Scheduled Monument

Crail Airfield, airfield 1km E of Kirklands FarmSM6642

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
20th Century Military and Related: Military airfield
Local Authority
NO 62702 8778
362702, 708778


The monument comprises the remains of a military airfield and associated features built during World War One and adapted for military re-use during World War Two and the subsequent Cold War period, up to 1958 when the site was returned to private ownership. The monument also includes the remains of two cropmarked enclosures likely to date to the later prehistoric period. The airfield is part of a larger complex (a former Royal Naval Air Station) of contemporary buildings, structures and separately designated features collectively known as Crail Airfield. First scheduled in 1997, the monument is being rescheduled as part of a review of the designation of the wider airfield complex, which concluded that a reduced area of scheduling combined with a selective listing of the buildings outside the revised scheduled area would best meet the needs of the site.

The monument is located on the NE coast of the Firth of Forth, 3 km north east of Crail village and on the SW edge of the Fife Ness coastal promontory. It survives as a network of prepared concrete and tarmacadam surfaces, the footings and floor platforms of several storage buildings and hangars, low earthen banks and the sub-surface remains of two circular enclosures. The airfield complex is currently under multiple landuse, incorporating leisure, agricultural and light industrial interests. Two opportunities for archaeological investigation (via test pitting and boreholes analysis) have revealed inconclusive fragments of the building and construction material used here.

The major and most visible component of the monument is the World War Two airfield enclosing slightly more than one half of a square kilometre. This is a well-preserved example of a Royal Navy shore-based training establishment with a runway scheme specifically laid out for naval air training. It includes four large runways (between 900 m and 1100 m long and capable of taking heavy bomber aircraft) together with associated taxiways, holding bays, hard standings, aprons and perimeter roads providing access to and from the enclosed hangars, fuelling dumps and munitions stores.

The area to be scheduled is an irregular polygon on plan, encompassing the airfield runways, all approach and hard-stand surfaces and perimeter roads, and an area around these elements in which we may expect traces of associated activity to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The area also encloses the two cropmarked enclosures visible on aerial photographs and centred on grid reference NO 626 083. The pumping station building located at the eastern edge of the scheduled area, along with its ancillary machinery and its access from the perimeter track, is specifically excluded from the scheduled area. The scheduling also specifically excludes all modern buildings, fences and boundary features, to allow for their maintenance.

Statement of National Importance

The monument's archaeological and historical significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

This multi-period, multi-use monument has a long development sequence that we can summarise as: the occupation of the area and probable domestic settlement by later prehistoric communities; the commandeering and development of the site as a grass airfield and hangar block during the later stages of World War One; the substantial redevelopment and use of the airfield for naval training and operational use during World War Two; and, finally conversion of the site for non-flying training and pre-deployment assembly of Army troops. The technical and domestic buildings adjoining the monument link to these re-uses and underwent further redevelopment besides the airfield function.

Starting with the earliest known remains, the two enclosures are likely to contribute to our understanding of later prehistoric settlement in this part of the Fife coast. The archaeological deposits we can see in the aerial photographs are likely to contain evidence of the local style of architecture and the nature of prehistoric living and landuse.

We recognise the first development phase of the military airfield in 1918 towards the close of World War One, when a grass airfield was cordoned off and hangars constructed for fighter reconnaissance training. Despite the hangars being removed and the vestigial nature of the airfield, this phase of the monument's development has much to tell us about the role of Crail in the wartime defence of the nation (locally covering the Firth of Forth and North Sea and nationally, as part of a network of airfields). Guide marks and aircraft wheel-ruts may survive beneath the later airfield, It also has the potential to tell us about the layout and use of the airfield for training national and international bomber crews as well as operational use for bombing sorties.

The redevelopment of the monument as a significant naval training and operational facility during World War Two included a runway layout allowing eight different compass headings for take-offs and approaches (four individual runways in 'double A' layout). It has the potential to tell us much about the nature of naval airfield and runway construction, the use of runways for naval training (such as aircraft carrier landing/take-off procedures and bombing approach runs), and general military airfield operations.

Crail airfield is particularly important because it reflects a longer tradition of use than its temporary counterparts, it reflects a core element of the war effort ensuring naval air crews were skilfully trained, and,it reflects the strategic and tactical importance of these types of airfield from the very beginnings of naval flying.

Contextual characteristics

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) was principally responsible for the air defence of the United Kingdom during the early part of World War One. On amalgamating with the Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918, a grass airstrip and a seven-hangar block at Crail was developed. Crail was part of the wider network of coastal airfields stretching from Orkney to the S coast of England and a crucial naval training asset from the start.

The main episode in Crail's intermittent military history was in 1939 when the Royal Navy wholly redeveloped the airfield to form HMS Jackdaw, its bomber reconnaissance and night flying training station. They designed the runways to mimick the flight deck of aircraft carriers, the control tower to mimick the enclosed operational function of a ship' operations rooms and bridge, and a number of ranges and targets were identified along the Firth of Forth for torpedo training. Luftwaffe aerial photography charts the progress of the airfield showing (in 1941) the continuing development of buildings and facilities. They constructed specific technical buildings to improve bomber training, whilst modifying the runways and access roads to take larger aircraft. Swordfish and Barracuda planes were stationed here as the principal training aircraft. The runway and wider airfield complex was surrounded by dual-role perimeter pill boxes, firstly to defend the airfield and its assets from ground and air attack and, secondly, adding to the coastal defence positions defending the seaward approaches to Edinburgh, Port Edgar and Rosyth.

This type of training and operational facility was less common and significantly different to the Bomber and Fighter Command airfields of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Crail was one of only two Fleet Air Arm (FAA) training facilities in Scotland and part of a group of naval air stations concentrated on the E coast of Scotland. The RN commanded it from RNAS Lee-on-Solent (Hampshire). It was part of a larger network of about 40 RN airfields and, overall, one of 95 military airfields. Other smaller groups covered the Clyde and its approaches, the Mull of Kintyre and Dumfries and Galloway.

Bomber training continued throughout the war. However, in 1947 they scaled down the Crail complex converted it to a training facility for boy sailors (called HMS Bruce). This continued until 1955 when they closed the establishment and used it to house a joint services linguistics training school, focusing on Russian, Polish and Czechoslovakian language training and the interrogation of captured eastern-bloc nationals.

Associative characteristics

Once the responsibility for torpedo testing and bomber training transferred to Crail in 1918, it became well known for its role as a training facility and as an integral part of the UK's air defence network. It was just one of the many resources that shaped the character of the Firth of Forth, which itself was a crucial and strategic asset in many naval operations (such as the Battle of Jutland, the subsequent German Naval surrender and more widely, shipping interdiction in European waters).

The later significance of the airfield is largely by association, when several of its associated buildings were adapted to house boy sailors, a linguistics and interrogation training facility, a staging post for Army troops and occasional military training aircraft from the nearby St Andrew's University Air Squadron. The airfield complex and associated buildings became home to more than 40 training squadrons and at any one time (during World War Two) they could house more than 2000 personnel and 200 aircraft. The training undertaken here was rigorous but, before operational duty, some 110 naval airmen lost their lives in various accidents.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular to provide information on the defence of Britain through two World Wars. It also serves as a very visible memorial to these conflicts and the intense effort that the nation put into defensive preparations and offensive training. Crail's longevity, through five decades of the 20th century, two World Wars and its subsequent peacetime role (addressing the perceived threats from eastern-bloc countries) that signals the importance of this monument as an intermittent but nonetheless valuable defence asset to Scotland and to the United Kingdom. During its main period of use from 1939 to 1947 its was a significant training base for the Royal Navy, training Fleet Air Arm pilots and bomber crews in torpedo warfare. Additionally, the monument is well-preserved, includes relatively uncommon airfield components, and it played an important role as a flexible war-time and post-war training asset, hosting bomber crews, boy sailors and linguists from British, Commonwealth and American military units. The defence of the United Kingdom, when faced by seaborne threats, relied upon airfields such as Crail to produce highly skilled naval air crews.



RCAHMS record the monument as NO60NW 49.


Curtis R (20030 CRAIL AIRFIELD DRAFT CONSERVATION PLAN, unpublished report.

DTZ Pieda Consulting and LDN Architects (2004), CRAIL AIRFIELD DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS, unpublished report.


Guy J A (1994) THE WORLD WAR ONE AND TWO DEFENCES OF FIFE, Vol. 1, unpublished report for Historic Scotland.

Guy J A (1994) THE WORLD WAR ONE AND TWO DEFENCES OF FIFE, Vol. 2, unpublished report for Historic Scotland.

Hendrie W F (2005) THE FORTH AT WAR, Edinburgh: Birlinn.


Willis S and Holliss B (1989) MILITARY AIRFIELDS IN THE BRITISH ISLES 1939-1945 (omnibus edition), Newport Pagnall: Enthusiast Publications.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Printed: 26/05/2019 19:07