RAF Honington

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RAF Honington
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Near Thetford, Norfolk in England
Entrance to RAF Honington - geograph.org.uk - 204484.jpg
The main entrance to RAF Honington.
RAF Honington crest.png
Pro anglia valens
(Latin for 'Valiant for England')[1]
RAF Honington is located in Suffolk
RAF Honington
RAF Honington
Shown within Suffolk
Coordinates52°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
TypeAir combat support station
Area779 hectares (1,920 acres)[2]
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Controlled byNo. 2 Group (Air Combat Support)[3]
ConditionOperational
Websitehttps://www.raf.mod.uk/rafhonington/
Site history
Built1935 (1935)–1936
In use
  • 1937–1942 (Royal Air Force)
  • 1942–1946 (US Army Air Forces)
  • 1946 – present (Royal Air Force)
Garrison information
Current
commander
Group Captain Holland
Occupants See Based units section for full list.
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: BEQ, ICAO: EGXH, WMO: 03586
Elevation53 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: BEQ, ICAO: 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.

History[edit]

Royal Air Force use[edit]

Construction of Honington airfield, which was undertaken by John Laing & Son, began in 1935, and the facility was opened on 3 May 1937.[4] 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.[9]

In July 1940, No. 311 (Czech) Squadron RAF formed at Honington with Wellingtons, later moving to RAF East Wretham in November 1940.[10]

Then, in May 1941, 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.[11]

United States Army Air Forces use[edit]

Aerial photography of RAF Honington, 25 January 1944 oriented north. The pre-World War II Honington Airfield is on the right, the 1st Strategic Air Depot is to the left. Note the large number of B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft parked on numerous hardstands at both the airfield and depot

In June 1942, the airfield was transferred to the USAAF and was upgraded to a Class A Bomber base. Honington was assigned USAAF designation Station 375.[12]

  • 314th Service Group[13]

USAAF Station Units assigned to RAF Honington were:[12]

467th Service Squadron; HHS 314th Service Group
  • 18th Weather Squadron
  • 68th Station Complement Squadron
  • 9th Depot Repair Squadron
  • Headquarters (Western Base Section)

Regular Army Station Units included:

  • Headquarters & Headquarters Battery (386th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion)
  • 386th Anti-Aircraft Artillery AW Battalion
  • 386th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion
  • 1097th Signal Company
  • 1178th Quartermaster Company
  • 1221st Military Police Company
  • 1599th Ordnance Supply & Maintenance Company
  • 2017th Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon

1st Strategic Air Depot[edit]

Under USAAF control, an additional facility, called Troston, was constructed to the west of the main airfield as a specialized air depot for the repair of badly-damaged B-17 Flying Fortress bombers 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.[12]

364th Fighter Group[edit]

North American P-51D-15-NA Mustangs of the 385th Fighter Squadron. 44-15493 "Jeannie II" in foreground, 44-14322 "Coffin Wit Wings" behind

In addition to 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.[14]

The group consisted of the following squadrons:[15]

The 364th FG flew escort, dive-bombing, strafing, and patrol missions in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.[15]

Converted from Lockheed P-38 Lightnings to North American 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[16]

The US flag comes down for the last time at RAF Honington in February 1946
The US flag comes down for the last time at RAF Honington in February 1946

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. The airfield, which was the first transferred to the United States Army Air Forces for its use in 1942, was the last to be returned to the Air Ministry.[17]

Back to Royal Air Force control[edit]

RAF Honington was then used by RAF Transport Command. The station provided support the Berlin Airlift and was transferred to RAF Bomber Command in 1949.[18] It accommodated storage facilities for No. 94 Armament Maintenance Unit in the 1950s and a 9,000 ft concrete runway was completed in 1956.[18]

Bomber squadrons, 10, XV, 44, and 57 flying the English Electric Canberra were based at the station from 1955 to 1957 and 10 and XV Squadrons saw action in the Suez Crisis.[18]

In 1956, RAF Honington also became a V bomber base: squadrons, Nos, 7, 90, and 199 flew Vickers Valiant while squadron Nos, 55 and 57 flew Handley Page Victors.[18]

In 1965 the station was put into reserve to accommodate the proposed General Dynamics F-111 fleet: the married quarters were used for evacuees from the Aden Emergency at that time.[19]

The station then became home to Hawker Siddeley (Blackburn) Buccaneer bombers from November 1969. Squadron Nos. 12, 15 and 16 were formed. 15 and 16 squadrons moved to RAF Laarbruch in West Germany in 1971. No. 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) was formed at Honington when the RAF took over Buccaneer training from the Royal Navy. 208 and 216 squadrons were also based there.[18] The Buccaneer fleet (12, 208, and 237 OCU) moved to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.[18]

A Panavia Tornado GR1 of No. 45 Squadron otherwise known as the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit.
A Panavia Tornado GR1 of No. 45 Squadron otherwise known as the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit.

The station was then selected to become a base for the RAF's Panavia Tornado fleet in 1981. In August 1982 IX(B) Squadron was reformed at RAF Honington, becoming the world's first operational Tornado squadron. Equipment included the WE.177 nuclear bomb. IX Squadron relocated to RAF Bruggen in Germany in 1986. No. 45 Squadron was the sole occupant until XIII Squadron formed there in January 1990.[18]

RAF Regiment Depot[edit]

On 15 July 1992, it was announced that the Tornados would depart Honington and that the station would relinquish its primary flying role and become the RAF Regiment Depot.[20] As a result, the TWCU moved to Lossiemouth (to replace the Buccaneers) in November 1993. Honington ceased to be a flying station on 1 February 1994 when No. 13 Squadron relocated to RAF Marham.[21] The Depot moved in June 1994, when RAF Catterick in North Yorkshire, home of the previous depot, transferred to the British Army.[22]

RAF Honington became the 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 until the closure of that unit in 2016.[23]

During 2018, No. 2 Squadron RAF Regiment moved to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, completing the move in September of that year.[24] No. 20 Wing RAF Regiment (Defence Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Wing) disbanded on 1 April 2019 having been at Honington since 2011. The CBRN role was taken over by 28 Engineer Regiment of the Royal Engineers, with No. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment coming under army command, before disbanding in October 2021.[25][26]

Role and operations[edit]

RAF Honington's mission statement is "Delivering Air Force Protection Capability for the RAF and Defence".[27] The station is the single hub for RAF Force Protection, incorporating the RAF Regiment Headquarters and the RAF Police Headquarters. Together they are responsible for protecting the RAF at home and abroad. The station is home to over 1,500 military personnel, civil servants and contractors.[28] RAF Honington is home to three RAF Regiment field squadrons. Through the RAF Force Protection Centre and RAF Regiment Training Wing, the station also provides initial and advanced training for members of the RAF Regiment and specialist training for the RAF's entire Force Protection capability.[28] The RAF Police is the service police branch of the Royal Air Force and Honington is home to the RAF Police Headquarters. It also accommodates No. 1 (Tactical) Police Squadron which provides field policing, and reserve unit No. 3 (Tactical) Police Squadron (Royal Auxiliary Air Force) which provides a general policing and aviation security capability.[28]

Based units[edit]

The following units are based at RAF Honington.[29][30][31][32]

British Army[edit]

Royal Air Force[edit]

Civilian[edit]

  • RAF Regiment Heritage Centre
  • RAF Honington Flying Club – Piper PA-28

Heritage[edit]

Station badge and motto[edit]

RAF Honington's badge, awarded in June 1956, features the head of St. Edmund in front of two crossed arrows pointing downwards. The head of St. Edmund represents the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds which is approximately 9 km (5.59 mi) to the south east of the station, in whose coat of arms the representation is featured. The arrows in saltire, represent St. Edmund's martyrdom.[33]

The station's motto (Pro anglia valens) is in Latin and translates into English as Valiant for England.[33]

Built heritage[edit]

The turret of a Pickett-Hamilton fort, fully raised and manned during the Second World War.
The turret of a Pickett-Hamilton fort, fully raised and manned during the Second World War.

Two Second World War era hardened field fortification survive within the airfield boundary. The Pickett-Hamilton forts were designated as scheduled monuments by English Heritage (now Historic England) in September 2002. The forts were constructed in late 1940 in order to provide ground defence for the airfield. A third example is thought to have been destroyed during redevelopment of the station after the war.[34]

The forts were designed to be lowered into the ground while not in use, as such they would be inconspicuous and would not interfere with the passage of taxiing aircraft or other vehicles. The forts could be raised to about 2 feet 6 inches (0.76 m) above ground level where it would be a physical impediment to aircraft and vehicles and from where a small crew could fire with rifles or light machine guns.[35]

The examples at Honington are described by Historic England as having "importance as comparatively rare surviving examples of an unusual and innovative type of airfield defence installation. The outer structure and lifting heads of both remain in good condition, and the example which is in working order, with its principal internal fittings intact, is of particular interest."[34]

Former units[edit]

The following units were here at some point:[36]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 181. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ "Defence Estates Development Plan 2009 – Annex A". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 3 July 2009. p. 15. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  3. ^ "No 2 Group". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  4. ^ Ritchie, p. 91
  5. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 48
  6. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 54
  7. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 71
  8. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 27
  9. ^ "IX Squadron". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  10. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 85
  11. ^ London Gazette Issue 35270 published on 9 September 1941. Page 1
  12. ^ a b c "Honington". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  13. ^ "314th Service Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  14. ^ "67th Fighter Wing". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  15. ^ a b c "364th Fighter Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  16. ^ a b "364th Fighter Group". Army Air Corps Museum. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  17. ^ "Honington handed back to the RAF - February 26, 1946". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g "RAF Honington". Vulcan to the Sky. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  19. ^ Magee, Jon (2008). From Barren Rocks to Living Stones. ISBN 978-1434381491.
  20. ^ 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. 158. ISBN 1-899808-06-X.
  21. ^ 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. 162. ISBN 1-899808-06-X.
  22. ^ 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. 162. ISBN 1-899808-06-X.
  23. ^ "611 Volunteer Gliding Squadron operational again". RAF Air Cadets. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  24. ^ Cooper, Tim (25 September 2018). "RAF Regiment Squadron Receives New Standard". Forces Network. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  25. ^ "27 Squadron RAF Regt – 20 Wg The End of the Beginning". Honington Herald. Lance Print: 9. Summer 2019.
  26. ^ "A Fond Farewell to 27 Sqn RAF Regiment". Royal Air Force. 7 October 2021. Retrieved 7 October 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. ^ "Jeffrey's 100 Mile Walk". Honington Herald. Forces and Corporate Publishing Ltd.: 22 Winter 2018.
  28. ^ a b c "RAF Honington". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  29. ^ "RAF Honington – Who's Based Here". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  30. ^ "Force Protection – RAF Police". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  31. ^ "RAF Honington Flying Club". RAF Flying Clubs' Association. Archived from the original on 2 February 2008. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  32. ^ "Force Troops Command Handbook". Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  33. ^ a b "Honington". RAF Heraldry Trust. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  34. ^ a b Historic England. "Two Pickett-Hamilton forts at Honington airfield, 750m and 1.25 km south west of Broomhill Cottages (1020779)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  35. ^ Pickett & Hamilton 1940.
  36. ^ "Honington". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 10 February 2016.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]