Pickett Hamilton Forts
These forts were a type of pillbox unique to airfields, and were often placed down the very centre of the runway. The design involved a short concrete cylinder with firing holes or ‘embrasures’ in the side. This cylinder could be raised or lowered by a pneumatic jack so that in normal conditions the pillbox roof would lie completely flush with the ground, allowing easy take off and landing for aircraft. Should the airfield be attacked, the jack would raise up the pillbox by 2 ft in just fifteen seconds, allowing a two man crew to man the post, and fire out of the embrasures. The fort itself would also act as a physical obstruction, preventing any enemy aircraft from landing on the runway (Lowry 1996, 124). The design for these pillboxes was first registered in June 1940, and by the end of the year three had been installed at Usworth. One can still be seen at the former site of RAF Usworth, resited from the runway, standing on a grass verge just inside the gates of the North East Aircraft Museum (Lowry 1996).
Searchlight batteries Searchlights in the Tyneside area were manned by men of the Royal Artillery attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers, under the control of fighter command. When the Royal Artillery were posted on the south coast in advance of the D-Day invasion, the 225th Anti Aircraft Artillery (Searchlight Batallion) USA took over. Their headquarters was at Debdon Gardens in Newcastle (HER 5559). Many of the searchlight sites were used as low security POW camps after the American troops left, accommodating the prisoners who were working on local farms. The use of searchlights as anti-aircraft defences began in World War One and despite the introduction of Radar technology before World War Two, searchlights were still very necessary, used to guide anti- aircraft fire and to direct interceptors at night, as well as forcing enemy bombers to fly higher, reducing bombing accuracy. They could also be used to help friendly fighters back to base. Most searchlight sites consisted of a circular earthwork, usually 10m in diameter for a 90cm light. There would have been a number of ancillary huts on site, such as domestic buildings and generators (Lowry 1996, 63 and http://www.skylighters.org).
Usworth TT237 (HER 5534)