RAF Coltishall

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RAF Coltishall
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Coltishall, Norfolk in England
A Sepecat Jaguar GR1A of No. 41 Squadron at RAF Coltishall.
A Sepecat Jaguar GR1A of No. 41 Squadron at RAF Coltishall.
RAF Coltishall badge
Aggressive in Defence[1]
RAF Coltishall is located in Norfolk
RAF Coltishall
RAF Coltishall
Location within Norfolk
Coordinates52°45′17″N 001°21′26″E / 52.75472°N 1.35722°E / 52.75472; 1.35722Coordinates: 52°45′17″N 001°21′26″E / 52.75472°N 1.35722°E / 52.75472; 1.35722
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence (MOD)
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Site history
Built1939 (1939)
In use29 May 1940 - 30 November 2006 (2006)
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: CLF, ICAO: EGYC, WMO: 03495
Elevation20 metres (66 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
04/22 2,286 metres (7,500 ft) Grooved Asphalt

Royal Air Force Coltishall, more commonly known as RAF Coltishall (IATA: CLF, ICAO: EGYC), is a former Royal Air Force station located 10 miles (16 km) North-North-East of Norwich, in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, which operated from 1938 to 2006.[2]

It was a fighter airfield in the Second World War and afterwards, a station for night fighters then ground attack aircraft until closure.

After longstanding speculation, the future of the station was sealed once the Ministry of Defence announced that the Eurofighter Typhoon, a rolling replacement aircraft, displacing the ageing SEPECAT Jaguar, would not be posted there. The last of the Jaguar squadrons left on 1 April 2006 and the station finally closed, one month early and £10 million under budget, on 30 November 2006.

The station motto was Aggressive in Defence.[1] The station badge was a stone tower surmounted by a mailed fist grasping three bird-bolts (blunt arrows), which symbolised a position of strength in defence of the homeland, indicative of the aggressive spirit which Coltishall fighter aircraft were prepared to shoot down the enemy.


Second World War[edit]

Work on RAF Coltishall was started in February 1939. The airfield, then known as Scottow Aerodrome, was initially built as a bomber station, on land near Scottow Hall. Following the established tradition, the station would have been named after the nearest railway station, which would have made it "RAF Buxton", but to avoid possible confusion with the town of Buxton in Derbyshire, it was named after the local village of Coltishall instead. The airfield was completed and entered service in May 1940 as a fighter base. The first aircraft movement at Coltishall was a Bristol Blenheim IV L7835 flown by Sergeant RG Bales and Sergeant Barnes.

During the Second World War, Coltishall operated the Hawker Hurricane. A notable Coltishall fighter pilot was Douglas Bader, appointed as leader of No. 242 Squadron, a mainly Canadian Hurricane squadron. They had suffered significant losses in the recent Battle of France, and he was credited with restoring their morale.[3]

Coltishall later became home to night fighters. At the same time, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm operated aircraft from RAF Coltishall over the North Sea. From 10 February to 7 April 1945 it was the airfield for No. 124 Squadron, at that time a fighter-bomber squadron flying Supermarine Spitfire IX.HF's, whilst the squadron was bombing V2 launch sites in the Netherlands. At the end of the war, Coltishall was briefly given over to Polish squadrons until they returned home.

Cold War[edit]

English Electric Lightning F.1 XM144 of No. 74 (Fighter) Squadron, the Lightning entered service with the squadron at Coltishall in June 1960.

In the 1950s, RAF Coltishall was a designated a "V-Bomber dispersal airfield", which V bombers (the British nuclear deterrent) - the Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant - could use in the event of their home station being damaged by enemy action.

Postwar, the station was home to a variety of units and aircraft including de Havilland Mosquitos, Gloster Javelins and - from 1963 - the "Historic Aircraft Flight" (now known as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight). RAF Coltishall became home to the RAF's first English Electric Lightning F.1s when No. 74 (Fighter) Squadron began to receive the jet in June 1960, after arriving the year before. No. 74 (F) Squadron relocated to RAF Leuchars in Scotland on 2 March 1964.[4] No. 226 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) arrived at the base on 12 April 1964, tasked with training pilots how to fly the Lightning. The last Lightnings left Coltishall in September 1974 when No. 266 OCU departed.[5]

The Lightnings were replaced by the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1, with the first Jaguar unit, No. 54 (F) Squadron, arriving at Coltishall on 8 August 1974.[6] They were soon joined by No. 6 Squadron who arrived at the base in November 1974, making the station exclusively home to the Jaguar in terms of fixed wing aircraft.[7]

SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1As of No. 6 Squadron at Coltishall in Op GRANBY livery, April 1991.

No. 41 (Designate) Squadron formed at RAF Coltishall on 1 October 1976 and worked up as a Jaguar unit until officially standing up on 1 April 1977, when the No. 41 Squadron operating the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 at RAF Coningsby disbanded the previous day.[8]

In 1990, all three based Jaguar units – Nos. 6, 41 and 54 Squadrons deployed to Muharraq Airfield, Bahrain, in preparation for Operation Granby due to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.[9]

Coltishall played host to several United States Air Force Coronet deployments during the Cold War:

1991 to closure[edit]

The Jaguars deployed again, this time to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to participate in Operation Warden which set up a no-fly zone over Iraq.[13] Between 1993 and 1995, the Jaguars deployed to Gioia del Colle Air Base, Italy, as part of Operation Deny Flight to enforce a no-fly zone over the Balkans. In 1997, No. 54 Squadron deployed to Italy once more in support of Operation Deliberate Guard.[14] No. 6 Squadron deployed once again to Incirlik in 1998 as part of Operation Resinate.[15]

SEPECAT Jaguar GR.3A XZ392 of No. 16 (Reserve) Squadron landing at RAF Coltishall, August 2004.

No. 16 (Reserve) Squadron, the Jaguar OCU, arrived at RAF Coltishall from RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, on 21 July 2000.[16] In December 2000, five Jaguars from No. 41 (F) Squadron deployed to Luleå Airport, Sweden, to train along side Saab 37 Viggens of the Norrbotten Air Force Wing.[17]

Coltishall was also home to the yellow Search And Rescue (SAR) helicopters of No. 202 Squadron conducting air-sea rescue operations (Westland Sea King) and latterly No. 22 Squadron (Westland Wessex), but under subsequent reorganisation, the SAR operations were moved to RAF Wattisham, in Suffolk where they remained until 15 July 2015.

Coltishall eventually became the last surviving operational RAF airfield involved in the Battle of Britain other than RAF Northolt, and a visible remnant in the form of a Second World War revetment still stands on the North-West taxiway and, together with one of the two sets of 1950s blast walls, is now a scheduled monument.[18]

With the anticipated arrival of the Eurofighter Typhoon in the RAF, the gradual retirement of the Jaguar force began. Coltishall was not chosen as a future Typhoon airfield for a number of reasons, and so, with no future RAF role for Coltishall, the station was earmarked for closure.

SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1A XZ112 of No. 54 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Brize Norton in 1991. This Jaguar was the last to leave RAF Coltishall on 3 April 2006.

The UK's Ministry of Defence, in the Delivering Security in a Changing World review, announced that the station would close by December 2006. The first two Jaguar squadrons to disband, No. 16 (R) Squadron and No. 54 (F) Squadron, did so on 11 March 2005.[19] The final Jaguar squadrons departed on 1 April 2006, when No. 6 Squadron transferred to RAF Coningsby, but was subsequently disbanded on 31 May 2007 (to await delivery of the Eurofighter Typhoon at RAF Leuchars), and No. 41 (F) Squadron transferred to RAF Coningsby in OCU role. The final front line RAF movement from the station was by Jaguar XZ112, piloted by Jim Luke, on 3 April 2006.

Of the final gate guardians, the replica Hawker Hurricane was transferred to RAF High Wycombe, and the Jaguar was formally named the Spirit of Coltishall, and was subsequently transferred to the grounds of Norfolk County Council where she is dedicated to the memory of all those who served at Coltishall. The airfield is commemorated at the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum.

Some limited flying from light aircraft including those of the Coltishall Flying Club did continue after the end of RAF flying operations, until October 2006. While 1 April 2006 saw the disbandment parade for the station, it did not actually disband and finally close until 30 November 2006. Associated facilities such as the Douglas Bader Primary School were also closed. On the final day of the station the gates were opened to the public - anybody with photographic ID was welcomed onto the station to have a look around and view the final closing ceremony, which saw a flypast by four RAF Jaguars, and a solitary Hawker Hurricane from the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

On 30 November 2006, RAF Coltishall was officially handed over to Defence Estates (the MoD agency responsible for all UK Military sites) who are to handle the disposal of the site and will be formally known as MoD Coltishall until its ultimate disposal.

The site was sold to Norfolk County Council for £4 million.

Station commanders[edit]

Robert 'Bob' Stanford Tuck c.1941, later to become Commanding Officer of RAF Coltishall
Note: The ranks shown are the ranks held at the time of holding the appointment of Commanding Officer, Royal Air Force Coltishall.
date from date to Rank Name
15 May 1940 9 January 1941 Wing Commander W K Beisiegal
9 January 1941 11 September 1942 Group Captain Ronald Lees
11 September 1942 20 April 1943 Group Captain George D Harvey
20 April 1943 10 December 1943 Group Captain Arthur V Harvey
10 December 1943 25 May 1945 Group Captain A H Donaldson
25 May 1945 9 August 1945 Group Captain A H Dunn
9 August 1945 27 February 1946 Group Captain T H Rolski
27 February 1946 13 February 1947 Group Captain Aleksander Gabszewicz
13 February 1947 22 January 1948 Wing Commander Robert Stanford Tuck
22 January 1948 6 March 1950 Wing Commander Denis Spotswood
6 March 1950 1 February 1951 Wing Commander E L Colbeck-Welch
1 February 1951 8 May 1953 Group Captain A H Smythe
8 May 1953 12 December 1955 Group Captain P P Hanks
12 December 1955 25 November 1958 Group Captain John Clayton Sisson CBE DFC
25 November 1958 1 June 1959 Wing Commander W Laing
1 June 1959 15 November 1961 Group Captain Harold A C Bird-Wilson
15 November 1961 1 November 1963 Group Captain L H Malins
1 December 1963 3 June 1966 Group Captain R L Topp
4 June 1966 3 January 1969 Group Captain M E Hobson
3 January 1969 20 November 1969 Group Captain W J Stacey
20 November 1969 18 November 1971 Group Captain J T Jennings
18 November 1971 28 December 1973 Group Captain J A Gilbert
28 December 1973 6 August 1976 Group Captain L Swart
6 August 1976 6 September 1978 Group Captain J H Honey
6 September 1978 15 October 1980 Group Captain T H Stonor
15 October 1980 3 December 1982 Group Captain T J Nash
3 December 1982 8 February 1985 Group Captain G R Profit
8 February 1985 4 June 1987 Group Captain M R French
4 June 1987 2 August 1989 Group Captain F J Hoare
3 August 1989 16 August 1991 Group Captain M J Abbott
16 August 1991 5 July 1993 Group Captain J P Dacre
5 July 1993 28 July 1995 Group Captain N C Rusling
28 July 1999 5 September 1997 Group Captain T C Hewlett
5 September 1997 5 September 1999 Group Captain Stephen G G Dalton
6 September 1999 5 October 2001 Group Captain Chris N Harper
6 October 2001 28 November 2003 Group Captain R D Cobelli
28 November 2003 2006 Group Captain Graham A Wright, OBE
2006 13 October 2006 Wing Commander Paul Robins[20]
13 October 2006 30 November 2006 Squadron Leader Jason Hughes[21]

Coltishall aircraft[edit]

Jaguar GR3A of 41 Sqn

Some 40-plus different types of aircraft have operated out of Coltishall at various points in its history, among these:

Resident squadron aircraft[edit]

Image of the various badges painted on the central aircraft hangar.
These depict the final full capacity status of RAF Coltishall.
From left to right: No.6 Sqn, RAF Coltishall station badge, No.16 Sqn - No.41 Sqn, No.1 Group Headquarters RAF, No.54 Sqn.

Westland Wessex Search and Rescue Helicopter

Non-resident aircraft[edit]

Operated by detachments from other squadrons
SAR Air/Sea Rescue squadron detachments
Operated by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm

As home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a sole Avro Lancaster bomber operated out of Coltishall post-war.

Coltishall squadrons[edit]

56 Sqn "scoreboard"
A 41 Sqn Jaguar T4A 2-seat trainer on detachment


The former married quarters were transferred to the MoD's preferred property agents, Annington Homes, who started the lengthy process of upgrading the former military housing into civilian houses for sale on the open market.

During January 2007, the Home Office expressed an interest in the site, and in early February earmarked it for potential use as an immigration detention facility, but this was subsequently ruled out.

In July 2007, a petition was set up on the 10 Downing St website to campaign for Coltishall to be reopened as a civil airfield.

In December 2007, fresh reports in the media suggested the site would be used as a prison, but this angered local residents who had not been informed of the disposal progress.

In January 2009, a plan to build a Category C prison at the site was approved by North Norfolk District Council.[23] The entire site is now under the temporary control of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and, as of October 2009, building works on converting all of the former H-blocks is near completion, along with the completion of the dual perimeter fences, and a new access road. The new establishment will be known as HMP Bure, named after a nearby river, and will house 500 male sex offenders.[24]

On 19 July 2010, North Norfolk District Council proposed that the entire site should be designated as a conservation area (United Kingdom) because of its historical and architectural interest.[25]

In 2013, Scottow Enterprise Park was opened on part of the site, taking up approximately 600 acres of the former RAF base. Its repurposed military buildings are now home to tenants in industries from construction to film.[26]

In April 2015, Scottow Moor Solar Limited built a 32 MW solar farm on the site.[27] In April 2016, another 18 MW of solar panels were added, bringing the solar farm's total capacity to 50 MW.[28]

In June 2019, A British aircraft manufacturer is now based at the airfield. Swift Aircraft have been allowed to produce up to 98 planes a year and use the runway for 8 flights a day by the local government. This will employ roughly 100 local people and greatly benefit the local economy.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 7. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ Official Commemorative Magazine: Royal Air Force Coltishall, 65th Anniversary, 'Aggressive in Defence' 1940-2005
  3. ^ see "Douglas Bader 1910-1982" at 18:45 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGxO31bw_SM&t=8s
  4. ^ "No 74 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  5. ^ "226 Operational Conversion Unit". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  6. ^ "No 54 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  7. ^ "No 6 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  8. ^ "No.41 Squadron". www.nationalcoldwarexhibition.org. Royal Air Force Museum. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  9. ^ "British Forces involved in Operation Granby". raf.mod.uk. Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  10. ^ "Deployments - 1978". Sharpshooter - Military Aviation Journal. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Deployments - 1983". Sharpshooter - Military Aviation Journal. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Deployments - 1986". Sharpshooter - Military Aviation Journal. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  13. ^ "41 Squadron: Seek and Destroy". Air-Scene UK. Archived from the original on 5 April 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  14. ^ "No.54 Squadron". www.nationalcoldwarexhibition.org. Royal Air Force Museum. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  15. ^ "1991–2003". 6 Squadron RAF Association. 13 January 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  16. ^ "No 16 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  17. ^ "JAGUARS MAKE HISTORY WITH DEPLOYMENT TO SWEDEN". raf.mod.uk. RAF Coltishall. Archived from the original on 29 September 2003. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  18. ^ Historic England. "World War II fighter pen, Cold War blast walls and associated remains at the airfield formerly known as RAF Coltishall (1021425)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Jaguar Retirement". Target Aviation Photography. Archived from the original on 13 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  20. ^ Norwich.gov.uk Norwich City Council news release - A final farewell to RAF Coltishall Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 12 October 2006
  21. ^ AirSceneUK.org.uk Spirit of Coltishall Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 30 November 2006
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj "Coltishall". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  23. ^ BBC.co.uk Prison at old RAF base approved
  24. ^ "Norfolk ex-airbase jail to house sex offenders". Archant Regional Ltd. EDP24.co.uk. 11 August 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  25. ^ [1] Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Former RAF Coltishall site passes 500-worker milestone". 22 August 2018.
  27. ^ "RAF Coltishall £50m solar farm begins power generation". BBC News. 17 April 2015.
  28. ^ "What the huge solar farm at RAF Coltishall looks like from the air". 25 April 2016.


  • Jennings, Mick MBE. Royal Air Force Coltishall, Fighter Station. A Station History. Cowbit, Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK: Old Forge Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-906183-01-1.
  • Sullivan, Wing Commander John MBE, MSc, RAF. Big Cat Diary: The Last Year of the Jaguar with 6 Squadron RAF. Published by the author, 2008. ISBN 0-9557247-0-8.

External links[edit]