RAF in Warwickshire

With the West Midlands an essential part of the industrial heartland of the country, its protection during the war years was crucial to the defence of the UK, the factories and businesses playing an important part of the war effort. A number of RAF stations were set up in the county of Warwickshire during WW2 with the purpose of repelling Luftwaffe raids, and during WWI a number of landing grounds were utilised by the Royal Flying Corps, RFC, the precursor of the RAF.

Along with the well-defined RAF stations, a number of Q sites were created, night-time decoys where flares would be burnt to imitate runways in a bid to fool Luftwaffe pilots to target those instead of the real stations. The major cities of the region were a clear target for enemy raids, the damage inflicted on Coventry still visible to this day with the former Cathedral a heritage site to the blitz that rained down on UK cities, the raid of November 14, 1940 a particularly notable dark day for the region.

No RAF station is still in use in Warwickshire, with RAF Baginton probably the most notable location today, with the site now the home of Coventry Airport.

RAF Ansty

Opened: 1936

Closed: 1953

Very much a training site, No. 9 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School RAF were the first to arrive, flying a range of aircraft including Avro Ansons. Soon after WW2 began, the school was renamed No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS), then using Tiger Moth biplanes for initial assessment of pupil pilots before they progressed to more ‘modern’ aircraft.

A number of maintenance units also used the site located five miles east of Coventry, including a sub site of No. 27 Maintenance Unit, MU, and No. 48 MU. Post-war, the station was home to No. 2 Basic Flying Training School until its closure in 1953.

RAF Atherstone/Stratford

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1946

The station located two miles south of Stratford-upon-Avon opened in July 1941, an advance party from the nearby RAF Wellesbourne Mountford (see below) arriving with Vickers Wellingtons. The name was changed to RAF Stratford in 1942, a decision that was likely due to the fact that many servicemen posted to Atherstone in Warwickshire ended up at a railway station 40 miles north east, Atherstone in Staffordshire; Stratford was the nearest railway station so RAF Stratford it became.

No. 312 Ferry Training Unit (FTU) flew Wellingtons from the stations during 1943, and in March 1944 the airfield was transferred back to No. 22 OTU; the Signals Flying Unit RAF from RAF Honiley were in command before flying ceased.

RAF Baginton

Opened: 1936

Closed: 1945, now Coventry Airport

While Baginton Aerodrome officially opened in 1936 around four miles south east of Coventry, there are reports of flying from the site dating back to 1919. Armstrong Whitworth built an aircraft factory on the site soon after the aerodrome opened, with the site requisitioned by the Air Ministry as a fighter station once WW2 began, used by No. 9 Group.

Present day Coventry airport

(Present day Coventry airport)

Damaged during the Coventry Blitz in 1940, a number of squadrons used the station which in 1941 was downgraded to a satellite of RAF Honiley, returning to civilian use at the end of hostilities.

RAF Billesley/Kings Heath

Opened: 1915

Closed: 1921

Initially used for flying gliders, the station six miles south east of Birmingham city centre was used as a Home Defence Landing Ground by No. 38 Squadron, then known as Kings Heath – Royal Aircraft FE2b fighters operating. Post WWI, it returned to use as a civilian airfield before the area was developed for housing.

RAF Bramcote

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1946; now Gamecock Barracks

The first unit to arrive at the airfield three miles south east of Nuneaton was No. 215 Squadron on September 10, 1939, just days after war was declared, flying Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansons. In June 1940, No. 18 (Polish) Operational Training Unit (OTU) switched to Bramcote from RAF Hucknall, operating Wellingtons, moving on to RAF Finningley in March 1943; in the summer of 1940, Nos. 300 and 301 Polish Bomber Squadrons were formed at the station flying Fairey Battles, both moving on to RAF Swinderby soon after, replaced by Nos 304 and 305 Polish Bomber Squadrons.

The station became so busy during the latter part of WW2 that RAF Bitteswell and RAF Nuneaton were used as satellites, and post war the airfield was transferred to the Royal Navy, RNAS Bramcote being renamed Gamecock, a ship name, which was the tradition of the Navy. The Navy departed the site in 1958, the Army taking over and remaining there to this day,

RAF Brinklow

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1944

The station four miles east of Coventry was utilised as a satellite landing ground, used by maintenance units for repair and storage of aircraft destined for operational use.

RAF Castle Bromwich

Opened: 1912

Closed: 1958

It was a few years before the aerodrome was established that Alfred Maxfield flew the first aircraft in the Birmingham area from Castle Bromwich in September 1909, seven miles north east of Birmingham city centre. The Midland Aero Club was established in 1912 with a hangar built for aircraft and at the start of WWI the War Office requisitioned the site for use by the Royal Flying Corps, initially named RFC Castle Bromwich, with a flying school created. In 1915, No. 5 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron was formed at the station, with nine other RFC and then RAF squadrons based there during WWI, engaged in training before usually moving over to France.

Post WWI, the station returned to civilian use with Imperial Airways operating a service to and from Hendon, north London, but the military continued to operate aircraft from the site. In 1934, the Air Ministry decided the station could no longer be used for civilian services, plans made to build a new airport five miles away at what is now Birmingham Airport.

A squadron headquarters was constructed in 1937, becoming a fighter station, with Air Minister of the time, Kingsley Wood, deciding to establish an aircraft production factory nearby, the Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory becoming the largest of its kind in Britain. Vickers-Armstrong were placed in charge of the facility, the site producing around 12,000 Spitfires in its lifetime, with aircraft towed across the Chester Road to the airfield where they were flown by test pilots.

The Sentinel monument on Spitfire Island, Castle Bromwich

(The Sentinel monument on Spitfire Island, Castle Bromwich)

Only one squadron used the airfield, No. 577, formed on December 1, 1943, but the station proved a popular spot for visiting dignitaries, Winston Churchill and the US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, among those who visited the site.

Post WW2 the station returned to its training role, with an annual display to mark the Battle of Britain, with civilian operations also flying, the first scheduled helicopter service to London flying from Castle Bromwich. The aircraft factory also closed at the end of WW2, part of it later bought by the Jaguar Car Company, and part secured by Dunlop to extend its premises, now a landmark site on the M6.

RAF Church Lawford

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1955

Used as a training centre for instructors, the station located three miles south west of Rugby was initially earmarked for use as a bomber station, but became home to No. 2 Central Flying School, operating Airspeed Oxfords and Boulton Paul Defiants. Training at the site continued long after WW2 ended, with the RAF Airfield Construction Branch also located at Church Lawford, tasked with repairing and rebuilding damaged airfields.

Royal Air Force Airspeed AS.10 Oxford II

(Royal Air Force Airspeed AS.10 Oxford II)

RAF Elmdon

Opened: 1939

Closed: 1946, now Birmingham Airport

Opening on July 8, 1939 as Elmdon Airport, complete with a terminal incorporating an air traffic control tower, initial services operated to a number of UK locations including Croydon, Glasgow, Liverpool and Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Soon after, however, it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, used by the RAF and the Royal Navy as an Elementary Flying School and a base for the Fleet Air Arm. The grass air strip at the site eight miles south east of Birmingham city centre was replaced by two concrete runways, with the station used as test flying centre for Avro Lancasters and Stirlings, built at the nearby Austin Aero Company and then transported by road to Elmdon, the wings removed and reattached on site.

In July 1946, a year after the end of hostilities, Elmdon returned to civilian operations but remained under central government control until 1974 when the newly-formed West Midlands County Council took over management.

RAF Gaydon

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1974

Used as training centre upon opening in July 1942, Gaydon was the home of No. 12 Operational Training Unit (OTU), training crews from a range of countries including Canada, New Zealand and what was then Czechoslovakia. The station located 11 miles north west of Banbury was also used by No. 22 OTU from July 1943 as a satellite for their main base at Wellesbourne Mountford (see below), flying Wellingtons and Ansons, conducting bombing and air sea rescue operations. A unit of No. 312 Ferry Training Unit (FTU) was deployed at Gaydon for a time, training pilots to ferry aircraft overseas.

Post war, a new runway was constructed with the intention of Gaydon accommodating a section of the new V-bomber force – the planes that carried Britain’s nuclear deterrent – the station reopening on March 1, 1954, No. 138 Squadron the first to arrive operating Vickers Valiants. No. 232 Operation Conversion Unit (OCU) operated at Gaydon from July 1957 with Handley Page Victors and English Electric Canberras, eventually disbanding in June 1965.

In 1968, No. 637 Gliding School was formed at Gaydon for Air Cadet glider training, with the station also home to RAF Flying Training Command, FTC, the first unit arriving under FTC, No. 2 Air Navigation School RAF, flying Vickers Varsitys before they moved to RAF Finningley in 1970. The station closed officially in 1974 but No. 637 remained at Gaydon for three more years, reforming at RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire, the site bought by British Leyland motor company.

RAF Hockley Heath

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1948

Also known as Box Trees, the station officially opened in 1941 with No. 14 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) the first unit at the site four miles south of Solihull, flying Tiger Moths – Hockley Heath used as a satellite for RAF Elmdon. Training continued throughout WW2 with No. 1 Flying Instructors School (FIS) also based at Hockley Heath operating Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Tutors, No. 1 FIS morphing into No. 18 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit (PAFU), also flying Boulton Paul Defiants. The station was also famous for having a Spitfire or Hurricane parked on site during the war as a morale booster for the local community.

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I

(Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I)

RAF Honiley

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1958

Originally called Ramsey, RAF Honiley was located seven miles south west of Coventry, opening during WW2 with No. 135 Squadron among the first to arrive, relocating from RAF Baginton flying Hurricanes, before they relocated to the Far East. A number of other squadrons made Honiley their home during the latter part of the Second World War including Nos. 91, 130 and 234 Squadrons flying Spitfires, along with other units including No. 63 OTU instructing airborne interception techniques with Beaufighters and Blenheims.

Present day aerial view of RAF Honiley

(Present day aerial view of RAF Honiley)

Post war, 1833 Naval Air Squadron Royal Naval Reserve were based at Honiley, flying de Havilland Sea Vampires and then Supermarine Attackers, departing in 1957 shortly before the station closed, the site later utilised as a vehicle testing centre.

RAF Long Marston

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1954

Construction began in 1940 on arable land six miles south west of Stratford-upon-Avon that was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1939, three tarmac runways laid with billets able to house up to 1,000 personnel. Bomber Command’s No. 24 OTU were among the first to arrive, a range of aircraft operating from Long Marston including Avro Ansons and Vickers Wellingtons. No. 1681 Bomber (Defence) Flight were also based there, flying Hurricanes and Curtiss Tomahawks, their duties including providing simulated attacks against OTU planes to train crews in how to defend their aircraft during combat.

Post war, the station was put under the authority of No. 8 MU, its active use as an airfield ending soon after hostilities ceased, decommissioned in 1954 and later used as a site for motor sports events.

RAF Snitterfield

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1947

No. 18 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit (PAFU) was the first arrival at the airfield three miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon in May 1943, Snitterfield used as a satellite for RAF Church Lawford, the unit moving permanently to the station in April 1945 flying Airspeed Oxfords and Miles Magisters. As well as units training British pilots, two Belgian training schools were set up at Snitterfield, with the site’s post RAF use seeing it considered as a potential location to host a British Grand Prix, RAF Silverstone chosen instead.

A Miles Magister

(A Miles Magister)

RAF Southam

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1944

Located seven miles south east of Leamington Spa, Southam was used as a relief landing ground, the site mainly utilised by No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) operating Tiger Moth biplanes. Operating as a satellite station for RAF Ansty, it remained in RAF hands until December 1944.

RFC Stretton-under-Fosse

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1917

During WWI, a grass airstrip at Stretton-under-Fosse, eight miles east of Coventry, was utilised by No. 38 Squadron as a second-class home defence landing ground, FE2b fighters operating. The second-class status meant that landings could take place from most directions, but the grass surface was irregular in parts, with obstacles present on some approaches.

RAF Warwick

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1946

The first unit to arrive at RAF Warwick in 1941, based two miles south west of the town, was No. 1 Flying Instructors School (FIS) operating Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Tutors, the station a satellite of RAF Church Lawford. No. 1 FIS became No. 18 PAFU in October 1942, also flying Boulton Paul Defiants, operating from Warwick until May 1945.

RAF Wellesbourne Mountford

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1964

Coming under the control of Bomber Command, Wellesbourne Mountford opened in 1941 with No. 22 OTU flying Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansons, the airfield constructed in the typical ‘A’ design, with three converging concrete runways. Located four miles east of Stratford-upon-Avon, the airfield found itself under attack on occasions from Luftwaffe aircraft heading home after hitting targets in the Midlands, unused bombs targeting Wellesbourne Mountford with varying degrees of success. Raids on targets including Cologne, Essen and Bremen started out from the station, with a number of units using the site during the war years.

RAF Wellesbourne Mountford 1941-1942

(RAF Wellesbourne Mountford 1941-1942)

Post war, No. 3 Glider Training School, the RAF School of Photography, the RAF School of Education and the Airfield Construction Branch used Wellesbourne Mountford at various times, before in 1964 it was placed under care and maintenance.

It is now home to the Wellesbourne Wartime Museum, with Avro Vulcan XM655 the star attraction, an annual wings and wheels event held where the public can view military and classic cars along with various aircraft – XM655 usually performing ground runs.

Other Articles You May Also Enjoy

101 Squadron
101 Squadron
No. 101 Squadron pays tribute to one of its most famous sons
Read More
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest project gathers pace as Defence Chiefs sign official treaty
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire part two K-W
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
A hotbed of aircraft activity from pre-WWI to the present day, Oxfordshire remains a key location for RAF operations
Read More
83 Squadron
83 Squadron
Missing crew members from No. 83 Squadron finally found as Lancaster bomber is recovered
Read More
Gloster Javelin
Gloster Javelin
The short-lived jet that was the last to bear the famous Gloster name
Read More
RAF in Hertfordshire
RAF in Hertfordshire
For a county that skirts the northern sector of England’s capital city, Hertfordshire could be described as being a litt
Read More
RAF Leeming
RAF Leeming
Leeming still key to the nation’s air defences more than 80 years after its first squadrons arrived
Read More

Leave a comment