History in Structure

Buildings 25 (Watch Office), 22 (Fire Tender Shelter) and 24 (Floodlight Trailer and Tractor)

A Grade II Listed Building in Dunkeswell, Devon

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Latitude: 50.8597 / 50°51'34"N

Longitude: -3.239 / 3°14'20"W

OS Eastings: 312892

OS Northings: 107420

OS Grid: ST128074

Mapcode National: GBR LV.V38J

Mapcode Global: FRA 463T.MZC

Plus Code: 9C2RVQ56+V9

Entry Name: Buildings 25 (Watch Office), 22 (Fire Tender Shelter) and 24 (Floodlight Trailer and Tractor)

Listing Date: 10 October 2002

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1067842

English Heritage Legacy ID: 489828

ID on this website: 101067842

Location: East Devon, EX14

County: Devon

District: East Devon

Civil Parish: Dunkeswell

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Dunkeswell St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Exeter

Tagged with: Building

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Buildings 25 (Watch Office), 22 (Fire Tender Shelter) and 24 (Floodlight Trailer and Tractor)


Air traffic control group, including control tower (Building 25), fire tender shelter (Building 22) and floodlight trailer and tractor (Building 24). 1943, for the Air Ministry. All constructed from rendered brick or blockwork, with corrugated asbestos-cement roofs on steel trusses to ancillary buildings (24 and 22) and reinforced concrete to control tower.

Control tower, based on Air Ministry's Directorate of Works and Buildings drawing no. 343/43, is a 2-storey building with watch office, meteorological office, pilots' office, switch room and toilet to ground floor, and first-floor control room and signals office; rest room above, having access to an external balcony and roof deck. Cantilevered balcony runs full width of the front, returning approx. 2m each side, and to the left a steel gangway rises to the roof deck. The balcony and roof deck are protected by steel-pipe handrails. All windows, formerly standard steel casements with horizontal bars, are currently boarded up; 3-window principal elevation to flying field. Interior retains original doors and joinery, with concrete dog-leg stairs.

Buildings 22 and 25, to the N and NW, are rectilinear buildings with bold projecting buttresses to each side and the ends, rising to eaves height, and gable-end doorways.

HISTORY: The Control Tower is one of 162 examples built to this Air Ministry design (Watch Office for All Commands, of which 82 now survive including Duxford and other sites) and groups with Building 22 (Fire Tender Shelter), 24 (Floodlight Trailer and Tractor Shed), the Signals Square and Airfield Code letters. The survival of such a complete grouping characteristic of Second World War airfield layouts is rare, and unique in conjunction with such a well-conserved airfield landscape of this period - still in use for flying.

Dunkeswell is the only British airfield where the US Navy Fleet Air Wing - whose primary theatre of operations was the Pacific - was based during the Second World War, and is the best-preserved of all the sites in the west of Britain associated with the strategically-vital Battle of the Atlantic. The flying field at Dunkeswell owes its origin to the need to tackle the threat created by the major build-up of German U-boat bases on the Atlantic coast of France. The airfield, begun by the contractor George Wimpey in 1941, was transferred in May 1942 to 19 Group Coastal Command, but in August of that year - further to high-level liaison between the British and United States governments following establishment of the need for reinforcements and the neutralisation of the U-boat threat as a precondition to the invasion of NW Europe - it was occupied by the US Air Force Anti-Submarine Group 479. Before moving to Dunkeswell, the US Navy had protected shipping off the eastern seaboard of North America, and then Iceland and Greenland. Their task, once based in Britain, was to patrol the sea areas which had to be crossed by U-boats en-route between their bases in France and their hunting sites in the North Atlantic. The US Navy (Fleet Air Wing 7) was based here until the end of operations in May 1945. By this time, 6,424 anti-submarine missions, principally in B24 Liberator bombers (that had the greatest range over the Atlantic of any aircraft), were flown from Dunkeswell. US Navy liaison personnel were based at Coastal Command's HQ at Mount Wise, Plymouth, where the Enigma decrypts from Bletchley Park were planned on and then forwarded for action. At the peak of operations in 1944 there were just under 5000 personnel at Dunkeswell. In August 1945 the RAF again took over, and the base was used for ferrying and maintenance; the RAF left in 1949.

During the Second World War, Britain's total of 158 airfields expanded to 740. These included requisitioned civil airfields, including some such as Speke, Shoreham, Ipswich and Cambridge where the strong architectural quality of their 1930s terminal buildings has been recognised through listing. New airfields were constructed for a variety of purposes, from the fighter bases built in England's south-west peninsula in reaction to the German occupation of France, to Emergency Landing Grounds, bomber airfields and the Advanced Landing Grounds which provided tactical support in the period preceding and after D-Day. Of these, the most substantial in terms of cost and environmental impact were the bases built in support of Bomber Command and later USAAF operations, but none of the latter - typically built with concrete runways and perimeters and sited amongst clutches of domestic and technical sites scattered in the surrounding countryside - have survived in as good a state of preservation as Dunkeswell's airfield landscape and its associated control tower group, operations area and technical site. In addition to its uniquely important role, wartime life on the base is documented on some remarkable film archive. At its busiest, the airfield housed more than 2000 personnel, accommodated on dispersed sites. Building 68 is the best-preserved of the T-type hangars on the site, prominently located close to the control tower group and operations block and adjacent to two well-preserved American prefabricated workshop buildings: to the north are many buildings surviving from the technical site, almost all surviving in a highly adapted state.

Dunkeswell's historical associations make it one of a very small number of sites that have strong associations with key events of the Second World War. The cover provided by shore-based aircraft proved to be a decisive factor in the Battle of the Atlantic, aided of course by the decryption of Ultra from Bletchley Park and the development of radar. The 'Atlantic Gap' beyond the reach of land-based air cover, was the prime killing ground, a factor which drove the establishment of bases in Iceland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and later Greenland. Shore-based aircraft operating from bases such as Dunkeswell accounted for 41-5% of U-boat kills, and their effectiveness increased in tandem with aircraft technology. Thus the 500-mile range of the Hudson, Wellington and Whitley bombers was increased by the Sunderland flying boat to 600 miles and by the Liberator bomber (in service from 1943, and the aircraft used at Dunkeswell) to 1,100 miles. May 1943 is generally acknowledged as the turning point in the conflict, shore and ship-based aircraft then accounting for two thirds of U-boat losses. Although work had begun on the U-boat pens at St Nazaire, Lorient, Le Palice and Brest in January 1941, it was not until December 1943 that the War Cabinet ordered Bomber Command to attack these bases. From this date, the use of air power was developed in an increasingly strategic role in order to prepare the way for Operation Overlord.

For further details, see description of Operations Block.

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