Airfield Design and Construction (Bomber Command)

RESEARCH NOTES

Hangar

World War I

Royal Flying Corps aerodrome during World War One consisted of two distinct sites, a Technical Site and a Domestic Site,  usually positioned in two separate areas around a grass flying field.

The Technical Site consisted of a line of aeroplane sheds adjacent to the flying field, behind which were the buildings, workshops and stores needed to support:

  • Aeroplane Operations
  • Aeroplane Repairs
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Aerodrome Services
  • Instruction of personnel

The Domestic Site consisted of accommodation and facilities for officers, other ranks and women.

Buildings were either:

  • canvas
  • wood framed, clad with timber or galvanised steel.
Thetford 1916

Example of a UK aerodrome layout


Inter War Years

At the end of World War One, the RAF retained a selection of UK aerodromes which it developed throughout the 1920’s. Canvas and wooden structures were replaced or supplemented with brick built permanent structures.

Airfield sites consisted of a flying field with three grass take off and landing strips.  A “bombing circle” was placed in the centre of the field to enable bombing practice.

Three or four 1917 pattern Coupled General Service Sheds were laid out in a line at the edge of the flying field.

aerial-view-19241-rafmod-uk

The 1917 pattern Coupled General Service Sheds were a feature of the Technical Site

Behind these were the buildings, workshops and stores needed to support:

  • Aeroplane Operations
  • Aeroplane Repairs
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Aerodrome Services
  • Instruction of personnel

Backing onto the Technical Site was the Domestic Site providing accommodation and facilities for station personnel and for personnel from the two or three squadrons based at the station. Separate facilities were provided for officers, sergeant NCOs, other ranks and women.

annotated-aerial-1929-view

An example of the layout of a 1920s / 1930s pre-expansion scheme airfield.
Note: Some of the Domestic Site was constructed away from the Main Airfield

In the 1930’s the RAF embarked on an expansion programme which involved upgrading existing airfields and the construction of new ones.

After 1936, the 1917 pattern Coupled General Service Sheds were replaced by four “C” Type hangars which were erected in a crescent shape at the edge of the flying field.

hangars2

Example of C Type Hangars

The Technical Site and the Domestic Site continued to be constructed behind the line of sheds.

1938-bases-of-bomber-command

An example of the layout of a 1930s expansion scheme airfield

Grass take-off and landing strips continued to be used up until the late 1930’s when the use of heavier aircraft necessitated the introduction of the perimeter track (peritrack), hard runways and hardstandings. These were added to each airfield during World War Two.


World War II Years

At the outbreak of war, the RAF had two types of airfield that could be used by the bomber squadrons:

  • World War One airfields, which had been expanded during the 1920’s and 1930’s
  • Expansion Scheme airfields, which had been constructed during the 1930’s

These airfields all had grass take-off and landing strips which were not suitable for the heavier aircraft that were being brought into service.

In 1940 a “Wartime Design” for bomber command airfields was issued which incorporated a perimeter track, hard runways (3 x 1000yds) and hardstandings.

Some of the existing airfields were closed down whilst these facilities were added, others remained opened whilst the work was undertaken.

comparison

Plan of RAF Cranfield (constructed pre-war) showing the changes resulting from the addition of the peritrack, runways and hardstandings Note: Most airfields had three runways added (interlocking A Shape)

The design specification for airfields, in particular runway lengths, was changed several times before the Air Ministry finally settled on the “Class A” standard design in July 1941.

The various changes meant that some of the upgraded airfields had to be closed for a second time to enable the new hard runways to be extended to the revised length (1 x 2000yds, 2 x 1400yds).

It is also worth noting that the changes to the layout of the bomb store area meant that some existing airfields ended up with two stores (one pre-war type and one WWII type).

From July 1941 onwards, any new airfields were constructed in accordance with the “Class A” standard utilising less permanent structures such as Nissen huts / Laing huts.

The original design incorporated:

  • a perimeter track, with 36 pan-type dispersals
  • three (interlocking A shape) runways (1 x 2000yds, 2 x 1400yds)
  • a watch office (control tower)
  • At least 2 x “J” Type hangars
  • a technical / administrative site
  • a dispersed site (with domestic site(s), communal site(s) and sick quarters), constructed  away from the main airfield
  • a  bomb store area, constructed away from the main airfield
anotated-google-map

An example of a Class A airfield constructed during WWII

Design changes during the war resulted in:

  • “T2” type  hangars being introduced in 1942
  • a “B1” Type hangar being added to airfields to enable on site repairs / modifications to be carried out by Ministry of Aircraft Production staff
  • loop dispersals being introduced in 1942
  • a revised bomb store layout

Post War Years

After the war, the RAF had three types of airfield that could be used by the bomber squadrons:

  • World War One airfields, which had been expanded during the 1920’s, 1930’s and during the war
  • Expansion Scheme airfields, which had been constructed during the 1930’s and expanded during the war
  • World War Two airfields, which had been constructed during the war with less permanent structures

The RAF started the process of relinquishing many of its airfields and they returned to original use. Those that were kept were further developed to accommodate new technologies and new advanced weapons.

In the 1950s, large scale construction of on-base housing was carried out and a single, longer runway replaced the three runway system.

Also in the 1950s, additional concrete hard standings and Operational Readiness Platforms (ie dispersal areas for aircraft on high alert which allowed immediate access to the runway) were added to some bomber stations to meet the needs of the V Bombers.

Further development took place in the 1970s with the introduction of Hardened Aircraft Shelters and the toning down of the airfields so that they blended more with the surrounding landscape (particularly when viewed from the air)