RAF in Staffordshire

LIKE many land-locked counties, the importance of Staffordshire to the defence of British airspace diminished following World War Two, with stations established during that heightened time of military conflict now obsolete; while some sites in the county are still used for civilian flying, most have been converted to industrial estates or have returned to agricultural land.

There were around 18 RAF sites opened up for operations during WW2, and here we look at some of the busiest and best-known locations.

RAF Abbots Bromley

Opened 1940

Closed 1949

The now derelict former guardroom at the site of RAF Abbots Bromley in 2006.

(The now derelict former guardroom at the site of RAF Abbots Bromley in 2006)

A satellite of RAF Burnaston in Derbyshire, Abbots Bromley opened in 1940 with the idea to move instructional units away from the south east to limit the danger of Luftwaffe attacks. Training involved Miles Magisters and de Haviland Tiger Moths as part of No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School, EFTS, and then No. 16 EFTS. Post war, the site, located six miles south of Uttoxeter, was used as for bomb storage, control handed over to No. 21 Maintenance Unit until it closed in 1949.

RAF Battlestead Hill

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1946

Located one mile west of Burton-upon-Trent, Battlestead Hill was used by No. 16 EFTS based at RAF Burnaston as a relief landing ground, RLG, pilot training taking place with Tiger Moths among the aircraft operating from a grass airstrip.

RAF Bobbington/Halfpenny Green

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1956; now Wolverhampton Airport

Starting life as Bobbington, the station became RAF Halfpenny Green in 1943 to avoid confusion with Bovingdon in Herefordshire, Blackburn Bothas and Avro Ansons flying out of the site under operation from No. 3 Air Observer and Navigator School.
A prefabricated Bellman hangar still in use from RAF Halfpenny Green days at Wolverhampton Airport

(A prefabricated Bellman hangar still in use from RAF Halfpenny Green days at Wolverhampton Airport)

Post war, flying stopped for several years before Avro Ansons again operated out of the station in 1952, this time operated by No. 2 Air Signallers School. In 1956 the airfield, situated eight miles south west of Wolverhampton, was effectively mothballed, civil flights beginning in 1961 and continuing today, with private aircraft, business jets, helicopters and flying schools operating. Plans to expand operations to include airline usage met with opposition from local groups, and were abandoned in the mid-2000s.

RAF Fauld

Opened 1939

Closed 1973

Located four miles north west of Burton, Fauld is one of the most infamous RAF locations in the country, remembered mainly for an accident that led to the deaths of around 70 people, producing what is considered the biggest explosion ever on UK soil.
250 lb MC bombs being stacked in one of Fauld's tunnels

(250 lb MC bombs being stacked in one of Fauld's tunnels)

The site was a weapons store, and as the war intensified so did the need to supply bombs to the aircraft heading to Germany on a nightly basis, with estimates that up to 40,000 tonnes of high explosives and incendiary devices were on site at Fauld. Just after 11am on Monday, November 27, 1944, an explosion occurred with reports of a worker attempting to remove the detonator from a live bomb using a chisel – the resulting blast recorded on seismographs as far away as Morocco, with many buildings destroyed and a nearby dam demolished causing flooding.

Despite the size of the explosion, the walls of the tunnels were so thick and the area so big that much of the site was still intact, and it was still used by the military until 1973.

RAF Hednesford

Opened – 1938

Closed – 1959

Located just south of Cannock Chase, 10 miles west of Lichfield, Hednesford opened just before the outbreak of WW2, operating as No. 6 School of Technical Training, mechanics from the RAF and Fleet Air Arm working on a variety of airframes and engines. At its peak, the station accommodated 4000 trainees and 800 staff, and despite no official airfield, instructional aircraft were flown in, landing in the camp sports field. In 1950, it became No. 11 School of Recruit Training, RAF National Service recruits spending around two months at the station before being posted elsewhere in the UK.
RAF Hednesford

(RAF Hednesford)

In 1958, the Air Ministry announced its intention to sell Hednesford, but various plans fell through with the army taking over part of the complex for ‘weekend training’.

RAF Hixon

Opened – 1942

Closed – 1957

The station was used as a training centre for bomber aircrews, No. 92 Group taking command before it was transferred to No. 93 Group a few weeks later. As part of training on aircraft including Vickers Wellingtons and Bristol Blenheims, crews were sent over France and Germany to drop leaflets. Hixon, located seven miles east of Stafford, was also the site that No. 1686 Bomber (Defence) Training Flight (BDTF) was formed, specialising in ‘Bullseye’ training: turret operators in Tomahawks and Hurricanes practised against fighter attacks whilst airborne.
Wellington Mk IIIs of No. 30 Operational Training Unit at Hixon, Staffordshire, 6 September 1943.

(Wellington Mk IIIs of No. 30 Operational Training Unit at RAF Hixon, 6 September 1943)

Post war, Hixon was given over to 16 Maintenance Unit from RAF Stafford (see below) as a sub-site, space at a premium for an excess of surplus military items at the end of hostilities. The station was put under care and maintenance in 1957, before it was sold in 1962 – two of the runways are still used today by Staffordshire Police for driver training.

RAF Hoar Cross

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1945

Similar to Battlestead Hill, Hoar Cross was used as a RLG for Lichfield (see below), with a section of No. 51 Maintenance Unit based at the station located five miles south west of Burton. It was used as a storage and preparation centre for aircraft ahead of their dispersal to squadrons across the country.

RAF Lichfield/Fradley Aerodrome

Opened – 1940

Closed – 1958

Used as a maintenance site, home to No. 51 Maintenance Unit from August 1940, newly-built aircraft were sent to RAF Lichfield for modifications before delivery to squadrons. The station located at Fradley, two miles north east of Lichfield, was also home to No. 27 OTU, forming and training aircrews for bombing operations using Wellingtons – the crews were typically from overseas Commonwealth countries who were then posted to frontline squadrons.
Map of the former RAF Lichfield in 1945

(Map of the former RAF Lichfield in 1945)

While operational bombing missions were flown from Lichfield in 1942 and 1943, most famously the raid on Cologne in May 1942, maintenance and training were its primary roles and post war, aircraft were prepared for service with foreign air forces and civilian use, with surplus planes broken up on site.

RAF Meir

Opened – 1920

Closed – around 1975

Also known as Blythe Bridge, it was as Meir Aerodrome in the 1930s that it welcomed Sir Alan Cobham’s Great Air Display, a festival of aircraft that toured the country giving many of the public their first experience of the new age of flying. Located in the Gravelly Bank area of Stoke, it was the site for a municipal airport before the outbreak of WW2.

The nearby Rootes Factory at Blythe Bridge was used during WW2 to produce plane parts, a long taxiway connecting it to Meir, the station itself mainly used between the late 1930s and the end of the war by units of the EFTS, Miles Magisters operating from the site.

Post war, the station returned to civilian use with flying schools and private flights operating, and in the 1950s Dragon Airways introduced scheduled flights to Jersey.

RAF Penkridge

Opened – 1940

Closed – 1945

Also known as Pillaton, the station was located seven miles south of Stafford and was used by No. 28 EFTS, Tiger Moths operating as training aircraft.

RAF Perton

Opened – 1916

Closed – 1947

Opening during the First World War, Perton was used by No. 38 Squadron until hostilities ended in 1918, the site three miles north west of Wolverhampton abandoned until WW2. In 1939, a typical A-pattern airfield was constructed with the purpose of Perton becoming a fighter station – instead it was used as a relief landing ground for nearby stations including Wheaton Aston (see below).

Nearby aircraft firms, including Boulton Paul, had air testing areas at Perton, but with larger models constructed these became obsolete, and were instead used for applying finishing touches to aircraft and servicing, the airfield closing in 1947.

RAF Seighford

Opened – 1943

Closed – 1966

Construction began with the purpose of providing a satellite for RAF Hixon, but only three units were based at the station situated four miles north west of Stafford – No. 21 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit, No. 323 Heavy Glider Conversion Unit, and No. 30 Operation Training Unit, OTU. Flights began in 1943 when No. 25 OTU was disbanded and its aircraft sent to Seighford, but the locations of the station hangars forced the closure of the B5405 road when planes had to be moved between the hangars and the runways, military flying stopping in 1946.

After a decade the Boulton Paul company, creators of the Defiant that was heavily involved in WW2, took over the site to test new aircraft as well as working as a sub-contractor for English Electric, overhauling the likes of Lightnings and Canberras. The new work required the runway at Seighford to be extended, but when that workload diminished, Seighford was closed in January 1966.

RAF Stafford

Opened – 1939

Closed – 2006, now Beacon Barracks

A Harrier GR.3 gate guardian of RAF Stafford

(A Harrier GR.3 gate guardian of RAF Stafford)

A non-flying RAF station on the outskirts of the town, it opened as home to No. 16 Maintenance Unit, and kept that role for around 60 years, with No. 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron joining them in 1958. The site was also where the RAF Tactical Supply Wing, TSW, – its primary role to support the deployment of helicopter operations – was formed in 1970, and despite closing as an RAF station in 2006, the TSW are still based at MOD Stafford.

RAF Tatenhill

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1947; currently operating as a private airfield

Built four miles west of Burton-upon-Trent as a satellite for No. 21 Operational Training Unit, OTU, at RAF Lichfield, it was constructed as the classic A-shaped bomber airfield, but with bombers only able to safely operate from one runway, its use was restricted. Training bomber crews became its primary role before it inherited the work of the RAF School of Explosives at the end of the war – munitions deactivated and broken up before being dumped at sea.

RAF Wheaton Aston

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1947

The original reason for the creation of the station eight miles south west of Stafford was as a relief landing ground for RAF Hixon, however, it was completed six months before Hixon opened so instead became a satellite for RAF High Ercall in Shropshire.
Old tower at RAF Wheaton Aston

(Old tower at RAF Wheaton Aston)

Over the war years, Wheaton Aston developed into one of the RAF’s largest training environments with a number of training units based on site, becoming so successful it had five satellite stations of its own, including Perton, Seighford and Tatenhill. It was second only to RAF Lichfield in terms of aircraft movements in the county, and training continued when the war ended, the station closing in 1947.

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