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Building 166 (Operations Block and Office Annexe) and Building 165 (Crew Briefing Room)

A Grade II Listed Building in Dunkeswell, Devon

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Latitude: 50.859 / 50°51'32"N

Longitude: -3.2273 / 3°13'38"W

OS Eastings: 313713

OS Northings: 107325

OS Grid: ST137073

Mapcode National: GBR LW.V65H

Mapcode Global: FRA 464T.LJF

Entry Name: Building 166 (Operations Block and Office Annexe) and Building 165 (Crew Briefing Room)

Listing Date: 10 October 2002

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1067844

English Heritage Legacy ID: 489829

Location: Dunkeswell, East Devon, 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

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Listing Text


10-OCT-02 Building 166 (Operations Block and Offic
e Annexe) and Building 165 (Crew Brief
ing Room)


Operations Block (Building 166), Office Annexe (also part of Building 166) and Crew Briefing Room (Building 165). 1942, constructed by George Wimpey for the Air Ministry to Directorate of Works and Buildings drawing no. 9223/42. Rendered 13.5 inch brick walls support reinforced concrete roof. Office Annexe and Crew Briefing Room have rendered 4.5 inch brick walls with piers at 10 feet intervals supporting 28-feet span steel trusses carrying corrugated iron sheeting.
Plan: large operations block with smaller rooms for plant, meteorological office, wireless transmission and general communications. In two parallel rectangular-plan ranges to N are the crew briefing room to the N of the office annexe, originally provided with rooms for rest, intelligence officers, interrogation of crews returning from missions, anti-aircraft operations and signals.
Exterior elevations are generally plain, the office annexe and crew briefing room being lit by steel-casements in the side walls. Ventilation tower to roof. Interiors retain original plan form, with ventilation ducting in operations room.

HISTORY: Operations blocks, for the executive control of aircraft within fighter sectors or bomber groups, first appeared in the mid 1920s, at first attached to station headquarters buildings as at Bicester in Oxfordshire. They assumed especial importance in the Second World War, most famous being those in Fighter Command's 11 Group (at Uxbridge and Debden) which bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe assault in the Battle of Britain. The operations block at Dunkeswell is an unusually well-preserved example of a wartime operations block. It was the nerve centre for US Navy operations in the Bay of Biscay area, and is thus of great historical importance for its associations with the Battle of the Atlantic. The airfield at Dunkeswell, by virtue of its continued use for flying, survives as the pre-eminent example of a purpose-built site associated with this campaign. The cover provided by shore-based aircraft of all three Commands proved to be a decisive factor, aided of course by the decryption of Ultra (at Bletchley Park) and the development of radar.

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.

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.

King, Ernest J. U.S. Navy at War, 1941-45: Official Reports to the Secretary of the Navy. (Washington, 1946); Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (15 vols), Vol. X: The Battle of the Atlantic Won, May 1943-May 1945. (Boston, 1962); Terraine, J. The Right of the Line. The Royal Air Force in the European War, 1939-1945. (London, 1985); Francis, Paul. Blackdown Hills Airfield Survey (Report for Devon County Council and East Devon District Council, 1996)

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