(Image: Dave Johnson, reproduced with permission)
The UK is littered with deserted air bases, lonely yet poignant reminders of a time when Europe was torn apart by war. Most surviving airfields were heavy bomber bases hurriedly constructed amid the quiet British countryside during World War Two, often utilising three large runways in an “A-frame” layout. Many were returned to agricultural use after the war. But even today their giant forms can still be seen from the air, hiding in the long grass and adopting a far more serene atmosphere than was ever present in their active days.
Hundreds of airfields were built across Britain before and after the outbreak of war. The latest generation of heavy bombers required extensive runways, hangars, dispersal facilities and support buildings. Many abandoned airfields are visible on Google Earth, especially in southern and eastern counties. Brunton Airfield (above) in Northumberland, a former wartime training base, had no large hangars but the runways and hard standings are well preserved, in addition to bomb shelters and several abandoned buildings.
Some former bases – like the Great West Aerodrome (now Heathrow) grew into massive international airports. Others remain military bases, light airfields or industrial estates, with companies taking advantage of vast empty hangars. RAF Winthorpe (above right) is now part of the Newark Showground and retains a private air museum. Syerston airfield (above), is especially well preserved.
For the vast majority, however, 1945 saw wartime airfields returned to the farmers and landowners they were purchased from. The images above reveal only runway outlines, while dispersal areas are slowly reclaimed. Despite their slow disappearance, these modern ruins remain a treasure trove of recent history, with crumbling control towers and other abandoned buildings betraying their former purpose.