First World War

Aerial photograph of WW1 airfield circa 1915 © Crown Copyright

Aerial photograph of WW1 airfield circa 1915

A large part of Orford Ness was purchased by the War Department in 1913, with the whole of the site acquired soon after.

Between August 1913 and the summer of 1916 the southern half of the King's Marsh was drained and levelled to form airfields to the left and right of the road. The site was ready to receive its first aircraft in 1915. This was perhaps the most significant turning point in the history of the Ness, with the arrival of part of the Central Flying School's Experimental Flying Section from Upavon in Wiltshire. This was the start of 70 years of intense military experimentation, which as well as leaving a variety of physical traces, has given the place what has been described as 'the mystique of secrecy'.

The longevity as a place of military experimentation is significant. The arrival of the military curtailed the traditional uses of the Ness by the local population, although the station soon became an important source of employment for them. Most of the experimental work related to aerial warfare.

Significant advances were made in both military hardware and experimental techniques and equipment. Amongst the pioneering work of the First World War were early experiments on the parachute, on aerial photography and on bomb and machine gun sights as well as evaluation of aircraft and the development of camouflage.

After the War, Orford Ness was put on a 'care and maintenance' order until 1924 when it was reopened as a satellite of the Aeroplane and Armaments Experimental Establishment at nearby Martlesham.