Duxford - Battle of Britain - Operations Room

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The R.A.F. airfield at Duxford was established by 1918 on land south of the main road (now the A505) taken over from Temple and Lacy's farms. It occupied 138 acres in 1920, when four large hangars had already been erected south of the road. The barracks were mostly built north of the road in Whittlesford parish.

From 1920 to 1924 the airfield was used for a flying training school, and from 1924 as a fighter station, up to three squadrons being stationed there.

In 1934 new headquarter buildings (pictured above) were constructed and in 1935 George V reviewed the R.A.F. from there.


Behind Hangar 5 and next to the headquarter building is the station operations building. It has earth mounds built around on all sides to limit blast damage. Underneath is an air raid shelter (entrance pictured below) to be used by the staff in the event of air attack. The original ops room is open to the public, displayed just as it would have been during the Battle of Britain (see IWM picture below).

The Ops Room had its roots in the First World War when early warning systems were used to spot Zeppelin raiders, the movements of which were carefully plotted in a control room much like the one at Duxford.

By the time of the 1918 Armistice it was a tried and tested method that survived to form the basis of the command and control system of Fighter Command.

However, the big technical change that helped tip the balance was the development of radar. From the mid-1930s onwards the British put a lot of emphasis on it, developing a chain of radar stations around the UK known as Chain Home and Chain High for high coverage and low coverage.

The weakness of radar was that it only looked out to the sea, but it gave sufficient early warning to alert the controllers in the operations room to think about where they should place their fighter aircraft.

Once the information came in from a radar station or from the Royal Observer Corps it went into the headquarters at Bentley Priory, whose controllers passed it out to a whole series of rooms like the one at Duxford.

"There was certainly a lot of drama to be had between the people on the ground who were issuing instructions to the people in the air" says Imperial War Museum Duxford's Head of Collections, Stephen Woolford.

In the reconstructed operations room all the familiar props are in place, from the central plotting map table with names like Wattisham, Mildenhall, Debden and Hornchurch - carefully marked with red circles - down to the wicker chairs where headphones, gas masks and RAF blue tin helmets lie waiting for WAAFs to arrive and plot the deadly aerial battle.

On the wall hangs an iconic RAF Operations Room Plotting Clock with its painted dial divided into coloured triangles of red, yellow and blue for 2.5 minute periods, correlating to the coloured pieces on the map table.

Duxford Operations Room in the Battle of Britain (With acknowledgement to the IWM)

Please go to the top of the page (tab below right),
Click on "3 : Indoor Displays",
Then click on the required display.

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