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RAF in Hertfordshire

For a county that skirts the northern sector of England’s capital city, Hertfordshire could be described as being a little light on RAF stations, even at the height of World War Two when London was targeted nightly by the Luftwaffe.

However, while aircraft technology was still in its infancy during WWI, a number of sites across Hertfordshire were used throughout the Great War to defend London from airship attacks, biplanes operating day and night to repel German zeppelins. 

During the Second World War, the area did boast more than its fair share of decoy or Q stations, some used to protect the de Havilland aircraft production factory at Hatfield, but while the focus of the nation’s defence was at sites to the south and east of London, the RAF did undertake missions across Europe from a number of stations dotted across the county.  

Closed

RAF Barkway

Opened: 1942

Closed: 2008

Described as one of the smallest RAF stations in the UK, Barkway was a non-flying site, a communications centre located 17 miles south west of Cambridge that opened midway through WW2 as a monitoring station for the eastern sector of Britain. It later became part of the US LORAN (long range navigation) system that was initially used to monitor ship convoys crossing the Atlantic, and then to improve aircraft navigation. Barkway comprised of several buildings for personnel along with a radio mast, and in the Cold War years it formed part of the allies early warning network, eventually sold in 2011, with the mast still standing over the village of Barkway, near Royston.

RAF Beechwood  

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1946

A satellite landing ground, SLG, opened at the site around five miles west of Harpenden in 1943, used by Nos. 5 and 15 Maintenance Units, MU, with damaged or obsolete aircraft arriving at Beechwood’s grass airfield before being stored at camouflaged hangars. 

RFC Bishops Hatfield

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1916

A landing ground was made available to the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2s and BE12s of No. 39 Squadron at Bishops Hatfield, at a site that is believed to have been just south west of the town of Hatfield, close to land that later became the de Havilland factory. Aircraft used the strip for several months during WWI but it was prone to fog, a switch made to RFC Hertford (see below). 

RAF Bovingdon

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1972

Built in the early 1940s as standard class bomber airfield, with a main runway and two secondary runways, No. 7 Group, RAF Bomber Command, took up residence at the station located around three miles south west of Hemel Hempstead. It was soon transferred over to the USAAF in June 1942, used predominantly by the American B-17 Flying Fortresses to attack targets across mainland Europe.

Bombs being loaded onto a B-17 Flying Fortress on 17 October 1942

(Bombs being loaded onto a B-17 Flying Fortress on 17 October 1942)

It was known for seeing several famous faces during WW2, and along with General Eisenhower keeping his personal B-17 on site, Hollywood stars including Clark Gable and James Stewart were among those stationed at Bovingdon.        

Post war, Bovingdon returned to RAF control, with the station becoming mixed use between military and civilian aircraft – the airfield was regularly clear for landings when sites such as Heathrow and Northolt were fog-bound, British European Airways (BEA) and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) using it as a maintenance facility. The US returned to the station in 1951, Bovingdon regularly used for transitory US flights, before they left in 1962, the site used by transport command throughout the 1960s. 

RAF Bushey Hall

Opened: 1942 

Closed: 1955

A non-flying centre located around seven miles south west of St Albans, Bushey Hall opened as a HQ for the USAAF Eighth Air Force, situated close to its RAF counterpart at Bentley Prior in Harrow. Following its closure, the building was used as a US Department of Defence Dependents School between 1962 and 1971.

Commanding officers of the Fighter Groups of the 8th Air Force in 1944

(Commanding officers of the Fighter Groups of the 8th Air Force in 1944)

RAF Hatfield

Opened: 1930

Closed: 1994

Built at a location on the outskirts of the town, Hatfield was closely associated with aircraft production, Geoffrey de Havilland purchasing the land after his Edgware factory was being encroached by housing developments. Many of the RAF’s most famous aircraft made their first flights from the site including the Mosquito, Venom and Comet, and during WW2 it was used as a RLG (Relief Landing Ground) by a number of units including the RAF Flying Training Command 50 Group EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School).

The Luftwaffe targeted the site and on October 3, 1940, 21 were killed on the ground by an attack by a Junkers Ju 88, disrupting work on the Mosquito – the Junkers aircraft was brought down and the crew captured.     

Aircraft production and testing continued post war, both military and civilian, the de Havilland name starting to disappear during the 1960s when British aircraft companies merged, with the last ever flight from the site in April 1994 by a de Havilland Canada Chipmunk light aircraft.

RFC Hertford

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1918

A site south west of Ware was used as a landing ground by No. 39 Squadron, operating Royal Aircraft Factory BE2s and BE12s, transferring from a facility at RFC Bishops Hatfield.

RAF Hunsdon

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1947

A station made famous by Operation Jericho – the raid that saw hundreds released from Amiens Prison including French Resistance fighters – the first unit to arrive at Hunsdon was No. 85 Squadron RAF, operating Boston Havocs.

A Mosquito of 487 Squadron RNZAF

(A Mosquito of 487 Squadron RNZAF)

However, it was the Mosquito that made Hunsdon’s name, with the aircraft flown from the station three miles north of Harlow by No. 140 Wing (No. 21 Squadron, 464 Squadron (Australia) RAF, and 487 Squadron (New Zealand) RAF) on the evening of February 18, 1944 as part of the daring raid on Amiens Prison: Operation Jericho saw low-flying Mosquitos blow holes in the prison walls, kill German guards, and deploy shock waves to open cell doors. 

RFC/RAF London Colney

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

A military aerodrome was created south of the village of London Colney, around four miles south east of St Albans, the site used by Nos. 39, 54, 56 Squadrons, along with Nos. 44 and 92 (Home Defence) Squadrons, operating a range of aircraft including Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2Cs and SE.5s, and Sopwith Camels.      

RAF Nuthampstead

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1959

A station built in the main by the 630th and 814th Engineer Battalions of the US Army, it was assigned to the USAAF upon completion, the site around 14 miles north west of Bishop’s Stortford that traversed the counties of Hertfordshire and Essex designated as Station 131. Despite being designed as a bomber airfield, it was mainly used by the 55th Fighter Group operating Lockheed P-38H Lightnings, flying escort missions for bombing raids on industrial targets, airfields, and later V-weapon sites in France.

P-38Hs of the 38th Fighter Squadron

(P-38Hs of the 38th Fighter Squadron)

Bombing missions involving B-17G Flying Fortresses were later carried out from Nuthampstead, and it was July 10, 1945, that control was handed over to RAF Maintenance Command, the station used as a maintenance store until it was placed under care and maintenance in 1954 before its final closure a few years’ later.     

RAF Panshanger

Opened: 1930

Closed: 1953

An aerodrome opened at the site on the eastern edge of Welwyn Garden City in around 1930, utilised by the RAF during WW2 for training purposes, No. 1 EFS operating Tiger Moths from Panshanger. It was also used as a decoy airfield for the de Havilland factory at Hatfield, with post war, No. 1 Reserve Flying School based there until May 1953 when the RAF departed, the area remaining in use for civilian air operations until the early 2010s. 

RAF Sandridge

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1945

The site around two miles north east of St Albans was used as a RLG during WW2, mainly utilised by the Tiger Moths of No. 1 EFTS. 

RFC/RAF Sawbridgeworth 

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1946

Starting life under the Royal Flying Corps banner, an area of land midway between Bishop’s Stortford and Harlow was used as a night landing ground by No. 39 (Home Defence) Squadron based at North Weald in Essex during WWI, protecting the capital from German airship attacks, the site returning to agricultural use following the end of hostilities.  

A North-American Mustang Mark I of No. 2 Squadron at Sawbridgeworth

(A North-American Mustang Mark I of No. 2 Squadron at Sawbridgeworth)

Civilian flying continued from the area during the inter-war years, a site close-by returning to military use in 1940, Westland Lysanders operating reconnaissance duties from Sawbridgeworth, with pilots selected by the Special Operations Executive also trained ahead of insertions into occupied France. 

RAF Stanstead Abbotts

Opened: 1918

Closed: 1919

A grass air strip was created around three miles south east of Ware during WWI and utilised as a RLG by No. 39 Squadron, their role defending the capital against airship attacks.

RFC Therfield

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1917

No. 75 Squadron’s Royal Aircraft Factory BE2s used the landing area located south west of Royston during WWI as a Home Defence Flight Station until September 1917, the unit moving on from Therfield to Elmswell in Suffolk.

RAF/RFC Willian

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

While there are reports of aircraft activity at the location on the southern outskirts of Letchworth that pre-date WWI, the site close to what is now junction 9 of the A1(M) was utilised by No. 75 Squadron from 1916, operating a range of aircraft including Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2bs and Avro 504Ks.  

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1 comment

  • No mention of RAF Mill Green. Sited between Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. It was used to train RAF Airfield construction operatives and form Squadrons for onward deployment to theaters where required.

    Glenn Judge

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