Britain’s Airfields 1944

By the end of the Second World War, there were a substantial number of airfields covering the UK, mainly used by the Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Force, the Royal Navy and all their associated branches; they were handed back to the RAF at the end of the war as the various forces were pulled out. Some were used as POW or repatriation camps, some were used to store surplus aircraft, vehicles or ordinance; many were put into care and maintenance whilst the RAF decided their ultimate fate.

Thankfully a few have lasted as airfields and are even fulfilling that role today, sadly though, many were dug up, their runways used for hardcore, the buildings demolished and the events that occurred there reserved for the history books.

The scale and pace of development was massive. The size of these sites bigger than many of the villages they took their names from, the populations larger than many towns of the time. Architecturally they changed the landscape dramatically.

Today as they dwindle away, many are mere names, locals have little knowledge of their existence, memorials are being forgotten, and life is moving on.

As a little reminder of those times and to put the scale of development into perspective, here are two maps held by the British Library that show the main Royal Air Force and Royal Navy airfields as of 31st December 1944.

The two maps, divide the UK and show not only the airfields but satellites as well. They also show Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Water Airfields, and Royal Air Force Moorings. There are a number of sites not included on the map such as relief landing grounds, and training schools, but they do give an indication of the number of airfields that covered the UK by the end of the war.

These are both low resolution pictures, and copyright is held by the British Library who have given permission for them to be reproduced here.

Security Released Airfields in the United Kingdom (Sheet 1)
Security Released Airfields in the United Kingdom (Sheet 2)

© The British Library, Maps MOD GSGS Misc. 505 (sheet 1 and Sheet 2)

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17 thoughts on “Britain’s Airfields 1944

  1. For me, it is the speed with which they threw away so much history that is amazing. And that extends to the planes as well. I saw a programme last night that said that Mosquitoes were sold off at £1200….in today’s money!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Nothing quite that exciting! Heard of B17s landing on small grass airfields, overshooting etc. many bombers were so badly damaged any port became their home. Others landed on the wrong base or simply diverted to nearby airfields that were generally unsuitable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Not sure if there’s sarcasm in there about Welsh weather! I’ll err on the side of Caution for fear of
        Upsetting a Welshman, I know how fearsome they can be! 109 landed at Hawkinge (out of fuel) and another Ju 88 in the midlands also thought he was in France! How did they find their target!

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      • Hahaha. In some instances these were pilots who wanted out of the war but didn’t want to defect. They just preferred to sit it out in a cosy PoW camp. In other instances we have to remember that German night navigation technology never really rose to the level of Bomber Command and so it is wholly feasible that the Ju88 crew flew around the country for hours thinking they were heading home.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely, I’m sure it was much better to use that as your excuse rather than say to your downed colleagues that you defected. I’m sure some internal court would have had them shot!

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  2. Well I’m a sucker for maps anyway – but this is a rare treasure. I’m re-reading Bud Anderson’s “To Fly & Fight” at the moment, so the density of airfields in East Anglia (and Lincolnshire) shown here is particularly terrifying. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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