Historic Airfields

RAF Airfields WW2 Part 3

July 1, 2019

So this is RAF Airfields WW2 Part 3. Here we highlight RAF St Athan, some 10 miles southwest of Cardiff, RAF Cranwell, about 18 miles south of Lincoln, and RAF Leeming which is located 25 miles south of Darlington. Please enjoy the following video of the Avro Vilcan XH-558 which was recorded some 25 years ago at the now-closed RAF Station at St Athan in South Wales.

RAF St Athan

Situated 10 miles SW of Cardiff, RAF St Athan officially opened on September 1st, 1938. The first unit to take up residence was No.4 School for Technical Training. In 1939, the station’s functions and activities expanded when a fighter group pool, a maintenance Unit, and the School for Air Navigation arrived here.

MOD (Ministry of Defence) St Athan is a pretty large site in southern Wales (in the Vale of Glamorgan) where ground engineering non-aircraft technicians of the RAF are trained. St Athan is home to No. 4 School of Technical Training that provides continued training and education. It is the school’s mission is to deliver contemporary, affordable, effective, and flexible technical training and education that meets all of the UK’s Armed Forces requirements. St Athan is additionally home to the Air Squadron of the University of Wales.

RAF St Athan opened on September 1, 1938, to house No. 4 School of Technical Training. The station’s activities, however, were expanded in 1939 when a maintenance unit, a fighter group pool, and the UK School of Air Navigation arrived.  During WW2, St Athan was used for training air and ground crew.

During WW2, the station had over 14,000 personnel, and training units turned out thousands of Flight Engineers, ground mechanics, radar and radio operators, as well as navigators. Since the war, the station has evolved into a vast engineering complex, responsible for deep servicing of all types of RAF aircraft. It is said to be, at one time, the largest RAF base in the world.

Here is no museum as, for example, in North Weald where dedicated volunteers operate the North Weald Airfield Musem to keep the memory alive of a generation that sacrificed their lives for our freedom and way of life.

RAF Cranwell

RAF Cranwell is located some 18 miles (around 29 km) south of the City of Lincoln in Lincolnshire. The airfield originally opened in 1916 as a Royal Naval Air Station and was transferred to the RAF in 1918. The station is home to the famous Royal Airforce College that opened in here 1934 and is responsible for training the new RAF officers and Aircrew.

During WW2, Hermann Goering had ordered the German Luftwaffe not to bomb Cranwell College because he wanted this site to become his headquarters after Germany would have won the War. In the 1950s, College Hall received the peal of bells from Shell Petroleum Company and each evening, the retreat is played in honor of the nearly 480 former Cadets who gave their lives for our freedom during WW Two.

Many training aircraft types operated at RAF Cranwell over the years such as the Gladiator, Bulldog, Tiger Moth, SE8, and DH Chipmunk. RAF Cranwell has traditionally been associated with training operations and is currently home to the Dominies of  55(R) Squadron and the Jetstreams of 45(R)Squadron. Jet Provosts were based here for many years.

If you want to see a list of all Historic Airfields in the UK that were used in WW 1 and WW 2, check out this page. All the listed airfields have listed status.

RAF Leeming

Leeming airfield originally opened as a Royal Air Force, WW2 bomber station, operating  Whitleys, and Halifax’s. Leeming later became established as a fighter station using Javelins and Canberra trainers. The station then transferred to training command, and for many years operated the Jet Provost.

RAF Leeming, located some 25 miles south of the City of Darlington, was constructed in 1938 to function as a base for bomber aircraft. The first sortie was in 1940 with a Whitley bomber. In 1942, RAF Leeming became under the command of No.6 Canadian Air Force Group for the remaining time frame of WW Two.

When the hostilities had come to an end, RAF Leeming was turned into an Operational Conversion Unit for Night Fighters with Mosquito fighters before it moved into the jet aircraft age with Javelins and Meteors. In 1961, the station became the RAF’s School of Basic Flying Training and in 1977, the RAF’s Central Flying School was welcomed here.

In 1984, a massive overhaul of Leeming got underway and in 1988, the station opened again as a key operational station for XI, XXIII, and XXV Fighter Squadrons that flew Tornado F3 fighters. So after a major overhaul, Leeming reopened as a front line fighter base in 1988 with Tornado F3’s. Leeming is now home to No’s XI & XXV Squadrons and No. 100 Squadron Hawks. Then, after defending the UK airspace for 20 years, the days of RAF Leeming’s Tornado F3 operations ended in April 2008 when the XXV(F) Squadron was disbanded.

In 1995, 100 Squadron with its Hawk jets was welcomed at Leeming but since then, its role has changed immeasurably. Today, it is the RAF’s single operational Aggressor Squadron and it delivers operational training, education, and support to JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) serials and the Typhoon Force.

Then in April of 1996, after some 40 years of service in Cyprus, 34 Squadron RAF Regiment came back to North Yorkshire. Today, this unit is part of RAF’s No.2 Force Protection Wing with the task to carry out operations within the UK and around the globe.

For Part 1 of this series about RAF Airfields of World War 2, click on the earlier link, and Part 2 of RAF World War 2 Airfields is found when you click on the second link. Part Four will follow soon!