HF antenna field, USAF Barford St. John, May 2019
USAF Barford St. John
‘CroughtonWatch’ is a monitoring campaign devoted to USAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, and its outstation, Barford St. John, in Oxfordshire – part of a global electronic communications, control and surveillance network that projects American military power across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
The USAF Barford St. John Site
USAF Barford St. John is USAF Croughton’s high-frequency (HF) transmitter annex – located six miles west of the main site. This page provides information on the site, and the military byelaws enacted to control access to it.
RAF Barford St. John main gate
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.
USAF Barford St. John transmitter annex, late 1980s
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.
RAF Barford St. John 'secure site' building
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.
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.
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 –
- 1:25,000 scale (orange 'explorer' map scale);
- 1:50,000 scale (pink 'landranger' map scale); and
- 1:200,000 scale (green 'road' map scale).
Note, the arrows in all the above maps points to the location of main gate for the site.
Click here to view/download a PDF copy of the 2014 byelaws.
The conditions of the new byelaws are identical to those at USAF Croughton (click link for a list of the conditions).
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.
Note that the new military byelaws operate outside of other civil and criminal public order/trespass laws, and in many ways are designed to facilitate the control/curtailment of any process within or on the perimeter of the site – and can be enforced by "appointed" uniformed staff, not just by the civil police.