RAF Wittering

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RAF Wittering
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Wittering, Cambridgeshire in England
RAF Wittering crest.png
EGXT is located in Cambridgeshire
EGXT
EGXT
Shown within Cambridgeshire
Coordinates 52°36′45″N 000°28′35″W / 52.61250°N 0.47639°W / 52.61250; -0.47639Coordinates: 52°36′45″N 000°28′35″W / 52.61250°N 0.47639°W / 52.61250; -0.47639
Type Royal Air Force station
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Site history
Built 1916 (1916)
In use 1916-Present
Garrison information
Current
commander
Group Captain D Alexander BSc MA FCMI RAF.[1]
Airfield information
Identifiers ICAO: EGXT
Elevation 83 metres (272 ft) AMSL
Runways
Direction Length and surface
08/26 2,759 metres (9,052 ft) Asphalt
Aerial photograph of Wittering airfield, 9 May 1944

Royal Air Force Wittering or more simply RAF Wittering (ICAO: EGXT) is a Royal Air Force station within the unitary authority area of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. Although Stamford in Lincolnshire is the nearest town, the runways of RAF Wittering cross the boundary between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

History[edit]

RFC Stamford[edit]

Wittering's use as a military airfield dates back to 1916 when it began as RFC Stamford.

Formation[edit]

RAF Wittering officially opened in 1924. The Central Flying School was at Wittering from 1926 until 1935, when it became a fighter base, and the CFS moved to RAF Upavon.

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, the station was very active during the Blitz in 1940-41 in No. 12 Group (controlled from RAF Watnall in Nottingham) as it was the main fighter station for a lot of the southern East Midlands, and fighters from the station would often patrol as far as Birmingham. RAF Collyweston, a satellite station, was next door until 1941, although the next main fighter station further north was RAF Coleby Grange. The airfield was bombed five times, with seventeen people being killed on 14 March 1941. In April 1943 No. 141 Squadron RAF were moved in, operating Mosquitoes. Aircraft from the station downed 151 Luftwaffe planes and 89 V-1 flying bombs. Hugh Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Putney served at the station, as did Andrew Humphrey (later Chief of the Defence Staff from 1976 to 1977, who flew Spitfires with 266 Sqn).

Post-war use[edit]

The current airfield was created by the merging of RAF Wittering and nearby RAF Collyweston, by the construction of a 1.7-mile runway between them in 1941.

During the cold war RAF Wittering was a vital part of the strategic nuclear deterrent, with a runway built in 1954 long enough for the 'V' bombers (Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant). Until January 1969 two squadrons (100 and 139) of Victor B.2 bombers equipped with Blue Steel stand-off missiles were part of the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) force of the RAF. Two nuclear armed aircraft were permanently on 15 minutes readiness to take off. They were parked within 100 m (110 yd) of the westerly runway threshold. In times of higher tension, four bombers could be stationed beside the runway on the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform). If the aircraft were manned they could all be airborne within 30 seconds, a feat often demonstrated at V force stations across the country. Since the incoming missile warning from the RAF Fylingdales BMEWS array was only four minutes before impact this ensured if the country came under attack, the bombers would be scrambled and able to retaliate.

In 1968, the base became part of Strike Command. From October 1972 until August 1976, there were two squadrons flying the Hawker Hunter No's 45 initially and then 58 Sqn as well, which then moved to RAF Brawdy after 45 and 58 Sqns disbanded, in South Wales.

Harriers[edit]

From 1968 until late 2010 the station was known as the Home of the Harrier, although the first Harriers arrived for No. 1 Sqn in August 1969: the first squadron to have a vertical take off aircraft. The squadron left the base in August 2000. No. 4 (R) Sqn, formerly 233OCU, was the last Harrier flying squadron based at Wittering, departing upon disbandment in January 2011.

In May 1971, four aircraft from 1 Sqn operated from HMS Ark Royal, the first time the Harrier had operated from an aircraft carrier, under Wing Commander (later Sir) Ken Hayr (later killed at the Biggin Hill airshow on 2 June 2001[2] in a de Havilland Vampire).

1 Sqn Harrier on HMS Hermes in June 1982

In 1982, six Harrier GR3 aircraft were taken down to the Falklands on SS Atlantic Conveyor,[3] and survived the Exocet attack, later to board HMS Hermes in May 1982. In June 1982, 12 GR3 aircraft were flown from Wittering, via RAF Ascension Island and mid-air refuelling with Victor tankers, on an 8,000 mile journey to the Falklands in 17 hours, which set an RAF record. The Harriers were from 1(F) Sqn. On 27 May 1982, Sqn Ldr (later Gp Capt) Bob Iveson was hit by anti-aircraft fire from GADA 601's 35mm cannon, and he ejected seconds before his aircraft exploded in mid-air near Goose Green. He evaded capture for two and a half days before being rescued by helicopter.

In January 1983, Sqn Ldr Brenda Palmer became the Senior Air Traffic Controller at the base, the first woman in the RAF to hold that title.

Towards the end of October 2010 parliament announced that the Harrier would be retired and on 15 December 2010 they were to fly over RAF Wittering amongst other RAF stations, from RAF Cottesmore. Due to the freezing conditions and low-cloud cover, the Wittering flypast could not take place.

RAF Regiment[edit]

From 1970 to 1983 the station was also home to No. 5 Wing RAF Regiment consisting of No.15 and No.51 Squadrons RAF Regiment. On 21 June 1982, the Queen visited the station, as part of celebrations of the RAF Regiment's 40th anniversary.

In October 2001 No.37 Squadron GBAD RAF Regiment arrived from RAF Bruggen but was later disbanded in March 2006.

Current use[edit]

Harrier approaches from the south-west in April 2007

It was announced in December 2009 that RAF Wittering was to become the sole operational base for the RAF/RN Harriers of Joint Force Harrier after the announcement that RAF Cottesmore was to close. However as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Harrier fleet was withdrawn in December 2010[4] with all of Wittering's Harriers being stored at RAF Cottesmore.

Western end of the runway in June 2007

The station has re-roled to be the home of the 'A4 Force' (the Royal Air Force's Air Combat Service Support Units (ACSSUs)), with No. 85 Expeditionary Logistics Wing RAF and its subordinate ACSSUs, 2 MT Squadron and 3 Mobile Catering Squadron (formerly the Mobile Catering Support Unit (MCSU)) moving in from RAF Stafford. Elements of the Armament Support Unit (ASU) also returned to RAF Wittering from RAF Marham in Norfolk to be part of the newly formed No. 42 Expeditionary Support Wing RAF, which also took 5001 Squadron under command from 85 Wing when that unit also relocated from RAF Stafford. The Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit (MDHU) based in Peterborough, continues to be attached to and parented by the Station. The station is also home to No. 3 Squadron RAF Regiment who moved to Wittering from RAF Aldergrove in 2006 after a 7-month tour in Iraq. 3 Sqn are part of No 1 Force Protection Wing, also based at Wittering, 1 FP Wing also consists of No. 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force based at nearby RAF Cottesmore.

In November 2011 the Ministry of Defence announced that 44 Service personnel from HQ 12 (Air Support) Engineer Group, part of the Royal Engineers, will move from Waterbeach Barracks to RAF Wittering in 2012-13.[5] This move was completed in March 2013.

Seniority[edit]

The station commander of RAF Wittering is currently Group Captain D Alexander BSc MA FCMI RAF.[1]

Gliding[edit]

RAF Wittering is also the birthplace of the Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Association's Four Counties Gliding Club, originally set up in March 1955. Following several relocations, the club returned to Wittering in late 2005,the club closed in late 2014. The RAFGSA East-Midlands Gliding Club was also based at Wittering during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

RAF Wittering is also HQ of the Air Training Corps South East Midlands Wing.

Subordinate and lodger units[edit]

RAF Wittering, with the guard room & reception behind the deactivated 'Gate Guardian' Harrier aircraft.

British Army

  • Royal Engineers[5]
  • 12 (Air Support) Engineer Group
    • HQ Works Group RE (Airfields)
    • 529 STRE (Specialist Team Royal Engineers)

Station commanders[edit]

The Station Commander ordinariily holds the rank of Group Captain. The ranks shown below, where above Group Captain, indicates higher ranks the former station commanders achieved.

ATC tower
A Harrier is seen landing, at RAF Wittering, on a Forward Operating or MEXE Pad. The pad measures 100ft X 100ft and is made from prefabricated surface aluminium interlocking (PSAI) matting. The pads are used by novice pilots and veterans alike to practice the accuracy of their vertical landings.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Welcome to RAF Wittering". RAF. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "May 2001 crash". BBC News. 2001-06-03. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  3. ^ "1 Squadron in the Falklands". Raf.mod.uk. 2012-01-27. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  4. ^ "Last trip for one of Britain's iconic aircraft". BBC News. 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  5. ^ a b "First tranche of Army unit moves confirmed". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 

External links[edit]

News items[edit]