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|Wattisham, Suffolk in England|
Supra mare supra terramque
(Latin for 'Above the sea and above the land')
|Type||Royal Air Force flying station|
|Operator||Ministry of Defence|
|Controlled by||Royal Air Force (1939–1942 and 1946–1993)|
United States Army Air Forces (1942–1946)
|Built by||John Laing & Son Ltd|
|Fate||Transferred to the British Army's Army Air Corps and became Wattisham Airfield.|
|Identifiers||ICAO: EGUW, WMO: 03590|
|Elevation||89 metres (292 ft) AMSL|
Royal Air Force Station Wattisham or more simply RAF Wattisham (ICAO: EGUW) is a former Royal Air Force station located in East Anglia just outside the village of Wattisham, south of Stowmarket in Suffolk, England. During the Cold War it was a major front-line air force base before closing in 1993 and is now operated by the British Army as Wattisham Airfield.
Royal Air Force use
RAF Wattisham opened on 5 April 1939 as a medium bomber station, the squadrons there being equipped with Bristol Blenheim bombers. Part of No. 2 Group, No. 107 Squadron RAF and No. 110 Squadron RAF were stationed there on the outbreak of war as No. 83 Wing. On 4 September 1939, just 29 hours after the declaration of war, bombers from Wattisham took off on the first attack of the war, against enemy shipping in Wilhelmshaven harbour.
The following squadrons and units also were based at Wattisham at some point during this time:
- No. 13 Squadron RAF as an detachment from RAF Odiham between July 1941 and 1 August 1942 flying the Blenheim IV.
- No. 17 Squadron RAF as an detachment from RAF Debden between 9 September 1939 and 16 December 1939 flying the Hawker Hurricane I.
- No. 18 Squadron RAF between 9 December 1941 and 24 August 1942. The squadron operated the Blenheim IV and from 4 March 1942 had detachments at RAF Dundonald and RAF Heathfield.
- No. 25 Squadron RAF as a flight from RAF Wyton. The flight operated the Bristol Bloodhound II from 1 March 1983.
- No. 86 Squadron RAF between 3 March 1941 and 15 May 1941 operating the Blenheim IV with an detachment at RAF Ipswich.
- No. 114 Squadron RAF between 31 May 1940 and 10 June with the Blenheim IV.
- No. 226 Squadron RAF between 27 May 1941 and 9 December 1941. The squadron initially used the Fairey Battle before changing to the Blenheim IV in late May however in November 1941 they changed to Douglas Bostons. Between May 1941 and November 1941 the squadron had detachments at RAF Manston and RAF Long Kesh.
- No. 236 Squadron RAF from 9 February 1942 before the squadron was turned into a cadre and crews left for the far east on 9 February 1942. However, on 14 March 1942 the squadron was re-established and on 3 July 1942 moved to RAF Oulton. The squadron operated the Bristol Beaufighter IC all the time apart from when its status was cadre.
- No. 504 Squadron RAF as an detachment from RAF Debden between 9 October 1939 and 24 December 1939 with the Hurricane I.
- No. 8 Blind Approach Training Flight RAF formed at Wattisham during January 1941 with Blenheim Mk I's before being disbanded on 8 November 1941 at RAF Horsham St Faith.
- No. 17 Blind Approach Training Flight RAF formed here during October 1941 using Airspeed Oxford I's before being disbanded later in the month at RAF Ipswich.
- No. 1517 (Beam Approach Training) Flight RAF.
- Fighter Command School of Technical Training.
United States Army Air Forces use
Wattisham was assigned USAAF designation Station 377 and Station 470, and work began on building concrete runways with the intention of adapting the airfield for heavy bomber use. However, plans were apparently changed when it was evident that there would be sufficient heavy bomber airfields available for the USAAF, and it was decided that Wattisham would remain an air depot and also house a fighter unit.
Work ceased on the runways leaving only the E-W with a concrete surface and short stretches of the other two. The main SW-NE runway was finished off with steel matting while the remaining NW-SE runway continued to be grass-surfaced for most of its length.
68th Observation Group
4th Strategic Air Depot
The 4th Strategic Air Depot (originally the 3rd Advanced Air Depot and then 3rd Technical Air Depot) serviced many types of aircraft but, by late 1943, was concentrating on fighter types. An additional technical area with four T2 hangars, some eighteen hardstands and a taxiway loop joining the airfield perimeter track, were constructed on the south side of the airfield. An engineering complex in temporary buildings was built around this area, chiefly in the village of Nedging Tye.
The 4th Strategic Air Depot installation was officially named Hitcham, which was actually the name of a village two miles to the north-west of the site, to differentiate it from the fighter station using the same airstrip. The base was, by 1944, responsible for the maintenance of all American fighters in the UK.
479th Fighter Group
Along with the depot maintenance mission, Wattisham also hosted an Eighth Air Force fighter group, the 479th Fighter Group, arriving from Santa Maria AAF, California, on 15 May 1944. The group was part of the 65th Fighter Wing of the VIII Fighter Command. Aircraft of the group had no cowling color markings as did other Eighth Air Force fighter groups and were marked only with colored tail rudders. The initial inventory of the P-38's, many of which were hand-me-downs from other groups painted in olive drab camouflage, used geometric symbols on the tail to identify squadrons, white for camouflaged aircraft and black for unpainted (natural metal finish) Lightnings.
The group consisted of the following squadrons:
The 479th FG escorted heavy bombers during operations against targets on the continent, strafed targets of opportunity, and flew fighter-bomber, area and counter-air patrol missions. Engaged primarily in escort activities and fighter sweeps until the Normandy invasion in June 1944.
The group patrolled the beachhead during the invasion, strafed and dive-bombed troops, bridges, locomotives, railway cars, barges, vehicles, airfields, gun emplacements, flak towers, ammunition dumps, power stations and radar sites while on escort or fighter-bomber missions as the Allies drove across France during the summer and fall of 1944. The unit flew area patrols to support the breakthrough at Saint-Lô in July and the airborne attack on the Netherlands in September.
The 479th Fighter Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for the destruction of numerous aircraft on airfields in France on 18 August and 5 September and during aerial battle near Münster on 26 September. The unit continued escort and fighter-bomber activities from October to mid-December 1944. It converted to P-51s between 10 September and 1 October, using both types on missions until conversion was completed.
The group participated in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945) by escorting bombers to and from targets in the battle area and by strafing transportation targets while on escort duty. From February to April 1945 it continued to fly escort missions, but also provided area patrols to support the airborne attack across the Rhine in March.
The unit returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, in November 1945, and was inactivated in December 1945. Among the notable pilots of the 479th were its second group commander, Col. Hubert Zemke, and an ace, Major Robin Olds.
The United States Air Force 479th Tactical Fighter Wing at George AFB, California, (1952–1971) was bestowed the lineage, honors and history of the World War II USAAF 479th Fighter Group. The 479th TFW deployed personnel and aircraft to Key West NAS, Florida, in response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and deployed squadrons frequently to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Later, the 479th Tactical Training Wing at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, (1977–1991) provided pilot training.
Back to Royal Air Force control
The Air Ministry Servicing Development Unit formed here on 1 January 1947 with a number of aircraft including the Avro York I, Hawker Tempest V, Gloster Meteor F.4 & T.7, Avro Anson T.20 and the de Havilland Vampire F.3. The squadron disbanded on 1 June 1950 at RAF Wittering.
In 1949, new runways were laid, and the following year No. 152 Squadron RAF arrived with Meteor NF12 night fighters, In 1954 Hawker Hunters, from 257 and 263 Squadrons, the UK's next generation fighter after the Meteor, arrived to secure Wattisham's future as a major fighter station. The Station Commander, Group Captain Edwards, had artificial legs, like Douglas Bader before him. The Wing Commander was one of the four Sowerey brothers, all of which held senior RAF posts. The Officer Commanding 257 squadron was Major Howard E Tanner, a USAF exchange pilot.
There was also a Station Flight which received and serviced visiting aircraft and also had its own aircraft for various purposes. These included a de Havilland Vampire, a de Havilland Dragon Rapide and a Hunter used by the Station Flight commander.
In the late 1950s, the Cold War began to develop and so the RAF began to develop Britain's air defence. So, in 1960, the station was equipped with the very latest in British fighter aircraft: the English Electric Lightning. The combination of the capabilities of this plane and Wattisham's location near the East Anglian coast was very suitable for countering the threats faced from the east. The airfield quickly became one of, if not the front-line airbase in the UK. So throughout the Cold War Wattisham operated its 'QRA' or Quick Reaction Alert Sheds where live armed jets were on standby at all times and it was also a major 'Blacktop' diversion runway.
In 1974 McDonnell Douglas Phantoms arrived to replace the Lightnings. They continued the role of playing a major part in defending Britain's airspace which largely involved intercepting the Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 Bear aircraft. The Phantoms served through to 1992 and the end of the Cold War.
Squadrons at Wattisham between 1949 and 1992
|23||Phantom FGR.2||25 February 1976||30 March 1983||Relocated to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.|||
|29||English Electric Lightning F.3||10 May 1967||31 December 1974||Disbanded|||
|41||Gloster Javelin FAW 4/5/8||5 July 1958||31 December 1963||Disbanded|||
|56||Hawker Hunter F.5/F.6
EE Lightning F.1A/F.3/F.6
|10 July 1959
21 January 1975
28 June 1976
|11 April 1967
28 June 1976
Converted to the Phantom FGR.2 on site
Transferred to RAF Coningsby to form the Tornado F.2 & F.3 Operational Conversion Unit
|19 October 1984.||31 October 1992.||Disbanded||Included a Phantom Training Flight between 1 February 1991 and 31 December 1991.|
EE Lightning F.1A/F.3/F.6
|18 June 1958||30 September 1974||Disbanded|||
|152||Gloster Meteor NF 12/NF 14||30 June 1954||18 June 1956||RAF Stradishall|||
|27 October 1950
15 January 1957
|10 June 1956
31 March 1957
|263||Gloster Meteor F.8
Hawker Hunter F.2/F.5
Hawker Hunter F.6
|22 November 1950
15 January 1957
10 June 1956
30 August 1957
Wattisham's future hung in the balance as a major air force base and it was decided that with the Cold War threat gone it was no longer needed by the RAF. Wattisham stood down as a fighter base on 31 October 1992. The station was transferred to the control of the British Army in September 1993. The Army Air Corps soon moved in and it rapidly became a major Army airfield. The Royal Air Force returned to operate Westland Sea King Search and Rescue helicopters on the site of the former QRA hangars.
- Bowyer 1979, p. 205.
- "Bomber Command - No. 2 Group". Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
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- "Wattisham". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- Freeman 2001, p. 230.
- Bowyer 1979, p. 206.
- Maurer 1980, p. 351.
- Maurer 1980, p. 403.
- Mighty Eighth. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. 2013. p. 90.
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- "RAF Wattisham airfield". Control Towers. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
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- "The Wattisham chronicles". Air Scene UK. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- "Wattisham Mk. 2 Bloodhound Missile Site". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- March, Peter R. (1998). Brace by Wire to Fly-By-Wire – 80 Years of the Royal Air Force 1918–1998. RAF Fairford: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Enterprises. p. 160. ISBN 1-899808-06-X.
- Bowyer,M,J,F. Action Stations: Wartime military airfields of East Anglia 1939-1945 v. 1. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1979. ISBN 0-85059-335-2.
- Freeman, R. Airfields of the Eighth - Then and Now. After the Battle. London, UK: Battle of Britain International Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-9009-13-09-6.
- Freeman, Roger A., The Mighty Eighth, The Colour Record, 1991
- Jefford, C.G. RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
- Lake, A. "Flying Units of the RAF".Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-84037-086-6.
- Maurer, M. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. USAF Historical Division. Washington D.C., USA: Zenger Publishing Co., Inc, 1980. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- 479th Fighter Group on www.littlefriends.co.uk
- www.controltowers.co.uk Wattisham
- USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to RAF Wattisham.|