Site Records

Site Name: Kenton Bar - 13 Group Fighter Command Headquarters and Region 1 Regional War Room

Kenton Lane
Kenton Bar
OS Grid Ref: NZ216674

Sub Brit site visit 1st December 2004

[Source: Nick Catford]

During the expansion of the RAF during the late 1930s, the command structure of the air defences of Britain was reviewed. New developments in radar technology and the capabilities of the new Spitfire and Hurricane fighter aircraft, together with the changing nature of the threat posed by the modern bomber aircraft used by the Luftwaffe meant that a comprehensive reorganisation was required. In a command network known as the Dowding System, Fighter Command was divided into four operational Groups, under the control of a central Headquarters at Bentley Priory. Each Group had its own geographical area of responsibility: 10 Group, South West England and South Wales; 11 Group, South East England; 12 Group, the Midlands; and 13 Group, north of the Humber and all of Scotland.

Photo:The original 13 Group Fighter Command operations room adapted for use as Region 1 Regional War Room
Photo by Nick Catford

The location of the 13 Group HQ was chosen before the 27th September 1938. Initially there was a temporary above ground operations room brought into use by 24th July 1939 to coincide with the formation of the Group. At this time a permanent underground operations room was under construction, this was completed and was being fitted out by 3rd December 1939 becoming fully operational at 23.59 hours on the night of the 13th of March 1940.

Location of the Kenton site

The area controlled by 13 Group was relatively calm during the Battle of Britain, with the brunt of the German assault being borne by 11 and 12 Groups. After the end of the daylight phase of the Battle of Britain, the operational requirements of the air defence system were changed. On the 1st August 1940 Dyce and Wick sectors were transferred from 13 to 14 Group, a new formation covering the air defence of Scotland with a fifth protected Group Headquarters provided at Inverness. On 9th August 1940 13 Group was further reduced in size with the formation of 9 Group at Barton Hall, Preston (later RAF Longley Lane). the defences of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and the Western Approaches.

1 Bunker West Entrance 2 Bunker East Entrance
3 Substation 4 Pill box
5 WAAF Quarters 6 Air raid shelter
7 Decontamination Centre 8 Grocery store

This was to concentrate the defences of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and the Western Approaches.

In another development following the Battle of Britain, it was recognised that the central command structure was in danger of being overloaded with information from the various radar stations and observation. To overcome this potential problem, each Group Headquarters were provided with a Filter Room to receive all reports of aircraft locations, to assimilate and assess this information in order to provide the most accurate possible picture to the Operations Room.

The Filter Room for Kenton Bar was built on a separate site, in Blakelaw Quarry. This facility was somewhat smaller than the Group Headquarters, but built to a similar pattern. Each Group was also provided with third smaller communications bunker; the location of the Communications bunker for Kenton is not known.

Throughout late 1940 and 1941, the nature of the threat changed again; the Luftwaffe stepped up its night operations against large cities and industrial targets. Through 1941, the majority of German operations seem to be attacks en route to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh and in many ways, the north-East appears to have escaped the worst of the night bombing.

Floor plan after conversion to 1 Group Regional War Room
Drawn by Nick Catford

The Operations Record Books from this period are a useful reminder that the role of the headquarters went beyond directing air defence operations. Documents bound in with the operational diaries include combat reports and the development of new tactics, particularly during the switch to night-bombing in late 1940 to 1941.

By 1943, the air defence requirements had changed again, with the increase in offensive actions against occupied Europe and the reduction of massed bombing raids on Britain. 13 Group was amalgamated with 14 Group on the 15th July 1943 and the Group Control was renamed RAF Blakelaw becoming a Sector Operations Room for Catterick and Ouston Sectors in 12 Group.

This change in role meant that the Filter Room apparently became redundant and was taken over by the Military Police in June 1944. The exact role of the Blakelaw bunker at this time is in some doubt; there were proposals to establish a joint USAAF/RAF command centre or even to convert the site into a Maintenance Unit but neither of these appear to have come to anything. In September of that year, the Filter Room was turned over to 321 Squadron, attached to 22 Group.

VJ Day (12th August 1945) marked the end of RAF Blakelaw as an active station. The Royal Observer Corps were stood down, and round the clock manning of the Operations Room was left to a skeleton crew.

For further information and pictures of Kenton Bar click here

Click here for Blakelaw Filter Room

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 15th September 2005

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