During World War Two, Fearn Airfield (also known as HMS Owl) was one of Britain’s most important naval airbases. Recent development works have provided an opportunity to investigate some of the historic bunkers, hangars, and military buildings through archaeological evaluation and 3D recording.
The works were undertaken on behalf of Glenmorangie Distillery and Blyth and Blyth.
The Stop Butt
Air Raid Bunkers
There are several air raid shelters around the airfield, which would have provided cover for military personnel in the event of an air raid. The shelters are reinforced concrete bunkers covered over by curving T-shaped earthwork banks, each with three brick entrance corridors. They appear to be Stanton-style air raid shelters, suggesting that the concrete sections were pre-made elsewhere before being transported to the site and bolted into position. The concrete chambers would have offered great structural strength, while the multiple entrances allowed for emergency exits in the event of collapse. Using laser scanning, the archaeologists were able to create 3D models showing the structure of the bunkers underneath the earthwork mounds, as shown in the images here.
HMS Owl – Fearn Airfield
Fearn Airfield opened in late 1941 as a satellite to the nearby RAF base at Tain Airfield. It was only minimally used by the RAF and in 1942 was transferred to the Royal Navy and commissioned as HMS Owl. Throughout the Second World War, numerous Fleet Air Arm squadrons made use of the base and from 1943 onwards it was used primarily as a torpedo training school for Barracuda aircraft. Other aircraft flown from the base included Avro Ansons (for radar training), Fairey Swordfish, and Fairey Fireflies. At its peak, the base had around 3000 men and women stationed there. It was even visited by the New Zealand Prime Minister in June 1944. By 1946, all naval units had disbanded or moved, and the airfield was handed back to the RAF who used it as a satellite landing ground for Dalcross during the 1950s.
Fearn Airfield contained three runways connected by a 40ft wide perimeter track. When the Navy took it over, they added five hardstandings and groups of Bellman Hangars, as well as replacing the original control tower with the three-storey tower that still stands today. Other buildings around the airfield included bomb shelters, accommodation and toilet blocks, workshops, a radar test base, explosives area, pens, and a stop butt.
Below is the area of archaeological works shown on a map alongside the 1942 layout of the airfield. You can view the original Royal Navy plan at the Royal Navy Research Archive.
Apron: a paved area where aircraft could park outside the main airfield buildings
Radar test base
Engine Repair Section (ERS) Hangar
Aircraft Repair Shed (ARS) Hangars