World War II fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick, 120m south and 340m north east of Oran House


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020990

Date first listed: 30-Jul-2003


Ordnance survey map of World War II fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick, 120m south and 340m north east of Oran House
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Catterick

National Grid Reference: SE 25196 96311, SE 25442 96611


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.

RAF Catterick is the best surviving RAF fighter station in the north of England. The fighter pens and associated defences at former RAF Catterick are a well-preserved sample of World War II defences. The single E-shaped pen is important as its a rarely surviving example of the standard design of fighter pen. The V-shaped pens, (which are believed to be unique to Catterick) are equally important as they are an example of local initiative which was a typical feature in the development of World War II airfield defences.


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


The monument is formed by two protected areas designed to include a sample of the best surviving remains of the World War II defences for RAF Catterick. The first protected area lies 120m south of Oran House and includes a pillbox with a group of three earthwork fighter pens. The second protected area lies 340m north east of Oran House and includes built and earthwork remains of another fighter pen of a different, twin-bayed design. Castle Hills, a medieval motte and bailey castle 700m north east of Oran House, also includes World War II defences, but is the subject of a separate scheduling.

Sited on level ground between the A1 main road and the River Swale to the east, Catterick was one of the first military airbases in the world, and was first used by the 8th (Training) Wing of the Royal Flying Corps from February 1915. Throughout World War I it was in use as a training establishment, although from September 1915 to the end of the war it also had an operational role as the base for C Flight of 76 Squadron, responsible for defending the Yorkshire area. After the war it was one of those sites earmarked for disposal, although the land, which was previously leased, was bought by the Air Ministry in 1924. In 1926 plans were drawn up for the construction of technical buildings, married quarters and other structures and in October 1927, RAF Catterick once more became operational with the arrival of 26 (Army Co-operation) Squadron. Further expanded and modernised in 1935, by 1938 it had become a key fighter sector station in the RAF's 13 Fighter Group. In the first three years of World War II, RAF Catterick played a vital role in defending the north east and convoys in the North Sea against attacks that were mainly launched from occupied Norway and Denmark. In 1940-41 it was provided with a hard surface runway and a set of airfield defences. RAF Catterick hosted a succession of different squadrons, mainly flying Spitfires, but at times also including other single-engined fighters, as well as the twin-engined Beaufighters which were used in a night-time role. Several of these squadrons were foreign, including Czech, Polish, Norwegian and Canadian. During the Battle of Britain, RAF Catterick was also used as a rest station for fighter squadrons from southern England's 11 Group. The station's front-line operational role was run down during 1943 and for most of the rest of the war it was used by reserve units. In 1946 RAF Catterick was taken over by the RAF Regiment, initially as a depot and then, from 1964, as a Wing Headquarters and training establishment. In the mid-1990s RAF Catterick was transferred to the army, forming Marne Barracks.

Most of RAF Catterick's living quarters and technical buildings were on the north western side of the airfield. However, because fighter aircraft were considered to be very vulnerable when on the ground from either air attack or possible ground assault, they were held in dispersed pens arranged around the perimeter of the airfield, away from the main buildings. The hangers on the north western side of the airfield only housed aircraft undergoing major repairs. Most of the fighter pens followed the standard E-shaped pattern with two open fronted bays protected by earth banks retained by dwarf brick walls, each bay designed to hold one aircraft. Buried within the rear bank, with access from both bays, was an air-raid shelter designed to protect the ground crews. The four E-shaped pens along the eastern perimeter track were designed for twin-engined planes such as the Blenheim and Beaufighter. All four of these pens have been modified for reuse and are thus not included in the monument. On the south side of the airfield there were a further eight E-shaped pens which are slightly smaller in scale, being built for single-engined fighters such as the Hurricane and Spitfire. One of these, depicted on the 1:10,000 map about 340m north east of Oran House, survives effectively complete, and is included in the monument. It measures nearly 50m by 20m externally, defined by banks up to 2m high, with each concrete surfaced bay measuring about 15m by 15m and open to the north east. Running along the top of the outlining bank is a barbed wire fence with angle-iron fence posts. This fencing is thought to be original and is included in the monument. The air raid shelter also survives effectively complete and is also similarly included. In addition to the entrances at the rear of each bay, it has a third entrance to the south west.

Within the second protected area is a group of three well-preserved fighter pens, immediately south of Oran House's rear garden wall. A fourth pen, immediately west of the protected area has been infilled and is thus not included in the monument. These pens are of a simple earthwork design, each formed by a V-shaped bay cut into rising ground and extended with earth banking. Constructed by the Royal Engineers, they were designed to protect a single-engined plane with its tail to the back of the V. Each measures about 18m wide at the mouth of the V and are around 10m deep. Being set back a little way from the airfield, these pens, which would have been easily camouflaged with netting, are thought to have been used for reserve rather than operational aircraft. On the natural rise to the south, overlooking the southern and eastern approaches to the pens, is a well-preserved pillbox which is included in the monument. This is a thickened type 22 pillbox for five Lewis or Bren machine guns and was built right up against a mature tree, presumably for camouflage. Hexagonal in plan, it has 2 feet (0.6m) thick walls constructed with an outer and inner cladding of brick over reinforced concrete.

The telegraph poles and concrete fence posts 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. 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.

Legacy System number: 34719

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Barrymore Halpenny, B, Action Stations 4: Military Airfields of Yorkshire, (1982), 41-47
Francis, Paul , RAF Catterick Historical Aerodrome Survey, 2000, Typescript Report for MoD

End of official listing