RAF Wittering

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Royal Air Force Station Wittering
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Near Wittering, Cambridgeshire in England
Harrier GR3 at RAF Wittering 2007.jpg
Station guard room and Harrier gate guardian.
RAF Wittering crest.png
Strength is Freedom
RAF Wittering is located in Cambridgeshire
RAF Wittering
RAF Wittering
Shown within Cambridgeshire
Coordinates 52°36′45″N 000°28′35″W / 52.61250°N 0.47639°W / 52.61250; -0.47639Coordinates: 52°36′45″N 000°28′35″W / 52.61250°N 0.47639°W / 52.61250; -0.47639
Type Royal Air Force support station
Area 449 hectares
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Controlled by No. 38 Group (Air Combat Service Support) RAF
Website www.raf.mod.uk/rafwittering/
Site history
Built 5 May 1916 (1916)
In use 1916-Present
Garrison information
Current
commander
Group Captain Tony Keeling OBE MDA MA BEng CEng FRAeS RAF.
Occupants
Airfield information
Identifiers ICAO: EGXT, WMO: 03462
Elevation 83.3 metres (273 ft) AMSL
Runways
Direction Length and surface
07/25 2,759 metres (9,052 ft) Asphalt
Source: RAF Wittering Defence Aerodrome Manual[1]

Royal Air Force Station Wittering or more simply RAF Wittering (ICAO: EGXT) is a Royal Air Force station within the unitary authority area of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. Although Stamford in Lincolnshire is the nearest town, the runways of RAF Wittering cross the boundary between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

History[edit]

RFC Stamford and RFC Easton on the Hill[edit]

Wittering's use as a military airfield dates back to 5 May 1916 when it began as RFC Stamford. Following the formation of the Royal Air Force, It was retitled at RAF Wittering on 10 April 1918 before being placed under care and maintenance in 1919, the neighbouring airfield, RFC Easton on the Hill, also dates back to 1916. It became RAF Collyweston on 1 April 1918 and was closed in December 1919.[2]

Inter-War Years[edit]

RAF Wittering officially reopened in 1924 following and Air Defence Review in 1923, the Central Flying School was at Wittering from 1926 until 1935, when it became a fighter base, and the CFS moved to RAF Upavon. In April 1938, the station became a Fighter Command station within No 12 Group and a sector control room was constructed to control fighter squadrons; in the summer of 1938 an emergency landing ground was construed on a large open area close to the site previously known as RAF Collyweston - this was known as K3, the exact location was slightly closer to RAF Wittering than the original site.

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, the station was very active during the Blitz in 1940-41 in No. 12 Group (controlled from RAF Watnall in Nottingham) as it was the main fighter station for a lot of the southern East Midlands, and fighters from the station would often patrol as far as Birmingham. Embry in Mission Completed[3] states that in 1940, while used by 25 squadron, equipped with Beaufighter night fighters, the runway was extended from 1,400 yards to 3 miles long to reduce landing accidents at night and in bad weather, it was the longest landing strip and flarepath in England and also used by Bomber Command to land damaged aircraft. Embry believed[4] this success led to the construction of three large airfields at coastal sites (Manston, Woodbridge and Carnaby) to land damaged aircraft of Bomber Command. Emergency landing ground K3 was renamed as Collyweston Landing Ground in 1940, although the next main fighter station further north was RAF Coleby Grange, the airfield was bombed five times, with seventeen people being killed on 14 March 1941. In April 1943 No. 141 Squadron were moved in, operating de Havilland Mosquitoes. Aircraft from the station downed 151 Luftwaffe aeroplanes and 89 V-1 flying bombs. Hugh Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Putney served at the station, as did Andrew Humphrey (later Chief of the Defence Staff from 1976 to 1977, who flew Supermarine Spitfires with 266 Squadron).

Post-war use[edit]

The current airfield was created by the merging of RAF Wittering and nearby Collyweston Relief Landing Ground, by the construction of a 1.7-mile runway between them in 1941.

Aerial photograph of Wittering airfield, 9 May 1944

During the cold war RAF Wittering was a vital part of the strategic nuclear deterrent, with a runway built in 1954 long enough for the 'V' bombers (Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant). A wide-span Gaydon hangar for the Canberra B2 bombers was constructed along with a new control tower, avionics building and nuclear storage and maintenance facilities, the first British operational atomic bomb, the Blue Danube, was deployed to RAF Wittering in November 1953. The first V-bombers (the Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor and the Avro Vulcan) were delivered in July 1955; in 1957-58 tests were carried out at Wittering of the first British hydrogen bomb. This was fitted into the existing Blue Danube casing, and four Valiant bombers flew out of Wittering to Christmas Island in the Pacific, one of them dropping the first device on 15 May 1957 on Operation Grapple, until January 1969 two squadrons (100 and 139) of Victor B.2 bombers equipped with Blue Steel stand-off missiles were part of the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) force of the RAF. Two nuclear armed aircraft were permanently on 15 minutes readiness to take off, they were parked within 100 m (110 yd) of the westerly runway threshold. In times of higher tension, four bombers could be stationed beside the runway on the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform). If the aircraft were manned they could all be airborne within 30 seconds, a feat often demonstrated at V force stations across the country, since the incoming missile warning from the RAF Fylingdales BMEWS array was only four minutes before impact this ensured if the country came under attack, the bombers would be scrambled and able to retaliate.

In 1968, the base became part of Strike Command, from October 1972 until August 1976, there were two squadrons flying the Hawker Hunter No's 45 initially and then 58 Sqn as well, which then moved to RAF Brawdy after 45 and 58 Squadrons disbanded, in South Wales.

Harriers[edit]

From 1968 until late 2010 the station was known as the Home of the Harrier, although the first Harriers arrived for No. 1(Fighter) Squadron in August 1969: the first squadron to have a vertical take off aircraft. The squadron left the base in August 2000. No. IV (Reserve) Squadron, formerly 233OCU, was the last Harrier flying squadron based at Wittering, departing upon disbandment in January 2011.

In May 1971, four aircraft from 1(F) Sqn operated from HMS Ark Royal, the first time the Harrier had operated from an aircraft carrier, under Wing Commander (later Sir) Kenneth Hayr, later killed at the Biggin Hill airshow on 2 June 2001[5] in a de Havilland Vampire).

In 1982, six Harrier GR3 aircraft were taken down to the Falklands on SS Atlantic Conveyor,[6] and survived the Exocet attack, later to board HMS Hermes in May 1982. In June 1982, 12 GR3 aircraft were flown from Wittering, via RAF Ascension Island and mid-air refuelling with Victor tankers, on an 8,000 mile journey to the Falklands in 17 hours, which set an RAF record, the Harriers were from 1(F) Sqn. On 27 May 1982, Sqn Ldr (later Gp Capt) Bob Iveson was hit by anti-aircraft fire from GADA 601's 35mm cannon, and he ejected seconds before his aircraft exploded in mid-air near Goose Green. He evaded capture for two and a half days before being rescued by helicopter.

In January 1983, Sqn Ldr Brenda Palmer became the Senior Air Traffic Controller at the base, the first woman in the RAF to hold that title.

Harrier approaches from the south-west in April 2007

It was announced in December 2009 that RAF Wittering was to become the sole operational base for the RAF/RN Harriers of Joint Force Harrier after the announcement that RAF Cottesmore was to close. However, as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Harrier fleet was withdrawn in December 2010[7] with all of Wittering's Harriers being stored at RAF Cottesmore. Towards the end of October 2010 parliament announced that the Harrier would be retired and on 15 December 2010 they were to fly over RAF Wittering amongst other RAF stations, from RAF Cottesmore. Due to the freezing conditions and low-cloud cover, the Wittering flypast could not take place.

Gliding[edit]

RAF Wittering is also the birthplace of the Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Association's Four Counties Gliding Club, originally set up in March 1955. Following several relocations, the club returned to Wittering in late 2005,the club closed in late 2014, the RAFGSA East-Midlands Gliding Club was also based at Wittering during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

RAF Regiment[edit]

From 1970 to 1983 the station was also home to No. 5 Wing RAF Regiment consisting of No.15 and No.51 Squadrons RAF Regiment. On 21 June 1982, the Queen visited the station, as part of celebrations of the RAF Regiment's 40th anniversary.

In October 2001 No.37 Squadron RAF Regiment arrived from RAF Bruggen in the Ground-based Air Defence role but was later disbanded in March 2006.

The station was home to No. 3 Squadron RAF Regiment - a field squadron - who moved to Wittering from RAF Aldergrove in 2006 after a 7-month tour in Iraq. 3 Sqn were part of No 1 Force Protection Wing, also based at Wittering, 1 Force Protection Wing also consisted of No. 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force based at nearby RAF Cottesmore before that Squadron relocated to RAF Wittering and was re-subordinated to No 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wing in 2015 when both Headquarters No 1 Force Protection Wing and No 3 Squadron RAF Regiment disbanded.

Current use[edit]

RAF Wittering hosts a number of units operating the Grob Tutor training aircraft.

The station is the home of the 'A4 Force'[8] (the Royal Air Force's engineering and logistic Air Combat Service Support Units (ACSSUs)), with No. 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wing RAF and its subordinate ACSSUs, 2 MT Squadron and 3 Mobile Catering Squadron (formerly the Mobile Catering Support Unit (MCSU)) moving in from RAF Stafford. Elements of the Armament Support Unit (ASU) also returned to RAF Wittering from RAF Marham in Norfolk to be part of the newly formed No. 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing RAF, which also took 5001 Squadron under command from 85 Wing when that unit also relocated from RAF Stafford. In 2016 the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the Station would be one of the RAF's 'well found centres of specialisation for' 'Support Enablers' along with RAF Leeming.[9]

In addition to the A4 Force Elements, RAF Wittering support a wide variety of 'lodger' units located on the station.

In November 2011 the Ministry of Defence announced that 44 Service personnel from HQ 12 (Air Support) Engineer Group, part of the Royal Engineers, would move from Waterbeach Barracks to RAF Wittering in 2012-13,[10] this move was completed in March 2013.

Having previously hosted the Harrier OCUs, (233 OCU, 20(Reserve) Squadron, then IV(Reserve) Squadron) until January 2011, RAF Wittering's return to flying training was marked on the 4th February 2015 with the arrival of Cambridge and London UASs.[11] All the flying units currently based at RAF Wittering operate the Grob Tutor T.1 training aircraft, which are contractor owned by Babcock, who also supply ground services and engineering for the fleet. Currently, 16 Tutors are based at Wittering.

Command[edit]

The station is part of No 38 Group[12] within Air Command

The station commander of RAF Wittering is currently Group Captain Tony Keeling OBE MDA MA BEng CEng FRAeS RAF,[13] an engineering officer, who is also the commander of the RAF A4 Force Elements.

The station's honorary air commodore is Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex.[14][15]

Current units[edit]

Current flying and notable non-flying units based at RAF Wittering.[16][17][18]

Royal Air Force[edit]

No. 1 Group (Air Combat) RAF

  • Low Flying Operations Flight

No. 38 Group (Air Combat Service Support) RAF

No. 22 (Training) Group

British Army[edit]

Royal Engineers (8 Engineer Brigade)

  • Headquarters 12 (Force Support) Engineer Group
  • Headquarters and elements of 20 Works Group Royal Engineers (Air Support)
    • 529 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Airfields) (STRE)
    • 532 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Airfields) (STRE)

RAF A4 Force[edit]

(A4 Force Elements not located at RAF Wittering are included in italics for completeness)

Unit Sub-unit Role Location
Headquarters A4 Force Command RAF Wittering
No. 1 Air Mobility Wing Movements RAF Brize Norton
No. 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing No 71 (Inspection and Repair) Squadron Aircraft engineering RAF Wittering
No 93 (Expeditionary Armaments) Squadron Weapons support RAF Marham
No 5001 Squadron Ground engineering RAF Wittering
No 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal RAF Wittering
No. 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wing No 1 Expeditionary Logistics Squadron Supply and fuels RAF Wittering
No 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron Transport RAF Wittering
No 3 Mobile Catering Squadron Catering and accommodation management RAF Wittering
No 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Logistics RAF Brize Norton
No 504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force RAF Wittering
No 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force RAF Cosford
RAF Mountain Rescue Service RAF Valley; RAF Leeming; RAF Lossiemouth
Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron MOD Boscombe Down
No 4624 (County of Oxford) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Movements RAF Brize Norton

Units[edit]

Dates Unit Aircraft Comments
1916-17 'A' Flight No 38 (Home Defence) Squadron BE2c; RE7; FE2b Stamford
1917-19 No 1 Training Depot Station Bristol F2b; Avro 4504K Stamford/Wittering
1917-19 United States Detachment Elementary Flying School and 831st Aeroplane Repair Squadron DH6; Curtiss JN Stamford/Wittering
1917-19 No 5 Training Depot Station Snipe, Camel, Scout, RE8, DH9, DH9a Easton on the Hill/ Collyweston
1917-19 United States Aeroplane Repair Squadron Easton on the Hill/ Collyweston
1919-24 Care and Maintenace
1924-35 Central Flying School Avro 504K; Bristol Fighter; Snipe; Grebe; Gamecock; Siskin; Lynx; Hawker Tomfit; Hawker Hart; Bristol Bulldog; Fairy IIIF; Armstrong Whitworth Atlas; Vickers Victoria
1935-38 No 11 Flying Training School Tutor; Hart; Audux; Gauntlet; Fury
1938-40 No 23 Squadron Demon; Blenheim NF1
1938-40 No 213 Squadron Gauntlet II; Hurricane I
1938-40 No 610 Squadron Spitfire I
1940 No 1 Squadron Hurricane I
1940 No 32 Squadron Hurricane I
1940 No 229 Squadron Hurricane I
1940 No 74 Squadron Spitfire XII
1940-42 No 25 Squadron Beaufighter 1F
1940-43 No 151 Squadron Hurricane Iic; Defiant I & II; Mosquito NFII
1940-42 No 266 Squadron Spitfire I, IIa, IIb, & Vb
1941-42 No 1453 Flight Havoc (Turbinlite); Boston
1942-43 No 532 Squadron Havoc I (Turbinlite); Boston III; Hurricane IIb & IIc From No 1453 Flight
1942-43 No 1529 Beam Approach Training (BAT) Flight Magister
1942-43 No 485 Squadron Spitfire Vb New Zealand
1942-43 No 486 Squadron Hurricane IIb New Zealand
1942-43 No 616 Squadron Spitfire IIb & Vb
1942-43 No 1530 BAT Flight Airspeed Oxford
1943 No 141 Squadron Beaufighter VIF; Mosquito II
1943 No 55 Fighter Squadron USAAF P38 Lightning; P51 Mustang Walcot Hall
1943 No 118 Squadron Spitfire Vb
1943-45 No 1426 (Captured Enemy Aircraft) Flight Various German aircraft
1943-44 Air Fighting Development Unit

Naval Air Fighting Development Unit

Various
1943 No 91 Squadron Spitfire XII
1943-44 No 438 Squadron RCAF Hurricane IV From No 118 Squadron
1944 Gunnery Research Unit Various
1944 No 658 Squadron Auster AOP III & IV
1944 Fighter Interception Unit

Night Fighter Interception Unit

Mosquito; Typhoon; Beaufighter
1944-45 Central Fighter Establishment Various
1945 No 68 Squadron Mosquito XVII, XIX & XXX
1945 Nos 109 & 110 Personnel Reception Centres
1946 No 219 Squadron Mosquito NF30
1946-47 No 19 Squadron Spitfire F21; Hornet I
1946-47 No 23 Squadron Mosquito NF30
1946-47 No 41 Squadron Spitfire F21; Hornet
1946-47 No 141 Squadron Mosquito NF36
1947-48 No 264 Squadron Mosquito NF36
1948-50 No 1 Initial Training School
1948-50 No 23 Group School of Instructional Technique
1950-52 Airfield Reconstruction
1952-53 Central Servicing Development Establishment
1953-68 Bomber Command Armament School
1953-54 No 49 Squadron Lincoln B2
1953-55 No 61 Squadron Lincoln B2; Canberra B2
1953-59 No 100 Squadron Lincoln B2; Canberra B2, B6, PR7, & B(I)8
1954-56 No 40 Squadron Canberra B2
1954-55 No 76 Squadron Canberra B2
1954-60 Bomber Command Development Unit Canberra; Valiant B1
1954-55 No 1312 Flight Valiant B1
1955-62 No 138 Squadron Valiant B1, B(PR)1, & B(PR)K1
1956-61 No 49 Squadron Valiant B1, B(PR)1, & B(K)1
1961-62 No 7 Squadron Valiant B(K)1 & B(PR)K1
1957-71 Bombing and Navigation Systems Development Squadron
1962-68 No 100 Squadron Victor B2 Blue Steel
1963-68 No 139 Squadron Victor B2 Blue Steel
1968-71 Strike Command Armament School
1969-71 No 230 Squadron Whirlwind HC10
1969-82 No 51 Squadron RAF Regiment
1969-70 Harrier Conversion Unit Harrier GR1, Hunter FGA9
1969-2000 No 1 (Fighter) Squadron Harrier GR1, GR3, GR5, & GR7
1969-83 No 15 Squadron RAF Regiment
1970-82 Headquarters No 5 Wing RAF Regiment
1970-92 No 233 Operational Conversion Unit Harrier GR1, T2, GR3, T4, & GR5 From Harrier Conversion Unit
1970 No IV (Army Cooperation) Squadron Hunter FGA9, Harrier GR1
1971-2000 RAF Armament Support Unit
1972-76 No 45 Squadron Hunter FGA9
1973-76 No 58 (Reserve) Squadron Hunter FGA9
1992-2010 No 20 (Reserve) Squadron Harrier GR7, GR9, & T10 From 233 Operational Conversion Unit
1995- No 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron
1999-2004 No 1 Tactical Survice to Operate Headquarters
2001-06 No 37 Squadron RAF Regiment
2004-15 Headquarters No 1 RAF Force Protection Wing From No 1 Tactical Survice to Operate Headquarters
2006- Headquarters No 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wing
2006- No 5001 Squadron Expeditionary Airfield Facilities
2006- No 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron
2006-7 Mobile Catering Support Unit
2006 RAF Armament Support Unit
2007-15 No 3 Squadron RAF Regiment
2007- Headquarters No 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing
2007- No 1 Expeditionary Logistics Squadron
2007- No 3 Mobile Catering Squadron From Mobile Catering Support Unit
2010-11 No IV (Reserve) Squadron Harrier GR9 & T10 From No 20 (Reserve) Squadron
2012- No 504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force
2012- Headquarters 20 Works Group Royal Engineers
2013- Headquarters 12 Engineer Group
2013-14 Headquarters Joint Force Support (Afghanistan) 16
2015- No 16 (Reserve) Squadron Tutor T1
2015- No 115 (Reserve) Squadron Tutor T1
2015- Cambridge University Air Squadron Tutor T1 Includes No 5 Air Experience Flight
2015- University of London Air Squadron Tutor T1

Station commanders[edit]

The station commander ordinarily holds the rank of group captain, the ranks shown below, where above group captain, indicates higher ranks the former station commanders achieved.

ATC tower
A Harrier is seen landing, at RAF Wittering, on a Forward Operating or MEXE Pad. The pad measures 100ft X 100ft and is made from prefabricated surface aluminium interlocking (PSAI) matting, the pads were used by novice pilots and veterans alike to practice the accuracy of their vertical landings.

Air Cdre Richard Hill June 2011 - June 2013

  • Air Cdre Damian Alexander CBE June 2013 - June 2015
  • Gp Capt Richard Pratley June 2015 - June 2017
  • Gp Capt Tony Keeling June 2017 -

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Group Captain Haward was named as the new station commander at RAF Wittering in December 1998. A week later, on 18 December 1998, his Harrier aircraft crashed near to Barnard Castle in County Durham. Gp Capt Haward died at the scene.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "RAF Wittering Defence Aerodrome Manual (DAM)" (PDF). RAF Wittering. Military Aviation Authority. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2017. 
  2. ^ Lloyd, Walsh, Montellier, Palmer 2016, pp. 3–8.
  3. ^ Mission Completed, Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, White Lion Publishers Limited 1976, ISBN 0-7274-0260-9, pages 205-208
  4. ^ Mission Completed, Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry, White Lion Publishers Limited 1976, ISBN 0-7274-0260-9, page 207
  5. ^ "May 2001 crash". BBC News. 3 June 2001. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "1 Squadron in the Falklands". Raf.mod.uk. 2012-01-27. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  7. ^ "Last trip for one of Britain's iconic aircraft". BBC News. 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  8. ^ "RAF - A4 Force". www.raf.mod.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  9. ^ "MOD Better Defence Estate" (PDF). 
  10. ^ "First tranche of Army unit moves confirmed". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "Flying Squadrons Return to RAF Wittering". raf.mod.uk/rafwittering. Royal Air Force Wittering. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  12. ^ "RAF - News by Date - RAF 38 Group Reforming Parade". www.raf.mod.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  13. ^ here, RAF Details. "RAF - News". www.raf.mod.uk. Retrieved 2017-06-24. 
  14. ^ Emma.Goodey (2015-11-04). "The Countess of Wessex". The Royal Family. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  15. ^ "Honorary Air Commodore Visits Wittering | Wittering View Online - RAF Wittering". www.witteringviewonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  16. ^ "About us". RAF Wittering. Retrieved 26 July 2017. 
  17. ^ "A History of Air Support Engineering: 20 Works Group RE" (PDF). p. 13. 
  18. ^ "An introduction to...20 Works Group Royal Engineers" (PDF). Wittering View. Lance Publishing Ltd.: 18 Spring 2015. 
  19. ^ "INQUEST: Crash pilot lost control". Peterborough Today. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 25 August 2017. 

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

News items[edit]