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Royal Air Force Station Ouston, more commonly known as RAF Ouston, is a former air station that was located near the village of Stamfordham and the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall on Hadrian's Wall near Newcastle upon Tyne. It was built as a Second World War aerodrome and is today used by the British Army.
In late 1938, a small group of civilian officials gathered on a Northumbrian hill as a result of receiving a secret signal sent by the Air Ministry in distant London stating that an airfield site was projected at Ouston. An earlier glance at the map had shown two Oustons — one a few miles southwest of Hexham and the other a hamlet set in a wild moorland area 12 miles west of Newcastle and north of the Roman Road to Carlisle. Only two farm houses braved the blast of the elements there to form a pocket-sized parish. The southwesterly Ouston seemed clearly indicated but the chagrin of the officials was tempered with incredulity when it was realized that was, indeed, the wild improbable site that was intended (Map references: Du, NZ2554, , 6 miles south of Newcastle, N971). Nevertheless, some of the officials went to the other Ouston first.
Construction work proceeded slowly because of the inaccessibility of the area and some opposition from agricultural interests, although the land at Ouston was hardly of the first quality. The station was built to a fairly regular pattern, having a mixture of prewar-style buildings and the utility types which came later. A "J"-type hangar dominated the airfield, the control tower being located in front of it.
Ouston opened on 10 March 1941 as a Fighter Sector HQ under No. 13 Group to replace RAF Usworth, its staff being drawn mainly from that station. Its first squadron was No. 317, which moved over from Acklington at the end of April. Equipped with Hurricanes, this recently formed Polish unit claimed its first kill on 2 June when a Ju88 was sent into the North Sea. Relieved by No. 122 Squadron from RAF Turnhouse on 26 June 1941, No. 317 went to RAF Colerne.
No. 122 Squadron's Spitfires transferred to RAF Catterick in August 1941, leaving No. 232 Squadron, which had been there the previous month, and which eventually left for the Middle East in November. Another squadron, No. 131, reformed at Ouston on 20 June 1941 with a large proportion of Belgian pilots but soon moved to Catterick.
Another squadron which did not fire its guns in anger whilst at Ouston was No. 81 which moved in from Turnhouse early in 1942. Its Spitfires returned to Edinburgh five weeks later and a further month was spent at Ouston during the early Summer.
Throughout its first year of existence, the station had also served as a satellite for 55 OTU's Hurricanes from Usworth but was given up when the OTU moved to Annan at the end of April 1942.
No. 242 Squadron was here for two weeks in May 1942 with Spitfires, being replaced by the reformed No. 243 Squadron on 1 June. No. 243 became operational within a fortnight and flew coastal patrols and scrambles in defence of the Northeast until moving to Turnhouse at the beginning of September. No. 72 Squadron appeared briefly in the Autumn of 1942 to re-equip before overseas posting.
To cover the need for ASR off the East coast, No. 281 Squadron had been formed at Ouston on 29 March 1942, equipped initially with Defiants. In February 1943, Supermarine Walrus amphibians were added and by June, when the squadron moved to Wolsington, the Defiants had been replaced by Ansons.
Also in 1942, a flight of No. 410 Squadron was detached here for night-fighter patrol. Defiants were used first, but despite some reluctance on the part of the crews, a change was made to Bristol Beaufighters. (More information on Beaufighter Squadrons in World War II is here.)
An "Army Co-operation" (AC) squadron, No. 613, arrived in August 1942 flying Mustang I's, and took part in many exercises with local army units before going south again at the beginning of March 1943. It was joined for a short period in August by 226 Squadron's Douglas Bostons, which had the misfortune to lose three aircraft in crashes on their first day at Ouston. Other unusual lodgers were the Hurricanes of No. 804 Squadron which flew in from RAF Machrihanish on 3 June 1943 and left for RAF Twatt on 4 February.
Austers appeared on 31 January 1943 when No. 657 Squadron formed at Ouston, flying many Army exercises until leaving for North Africa in August. No. 198 Squadron flew its Typhoons in from RAF Digby late in January 1943 but soon transferred to RAF Acklington to complete its working-in period on the new type.
Ouston's last operational squadron was No. 350, which spent most of June and July 1943 flying monotonous convoy patrols before returning to Acklington. On 21 June 1943, 62 OTU began to move in from Usworth, which had been found increasingly unsuitable for its work. The unit continued to train radar operators for the night-fighter force until disbanding on 6 June 1945. Ansons were used at first, but in the final months Wellingtons began to replace them.
No. 80 OTU — which specialized in training French pilots on Spitfires — came over from RAF Morpeth in July 1945 and flew from here prior to disbandment on 8 March 1946. The Harvards of 22 SFTS were displaced from RAF Calveley in Cheshire to Ouston in May 1946, but the school soon disbanded.
Under the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, No. 607 Squadron reformed with Spitfires on 10 May 1946, converted to Vampires in 1951 and operated them up to March 1957 when it disbanded. No. 1965 Flight of No. 664 Squadron was also based at Ouston from 1 September 1949 until 14 February 1954 with Auster AOP.6s.
Continuing in its reserve role, the station housed Northumbria University Air Squadron, 11 Air Experience Flight, 641 Gliding School, and was employed as an RLG by the Jet Provosts of 6 Flying Training School RAF Acklington. In 1967 it became the North East Regional Airport for five months while Newcastle Airport's runway was being lengthened and renovated.
Up to the mid sixties the servicing of piston-powered Percival Provosts and jet-powered Provosts of 6 F.T.S. aircraft based at R.A.F.ACKLINGTON was carried out by a civilian firm under contract to the R.A.F.
There is a possibility that racing first took place at Ouston as early as 1961, but it is certain that the Newcastle & District Motor Club organised a race meetings there on 24 June 1962, 23 June 1963 and 21 June 1964, the last named being a joint car and motorcycle event. Jackie Stewart was a competitor at the 1963 meeting driving a Jaguar E-Type; he won the race and this is believed to have been his first victory.
Jim Clark attended the meeting in 1964 and was driven round the circuit in an open-topped Jaguar E-Type and then presented the prizes. It would appear that this was the last meeting at Ouston as Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire had reopened in 1964.
RAF Ouston is now Albemarle Barracks and home of 39th Regiment Royal Artillery, the runway area is used by the police for driver training. It is also reported that C-130 Hercules have occasionally landed there. Many of the World War II buildings survive.
Since the 1980s Albemarle has often been used as a stop off point for nuclear warheads convoys on route via road between RNAD Coulport and AWE Aldermaston as part of the UK Trident programme. There is a secure compound located on one of the former runways to keep convoys overnight when required.
Albemarle is also the site of a Met Office weather station and automatic radiosonde balloon launcher.