15th June 2017 | Stories

Conservation works progress – RAF Kenley’s defensive architecture

As our Conservation works are now in full swing we at Kenley Revival HQ are often asked to explain the unique defensive architecture. These features characterised the period of which RAF Kenley is often seen as the most preserved example.

Here is a brief summary of the key architectural features you can spot at RAF Kenley:

Revetment

A revetment is a parking area for aircraft surrounded by blast walls on three sides. These walls were to protect not only the parked aircraft but also other aircraft from each other as planes were at risk of fire or damage. The walls around a revetment were designed to deflect bomb blasts away from the parked aircraft and neighbouring aircraft. The plans were often tied down with rope and you can often spot the iron rungs in the original tarmac.

Blast pen

The characteristic ‘E-shaped pen’ was designed for a number of World War II fighter stations of which RAF Kenley is the best preserved example of this type of defensive architecture. The blast pen along with the revetment served to shield parked planes from lateral damage and to also provide an escape route for aircrew and servicing personnel along with the middle section which was often used as air raid shelters.

Air raid shelter

Most synonymous with the period was the domestic Anderson or Morrison shelter which were offered to households free of charge depending on the household income. During the period of World War II over 50000 Anderson shelters were built per week. At RAF Kenley the air raid shelter is a unique structure which is in the middle section of the blast pen. Here aircrew and servicing personnel could take shelter during raids and were often used as recreational spaces during non-combat periods. Our shelters vary widely in terms of building techniques and size with no clear reason given that they were built to the same specification. We believe it may be that over the course of the war the specifications changed as preferred methods were used and in some cases shelters rebuilt at rapid speed. Interestingly some of our shelters are constructed using corrugated steel panels similar to Anderson shelters whilst our showpiece ‘RAF Kenley tribute shelter’ is lacking steel panels. What is revealed though in this pen is the graffiti of a rather famous cartoon bunny and mouse showing what the crew were up to!

Spine wall

The spine wall was the central structure within a blast pen which would separate the planes parked on the revetment. This feature had a double purpose in that it provided additional deflection from lateral bomb blast but also shielded the planes from each other should one catch on fire. Another interesting feature is the use of a ‘dog leg’ as pictured below as the spine wall ended in an L shaped structure. This has been cause for much debate amongst military archaeologists as no plans seem to include this structure but it is believed that this would have been used to park trolleys with ammunition.

What other features do you see around RAF Kenley? Get in touch to let us know!