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RAF In Cheshire

Cheshire’s importance to the RAF grew around a year into World War Two, WW2, with the Liverpool Blitz forcing the military to look for sites capable of defending a city which was the worst hit outside of London. Around 160 bombers attacked Liverpool on the evening of August 28, 1940, with the assault on the city continuing until May the following year. 

RAF Burtonwood

Opened 1940

Closed 1994

Burtonwood saw its first aircraft arrive several months before the Liverpool Blitz began, the site located two miles north west of Warrington originally used as a servicing and storage centre for modifying aircraft – operated by No. 37 Maintenance Unit RAF until June 1942.

Aerial photograph of RAF Burtonwood taken on 10 August 1945

(Aerial photograph of RAF Burtonwood taken on 10 August 1945)

In June 1942, the Unites States Army Air Forces, USAAF, took over, the station used as servicing centre for a range of aircraft. By the end of the war 18,000 servicemen were based at the station, with a small village and accompanying school and shop built to accommodate US service personnel and their families.

Whilst control returned to the RAF in 1946, the station becoming an equipment depot operated by No. 276 Maintenance Unit, there was still an American presence and it returned to USAF control in 1948, B-29 Superfortresses arriving ahead of their dispersal across Europe. With Burtonwood becoming the ‘Gateway to Europe’ for American aircraft and servicemen, the runway was extended, and in November 1953 the USAF 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron arrived – the military planes flying 16-hour missions over vast areas to record data and prepare forecasts for Military Air Transport Services, MATS, and the American Weather Bureau. MATS also used Burtonwood as a cargo and passenger transport facility until they moved to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk in 1959, the same year as major USAF use of the station ended.

RAF Burtonwood Control Tower 1954

(RAF Burtonwood Control Tower 1954)

The station passed back to RAF control in 1965, before the Americans again took command in 1967, this time the US Army. It was used as a receiving and storage depot for equipment and supplies, the main warehouse described as the largest building under a single roof in Europe – US army chiefs had the idea that in the event of a military emergency US personnel would fly into Burtonwood, pick up their kits and be dispersed to the battlefront. 

Construction of the M62 motorway in 1973 saw the removal of the main runway – the US army was by now utilising only a small percentage of the original site – until it was deemed surplus to NATO requirements in the early 1990s, closing in 1994.   

RAF Calveley

Opened 1942

Closed 1946

In December 1940, in response to the attacks on Liverpool, it was decided to build an airfield at Wardle in Cheshire, just outside Nantwich. Three concrete runways were laid but by the time it was complete, Liverpool was no longer high on the list of bombing priorities for the enemy, so Calveley was mainly used for training.

Old Buildings on Calveley Airfield

(Old Buildings on Calveley Airfield)

The station opened in 1942 as a Relief Landing Ground for No. 5 Service Training Flying School, the unit renamed No. 5 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, PAFU, in April of that year. In May 1943 it became the main base for No. 17 PAF, operating Miles Masters, relocating from RAF Watton in Norfolk; the increase in aircraft using the station saw RAF Wrexham serve as a satellite airfield. RAF activities at the site ceased in October 1946. 

RAF Cranage

Opened 1940 

Closed 1957 

The site just north of Northwich was used for aircraft maintenance and training, Cranage’s first flying unit, No. 2 School of Air Navigation RAF, operating Avro Ansons. In December 1940, No. 96 Squadron was formed at the station, equipped with Hawker Hurricanes and charged with night air defence duties, mainly in the protection of Liverpool.

Old Buildings at RAF Cranage today

(Old Buildings at RAF Cranage today)

Wellingtons were assembled at a factory in nearby Byley, close to the airfield, the finished planes towed to Cranage for their first flight before delivery. Post-war, the station was used for storage and maintenance prior to its closure in 1957, part of the M6 motorway now cutting through the former airfield.

RAF Hack Green

Opened January 1941

Closed 1992; opening as a museum in 1998

The first military use of Hack Green, located just south of Nantwich, was in 1941 when it was set up as a Starfish site, areas where a series of controlled fires were started to deflect enemy bombers from their primary target – in this case, Crewe. This role continued until 1943, with a radar station added, and by the 1950s construction had begun to turn Hack Green into one of the UK’s ROTOR stations, a network of sites aimed at countering potential attack from Soviet bombers, with a reinforced concrete bunker built.

RAF Hack Green Bunker Now a Museum

(RAF Hack Green Bunker Now a Museum)

Hack Green also served as an air traffic control service for military aircraft entering civilian airspace, the Home Office then turning it into a regional centre to enable the government to continue operations following a nuclear attack. In 1992, the site came up for sale with the Hack Green Bunker opening up as Cold War museum a few years later.

RAF Hooton Park

Opened 1917

Closed 1957

Opening as a training airfield for WW1 air crew, Hooton Park readied pilots for deployment to France, with some of those killed in training accidents buried at the nearby churchyard in Eastham on the Wirral peninsula, located between Birkenhead and Ellesmere Port. Between the wars the site was used for air pageants, with flying clubs and some short-distance schedule flights also operating, Hooton Park returning to military use at the outbreak of WW2.

In 1941, a new 6,000ft concrete runway was laid, the station becoming a centre for the assembly and repair of thousands of aircraft; Sikorsky helicopters were produced on site towards the end of the war. Coastal patrols for enemy aircraft and submarines were commonplace from Hooton and at the end of hostilities, No. 610 (County of Chester) Squadron, located on site at the start of the war, returned, later to receive Meteor twin jet fighters; No. 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron were also equipped with Meteors, relocating to Hooton from Woodvale to utilise the longer runway.

Hangars at RAF Hooton Park in September 1952

(Hangars at RAF Hooton Park in September 1952)

The station was closed in 1957 with the disbandment of all auxiliary flying squadrons, with Vauxhall eventually building a car plant at the location in 1962, with the Viva the first model to roll off the Ellesmere Port production line.

RAF Padgate 

Opened 1939

Closed 1957

Located on the outskirts of Warrington, Padgate was a small RAF station used to provide basic training for air force recruits before they were posted to stations across the country. Post war it was used as a training camp for servicemen, thousands completing their National Service at the site.   

RAF Poulton

Opened 1943 

Closed 1945

A satellite station for RAF Hawarden in North Wales, Poulton was operational for two years during WW2. Located just south of Chester, it was part of 12 Group and an Operational Training Unit, OTU, and Tactical Exercise Unit, TEU, for Hawker Hurricanes. Today, part of the site remains in use as a private airfield.

Poulton Airfield Today

(Poulton Airfield Today)

RAF Ringway

Opened 1937

Closed as an RAF station 1957, now Manchester Airport

After two years as a public airfield, work to turn part of Ringway into a RAF station began in Spring 1939, one hangar intended for the use of No. 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron. However, 613 headed south at the outbreak of war, No. 1 Coastal OTU RAF taking up residence. Along with the aircraft squadrons, the station was the base for No. 1 Parachute Training School, with the unit carrying out extensive research work in a bid to decrease occurrences of Roman Candle: incidents when the chute fails to deploy correctly, the lines becoming entangled leaving just a ribbon of material above the jumper.

Paratroopers from the 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion undergoing physical training with No. 1 Parachute Training School at Ringway, with a Whitley III in foreground, August 1942

(Paratroopers from the 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion undergoing physical training with No. 1 Parachute Training School at Ringway, with a Whitley III in foreground, August 1942)

Fairey Aviation and Avro, both based on site, were responsible for the construction of 4.400 warplanes, including Avro’s development of the prototype Manchester bomber, which evolved into one of history’s most famous military aircraft, the Lancaster. Squadrons based at Ringway during WW2 included Nos. 4, 64, 78, 264, 296 and 663, with No. 613 Squadron returning at the end of hostilities.

Like Hooton Park, Ringway closed as a RAF station when the auxiliary flying squadrons were disbanded in 1957, its hangars and infrastructure transferring to civilian operations.

RNAS Stretton

Opened 1941 as RAF station, operations transferring to the Royal Navy in 1942

Closed 1958.

Originally opening as a night fighter station to protect both Liverpool and Manchester from the Luftwaffe, the site at Stretton, south of Warrington, was given over to the Royal Navy in 1942 when German bombing tactics changed. The Royal Navy used Stretton to ferry aircraft between the mainland and carriers in the Irish Sea.

RAF West Kirby

Opened 1940 

Closed 1960

Located on the Wirral Peninsula, near Hoylake Golf Club, West Kirby was used for basic RAF training, recruits gaining their first taste of military life, traditionally after being kitted out at RAF Cardington. With no airfield, recruits were given eight weeks of intensive training before being posted to other RAF stations, a total of 150,000 conscripts passing through West Kirby. Post war, the station took in recruits, normally of AC2 rank (aircraftman second class) for their two years of National Service, with a commemorative stone installed in 2004 where the entrance to the site used to stand.

RAF West Kirby Monument

(RAF West Kirby Monument)

RAF Wilmslow

Opened 1938

Closed 1962

Known as the RAF’s No. 4 School of Recruitment Training, recruits would be educated about RAF procedures and operations, prior to their posting to other stations. 

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