RAF Honington

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RAF Honington
USAAF Station 375

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svgEighth Air Force - Emblem (World War II).png

Near Thetford, Suffolk in England
RAF Honington crest.png
EGXH is located in Suffolk
EGXH
EGXH
Shown within Suffolk
Coordinates 52°20′33″N 000°46′23″E / 52.34250°N 0.77306°E / 52.34250; 0.77306Coordinates: 52°20′33″N 000°46′23″E / 52.34250°N 0.77306°E / 52.34250; 0.77306
Type Royal Air Force station
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
1937-1942
United States Army Air Forces
1942-1946
Royal Air Force
1946-present
Site history
Built 1935 (1935)/6
In use 1937-Present
Garrison information
Occupants
Airfield information
Identifiers IATA: BEQ, ICAO: EGXH,
Elevation: 53 metres (174 ft) AMSL
Runways
Direction Length and surface
09/27 2,747 metres (9,012 ft) Asphalt

Royal Air Force Honington or more simply RAF Honington (IATA: BEQICAO: EGXH) is a Royal Air Force station located 6 mi (9.7 km) south of Thetford near Ixworth in Suffolk, England. Although used as a bomber station during the Second World War, RAF Honington is now the RAF Regiment depot and home to the 1st Royal Tank Regiment.

History[edit]

Royal Air Force use[edit]

Construction of Honington airfield began in 1935, and the facility was opened on 3 May 1937. Squadrons of RAF Bomber Command using the airfield prior to the Second World War were:

IX Squadron flew the first RAF bombing raid of the Second World War on 4 September 1939 flying a mission against the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic resulting in the loss of two Wellingtons. The squadron lost 79 Wellingtons flying from Honington before moving to RAF Waddington.

In July 1940, No. 311 (Czech) Squadron RAF formed at Honington with Wellingtons, later moving to RAF East Wretham in November 1940.

The Luftwaffe made several attacks on the airfield one of which killed about twenty airmen who were crossing the old parade ground on their way to tea. Another bomb demolished part of Barrack Block 76, which was rebuilt between 1993 and 1996.

In 1941, a Junkers Ju 88 was shot down by ground fire from Honington. The aircraft crashed at the east end of E Hangar.

Then, in May of that year, a Wellington returning from a night trip attempted to land at Honington with its wheels retracted. It skidded to one side and crashed into the main bomb dump where it burst into flames. Group Captain J. A. Gray and Squadron Leader J. A. McCarthy, the station medical officer, were the first on the scene of the crash. Both entered the burning aircraft in an attempt to rescue the crew who were trapped and, between them, two crew-members were saved. For this gallantry, both officers were awarded the George Medal.[1]

United States Army Air Forces use[edit]

B-17s from the 3d Bomb Division at Honington Air Depot
Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning Serial 42-67978 "Betty A" of the 383d Fighter Squadron
North American P-51D-15-NA Mustangs of the 385th Fighter Squadron. 44-15493 "Jeannie II" in foreground, 44-14322 "Coffin Wit Wings" behind

Honington was assigned USAAF designation Station 375.

1st Strategic Air Depot[edit]

In June 1942, the airfield was transferred to the USAAF and was upgraded to a Class A Bomber base. In September, the VIII Air Service Command set up an Air Depot to service and repair B-17s, became the 1st Strategic Air Depot. Built to the west of the main airfield it was called Troston, specialising in B-17 models and supporting the 3d Bomb Division located in the area. Badly damaged Fortresses were often instructed to crash land at Honington on return from operations, particularly if their landing gear could not be lowered, as this avoided the necessity to dismantle and transport the aircraft from its home base for repair.

364th Fighter Group[edit]

Besides the air depot, Honington also housed an operational fighter unit when the 364th Fighter Group took up residence at Honington in February 1944, arriving from Santa Maria AAF, California. The group was under the command of the 67th Fighter Wing of the VIII Fighter Command. Aircraft of the 364th were identified by a blue/white stripe pattern around their cowlings.

The group consisted of the following squadrons:

The 364th FG flew escort, dive-bombing, strafing, and patrol missions in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. At first the group operated primarily as escort for B-17/B-24 Liberator heavy bombers.

The group patrolled the English Channel during the Normandy invasion in June 1944, and, while continuing escort operations, supported ground forces in France after the invasion by strafing and bombing locomotives, marshalling yards, bridges, barges, and other targets.

Converted from P-38 Lightnings to P-51 Mustangs in the summer of 1944 and from then until the end of the war flew many long-range escort missions heavy bombers that attacked oil refineries, industries, and other strategic objectives at Berlin, Regensburg, Merseburg, Stuttgart, Brussels, and elsewhere. The 364th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an escort mission on 27 December 1944 when the group dispersed a large force of German fighters that attacked the bomber formation the group was escorting on a raid to Frankfurt.

The 364th also flew air-sea rescue missions, engaged in patrol activities, and continued to support ground forces as the battle line moved through France and into Germany. Took part in the effort to invade the Netherlands by air, September 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945; and the assault across the Rhine, March 1945.

Although the last mission by the 364th took place on 25 April 1945, the group did not depart until November, returning to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for inactivation. Even then, Honington remained the lone Eighth Air Force outpost in the UK becoming Fighter Command HQ on 5 October.

Honington was the last USAAF station to be returned to the RAF. By the beginning of 1946, the airfield remained the only active station which had been used by the Eighth Air Force and a fitting ceremony was planned to mark its closure and official handing back to the Royal Air Force. On 26 February, Brigadier General Emil Kiel - the Eighth Fighter Command commander - was present to hand over the keys of the station to Air Marshal Sir James Robb, AOC RAF Fighter Command. An RAF band played The Star-Spangled Banner as the Stars and Stripes were lowered for the RAF Ensign to be hoisted in its place.

Back to Royal Air Force control[edit]

With the departure of the USAAF in February 1946, Honington airfield was returned to the RAF. It became a major servicing centre for RAF Transport Command aircraft. During the Berlin Airlift, RAF Honington played a major role in keeping the aircraft of Transport Command flying. In 1949, the station reverted to Bomber Command.

From 1950 to 1956, RAF Honington housed No. 94 Armament Maintenance Unit for bomb storage. The airfield was upgraded during this time to include a 9,000 ft concrete runway.

English Electric Canberra bomber squadrons, 10, XV, 44, and 57 were based at RAF Honington from February 1955 to 1957. 10 and XV Squadrons took part in the Suez Crisis of 1956.

In 1956, RAF Honington also became one of the main V bomber bases maintaining three Vickers Valiant squadrons, Nos, 7, 90, and 199. Later Handley Page Victor Squadrons, 55 and 57 were added. New facilities were constructed including a large East-West runway. These squadrons left in 1965 and the airfield was placed in reserve for conversion to accommodate the new F-111 fleet. It was whilst placed in reserve that Honington Married Quarters were used to accommodate evacuees from the Aden Emergency in 1967, as recorded in the book From Barren Rocks to Living Stones.

In the event, the F-111 never entered service with the RAF, and in 1968, the airfield became the UK base for the RAF's Hawker Siddeley (Blackburn) Buccaneer bomber. The first aircraft arrived in November 1969 and deliveries continued throughout the early 1970s. Nos. 12, 15 and 16 squadrons were formed. 15 and 16 squadrons moved to RAF Laarbruch in West Germany in 1971. Also, No. 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) formed to provide No. 208 training squadron which was operational in 1974. The Buccaneers operated from RAF Honington until the 1980s when they relocated to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

IX(B) Squadron reformed at RAF Honington in August 1982, becoming the world's first Panavia Tornado GR1 squadron. The aircraft were equipped with WE.177 nuclear laydown bombs. The last aircraft (of the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit) left in 1994.

Current use[edit]

The station is now the RAF Regiment depot and home to the following RAF Regiment Squadrons: 1 Sqn RAF Regt, 2 Sqn RAF Regt (Parachute), 15 Sqn RAF Regt, 26 Sqn RAF Regt (Joint CBRN), and 27 Sqn RAF Regt.

RAF Honington is also now home to 611 Volunteer Gliding Squadron due to the closure of RAF Watton in April 2012, requiring their conversion to the Grob 109B Vigilant motor glider.

Operational units[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ London Gazette Issue 35270 published on the 9 September 1941. Page 1

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]