Harrier aircraft front cover image to history brochure


RAF Wittering Station History

Stamford airfield was established in 1916 on Wittering Heath as a Royal Flying Corps base for No 38 Home Defence Sqn's anti-Zeppelin BE2C and BE12 fighters. In 1917 it became the home of No 1 Training Depot Stamford and No 5 Training Depot was established at Easton on the Hill, located on the western end of the present airfield; both sites operated independently of each other. As a result of the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, the Stamford Depot was re-named RAF Wittering and the Easton on the Hill Depot was re-named RAF Collyweston.

Following a 4-year closure, construction work began in 1924 to receive the Central Flying School, which operated from Wittering until 1935, when it was replaced by No 11 Flying Training School. In 1938, Wittering became a fighter station, with No 23 Sqn operating Hawker Demons and No 213 Sqn with Hurricanes. The following year, Collyweston was absorbed as a satellite station of Wittering, which operated with 3 Sqns as part of the Home Defence Force, first with Spitfires and Hurricanes and later in the night fighter interception role using the Defiant, Blenheim and Beaufighter. The 2 separate runways were eventually joined up in 1941 to form one 2-mile long, grass runway. Wittering Sqns were heavily involved in the Battle of Britain, operating from forward bases. Throughout the war, Wittering aircraft accounted for the destruction of 151 enemy aircraft and 89 flying bombs, with a further 112 enemy aircraft damaged or possibly destroyed. The Station itself was bombed five times, the heaviest attack being on 14th March 1941, when one officer and 16 airmen were killed.

Throughout the war years, Wittering was home at various times to many development and evaluation units and acted as temporary home for many fighter Sqns. From 1943 to 1944, Wittering was home to No 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, which evaluated captured enemy aircraft, and the USAAF 55th Fighter Sqn, operating P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang aircraft. With the disbandment of the fighter Sqns in 1945, two Personnel Reception Centres were formed to provide rehabilitation facilities for returning POWs, Eventually, in 1948, the Station again reverted to Flying Training Command and became the home of No 1 Initial Training School.

Wittering was placed under Care and Maintenance from 1952 to 1954 while a 200’-wide, 9050’ long concrete runway was built to enable the unit to re-role as a Bomber Command station. In 1953 No 49 Sqn's Lincolns saw action against the Mau-Mau guerrillas in Kenya and, during the Suez crisis in 1956, Valiants from No 138 Sqn flew 24 missions against targets in Egypt. In August 1953, the Bomber Command Armament School was established to support the RAF's nuclear role and was eventually re-titled the RAF Armament Support Unit (ASU). Wittering was part of the Nuclear Deterrent Force throughout the 1950s and 1960s and its aircraft provided the platform in the mid 1950s for testing the UK's nuclear weapons. In 1956, 49 Sqn Valiants dropped Atomic bombs on Maralinga Range in Central Australia (Operation BUFFALO) and the following year, operating from Christmas Island in the Pacific, dropped a total of 6 Hydrogen bombs over Malden Island (Operation GRAPPLE).

With the redundancy of the V-Bomber Force in 1968, RAF Wittering was re-roled as ‘The Home of the Harrier’, with No 1 (Fighter) Sqn arriving in August 1969 – the first unit in the world to operate vertical or short take-off and landing (VSTOL) aircraft. The Sqn served with distinction in the Falklands campaign and later in the Balkans, Serbia and Kosovo, until its departure (to RAF Cottesmore) in August 2000. No 233 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) was formed in October 1970, to train Harrier pilots. It assumed the 'No 20 (Reserve) Sqn' title in September 1992 and then became No IV (Reserve) Sqn on 31 March 2010. On 28 January 2011, No IV (Reserve) Sqn was disbanded as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) decision to withdraw the Harrier from Service. No 5 Wg RAF Regiment supported Harrier deployed operations from Wittering from 1970 to 1983. In August 1973, Nos 45 and 58 Sqns, equipped with Hunter FGA9s, moved to Wittering until they were disbanded in 1976. No 37 Sqn RAF Regiment, a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) Sqn, arrived from RAF Bruggen in October 2001, but was disbanded on 31 March 2006, with the demise of the RAF's GBAD role.

In 2006, with the arrival from RAF Stafford of No 85 (Expeditionary Logistics) Wg, along with its 3 Air Combat Service Support Units (ACSSUs) - No 1 Expeditionary Logistics Sqn, No 2 Mechanical Transport Sqn and the Mobile Catering Support Unit (known now as No 3 Mobile Catering Sqn) - the primary role of RAF Wittering changed and it became the home of the Headquarters of the RAF’s expeditionary logistics force (the A4 Force). In November 2007, No 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wg was formed in order to provide a command structure for the engineering ACSSUs within the A4 Force, with 2 of its 4 constituent sub-units, No 5001 Sqn and No 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Sqn, also being based at RAF Wittering.

With the demise of Joint Force Harrier in December 2010, and the associated SDSR recommendation to close RAF Cottesmore ahead of schedule, command of the RAF Cottesmore site was transferred to Station Commander RAF Wittering on 1 Apr 2011, and then formally handed over to the Army in Apr 2012. The Station Commander is now responsible for the command, control and well-being of approximately 2500 military and civilian personnel (excluding dependants) dispersed over 4 locations.

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