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RAF in Cambridgeshire K-Z

Part two of RAF in Cambridgeshire with stations K-Z

Active

RAF Molesworth

Opened: 1941

Closed (to flying): 1971, still under US control

There was recorded aircraft activity during WWI from a site near the current Molesworth location, 12 miles west of Huntingdon, the RAF station officially opening in 1941, with Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF, 460 Squadron the first flying unit on site, operating Vickers Wellingtons. After 460 departed, the USAAF soon arrived, the station strongly linked with the 303rd Bomb Group, popularly known as ‘Hell’s Angels’, arriving with B-17s in September 1942, staying at Molesworth until June 1945. Molesworth reverted to RAF control in 1945 and was put under care and maintenance soon after, returning under USAAF control in the early 1950s.

RAF Molesworth Control Tower, taken on 28 September 1944, with wing staff waiting on the return of the 303d Bombardment Group from a mission

(RAF Molesworth Control Tower, taken on 28 September 1944, with wing staff waiting on the return of the 303d Bombardment Group from a mission)

Flying stopped at the station in the early 1970s, the station effectively closing for a decade before re-emerging as location housing US Ground Launched Cruise Missiles, the weapons flown into Alconbury before being transferred by road to Molesworth. The missiles made the station a focus for anti-nuclear demonstrations through the 1980s, the weapons removed in 1988 following a treaty signed by the US and Soviet Union. The station has remained under American control with the US European Command intelligence analysis centre located there.

RAF Wittering

Opened: 1916

The runways of the station cross the borders of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, with Wittering’s long RAF history dating back to 1916, beginning life as RFC Stamford, named after the Lincolnshire town located three miles north. An aerodrome was created for No. 38 Squadron midway through WWI, the airfield used for training purposes during the day and defence patrols at night, BE2cs and FE2bs among the aircraft operating against German Zeppelin raids.

In April 1918, the formation of the RAF saw the station renamed RAF Wittering, and it was developed during the inter-war years with the Central Flying School based there from 1926 to 1935.

RAF Wittering after an attack on 14 March 1941. Bomb damage can be seen to the roof of the left-most hangar. The runway linking RAF Wittering to Collyweston Landing Ground had not yet been constructed

(RAF Wittering after the attack on 14 March 1941. Bomb damage can be seen to the roof of the left-most hangar. The runway linking RAF Wittering to Collyweston Landing Ground had not yet been constructed)

In 1938, Wittering became a Fighter Command station within No. 12 Group, further expansion occurring as it operated as one of the main fighter stations during WW2, instrumental in the development of night combat techniques – Wittering becoming one of the country’s centres for air defence research and development.

Post war, the station transferred back to Fighter Command and in 1953 it came under the control of Bomber Command, Lincolns initially operating before they were replaced by English Electric Canberras. In November 1953, Britain’s first operational nuclear bomb, Blue Danube, was deployed to the station, all Britain’s V-bombers flying out of Wittering during the late 1950s: four Vickers Valiants departed from Wittering to the Pacific in the Spring of 1957 to test Britain’s H-bomb – Operation Grapple.

The station was home to Britain’s QRA (quick reaction alert) aircraft up until the late 1960s, with nuclear armed bombers on permanent standby ready to depart at short notice.

In the late 1960s, Wittering became ‘Home of the Harrier’, No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron the first to receive the ground-breaking aircraft in August 1969: 12 GR3s were flown from Wittering to the Falklands, via Ascension Island, in June 1982, mid-air refuelling allowing them to arrive 17 hours later.

The station is now the home of the A4 force, supporting RAF operations across the globe, and is one of the RAF’s major training centres.

RAF Wyton

Opened: 1916; closed to flying 1995

Like Wittering, Wyton was used for flying training during WWI, and in the inter-war years the site, four miles north east of Huntingdon, was an active military and civilian aircraft centre, one of the key centres for early air travel in the UK.

A Percival Petrel and Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 2 Group at Wyton between 1939 and 1941

(A Percival Petrel and Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 2 Group at Wyton between 1939 and 1941)

In 1939, the first sortie of WW2 took off from Wyton, with the station’s aircraft involved in the last bomber command raid on Germany in 1945, Wyton primarily a bomber base with Lancasters and Mosquitoes among the aircraft operating. It was chosen as the HQ for the Pathfinder Force, the advance aircraft that marked the targets for the bombers to hit, which was disbanded in 1945.

During the Cold War, Wyton was heavily involved in photographic reconnaissance work, Canberra squadrons operating in the role for an extended period, and in 1971 the station received its first Nimrods. The early 1990s saw a major reorganisation of RAF operations in the area, Wyton formally amalgamating with Brampton (also later with RAF Henlow), and in May 1995 Wyton’s runways were decommissioned.

The station returned to its individual status in 2012, becoming the home for the newly established Joint Forces Command (JFC) and Joint Forces Intelligence Group (JFIG).

Closed

RAF Kimbolton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1946

Located around eight miles west of Huntingdon, the station was handed over to the USAAF soon after opening for use by their bombers, the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) arriving in September 1942 with Flying Fortresses. However, they transferred to Bassingbourn a few weeks later with the runways at Kimbolton not strong, or long enough for safe operation.

Aerial Photo of Kimbolton Airfield - 10 August 1945

(Aerial Photo of Kimbolton Airfield - 10 August 1945)

The 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) arrived soon after, with Kimbolton able to handle their smaller Martin B-26 Marauders. The station returned to RAF use post war, closing in 1946 but remaining in standby mode until the 1960s.

RFC/RAF Little Downham

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Utilised by the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 and BE12 fighters of No. 75 Squadron, who had the site 12 miles north of Cambridge available to them as a Home Defence Landing Ground during WWI. In 1918, No. 192 Squadron used the location for night flying training, the unit remaining active from Little Downham after the Great War ended.

RAF Little Staughton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1959

After opening, the station was soon handed over to the USAAF, the 1st Bomb Wing and 2nd Advanced Air Depot operating from the site four miles west of St Neots. It returned to RAF control in March, 1944, and at the end of hostilities it was placed under care and maintenance.

Aerial photograph of Little Staughton - 10 February 1944

(Aerial photograph of Little Staughton - 10 February 1944)

In the 1950s it returned to USAAF control, its main runway extended and the site undergoing extensive refurbishment in the event of its use in emergency circumstances, but the rejuvenation of the station never materialised, US forces moving out and handing it back to the RAF.

RAF Mepal

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1963

Opening as a satellite for Waterbeach (see below), No. 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit, HCU, were formed at the station six miles west of Ely with their Short Stirlings, training under Bomber Command. The Stirlings were replaced by Lancasters in March 1944, with regular operations from Mepal until the end of hostilities. After around a decade under care and maintenance, No. 113 Squadron were reformed there, the station becoming home to a number of US Thor missiles, and when the nuclear weapons were removed from Mepal, it closed.

RAF Oakington

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1975

Located five miles north west of Cambridge, the station’s use during WW2 included No. 3 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) conducting high altitude work for Bomber Command targets from Oakington; however, poor surface conditions led to No. 3 PRU regularly operating from RAF Alconbury.

Vickers Varsity navigation trainer of No.5 FTS in 1971

(Vickers Varsity navigation trainer of No.5 FTS in 1971)

Post war, the station was an Advanced Flying Training School, No. 5 FTS reformed there in June 1954, an initial role to convert trainee pilots to jets using de Havilland Vampires. The site closed in 1975 and was converted into an army barracks.

RAF Portholme Meadow

Opened: 1918

Closed: 1918

The location just south of Huntingdon saw its first flight in April 1910, one of the country’s pioneering aviation centres, the venue used a century ago as a racetrack, not far from the current Huntingdon racecourse. It possessed a grandstand for the public to view the new phenomenon of aviation up close, and for a few months near the end of WWI it was utilised as a Training Depot Station, TDS, designated No. 211 TDS, aircraft using the site before they were moved on to RAF Scopwick in Lincolnshire.

RAF Sibson

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1946

Created six miles west of Peterborough, Sibson had two grass runways and six hangars, initially used as a RLG for trainee naval pilots, taking the pressure off Cranfield. Among the units utilising the site during WW2 was No. 2 Central Flying School and No. 7 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit. It closed the year after the war ended.

RAF Snailwell

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1946

The station located three miles north of Newmarket, just over the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk border, was perhaps most noted for training the Belgian Air Force and testing captured enemy aircraft. It was also used by a number of RAF and USAAF units during WW2, closing shortly after hostilities ended. Part of the site is now used by the British Racing (horseracing) School.

RAF Somersham

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1946

Initially used as a decoy site prior to 1942, Somersham evolved into use for highly secretive work with No. 161 (Special Duties) Squadron using the location nine miles north east of Huntingdon for SOE (Special Operations Executive) exercises. Operatives and pilots used the airfield to train for missions in mainland Europe, using aircraft such as Lysanders.

RAF Steeple Morden

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1946

Located 16 miles south west of Cambridge, close to the Bedfordshire border, Steeple Morden’s grass runways were used by the RAF until 1942 when it was turned over to the control of the USAAF, with hard runways laid before the arrival of the 355th Fighter Group from Philadelphia. At the end of the war, the station was transferred to RAF Fighter Command, closing a year later.

Steeple Morden Airfield - 13 April 1947

(Steeple Morden Airfield - 13 April 1947)

RAF Upwood

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1995

Land was requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 at Simmonds Farm, nine miles north of Huntingdon, the station originally RFC Bury, an airfield created for use as a Home Defence landing ground, switching to training in 1918 with an aerodrome established, becoming RAF Upwood in September 1918.

Returning to farmland for almost two decades, Upwood reopened in 1937, WW2 seeing Nos 35 and 90 Squadrons merged into the new No. 17 Operational Training Unit, OTU, at the station, tasked with training aircrews. When No. 17 OTU converted to Wellingtons, the unit moved to RAF Silverstone in April 1943, the grass airfield still in use at Upwood unsuitable for the heavier aircraft: concrete runways were laid with No. 139 Squadron the first to use them with Mosquitoes.
The Cold War saw Upwood become very much associated with the Canberra, a number of units flying the aircraft from the station including several that took part in raids on targets in Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1956, the first combat missions of the station’s aircraft since WW2.

The following two decades saw a general rundown of flying operations from the station, the USAAF assuming control of Upwood in 1981, using it in combination with RAF Alconbury. The end of the ‘first’ Cold War in the early 1990s saw Upwood return to RAF control, and in 1994 it closed as an RAF station, but was still used by US forces for housing and medical purposes.

RAF Warboys

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1964

Used as a heavy bomber station during WW2, Warboys became one of the original Pathfinder stations, used by a number of RAF squadrons from 1941 until the end of the war, the site eight miles north east of Huntingdon passing from Bomber Command to Transport Command.

 HM Queen Elizabeth inspecting flight and ground crews of 156 Squadron on a visit to RAF Warboys

(HM Queen Elizabeth inspecting flight and ground crews of 156 Squadron on a visit to RAF Warboys)

Post war, the site fell out of use until July 1960 when No. 257 Squadron was formed as a Bristol Bloodhound air defence unit, missiles based there until 1963, their exit signalling the end of the RAF at Warboys.

RAF Waterbeach

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1974

RAF Waterbeach was located five miles north of Cambridge, operating during WW2 under the control of RAF Bomber Command, No. 514 Squadron one of the units based at the station, flying Lancasters from the site.

RAF Waterbeach in 1945

(RAF Waterbeach in 1945)

It transferred to Transport Command at the end of hostilities, with Fighter Command assuming control on March 1, 1950, Gloster Meteors and Javelins among the aircraft flown by squadrons including Nos. 25, 46 and 64. The station transferred to RAF Maintenance Command in the early 1960s, before the Airfield Construction Branch of the Royal Engineers took over in 1966. The airfield continued to be used as a RLG until the mid-1970s.

RAF Witchford

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1946

RAF Witchford was located around two miles south west of Ely, built in 1942 and opening a year later with No. 196 Squadron one of its first arrivals, operating Vickers Wellingtons before transferring to Short Stirlings.

It closed post war but the site was later earmarked as a potential to house the US Thor missiles in the late 1950s as part of Project Emily, but it was decided that the nearby RAF Mepal was more suitable for the role.

RAF West Wickham

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1947

Also known as Wratting Common, the station was located in both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk at a site near Newmarket, coming under the control of Bomber Command. The station hosted one squadron at a time, Nos. 90, 195 and 1651 HCU based there at various points during the latter stages of WW2.

RFC Yelling

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1917

No. 75 Squadron had the site six miles south of Huntingdon available to their Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 fighters as a Home Defence Flight Station during WWI, the airfield closing shortly after the squadron moved to Elmswell in Suffolk in September 1917.

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1 comment

  • Have the Stations of Oxfordshire been covered yet?
    I joined the RAF to see the world and got Oxfordshire.

    John Evans

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