RAF Harwell

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RAF Harwell
RAF type A roundel.svgEnsign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Harwell, Oxfordshire
Short Stirling with a Horsa glider.jpg
A Short Stirling of No. 295 Squadron RAF, taking off from RAF Harwell towing an Airspeed Horsa glider, 17 September 1944. This was one of 25 Stirling/Horsa combinations which carried the Headquarters of I Airborne Corps to landing zones near Groesbeek, Nijmegen as part of Operation Market Garden
RAF Harwell is located in Oxfordshire
RAF Harwell
RAF Harwell
Coordinates 51°34′30″N 1°18′43″W / 51.575°N 1.312°W / 51.575; -1.312
Type Royal Air Force station
Site information
Owner Air Ministry
Controlled by RAF type A roundel.svg Royal Flying Corps
 Royal Air Force
Site history
Built 1914 (1914)
In use 1914-1945 (1945)
Battles/wars Second World War

Royal Air Force station Harwell or more simply RAF Harwell is a former Royal Air Force station in former Berkshire, England, near the village of Harwell, located 4.8 miles (7.7 km) south east of Wantage, Oxfordshire and 17 miles (27 km) north west of Reading, Berkshire, England.

The site is now the Atomic Energy Research Establishment and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and is located in Oxfordshire.


The airfield was built by John Laing & Son at the junction of three parishes in 1935.[1] The bulk lay within Chilton parish; about a third was in East Hendred; and the smallest portion was in Harwell. The first Commanding Officer, upon being asked what the name of the new airfield should be, responded that it should be named after the parish in which his house lay – and this happened to be Harwell.[2]

From its opening in February 1937 until March 1944, various bomber squadrons were stationed at the airfield. On the outbreak of the Second World War, it became part of No. 38 Group RAF, initially used leaflet missions over France using Vickers Wellington bombers, later bombing raids on Bremen, Cologne and Essen. There were numerous Luftwaffe raids on the airfield from August 1940 until September 1941. The original grass field was replaced with concrete runways between July and November 1941.[3]

The following squadrons were posted to Harwell:

In March 1944, it was reallocated to 30 Group Airborne Forces, where it mainly operated tug aircraft towing Airspeed Horsa gliders. These gliders were used in a number of operations including carrying troops into Normandy to secure vital strategic positions in advance of the main landings on D-Day. In fact the first glider-borne troops to arrive in Normandy on D-Day came from RAF Harwell. A memorial to the men who flew from RAF Harwell who were killed on this operation now exists at one edge of the old airfield site, and a memorial service is held there annually. The airfield was also used briefly for Special Operations Executive (SOE) operations between July and September 1944.

Current use[edit]

The RAF station was closed at the end of 1945 and the site transferred to the Ministry of Supply on 1 January 1946, where it became the Atomic Energy Research Establishment.



  1. ^ Ritchie, p. 91
  2. ^ Hance, Nick (November 2006). Harwell: The Enigma Revealed (1st ed.). Buckland, Oxfordshire: Enhance Publishing. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-9553055-0-0. 
  3. ^ "RAF Harwell airfield". Control Towers. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 48.
  5. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 54.
  6. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 55.
  7. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 62.
  8. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 71.
  9. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 73.
  10. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 84.
  11. ^ Jefford 2001, p. 97.


  • Jefford, C.G, MBE, BA, RAF (Retd). 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.
  • Ritchie, Berry (1997). The Good Builder: The John Laing Story. James & James. 

External links[edit]