WWII Land Classification Maps

Although Britain escaped the ravages of a ground war, the countryside still bears witness to its massive contribution to the air war. To this day, the sites of approximately 1,250 aerodromes and landing grounds still litter the landscape, leading many veterans to claim that, "Britain was just one big airfield." In most cases, the best ground for aerodromes concided with the most productive farmland. Comparing maps of airfield locations with agricultural land classification maps confirms that wartime airfields were disproportionately sited on grades 1 and 2 (the most versatile and scarce soils). And large, arable fields without banks or walls were ideal for rapid runway construction under emergency conditions.

There were three main constraints for the siting of airfields: landforms, surface mantle, and pre-existing infrastructure. At the outbreak of WWII, only six percent of the United Kingdom was forested, and only ten percent of Britain was urbanized. The ideal military airfield stood on a low and mildly convex plateau between villages, with a surface gradient flatter than one in eighty with well-drained subsoil, light woodland cover, nucleated rural settlements, road and rail connections, and proximity to the continental mainland. Care was given to select sites that would result in minimal demolition of property or disruption to local traffic, while enjoying reasonable access to nearby main roads, branch railways, utilities and community services.

Military airfields also needed two levels of traffic-ability: first, an inner area with runways and taxi zones with near perfect conditions to minimize wear and tear on the planes, and to allow swift movement of ambulances and fire tenders. Second, an outer area with a free-draining network of access roads of moderate gradient, plus a generous cover of woodland and hedgerows to shelter camp sites from inclement weather, explosions, and air raids. The most easily engineered ground was found in East Anglia, the East Midlands, and Wessex, which was fortunate as it placed the fields within a shorter striking distance of the enemy.


Doyle, P., & Bennett, M. (2002). Fields of battle: Terrain in military history. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.