Battle Headquarters

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1469001
Date first listed:
01-May-2020
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Land adjacent to, 1 Westland Avenue, Hucknall, Nottingham, NG15 6FW

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Land adjacent to, 1 Westland Avenue, Hucknall, Nottingham, NG15 6FW

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

Location Description:
County:
Nottinghamshire
District:
Ashfield (District Authority)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SK5190947484

Summary

A Second World War airfield Battle Headquarters, constructed in 1940 to a non-standard design comprising a below-ground command post and tunnel with a three-storey observation tower above ground.

Reasons for Designation

The Second World War Battle Headquarters to the west of former RAF Hucknall is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as a rare extant example of an airfield Battle Headquarters dating from the early part of the Second World War, when such structures were built as an innovative and rapid response to the threat of enemy attack during and after the Battle of Britain; * individually designed and built examples such as this were replaced with an Air Ministry standard design from August 1941 and the few that survive are testament to the ingenuity of station defence commanders in the most trying of circumstances; * for its association with the war in Europe which would last nearly six years and bring with it almost incalculable hardship and sacrifice. The German unconditional surrender was celebrated by millions of people on Victory in Europe (VE) Day on 8 May 1945.

Architectural interest:

* despite some alterations and losses the structure retains its principal built form and components; * built to a non-standard and probably unique design with a substantial brick observation tower. The variations in its layout and design from the later standard 11008/41 design help illustrate and broaden the understanding of the evolution of the building type; * it appears to survive with some fittings including lighting, cabling and fuse boxes, which is highly unusual for a building of this type and date.

Group value:

* as part of the wider context of the former RAF Hucknall with two First World War aircraft hangars (Grade II) and a Second World War Wing Test Hangar (Grade II). The position of the Battle HQ next to the airfield enhances the understanding of how airfields were defended during the early period of the Second World War, and how strategies evolved to combat Germany’s novel invasion methods.

History

The airfield at Hucknall was opened as a training depot in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps but was made redundant and sold to a local farmer in 1919 following the end of the First World War. It was used by Nottingham Aero Club in the 1920s and in 1927 was bought back by the Air Ministry, upgraded for the Royal Air Force. RAF Hucknall was opened in 1928.

With the onset of the Second World War and the start of enemy raids, airfield defences were enhanced across the country with structures such as pillboxes and fire-watcher’s posts. To begin with, many of these structures were built to temporary ad hoc designs, before standardised designs were adopted. Structures known as Battle Headquarters or Battle HQs were built on the highest ground nearby that would give a clear view of the landing ground and were usually below-ground or semi-sunken structures. They would serve as a command post from which the station defence commander would coordinate the defence of the airfield through the use of telephones and runners. The commander could monitor the development of an attack from the Battle HQ, and mobilise the defence force and receive information about enemy movements. The German tactic of airborne assault using paratroopers was a significant new threat in the early years of the Second World War, as countries such as Norway had discovered. During 1940, most Battle HQ’s were built to extemporised local designs and it was not until August 1941 that the Air Ministry issued a standardised building-drawing 11008/41 for these structures. Most pre-existing Battle HQ’s were then removed and new standardised ones built to replace them. As a consequence very few of the earlier designs, such as that at RAF Hucknall, survive.

The Battle HQ at RAF Hucknall was built approximately 220m to the west of the perimeter, on farmland beyond Watnall Road. It is a highly unusual example of a below-ground command post with an attached three-storey tower above. To the east it is partly screened from view by trees. The tower has a rooftop gun emplacement that would provide clear sightlines towards the likely direction of approaching enemy aircraft. The tower has observation slits at first and second floors. A lookout (known in 1940s military parlance as a ‘Jim Crow’) would use the roof-top observation position to sound the last-minute alarm for the personnel to take cover in air raid shelters, trenches or blast shelters, when the airfield was at imminent risk of attack.

No.1 Group RAF (Bomber Command) was based at RAF Hucknall from 1939, as was No. 12 Group RAF (Fighter Command) until they moved to a newly-constructed underground facility at nearby RAF Watnall at the end of 1940. No.1 Group vacated Hucknall in July 1941. The airfield was also used as a centre for engine test-flying by Rolls Royce from 1934 and it continued to be the Rolls Royce Flight Test Establishment after the end of the war until testing was moved to Filton in 1971. The airfield was closed by Rolls Royce in 2015 following the granting of planning permission for the redevelopment of the site. The former Battle HQ, which stands outside the airfield boundary, appears to have been disused since 1945. Some sources suggest that parts of the command post and tunnel may have been infilled.

Details

Battle Headquarters of 1940 constructed for the command of the defences of the adjacent airfield.

MATERIALS: the tower is constructed of (probably reinforced) brick laid in English bond with concrete door lintels, shuttered concrete floors and a concrete gun mounting to the roof. The underground command post is constructed of brick and concrete with a prefabricated concrete Stanton air raid shelter raised on carrier walls.

PLAN: the tower is square on plan and of three storeys with a parapet roof. There are steps down to the below-ground command post that has a curved brick-lined tunnel from an aperture in the south-west side of the tower to a rectangular main office. There is a rear corridor to a PBX telephone exchange room and steps to a rear entrance.

DESCRIPTION: the door to the tower is in the south-east elevation (facing the airfield) with external lighting cabling above. There are observation slits to each storey on each elevation. To the roof are a brick parapet and a concrete mounting for a machine gun. Parts of a cast-iron downpipe are fixed to the north-east elevation. To the interior are iron ladders to each floor except from the ground to first floor where the ladder has been removed. There is electric cabling and a fuse box fixed to the walls at ground-floor level and tubular steel railings to the steps down to the command centre tunnel. The tunnel entrance is roofed in concrete and the brick tunnel was formerly rendered. The office in the command post comprises a bolted, ribbed, concrete panelled roof and walls on carrier walls with lighting, cabling and other fittings. At the rear is the remains of a timber door to the corridor, exchange room and rear steps. The rear entrance is brick-lined. Parts of the command post and tunnel may have been infilled.

Sources

Books and journals
Barrymore Halpenny, B, Action Stations 2: Military airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands, (1981), 111-4
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Volume X Airfield Defences in WWII, (2000), 59-61
Websites
Pastscape - MONUMENT NO. 1398239: Battle Headquarters at Hucknall Airfield , accessed 16/04/2020 from https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1398239&sort=4&search=all&criteria=hucknall&rational=q&recordsperpage=50&p=1&move=n&nor=58&recfc=0#
Subterranea Britannica - Hucknall Airfield Battle HQ, accessed 24/03/2020 from https://www.subbrit.org.uk/sites/hucknall-airfield-battle-hq/
WWII Airfield Battle Headquarters - RAF Hucknall, accessed 24/03/2020 from http://www.battlehq.info/

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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