The Shoreham dome gunnery trainer was built in 1943 during the Second World War for training ground gunners in airfield defence. It is a hemispherical building, 12m in diameter, with an entrance on the north side. It is constructed of concrete and metal mesh, which is covered with gritted tar. The interior of the dome originally displayed projected films of moving aircraft. These were fired at by trainees using a dummy anti-aircraft gun.
Despite partial damage by fire in the past, Shoreham Airfield dome trainer survives in poor condition. It is a rare example of a Second World War dome trainer. 43 were built in Britain and there are now 6 surviving examples although one of similar design is a scheduled ancient monument at Langham Airfield, Norfolk. As a significant testament to the development of military training and as an example of enterprise and intuition in airfield defence, at a time when Britain faced one of the greatest airborne threats of the twentieth century, it is regarded as of national importance.
In the centre of the dome was a dummy Bofors AA gun. Films were projected onto the dome ceiling and showed aircraft flying towards or past the trainees, who had to identify the plane as friend or foe. The projection system used a novel way to check that gunners offset their aim correctly. Gunners would be required to aim ahead of the aircraft to account for the speed of their shell and speed of approaching aircraft for their “fire” to hit a target. This was their offset firing technique. The film showed a yellow dot at the place where the aim should be for a hit but the gunners would view the projected image through a yellow filter on their gun sight and could not see that spot. The instructors, and other trainees spectating, could see both the yellow dot and a white flash spot projected from the gun barrel when ‘fired”. If these coincided, the gunners had it right. The instructor could move the projected image of aircraft by adjusting the mirror to move the image across the wall of the dome to simulate moving target. The “range” of each image could be adjusted at the rear of the projector. Sound of gunfire also played a part in the training sessions. The projected film of aircraft would have been manufactured in a monochrome – with the yellow dots added by hand, frame by frame, to mark the offset position in front of the aircraft. The bofors gun had its own projector to provide the gun sight projection and white spot flash upon firing.
There was a cloakroom in one side of the single entrance lobby and a ventilating plant room on the other. These were separated from the training area by a soundproof partition. Inlet and exhausts ports for the plant equipment were above the doorway. On early domes the walls were painted blue. A fluorescent tube was used later to flood the whole surface with low intensity blue light.
Some of the domes had the projection system mounted above the entrance doors, whilst the original design had the projector mounted on a concrete plinth on the floor in the focus of the dome. The novel training dome concept with moving projection of targets was created by a Naval officer Henry Stephens as a comparatively inexpensive way of training. The first dome trainer being at Whale Island Portsmouth.
The Shoreham Dome was constructed in May 1943 to serve initial training at the 277 Squadron of the RAF Regiment at the RAF 7 Practice Camp. After initial training trainees moved on to target practice on dummy aircraft towed by the Lysanders of 277 Squadron. There were about 100 men on the first course for twin Brownings which began in May 1943. This was without the benefit of the dome which was still under construction. Most of the training was in the use of the 40mm Bofors guns. The dome at Shoreham ceased to be used by October 1944.
After World War 2 the dome trainer and associated huts (to the West) were used as 1440 Squadron Air Training Corps HQ from 1948 until they moved to their Eastern Avenue (former TA site) premises around 1955. (the ATC had been originally formed at Middle Road School) An ATC cadet recall’s his memory of the Dome in use the 1950’s (below). Note the projection system appears to be housed separately by this time.
“The ceiling, was painted white and either side of the front double doors, there were two small rooms. In use as the training facility, the skyline was painted similarly to the local skyline, with the downs and Adur valley. In one room a projector displayed a silhouette of German aircraft against the sky. In the other room a Gun fired a light source which recorded hits on the silhouette. Deflection sighting was taught. In use as the drill hall, the rooms were used for storing the training rifles, and uniforms, and the other was a classroom. Wooden huts, which were located nearby were used as offices, and classrooms. “
Afterwards (c1956) the dome was occupied as offices for FG Miles aviation company – and it appears 9 windows and door were cut into the structure at this time. By the late 1960’s the dome was painted grey and in a derelict state with extensive damage inside to the asbestos panelled walls and supports. The dome suffered fire damage in about 1980 but was restored by 1995. However in 2023 it is again in a derelict state. It is listed by Heritage England as a Historic Monument.
The Shoreham Airfield Dome at the northern dispersal area in 1940 Note the realigned A27 which effectively demolished the nearby WWII underground Battle HQ