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RAF in Worcestershire

A county whose RAF credentials were forged in the Second World War, with many sites opening up around the time hostilities started, and whose importance effectively ended in 1945. However, it wasn’t just airfields that popped up, with top secret radar sites amongst the RAF facilities that helped keep Britain safe during its darkest hours.

RAF Berrow

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1945

A satellite landing ground, SLG, located 15 miles south of Worcester, Berrow consisted of a grass airstrip along with a number of buildings that were mainly used for storage. A number of maintenance units – Nos. 5, 20 and 38 – operated from the station with work completed on planes before they were dispersed to squadrons around the country.

RAF Comberton

Opened – 1941

Closed – late 1950s

Opening as a Ground Control Interceptor, GCI, radar site, Comberton helped guide night fighters to the German bombers heading over the UK during the war; the site at Wick on the outskirts of Pershore underwent a major upgrade in 1943, becoming an Air Ministry Experimental Station, AMES, equipped with long-range fixed radar to track several aircraft at the same time.

Post war, it became one the few ROTOR sites located away from the coast before it was decommissioned; the ROTOR network was a series of stations stretching across the country to counter potential attack from Russian bombers.

RAF Defford

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1957

Starting life as a satellite station, the site six miles west of the town of Pershore was initially used by Vickers Wellington bombers of No. 23 Operational Training Unit, OTU, based at RAF Pershore (see below). It was also the site used for flight trials on behalf of the Telecommunications Research Establishment, TRE, responsible for radar research and development, the programme intensifying as the war progressed – around 2,500 personnel and 100 aircraft were based at Defford by 1945.

Scientists flew with RAF crew to test radar systems that helped track German U-boats crucial in the Battle of the Atlantic, and also assisted bomber command crews accurately pinpoint their targets. As with most work involving aircraft, it was not without its dangers, with a Handley Page Halifax from the station crashing near Ross-on-Wye in June 1942 while testing the top secret H2S ground-mapping radar system: all 11 on board were killed: seven crew and four scientists.

Satellite Ground Station with Former Runway Still Visible

(Satellite Ground Station with Former Runway Still Visible)

Post war, Defford continued its research work, but the runways proved too short to accommodate the large V-bombers on flight trials, closing as an RAF station in 1957. Some RAF involvement remained with the site as part of 1001 Signals Unit as a satellite ground station for the Skynet satellite communications network. 

RAF Hartlebury

Opened – 1938

Closed – 1977

Hartlebury, four miles south of Kidderminster, was home to No. 25 Maintenance Unit, with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, propellors and air frame parts distributed to squadrons and stations across the UK, as well as to the dozens of factories given over to the war effort – by 1941 more than 1200 worked at the station. The station remained in use as a logistics centre post war, continuing to distribute RAF parts both at home and abroad.

RAF Honeybourne

Opened – 1941

Closed – 1947

Located five miles east of Evesham, it was where No. 24 OTU was formed as part of No. 7 Group Bomber Command, training night bomber crews using Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys, before converting to Vickers Wellingtons – Royal Canadian Air Force, RCAF, crews among those trained at the station.

A Royal Air Force Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber in flight, circa 1940

(A Royal Air Force Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber in flight, circa 1940)

The secretive RAF Ferry Command used the site as part of their role to move aircraft built in North America to where it was needed by the Allies, the likes of Lockheed Hudsons and Consolidated Liberators regular seen at the station.

RAF Pershore

Opened – 1934

Closed – 1978

Opening as Flying School, with Tiger Moths a regular site in the 1930s, RAF Pershore was requisitioned by the Air Ministry at the start of World War Two. No. 23 OTU were based at the station, amongst its roles was training RCAF crews with Wellingtons; Pershore was very much a target for the Luftwaffe, with three raids by German bombers at the site eight miles south east of Worcester. Along with Honeybourne, it was used by RAF Ferry Command for delivering aircraft, a role which continued post war, with No. 10 Advanced Flying School also setting up at Pershore in the late 1940s.

From the late 1950s it became a testing site for the Royal Radar Establishment Flying Unit, a role it maintained until its closure.

RAF Worcester

Opened – 1938

Closed – 1953

Originally a municipal airport in the 1920s, the site two miles north east of Worcester was requisitioned a year before the outbreak of war, used as a home for No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School, EFTS, – Fairey Battles and Tiger Moths operating, some built at the nearby Longbridge plant.
Clark Gable in England 1943 during World War Two

(Clark Gable in England 1943 during World War Two)

It was also a Relief Landing Ground, RLG, with one famous crash of a Douglas Dakota transport plane seeing the aircraft finish up in a nearby rubbish dump – Hollywood star Clark Gable among the occupants who survived the emergency landing.

RAF Wythall

Opened – 1939

Closed – 1959

The station in Bromsgrove opened as the HQ for No. 6 Barrage Balloon Centre, responsible for the defence of Birmingham and Coventry from Luftwaffe bombers. Being labelled an RAF station may have been behind one notable tragedy near the site, a Wellington bomber with engine problems crashing into a nearby field with the crew believed to be attempting to land at the station, despite there being no runway.

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