The fascinating story of the Yorkshire landmarks that were camouflaged during World War Two

The disguised Kilburn White Horse (circled) on Sutton Bank
The disguised Kilburn White Horse (circled) on Sutton Bank
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It was an elaborate bluff intended to fool Nazi bomber crews.

During World War Two, the government ran military camouflage departments, which worked to disguise key buildings and installations that were likely to be targeted by the Luftwaffe.

Camouflaged hangars at RAF Yeadon

Camouflaged hangars at RAF Yeadon

Two of the Yorkshire landmarks which received camouflage were the Kilburn White Hose and Yeadon Aerodrome, the site of which is now Leeds Bradford Airport.

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The places chosen to be disguised were selected for two reasons - they were important for either military, strategic or industrial reasons, or they were distinctive landmarks which Nazi reconnaissance pilots could map to be used as navigational aids for future air raids and even invasions.

Concealment would protect these vulnerable targets from observation and attack. From the air, their appearance would be considerably altered, and they would look instead to be innocuous, perhaps being mistaken for farms or even open countryside.

Camouflage was deployed to cover entire airfields and bases as well as individual pillboxes, gun posts and vehicles. The army, Royal Navy and RAF all had separate camouflage units.

Kilburn White Horse at Sutton Bank in the North York Moors may not have been an obvious target for Nazi air attacks, but it was chosen for an intriguing reason. Despite its rural, isolated setting, the White Horse was a well-known feature of the landscape. Its fame had spread outside Britain thanks to the the area's popularity for the sport of gliding. Sutton Bank itself, a former Iron Age fort, was used to launch gliders from the plateau by a club who regularly invited German glider enthusiasts to visit during the inter-war period.

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There were fears that some of these young men may have ended up in the Nazi armed forces, and that they would remember the White Horse's location and use it to navigate during bombing missions.

.The horse, which was drawn in the cliffs during the 1800s, was hidden, and its outline was covered up to make it indistinguishable from the surrounding rocks.

Similar tricks were employed at RAF Yeadon, the aerodrome near Leeds which had been established for private flying in 1931 and later taken over by the air force. It was also close to the Avro aircraft factory - a key site and likely target as it was where Lancaster bombers were manufactured. The airfield was used to test these planes and dispatch them to operational bases.

Camouflage experts disguised the large hangars to alter their appearance, and even painted a line across the runway to make it look like a hedgerow. The nearby lake, Yeadon Tarn, was also drained during the war for this purpose.

Grass covered the factory roof, and imitation farm buildings, stone walls and a duck pond were installed. Staff moved fake animals around every day and the fabric 'bushes' changed colour to match the seasons.

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Over 17,500 people, mostly conscripts re-deployed from other industrial sectors, worked there and the factory operated 24 hours a day. Staff were bussed in from all over West Yorkshire and 700 Lancasters were produced by the workforce.

Despite all of this activity, the factory's presence remained undetected and no bombs fell in the area.

The building survives today and is now part of an industrial estate.