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RAF in Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire had great military significance during WW2, both in flying and strategic terms, due to its location close to London. As well as operational stations, the RAF sited many of its administration centres in the county, where military chiefs disseminated data received to plan operations and plot how to dominate the air and minimise the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe.

There are stations still operating to this day and many that were created in the 1940s solely for the purpose of getting as many aircraft into the skies as possible, as Britain led the Allied response to repel the efforts of Hitler’s forces to conquer the whole of Europe.

Still Active

RAF Halton

Opened: 1916

In official use as a military airfield since 1916, originally under the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) banner, flying was first recorded at Halton, five miles south east of Aylesbury, in 1913 when the owner of the Halton estate granted permission for No. 3 Squadron to conduct manoeuvres on his land. The RFC moved its air mechanics school to Halton from Farnborough in 1916, the estate purchased for the new RAF at the end of WWI.

Aircraft apprentices of No. 1 School of Technical Training listen to a lecture on servicing aircraft in the field, in front of a line of instructional airframes on the airfield at Halton, Buckinghamshire. 989M is a Hawker Audax Mark I, formerly K3057 of No. 2 Squadron RAF, reduced to airframe status in 1937.
(Aircraft apprentices of No. 1 School of Technical Training listen to a lecture on servicing aircraft in the field, in front of a line of instructional airframes on the airfield at Halton, Buckinghamshire. 989M is a Hawker Audax Mark I, formerly K3057 of No. 2 Squadron RAF, reduced to airframe status in 1937.)

In 1919, No. 1 School of Technical Training was established at Halton, remaining there for 74 years until it transferred to Cosford in 1993, the centre’s training focus continuing to this day. During WW2, Halton was used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, with No. 529 Squadron also utilising its grass airfields, operating the Cierva C.30 autogyro aircraft, the precursor of the helicopter.

At present, Halton is one of the largest RAF stations, with around 2,100 personnel based there from all the armed services, with the centre delivering the Basic Recruit Training Course along with a range of other technical training programmes. In 2016, it was announced that Halton would be closed, its end date extended on a number of occasions with the current closure planned by the end of 2027.

RAF High Wycombe

Opened: 1940

While not officially becoming a RAF station until January 1, 1969, the site near the village of Walters Ash was operational as a centre for non-flying air force operations during WW2, a location six miles north west of High Wycombe carefully selected in a clearing in a wood which offered natural camouflage.

Aerial view of RAF High Wycombe
(Aerial view of RAF High Wycombe)

The plan was to house Bomber Command there, with the site shrouded in secrecy and originally going under the calls sign of Southdown, with a postal address of GPO High Wycombe. An airfield at Lacey Green (see below) nearby was used to fly personnel in and out, with High Wycombe also used by the 325th Photographic Wing, United States Army Air Forces, towards the end of the war.

In 1958 it became HQ for 7th Air Division of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which relocated from RAF South Ruislip, with its RAF High Wycombe title officially approved a decade later. On July 1, 1994, Allied Forces North Western Europe was established at High Wycombe, with 2021 seeing the site become the HQ of UK Space Command.

Closed

RAF Booker

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1965

While there are records of flying activity taking place near the site three miles south west of High Wycombe during WWI, Booker officially opened as a RAF station in 1941 as a Flying Training School, FTS, the home of No. 21 Elementary FTS operating Tiger Moths and Miles Magisters. In 1942, Booker also became the training centre for the Glider Pilot Regiment, its military training role continuing post war, the airfield becoming privately run in 1965.

RAF Cheddington

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1948

Similar to Booker, Cheddington was used for flying operations in WWI, but only officially opened during WW2 in March 1942. It was a satellite station to RAF Wing (see below), No. 26 Operational Training Unit, OTU, operating Vickers Wellington bombers from the site equidistant between Aylesbury and Dunstable.

Aerial photograph of RAF Cheddington looking north, the bomb dump at the top, the control tower and technical site are at the bottom, 3 March 1944
(Aerial photograph of RAF Cheddington looking north, the bomb dump at the top, the control tower and technical site are at the bottom, 3 March 1944)

The station was transferred to US Army Air Forces (USAAF) control in September 1942, the Eighth Air Force 44th Bombardment Group assigned to Cheddington, three B-24 Liberator squadrons arriving, but it was soon decided they should be located closer to the east coast, moving to RAF Shipdham in Norfolk soon after their arrival.

When US forces left, Cheddington returned to RAF control with No. 26 OTU returning, but it was back under the USAAF umbrella in August 1943. Among those operating was the 36th Bomb Squadron, famously flying specially equipped B-17s and B-24s to jam enemy radars and telecommunications, before fooling the enemy into believing that non-existent bomber formations were assembling – one of the earliest forms of electronic warfare.

RAF Daws Hill

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1993; transferred to US Navy

Not your typical RAF station, Daws Hill, located four miles south east of High Wycombe, was established shortly after the US entered WW2, a secret location where the command centre of the USAF in Europe was located. It was situated a few miles from British Bomber Command, and while an underground site was being constructed, Wycombe Abbey Girls’ School buildings were requisitioned.

Although it was called RAF Daws Hill, it was in effect a USAF station throughout its 60-year existence, providing a centre for the control and operation of US aircraft, the location even boasting its own nuclear bunker that was subject to a major refurbishment in the 1980s, at a time when US Cruise Missiles were stationed in the UK. When the US Navy withdrew from the site, it was gradually rundown, being placed up for sale by the MoD in 2011.

RAF Denham

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1945

Now the location of Denham Aerodrome, the airfield two miles east of Gerrards Cross was used as a training centre for pilots and aircrews during both world wars.

RAF Finmere

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1956

Commissioned by the RAF in July 1942 as a satellite for RAF Bicester – the grass airfields at Bicester were prone to waterlogging – the site 16 miles west of Milton Keynes soon became home to No. 13 OTU, bringing with them Bristol Blenheims. Over the course of the war, Finmere became a major centre for training Mosquito crews ahead of postings to the Far East, and post war, the station was used for ammunition storage before its closure in the mid-1950s.

A derelict Nissen hut at RAF Finmere, formerly used as a communal building

(A derelict Nissen hut at RAF Finmere, formerly used as a communal building)

RAF Lacey Green

Opened: 1944

Closed: 1945

In 1944, the military commandeered part of a farm six miles north of High Wycombe – reportedly at an hour’s notice – to be used by Bomber Command for communication flights. Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris was among those who utilised the grass strip of RAF Lacey Green, with the head of Bomber Command seen flying in and out in his Stinson.

RAF Little Horwood

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1947

The station eight miles south west of Milton Keynes became operational in September 1942, utilised as a satellite for RAF Wing and as a training centre, No. 26 OTU arriving with Vickers Wellingtons. No. 1684 OTU Bomber Defence Training Flight followed in June 1943, using Curtiss Tomahawks to simulate battles for trainees, with flying officially ending in November 1945. Disaster struck the nearby town of Winslow on August 7, 1943, when a Wellington bomber from Little Horwood crashed killing all four aircrew and 13 civilians on the ground.

RAF Medmenham

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1977

Another non-flying RAF establishment situated close to London, RAF Medmenham was located at Danesfield House, seven miles north west of Maidenhead, the site becoming home to the RAF Photographic Interpretation Unit (PIU), which was renamed the Central Interpretation Unit (CIU). The CIU was involved in the planning of virtually all operations during the latter part of WW2, with the daily average arrival of around 25,000 negatives and 60,000 prints, with 1,700 personnel based there at its peak.

Danesfield House, the wartime home of RAF Medmenham
(Danesfield House, the wartime home of RAF Medmenham)

Among the aircraft used for photo reconnaissance were modified Spitfires, stripped of all armaments and able to reach speeds approaching 400mph flying at 30,000 feet. Work at Medmenham continued post-war, with a number of other units located at the site, with many of the prints analysed at Medmenham today stored at the National Collection of Aerial Photography in Edinburgh.

RAF Oakley

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1953

Land at Field Farm, ten miles east of Oxford, was requisitioned by the War Office, with the intention to create an airfield that was a satellite for RAF Westcott (see below). However, by the time it opened, it was reassigned as a satellite for RAF Bicester, its intended role realised a couple of months’ later in September 1942 when Westcott placed some of its Vickers Wellingtons at Oakley.

Old airfield building with corn growing on the disused RAF Oakley Airfield
(Old airfield building with corn growing on the disused RAF Oakley Airfield)

The station’s primary role, however, was conversion training for bomber crews, which it continued until the end of the war, the station then switching to become part of Operation Exodus, the repatriation of POWs. While the station closed to flying in 1945, it remained in use by the RAF for a number of years after the end of the war, and to this day the site remains very much a visible airfield.

RAF Thame

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1946

Located seven miles south west of Aylesbury, RAF Thame was opened in January 1941, the site also known as Haddington developing as the war progressed. The station was used to train glider pilots under No. 23 Group, Flying Training Command, testing including how effective gliders would be on live missions; aircraft regularly seen flying from the station during WW2 included Tiger Moths and Miles Magisters.

A glider instructor school was established in 1942 and between May 1945 and April 1946 it was used by RAF Radio Engineers, with visitors at Thame during the war including Winston Churchill and King George VI. After the site closed as a RAF station, it remained in use as an airfield up to the 2010s.

RAF Turweston

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1945

The station located around 20 miles west of Milton Keynes, close to the border with Northamptonshire, was created as a bomber training school, opening in November 1942 with the Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansons of No. 12 OTU among the first occupants. In April 1943, they were replaced by No 13 OTU, operating North American Mitchells, and No. 307 Ferry Training Unit, flying Douglas Bostons, with Wellingtons returning later in 1943 with No. 17 OTU, who also operated Miles Martinets.

The station was closed as an airfield in September 1945, but retained by the Air Ministry for storage, with the airfield reopening later for glider flights, becoming Turweston Aerodrome in 1994.

RAF Westcott

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1946

Like many of the airfields created during WW2 in Buckinghamshire, Westcott opened in September 1942 as a bomber training centre, No. 11 OTU moving in from RAF Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire with Vickers Wellingtons. The site, eight miles north west of Aylesbury, was later used as part of Operation Exodus, the repatriation of POWs, with many British military returning home through Westcott during the later part of 1945.

When the station closed, it was transferred to the Ministry of Supply, later becoming a centre for rocket research, involved in secret work that utilised captured German technology. Among its research projects was Blue Streak, a missile that would carry Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, which was cancelled in 1960 – the site at that time not marked on Ordnance Survey maps. The centre continued research into liquid propellants until the mid-1990s, the area now a business park.

RAF Wing

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1956

The station located four miles south west of Leighton Buzzard was a major centre for aircraft activity during the war, the site included five hangars, blast shelters, ammunition and bomb dumps, and even its own cinema, with at its peak around 2,000 men and 500 women stationed there.

It was used mainly as an operational training facility, but many bombing missions were launched from Wing, No. 26 OTU formed there in January 1942 with Vickers Wellingtons, Avro Ansons and Hawker Hurricanes. Two operational squadrons, Nos. 268 and 613, spent short periods at the station, with the centre also housing a section of the Special Operations Executive, whose work included building radio devices for resistance groups across Europe – the station even having its own decoy airfield created nearby.

The airfield was also involved in Operation Exodus, with a reported 1,269 flights landing at the station, returning nearly 33,000 allies POWs from 21 nations. Wing remained in use as a RAF station until the mid-1950s, and for a time was touted as a possible site for a third London airport.

In 2021, a memorial site was created to commemorate all those who served at the station, much of the funding coming from the local community.

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