RAF Honington Station History
RAF Honington opened on 3 May 1937 as one of six operational airfields within No 3 Group Bomber Command. The Station housed in turn Nos 77,102,215 and 1X Squadrons who flew Audaxes, Harts, Heyfords, Wellesleys, Harrows and Wellingtons for varying periods until the outbreak of the second world war. By then all but No 1X Squadron had been redeployed and they took part in one of the first bombing raids of the war when they attacked the German fleet at Brunbuttel. Between 1940 and 1942 the station also supported No 311(Czech) Squadron, Flying Wellingtons and Anions, No 103 Squadron flying Battles and No 105 Squadron flying Battles then Blenheims. Additionally No 214 Squadron, with the Wellington, operated from the Station during 1942 and three Beam Approach Training Flights, instructing Pilots in the use of blind landing equipment, were also based here.
The Luftwaffe made sixteen recorded attacks on the Station, mainly during the Battle of Britain. 'E' Hangar was hit twice by bombs and a Junkers 88 was shot down near 'D' Hanger by ground fire; the soldier responsible was initially reprimanded for firing without orders but later decorated. Twenty-four airmen were seriously injured, Eight fatally as they crossed the old parade ground on their way to the Mess during the First two surprise attacks on 19 August 1940. The North-west wing of Barrack Block 76 received a direct hit on the second attack later that evening, killing several airmen; the wing was reconstructed in 1988. Wartime damage is still visible in some of the hangers with the absence of roof spars and strafing damage can still be seen on the walls of the Airmans' Mess and on the shelter railings outside. Station personnel received many wartime awards and decorations and the then station commander and senior medical officer were awarded George Medals for rescuing aircrew from a burning Wellington, which had crashed into the main bomb dump.
Station Handed Over to USAF
In late 1942 the station was handed over to the United States 8th Army Air Force and the Advanced Air Depot No1 was set up to repair and modify the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 3rd Bomber Division. In 1943 the Unit was renamed the 1st Strategic Air Depot and they moved most of their facilities to the Troston site, an area extending between Rymer Point and the present Air Traffic Control Tower. The airfield was enlarged in preparation for the arrival of the 36th Fighter Group (383rd, 384th & 385th Fighter Squadron and later the 1st Scouting Force) in 1944. The Group initially flew the lightning but were quickly re-equiped with the Mustang and they achieved notable success in their role as a fighter escort to the bombers. They also took part in strafing and dive bombing missions and they played an important part in the battle of the Bulge and the assault across the Rhine in 1945. They earned distinguished Unit citation escorting a bombing raid over Hamburg and flew their last mission on 25 April 1945 after completing 342 missions and destroying 449 aircraft against 143 losses. Before the Americans left, several large pits were excavated near the woods opposite Crash Gate 2, and filled with great quantities of equipment, ranging from broken aircraft to small technical and domestic items. Honington was the last American wartime base in England to be returned to the RAF in February 1946.
Station Returned to the RAF
Between 1946 and 1950 transport Command Units were based at Honington and they played a vital part in the Berlin Airlift by maintaining the transport aircraft which flew in and out of the City. In 1950 Nos 58 and 94 Maintenance Unit were housed at Honington, the Former tasked with the recovery of crashed aircraft and the latter with the disposal of wartime bombs and ammunition. The Station returned to its operational flying role in 1955 with the arrival of four Canberra Squadron (Nos 10, XV, 44 and 57) and they soon took part in bombing operations during the Suez Crisis. Between 1956 and 1966 RAF Honington was one of the main V-Force bases, housing Nos 7, 90 and 199 Squadrons with Valiants. Later, Nos 7 and 199 Squadrons were replaced by Nos 55 and 57 Squadrons with Victor 1As. In 1966 the station was closed but earmarked to received the F1 11 (F one eleven), which was subsequently cancelled. Three years later RAF Honington became the home of the UK based Buccaneers with at various times Nos 12, XV, 208 and 216 Squadrons, No 237 Operation Conversion Unit and No 809 Squadron Royal Navy. Additionally, between 1971 and 1972, No 204 Squadron was based here flying Shackletons in search and rescue role. The last of the Buccaneers left the station in 1984.
The Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit (TWCU) formed at Honington in 1981 and was granted reserve squadron status as No 45 (Reserve) Squadron in 1984. No IX Squadron returned in 1982 to form the RAF's first operational Tornado squadron and they subsequently departed to RAF Germany in 1986. No 20 Squadron RAF Regiment was reformed at Honington in 1985, providing short range air defence for USAF Units with the Rapier missile system. No 13 Squadron reformed at Honington in 1990 with the Tornado in the reconnaissance role and became the only UK based Tornado Recce sqn. Both 13 and 20 Squadron were involved in the Gulf conflict following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 1992, the HQ element of 77 Engineer Regiment (V) and 218 Fd Squadron (ADR)(V) were formed at Honington as part of the TA.
A Change of Role
With a station role change during 1993 and 1994, 218 Fd Squadron(ADR)(V) moved to RAF Brize Norton and the TWCU moved to RAF Lossiemouth in 1993, followed by 13 Squadron moving to RAF Marham in February 1994. In March 1994 flying operations ceased and the Honington Air Traffic Control Zone ceased to exist in preparation for Honington becoming the home of the RAF Regiment. In June 1994 RAF Honington was effectively handed over to the RAF Regiment by the outgoing station commander and all RAF Regiment basic, advanced, field and air defence training moved to the station from RAF Catterick and RAF West Raynham. In the following months, the Station also became the parent unit for the RAF SAR Flight at Wattisham airfield and home to II, 15 and 16 Squadron RAF Regiment along with the RAF Survive To Operate Centre. RAF Honington is now the home of the RAF Regiment operational forces, the Field and Ground Based Air Defence HQ's, the Joint Rapier Training Unit and the Joint Nuclear Biological Chemical Regiment.
The Sowrey Room, located in Building 86, contains numerous board displays and artefacts which detail the chronological history of the Station. The room is open to personnel and their families for viewing by prior arrangement. There is also a RAF Regiment Museum available for viewing.