The Remains of Britain’s Three Massive Wartime Emergency Runways Seen from Above

raf-woodbridge-runway (Image: RAFFPU, public domain)

During World War Two, thousands of allied bombers, many of them severely damaged and carrying critically wounded crew, limped back across the North Sea to their home bases in eastern England. But in many cases they couldn’t make it back to their assigned units due to fuel shortages, poor weather or flight control systems completely shot out by enemy fighters and ground fire. As a result, three unusually long and wide landing strips were constructed from Kent to Yorkshire, enabling crippled aircraft to recover safely when their chances of reaching a conventional runway were marginal at best.

The single 9,000 ft strips were built at RAF Manston in Kent, RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk and RAF Carnaby in Yorkshire. At 750 ft wide, they were more than five times the width of conventional wartime runways. Divided into three lanes, the northern and central lanes dealt with aircraft returning under flying control, while the southern lane was reserved for more serious emergencies.

Despite the continued use of each airfield after the Second World War, their additional width was no longer required, leaving much of their massive concrete expanses to fall into disuse and neglect. Today, only the former RAF Carnaby, which finally closed as a military facility in 1963, has changed beyond recognition. But like Manston and Woodbridge, hints of its original use are still visible from above. (Click Next.)


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