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RAF in Cambridgeshire A-H

Despite its inland location, at its most northerly point, Cambridgeshire is just six miles from the Wash, making it crucial in the defence of Britain, highlighted by the large number of RAF locations that were established during WW2. Along with the active stations constructed, several decoy or Q stations were also created between 1939 and 1945 in the county, the aim to fool the Luftwaffe into attacking them rather than their actual targets. The Q sites were lit up at night by flares to mimic runways, with large-scale model aircraft dispersed to create the feel of an active station.

The last stations still in operation in the county are RAF Wittering, which traverses the county boundaries of Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, and RAF Wyton, with flying still taking place only from the former. Wyton houses the Joint Force Intelligence Group and the National Centre for Geospatial Intelligence, providing intelligence support to military deployments across the world.

Open

RAF Alconbury

Opened: 1938

Opening as the UK’s first satellite station shortly before the start of WW2, No. 63 Squadron’s Fairey Battles were transferred to the location five miles north west of Huntingdon in May 1938, the plan being to test the feasibility of the site as a potential airfield. A year later it also became a satellite for Wyton, and in September 1942, Alconbury’s long association with US armed forces began with the arrival of USAAF Consolidated B-24s.

The gate guardian at RAF Alconbury is a full scale replica F-5E Tiger II
(The gate guardian at RAF Alconbury is a full scale replica F-5E Tiger II)

At the end of the war the airfield returned to RAF control, and after a period of care and maintenance it reopened under US control in June 1953, the facilities upgraded the following year with a revamped runway and heavily protected areas for the storage of both conventional and potentially nuclear weapons. Among the US aircraft using Alconbury were B-45 Tornado bombers, Douglas RB-66 Destroyers and later Lockheed TR-1A reconnaissance aircraft. 

Closed

RAF Bassingbourn

Opened: 1938

Closed: 1969

After initially opening with grass runways which were able to handle light bombers like the Bristol Blenheim, concrete runways were completed in 1942, the station’s Wellingtons famously taking part in the ‘Thousand Bomber’ raid on Cologne on May 31, 1942. From August 1942, Bassingbourn, located 11 miles south west of Cambridge, served as HQ for the 1st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Bomber Division, assigned USAAF designation Station 121, B-17 Flying Fortresses moving in from October 1942.

Personnel of the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn

(Personnel of the 91st Bomb Group on the parade ground at Bassingbourn)

The RAF resumed control of the station following the end of hostilities, becoming one of the RAF’s main airfields for long-range transport aircraft including the Douglas Dakota and Avro Lancaster, playing a vital role during the Berlin Airlift (1948-49) when the Soviet Union blocked western Allies non-aerial access to the city. Among other aircraft operating from Bassingbourn was the English Electric Canberra, one of the last to leave when it was turned over to the army in 1969; its RAF links were retained, however, with the site being home to 2484 (Bassingbourn) Squadron Air Training Corps.

RAF Bottisham

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1946

Located five miles east of Cambridge, the station opened with Tiger Moths transferred there from No, 22 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) for potential anti-invasion duties as the growing threat of the Germans advancing across the Channel grew.

P-51 Mustangs of the 361st Fighter Group line up for take off on D-Day at Bottisham
(P-51 Mustangs of the 361st Fighter Group line up for take off on D-Day at Bottisham)

The airfield was later used by Nos. 168 and 652 Squadrons amongst other units, before it was turned over to the USAAF, the 361st Fighter Group arriving from Richmond, Virginia in November 1943, bringing with them P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, amongst other aircraft. The heavier aircraft took their toll on the airfield’s surface with a near-1500-yard runway made with pierced steel planking laid in three days in January 1944. The 36st moved to RAF Little Walden in Essex in September 1944, the station closing soon after the end of hostilities. The Bottisham Airfield Museum is now located at the site, operating out of the last remaining airfield buildings to exist within the station’s original perimeter.

RAF Bourn

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1948

Constructed as a satellite for nearby RAF Oakington, the station seven miles west of Cambridge was initially used for training purposes by No. 101 Squadron with their Vickers Wellingtons, No. 7 Squadron later utilising Bourn when Oakington was unavailable.

The station was a regular target for the Luftwaffe, and by the end of the war, 164 aircraft were lost, either by being bombed on the ground, or by trying and failing to land there.

Corporal J Patterson records the 203rd sortie on the operations tally of De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IX, LR503 'GB-F', of 'C' Flight, No. 105 Squadron RAF at Bourn, Cambridgeshire, watched by its crew, Flight Lieutenant T P Lawrenson (pilot, far left) and Flight Lieutenant D W Allen RNZAF (navigator, right). "F-Bar for Freddie" went on to complete 213 sorties, a Bomber Command record.

(Corporal J Patterson records the 203rd sortie on the operations tally of De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IX, LR503 'GB-F', of 'C' Flight, No. 105 Squadron RAF at Bourn, Cambridgeshire, watched by its crew, Flight Lieutenant T P Lawrenson (pilot, far left) and Flight Lieutenant D W Allen RNZAF (navigator, right). "F-Bar for Freddie" went on to complete 213 sorties, a Bomber Command record.)

Other squadrons flying from Bourn included Nos. 97 and 162, the latter formed there in December 1944, and flying almost nightly to Berlin to target mark for the main bomber force.

RAF Brampton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 2013

No runways or control towers were ever created at the station 20 miles north west of Cambridge, originally known as Brampton Park and used during WW2 as the HQ for the USAAF First Bomb Wing and to house American servicemen. It officially became RAF Brampton in 1955 when units were located on site, among those making the station their home the Central Reconnaissance Establishment and Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre, JARIC staying there for 57 years before being relocated to RAF Wyton when Brampton closed.

The entrance to RAF Brampton in 2015
(The entrance to RAF Brampton in 2015)

In the mid-1990s, Brampton and Wyton were effectively combined, with Henlow also included in 2001 in what became a tri-station amalgamation, RAF Brampton Wyton Henlow, with RAF Stanbridge also included but not formally noted in the name. The tri-station was disbanded in 2012 ahead of Brampton’s closure.

RAF Castle Camps

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1946

Straddling the borders of Cambridgeshire and Essex, the station 15 miles south east of Cambridge opened in June 1940 as a satellite of RAF Debden in Essex, before becoming a satellite of RAF North Weald in July 1943.
The station was used by a number of RAF squadrons and shortly after it opened, No. 85 Squadron flew Hurricanes from Castle Camps during the Battle of Britain. The station closed the year after the end of WW2, but a number of the original buildings are still visible today.

RAF Caxton Gibbet

Opened: 1934

Closed: 1945

Aircraft used the site 12 miles west of Cambridge as far back as 1934, the location used as a relief landing ground, RLG, during WW2, primarily utilised by No. 22 EFTS.

RAF/RFC Coldham

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

A landing ground was established at the location equidistant between Wisbech and March during WWI, initially named under the Royal Flying Corps banner, used by Home Defence squadrons including Nos. 51 and 75. The aircraft using the site were engaged in night-time aerial patrols defending the eastern section of the UK from Zeppelin attacks.

RAF/RFC Cottenham

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Similar to Coldham, a landing ground was created at the site just north of Cambridge, used by No. 75 Squadron for aerial patrols of the region during WWI.

RAF Duxford

Opened: 1918

Closed: 1961 (now owned by the Imperial War Museum)

Dating back to the end of WWI, Duxford started life as one of several RLGs located across Cambridgeshire, the airfield created in conjunction with the nearby Fowlmere (see below), both around ten miles south of Cambridge. Hangars were built by German POWs, and at the end of WWI, No. 8 Squadron were based at Duxford with Bristol Fighters, No. 2 FTS also stationed there until April 1923 when No. 19 Squadron was re-formed at the station, initially as part of No. 2 FTS.
RAF flying continued throughout the 1920s and 30s at Duxford, No. 19 Squadron the first to receive the new Supermarine Spitfires there in 1938. WWII saw a number of squadrons operating from Duxford, the station key during the Battle of Britain, No. 310 Squadron formed there mainly with pilots from what was Czechoslovakia.

Main Entrance to Duxford Airfield during World War II

(Main Entrance to Duxford Airfield during World War II)

A further two squadrons were added to the Battle of Britain force – No. 302 (Polish) and No. 611 Auxiliary – with around 60 aircraft operating daily in tandem out of Duxford and Fowlmere, their specific role of stopping Luftwaffe aircraft from attacking London. On September 15, 1940 they twice took to the air to successfully repel attacks, a day that became known as Battle of Britain Day, key in nullifying any threat of the invasion of Britain.

Duxford was handed over to the USAAF in 1943, operating fighter squadrons escorting bombers attacking industrial complexes and other targets in Germany and mainland Europe.

Post war it returned to RAF control as a fighter station and in 1953 it was chosen to provide the aircraft for the Coronation flypast, eight years later a Gloster Meteor making the last RAF take-off from the runway before its closure.

Filming for the movie, Battle of Britain, took place there in 1968 but it seemed destined for commercial development before the Imperial War Museum took over the site in 1977, regular airshows held there ever since.

RAF Fowlmere

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1957

Very much associated with Duxford, the two neighbouring airfields working in partnership in both World Wars. Fowlmere opened a year earlier than Duxford, and was originally used by Nos. 124, 125 and 126 Squadrons, US cadets also trained there prior to deployment to the Western Front.

A Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 of 19 Squadron being re-armed between sorties at RAF Fowlmere in September 1940

(A Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 of 19 Squadron being re-armed between sorties at RAF Fowlmere in September 1940)

While Duxford operated throughout the inter-war years, Fowlmere was mothballed, only returning at the start of WW2 with the intention of operating as a satellite for Duxford. Its importance grew during the Battle of Britain and, like its neighbour, it was turned over to the USAAF fighter command, operating at full capacity until the end of WW2. It was placed under care and maintenance in 1946 and sold in 1957, but the airfield is still in use today with an on-site museum.

RAF Glatton

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1948

Located ten miles north of Huntingdon, upon completion in 1943 it was immediately placed under the control of the USAAF, used by, amongst others, the 457th Bomb Group operating Flying Fortresses, the unit heavily involved in target bombings in northern France ahead of D-Day.

It returned to RAF control at the end of the war and was closed in 1948. Flying still occurs from the site which now operates as Peterborough Business Airport.

RAF Gransden Lodge

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1955

Opening as an operational RAF Bomber Command station midway through WW2, complete with three concrete runways, a number of squadrons were based at the site ten miles west of Cambridge, including Nos. 97 and 405 operating Lancasters, and Nos. 142 and 192 operating de Haviland Mosquitos.

Its last operational squadron was disbanded in 1946, the year when it staged the first major post-war motor race, and it was closed a decade later. The Cambridge Gliding Centre, formerly the Cambridge University Gliding Club, still fly today from the site.

RAF Graveley

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1968

The station was located around five miles south of Huntingdon, with No. 161 Squadron (Special Duties) one of its first arrivals in March 1942, operating Lysander aircraft. The station was originally intended for special operations but that role was performed elsewhere, Graveley best known for its experimental use of FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation), a system aimed at allowing aircraft to land in fog by burning it off. In November 1943, the first use of FIDO allowed four Halifax aircraft of No. 35 Squadron to land after a bombing operation.

RFC Hardwick/Hardwick Aerodrome

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1920

Used as a RLG during WWI, records show the site a few miles west of Cambridge city centre was used by the Cambridge School of Flying in the years prior to the Great War, the location reverting to private use at the end of hostilities.
(N.B. There is a better-known RAF Hardwick in Norfolk)

RFC/RAF Horseheath

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Like many sites across the county, a strip of land nine miles north east of Saffron Walden at Horseheath was used as a RLG during WWI, utilised by squadrons including Nos. 75 and 192 for aerial patrols of the region, both day and night.

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