Historic Airfields

RAF Airfields WW2 Part 4

July 14, 2019

This is RAF Airfields WW2 Part 4. Here we’ll take a look at RAF Cottesmore, situated about 30 miles east of Leicester, RAF Leuchars, located 9 miles south of Dundee in Scotland, RAF Brawdy in western Wales near St. Davids, RAF Wittering, located about 15 miles northwest of Peterborough, and RAF Swinderby, situated a few miles southwest of Lincoln. The following video shows the last day at RAF Cottesmore of the Harrier Jet Force in 2010.

RAF Cottesmore

RAF Cottesmore is situated in the county of Rutland, in the heart of the English countryside, just about some 30 miles due east of the City of Leicester. Originally a large bomber airfield, it opened during the Royal Air Force’s expansion period, late 1930’s. It was expanded in the 1950s to accommodate the Vulcan and Victor bombers, and later had a long association with Canberra’s.

RAF Cottesmore is home to all of the RAF’s Harrier GR7 squadrons as well as No. 122 Expeditionary RAF Air Wing. The station opened in March 1938 and was initially used for mainly training purposes. The squadrons stationed here flew initially Vickers Wellesley aircraft but it wasn’t long before they converted to Fairey Battles. A few years later, Bomber Command commanded the airfield and it functioned as a training station again for crew flying the Handley Page Hampden.

After the 1939 outbreak of WW 2, these units were relocated to RAF Cranfield to replace aircraft lost in combat and their place at Cottesmore was taken by Squadrons Nos. 106 & 185 that came from RAF Thornaby and also flew Handley Page Hampdens.

RAF Cottesmore’s first sorties over enemy airspace occurred in 1940 with the dropping of leaflets over northern France. At the end of 1940, No. 106 Squadron relocated to Finningley whereas No. 14 OTU stayed at Cottesmore training pilots for Bomber Command until August of 1943 when No. 14 OTU relocated to RAF Market Harborough.

Better known in recent years as the home to TTTE (Tri-national Tornado Training  Establishment), Cottesmore has for many years been the home to part of the Harrier fleet, the remainder being at nearby Wittering.

RAF Leuchars

RAF Leuchars is located some 9 miles south of the City of Dundee on Scotland’s east coast. The site at Raf Leuchars was first used for aviation as far back as 1911, but the Fleet Air Arm started operations here in 1918. During World War 2, Coastal Command used Beaufighters, Hudsons, and Mosquitoes.

In 1911, a balloon squadron of the RAF Engineers arrived here but it wasn’t long before heavier aircraft found its way to RAF Leuchars. Throughout WW1, the airfield was used for training purposes and during WW2, RAF Coastal Command used the station. In 1943, BOAC was using Leuchars airfield to operate a covert air link to Sweden, which was neutral, to rescue RAF crews that were shot down and taken prisoner and to import Swedish goods for continuing the UK’s war efforts.

In 1950, RAF Leuchars became a station for fighter jets that housed, due to its location on the coast, a number air defense aircraft of both the RAF and the Navy. Throughout the Cold War, Leuchars remained to function as an RAF air defense station until 2015 when it was transferred to the British Army. Postwar RAF operations at Leuchars include Javelins, Meteors, Vampires, and Hunters, followed by the Lightning and F4 Phantoms until these aircraft were replaced by F3 Tornados.

RAF Brawdy

Brawdy airfield originally opened in 1944 as a Royal Air Force Coastal Command station but became more closely associated with flying training after the war. The Station has long been responsible for air weapons training, in company with  Chivenor and Valley. Brawdy functioned as an operational airfield from 1944 to 1992 for not only the RAF but also for by the Royal Navy until it was closed in 1992.

The airfield’s unusual layout included three runways allowing heavily laden and large aircraft use the runways in all sorts of prevailing winds. The station was home to No. 517 Squadron with its Handley Page Halifaxes that flew mainly meteorological flights over the Atlantic. During WW2, RAF’s No, 8 Operational Training Unit used the station with DeHavilland Mosquitoes and Spitfires until November 1945.

On January 1, 1946, RAF Brawdy was transferred to the Royal Navy to become the home of the Navy’s Fleet Requirements Unit that operated Sea Mosquitoes. This unit was training FAA pilots to convert to twin-engined heavy aircraft.

During the 1950s, several Hawker Sea Hawk aircraft squadrons were stationed at Brawdy when not aboard the UK’s aircraft carriers HMS Albion and HMS Ark Royal. In the early 60s, Brawdy was used as the FAA’s primary base for pilot training for the Nos. 738 & 759 Squadrons with their Hawker Hunter aircraft and Fairey Gannet AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft also used Brawdy for several years. However, both aircraft types and the crews left Brawdy in 1970.

In the early 70s, the RAF received Brawdy back and they training for flying the British Aerospace Hawk started here, a unit that would later become known as the No. 1 Tactical Weapons Unit. The search and rescue (SAR) helicopters of the RAF also carried out numerous missions from here while, at the same time, the US Navy operated an oceanographic research center at the site.

In 1995, the UK army set up a base at Brawdy that was supposed to close again in 2018 but those plans were delayed. Brawdy airfield remains a well-preserved site today and looks pretty much like it did in 1994 when the RAF left. Check out also this page about all Historic and listed Airfields in Britain used in WW One and WW Two.

RAF Wittering

RAF Wittering is located some 15 miles northwest of the City of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The airfield was formed in 1924 when the airfields of Collyweston and Stamford were joined. Originally, Wittering was home to the RAF’s Central Flying School so the station has been operating most aircraft types than any other airfield, from Spitfires, Valiants, Victors, and Canberras, to modern-day Harriers.

At Wittering, military flying started in 1916 and squadrons stationed at RAF Wittering have been playing a crucial role in practically all major conflicts during the past 100 years, including the infamous “Battle of Britain”.

In WW1, RAF Wittering functioned as a training center for pilots, a role it now has returned to, and as a camp for POWs. In 1918, the station received its official name of “Royal Air Force Wittering” and it was home to several units at the time of WW2.

In the 1950s, RAF Wittering was renovated to accommodate jet age aircraft. In 1954, the station welcomed Canberras and Valiant B1s. Valiant bombers stationed at RAF Wittering carried out “Operation GRAPPLE” where, in the years 1957-58, early atomic and hydrogen bombs were tested in the Pacific. All three V-Force type bombers, the Valiant, the Vulcan, and the Victor,  were stationed at RAF Wittering.

Then in 1969, Wittering welcomed the Harrier that would be there for more than 40 years. The Harriers stationed at Wittering saw action taking place in the Balkans, Falklands, Afghanistan, and Gulf War II.

The Harriers were retired in 2010 causing RAF Wittering to fall silent but in 2014, the airfield was reactivated. Today, RAF Wittering is providing elementary flying training to the next generation of RAF pilots.

RAF Swinderby

RAF Swinderby is situated in the county of Lincolnshire, just a few miles southwest of the City of Lincoln. The station opened in September 1940 and squadrons stationed her flew a variety of aircraft, including Hampden, Manchester, Lancaster, Hurricane, Spitfire, Wellington, Varsity and other aircraft.

At the end of 1939, some 80 fields between the villages of  Swinderby and Thurlby were transformed into what became known as RAF Swinderby bomber station. Initially, the base was home to two Polish squadrons but later, Swinderby was turned into a major training center for No. 50 Squadron including Heavy Conversion Units. After WW2 had come to an end, this training role was continued until 1993.

On March 20, 1964, Swinderby became RAF’s No. 7 School of Recruit Training Center and it would continue to play this role right until it eventually closed in1993. After closure, Witham St Hughs village was established on the former airfield’s site and the connections between aviation and the village are commemorated at the industrial estate and at Village Hall.

RAF Swinderby Memorial
Witham St Hughs Village Hall
Green Lane, Witham St Hughs, Lincolnshire, LN6 9TN

RAF Airfields WW2 Part 1
RAF Airfields WW2 Part 2
RAF Airfields WW2 Part 3