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The USAF Barford St. John site

History

RAF Station Barford St John was opened in July 1941 as a training facility. The airfield was closed briefly at the end of 1941, rebuilt with paved runways and equipped for night operations, and then reopened in December 1942 as an RAF Bomber Command airfield.

Given its secluded rural location, in 1943 it was chosen as the base for top-secret tests of Britain’s prototype jet planes, powered by the first engines designed by Sir Frank Whittle during the Second World War.

In 1946 the airfield was closed and placed into care and maintenance – although it was briefly used as the outdoor location for shooting the 1949 film Twelve O'Clock High.

RAF Barford main gate
RAF Barford St. John main gate

In 1951, as part of the development at RAF Croughton, the USAF opened a transmitter facility on the airfield. Over the years the scale and complexity of the transmitter nests at Barford grew, reaching a peak in the 1980s.

Since then, as new digital communication technologies have shifted towards satellite-based systems, Barford St. John's role as a centre for HF/VHF communications has slowly declined.

Thumbnail of Barford St. John plan From the peak in the 1980s (shown in the plan on the left), the masts have been slowly dismantled over recent years. The eastern building compound was demolished in the late 1990s. Whilst technically the site is still in use, there is little activity there. Much of the site is used for sheep grazing – and in fact much of the World War Two concrete airstrips and taxi-ways are still intact, as shown in the Google maps satellite view of the site.

Location/mapping

RAF Barford St. John secure site building
RAF Barford St. John 'secure site' building

The perimeter fence encloses a very large area of land, although the secure facility in the middle occupies a relatively small part of the site. The functions the site performs today are largely automated, operating as an outstation of RAF Croughton, controlled via the base-to-base microwave link which can be seen on the tall mast at the centre of the site.

There is some occasional activity on the site, presumably for ongoing maintenance of the equipment, but it does not appear to be staffed full-time – although the security of the site is probably monitored remotely from RAF Croughton.

You can view the site on the Ordnance Survey map via the Streetmap site at –

Note, the arrows in all the above maps points to the location of main gate for the site.

Military bylaws

small map of RAF Barford St. John military byelaws area As at RAF Croughton, in early 2013 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched a public consultation on the creating of new military byelaws for the site. The conditions of the new byelaws are identical to those at RAF Croughton, listed above. The main difference between the two is that at Barford St. John the entire site is considered to be "protected area", with the exception of a small strip of "controlled area" along the south side of the site where a bridleway runs between the Milton Gated Road and Barford St. John village.

Click here to view/download a PDF copy of the 2014 byelaws.

If you would like to park a vehicle and view the site, the best place to head for is Milton Gated Road on the eastern side of the site. This also gives access to the bridleway (marked 'green lane' on the byelaws map) which allows you to walk around the southern edge of the site. There is little to see from the road along the northern side of the site, and the road down the western side can be busy at times.