a brick-built entrance from each bay of the pen and a brick-built exit to the rear.

A number of support buildings servicing the needs of the dispersal pens are included within the scheduling. These buildings provided the means by which the aircraft housed within the pens could be made ready for duty under `scramble' conditions and include two surviving brick and concrete sleeping shelters, three surviving transformer plinths, the concrete bases of five flight offices and the concrete bases of three blister hangars. The sleeping shelters provided night accommodation for up to 22 airmen each. Internally there were cubicles separated by brick partitions either side of a central passageway with two bunks provided per cubicle. Two brick-built roofless structures interpreted as transformer plinths for housing electrical transformers for providing power to the nearby structures are located close to the dispersal pens whilst a third stands to the south at SD37827392. The flight offices provided accommodation for flight officers and clerks while the blister hangars were mainly used for aircraft storage and maintenance. Also included within the scheduling at the south east side of the airfield is a machine gun range consisting of a partly open-fronted brick and concrete building which functioned as the firing position, and a buttressed, brick-walled, earth-banked target setting.

On the northern side of the airfield runways, at SD37067471, stands the airfield's first watch office, a single-storey building from where a good view over much of the airfield could be obtained. It housed a duty pilot who would log aircraft arrivals and departures. As the airfield became busier this watch office was superceded by a larger structure housing air traffic or operations staff.

Nearby, at SD37197479, stands the battle headquarters. It 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 and runners to defence posts such as pillboxes enabled the commander to monitor the development of an attack on the airfield, and to excercise control over the whole defence force, as well as receiving incoming information on the movement of enemy troops and aircraft. The battle headquarters is surrounded by an earth bank and is constructed of concrete and brick. Internally there is an office, messenger's room, sleeping accommodation, PBX (or telephone) room and chemical closet, while at the western end there is an observation post with a narrow viewing slit all the way around.

Four pillboxes forming part of the airfield defences still survive. Upon the airfield itself, at SD37007430, there is a cantilever mushroom-type pillbox about 6m in diameter with 360 degree vision. It contains an internal ricochet wall and an entrance on its west side. Three other pillboxes are located immediately outside the airfield with two being on the south west side and the other on the south east side. That at SD36907419 is a five-sided brick and concrete structure of local design with gun loops on its south west and north sides and an entrance on the south; that at SD36937404 is a type-22 hexagonal concrete pillbox with gun loops on each face and an entrance on the east; and that at SD37947412 is another cantilever mushroom-type with an entrance on its north. Another defensive feature on the airfield's south west side is a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun platform located at SD36997367. At SD36977424, close to the mushroom-type pillbox on the airfield, there is a Stanton air raid shelter of concrete construction with a brick entrance at its western end. Much of its protective earth banking has eroded away.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These include all fences and fence posts, the sea defence embankment upon which those pillboxes and the anti-aircraft gun platform situated around the perimeter of the airfield are located, a kerb adjacent to the five-sided pillbox, a concrete retaining wall and short fence adjacent to the type-22 pillbox, and all paving, steps, gravel paths and a tarmaced road on and adjacent to the battle headquarters. 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: 34998

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
RAF Cark
SMR No. 6342, Cumbria SMR, Lower Allithwaite WWII pillbox, (1989)

End of official listing