Former airfields


In April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. The new service occupied 301 airfields, including airship & fighter stations, and training depots. Once WW1 ended, only 30 were retained.

In the build up to WW2, 100 permanent airfields were built and by the start of the war, once civilian sites were requisitioned, there were about 270 airfields.  Many temporary airfields were constructed during the the war, most having paved runways. By 1945, the UK was described as one vast aircraft carrier anchored off the north-west coast of Europe, with 720 airfields (including flying boat bases) and 9000 miles of runway. By 1945 the UK's airfields covered 360,000 acres, an area larger than Bedfordshire.

UXO risk

The three significant potential sources of UXO to consider on former airfields are:

  • Air dropped weapons.  Due to the vast area of airfields, unexploded bombs dropped by the Germans may not have been identified during WW2, as these news reports from Cambridgeshire and the former RAF Usworth demonstrate.

  • Abandoned ordnance.  Ordnance may have been dumped either prior to the closure of the site or by individuals leaving 'trophies' behind.  Click this link for a media report on a WW1 land mine which was found at a WW2 airfield near Norwich.  Mustard gas was stockpiled at some airfields to repel the possible German invasion and it has recently been found in Lincolnshire.

  • Canadian pipe mines (McNaughton Tubes). It has been estimated that 10 kilometres of pipe mines were laid, mostly at airfields, to permit rapid cratering should capture by the enemy  appear imminent. Significant quantities remained after WW2, although most most were eventually cleared. Click the link to read a news report about the discovery of 20 mines at Lee-on-Solent and Manston in 2019.

It should also be noted that there can be other significant contamination (not directly related to UXO) at airfields, such as radiation and mustard gas contamination.