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RAF Wattisham
USAAF Station 377
USAAF Station 470
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svgTwelfth Air Force - Emblem.pngEighth Air Force - Emblem (World War II).png
Stowmarket, Suffolk, England
Type Royal Air Force station
Coordinates Latitude: 52.128
Longitude: 0.956
Built 1938 (1938)
Built by John Laing & Son Ltd
In use 1939-1993 (1993)
Ministry of Defence
Controlled by  Royal Air Force
US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Garrison RAF Bomber Command
Twelfth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
RAF Fighter Command
RAF Strike Command
Occupants No. 2 Group RAF
68th Observation Group
479th Fighter Group
Battles/wars Second World War, Cold War
Airfield information
Direction Length Surface
ft m
05/23 7,953 2,424 Asphalt

Royal Air Force Station Wattisham or more simply RAF Wattisham (ICAO: EGUW) is a former Royal Air Force station located in East Anglia just outside the village of Wattisham, south of Stowmarket in Suffolk, England. During the Cold War it was a major front-line air force base before closing in 1993 and is now operated by the British Army as Wattisham Airfield.


Royal Air Force use

RAF Wattisham opened on 5 April 1939 as a medium bomber station, the squadrons there being equipped with Bristol Blenheim bombers.[1] Part of No. 2 Group, No. 107 Squadron RAF and No. 110 Squadron RAF were stationed there on the outbreak of war as No. 83 Wing.[2] On 4 September 1939, just 29 hours after the declaration of war, bombers from Wattisham took off on the first attack of the war, against enemy shipping in Wilhelmshaven harbour.[1]

The following squadrons and units also were based at Wattisham at some point during this time:

In September 1942 the base was handed over to the United States Army Air Forces.[1]

United States Army Air Forces use

Wattisham was assigned USAAF designation Station 377, and work began on building concrete runways with the intention of adapting the airfield for heavy bomber use. However, plans were apparently changed when it was evident that there would be sufficient heavy bomber airfields available for the USAAF, and it was decided that Wattisham would remain an air depot and also house a fighter unit.[15]

Work ceased on the runways leaving only the E-W with a concrete surface and short stretches of the other two. The main SW-NE runway was finished off with steel matting while the remaining NW-SE runway continued to be grass-surfaced for most of its length.[15]

68th Observation Group

Between October and December 1942 the 68th Observation Group operated the Bell P-39D Airacobra from Wattisham.[16]

4th Strategic Air Depot

The 4th Strategic Air Depot (originally the 3rd Advanced Air Depot and then 3rd Technical Air Depot) serviced many types of aircraft but, by late 1943, was concentrating on fighter types. An additional technical area with four T2 hangars, some eighteen hardstands and a taxiway loop joining the airfield perimeter track, were constructed on the south side of the airfield. An engineering complex in temporary buildings was built around this area, chiefly in the village of Nedging Tye.[15]

The 4th Strategic Air Depot installation was officially named Hitcham, which was actually the name of a village two miles to the north-west of the site, to differentiate it from the fighter station using the same airstrip.[15] The base was, by 1944, responsible for the maintenance of all American fighters in the UK.[citation needed]

479th Fighter Group

North American P-51B-5 Mustang Serial 42-7040 from the 434th Fighter Squadron in June 1945. This P-51B was previously assigned to the 361st FG at RAF Bottisham and was a replacement for low-hour P-51s reassigned from the group.

Along with the depot maintenance mission, Wattisham also hosted an Eighth Air Force fighter group, the 479th Fighter Group, arriving from Santa Maria AAF, California, on 15 May 1944.[17] The group was part of the 65th Fighter Wing of the VIII Fighter Command.[18] Aircraft of the group had no cowling color markings as did other Eighth Air Force fighter groups and were marked only with colored tail rudders. The initial inventory of P-38s, many of which were hand-me-downs from other groups painted in olive drab camouflage, used geometric symbols on the tail to identify squadrons, white for camouflaged aircraft and black for unpainted (natural metal finish) Lightnings.[citation needed]

The group consisted of the following squadrons:

The 479th FG escorted heavy bombers during operations against targets on the continent, strafed targets of opportunity, and flew fighter-bomber, area and counter-air patrol missions. Engaged primarily in escort activities and fighter sweeps until the Normandy invasion in June 1944.[17]

The group patrolled the beachhead during the invasion, strafed and dive-bombed troops, bridges, locomotives, railway cars, barges, vehicles, airfields, gun emplacements, flak towers, ammunition dumps, power stations and radar sites while on escort or fighter-bomber missions as the Allies drove across France during the summer and fall of 1944. The unit flew area patrols to support the breakthrough at Saint-Lô in July and the airborne attack on Holland in September.[17]

The 479th Fighter Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for the destruction of numerous aircraft on airfields in France on 18 August and 5 September and during aerial battle near Münster on 26 September. The unit continued escort and fighter-bomber activities from October to mid-December 1944. It converted to P-51s between 10 September and 1 October, using both types on missions until conversion was completed.[17]

The group participated in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945) by escorting bombers to and from targets in the battle area and by strafing transportation targets while on escort duty. From February to April 1945 it continued to fly escort missions, but also provided area patrols to support the airborne attack across the Rhine in March.[17]

The unit returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, in November 1945,[20] and was inactivated on December 1945.[17] Among the notable pilots of the 479th were its second group commander, Col. Hubert Zemke,[20] and an ace, Major Robin Olds.[citation needed]


The United States Air Force 479th Tactical Fighter Wing at George AFB, California, (1952–1971) was bestowed the lineage, honors and history of the World War II USAAF 479th Fighter Group. The 479th TFW deployed personnel and aircraft to Key West NAS, Florida, in response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and deployed squadrons frequently to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Later, the 479th Tactical Training Wing at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, (1977–1991) provided pilot training.[citation needed]

The 479th Fighter Group at Moody AFB, Georgia, (2000–2007) and since 2009 at NAS Pensacola, Florida, currently as the 479th Flying Training Group.[citation needed]

Back to Royal Air Force control

In 1946, the base was returned to the RAF and was used by No. 266 Squadron RAF which initially between 4 November 1946 and 5 December and again between 4 January 1947 and 16 April 1947 were based here. Both times the squadron flew the Gloster Meteor F.3.[21]

The Air Ministry Servicing Development Unit formed here on 1 January 1947 with a number of aircraft including the Avro York I, Hawker Tempest V, Gloster Meteor F.4 & T.7, Avro Anson T.20 and the de Havilland Vampire F.3.[22] The squadron disbanded on 1 June 1950 at RAF Wittering.[23]

runways - 16 apr 47 – 27 oct 50

In 1949, new runways were laid,[citation needed] and the following year Wattisham became home to the Gloster Meteor, the UK's first jet fighter. 152 Squadron was using Meteor night fighters NF 12,[24] and these were added to in 1954 by Hawker Hunters, from 257 and 263 Squadrons, the UK's next generation fighter, which helped secure Wattisham's future as a major fighter base.[25][26]

257 Sqn had an American C.O., Major Howard E Tanner in 1955, the Station Commander was Group Captain Edwards, another Bader figure with artificial legs, the Wing Commander was one of the four Sowerey brothers, all of which held senior RAF posts.[citation needed] There was also a Station Flight which received and serviced visiting aircraft and had aircraft for other purposes. These included a de Havilland Vampire, a de Havilland Dragon Rapide and the COs Hunter.[citation needed] In 1955, with pilots returning from the Korean War with battle and aerobatic expertise, following another renovation, the Royal Air Force's display team, the Black Arrows, was added to Wattisham's roster, flying the Hunters. Air displays were a regular feature from 1959.[16]

English Electric Lightning F1A of the Wattisham Target Facilities Flight in 1971

In the late 1950s, the Cold War began to develop and so the RAF began to develop Britain's air defence. So, in 1960, the station was equipped with the very latest in British fighter aircraft: the English Electric Lightning. The combination of the capabilities of this plane and Wattisham's location near the East Anglian coast was very suitable for countering the threats faced from the east. The airfield quickly became one of, if not the front-line airbase in the UK. So throughout the Cold War Wattisham operated its 'QRA' or Quick Reaction Alert Sheds where live armed jets were on standby at all times and it was also a major 'Blacktop' diversion runway.[citation needed]

In 1974 McDonnell Douglas Phantoms arrived to replace the Lightnings. They continued the role of playing a major part in defending Britain's airspace which largely involved intercepting the Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 Bear aircraft. The Phantoms served through to 1992 and the end of the Cold War.[citation needed]

Squadrons at Wattisham between 1949 and 1992

Squadron Equipment From To To Notes
23 Phantom FGR.2 25 February 1976 30 March 1983 Disbanded [27]
29 English Electric Lightning F.3 10 May 1967 31 December 1974 Disbanded [28]
41 Gloster Javelin FAW 4/5/8 5 July 1958 31 December 1963 Disbanded [29]
56 Hawker Hunter F.5/F.6
EE Lightning F.1A/F.3/F.6
10 July 1959
21 January 1975
11 April 1967
28 June 1976
RAF Akrotiri
74 Phantom F-4J(UK)[31]
Phantom FGR.2.[32]
19 October 1984.[31] 31 October 1992.[32] Disbanded Included a Phantom Training Flight between 1 February 1991 and 31 December 1991.[33]
111 Hunter F.6
EE Lightning F.1A/F.3/F.6
18 June 1958 30 September 1974 Disbanded [34]
152 Gloster Meteor NF 12/NF 14 30 June 1954 18 June 1956 RAF Stradishall [24]
257 Meteor F.8
Hunter F.2
27 October 1950
15 January 1957
10 June 1956
31 March 1957
RAF Wymeswold
263 Gloster Meteor F.8
Hawker Hunter F.2/F.5
Hawker Hunter F.6
22 November 1950

15 January 1957

10 June 1956
30 August 1957

RAF Wymeswold
RAF Stradishall

[35] [36]


Wattisham's future hung in the balance as a major air force base and it was decided that with the Cold War threat gone it was no longer needed by the RAF. Wattisham stood down as a fighter base on 31 October 1992 and was handed over to the British Army in March 1993. The Army Air Corps soon moved in and it rapidly became a major Army airfield. The Royal Air Force returned to operate Westland Sea King Search and Rescue helicopters on the site of the former QRA hangars.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bowyer 1979, p. 205.
  2. "Bomber Command - No. 2 Group". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  3. Jefford 2001, p. 28.
  4. Jefford 2001, p. 29.
  5. Jefford 2001, p. 30.
  6. Jefford 2001, p. 33.
  7. Jefford 2001, p. 51.
  8. Jefford 2001, p. 57.
  9. Jefford 2001, p. 73.
  10. Jefford 2001, p. 75.
  11. Jefford 2001, p. 95.
  12. Lake 1999, p. 37.
  13. Lake 1999, p. 38.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Wattisham". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Freeman 2001, p. 230.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Bowyer 1979, p. 206.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Maurer 1980, p. 351.
  18. Maurer 1980, p. 403.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Migthy Eighth. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. 2013. pp. 90. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Maurer 1980, p. 352.
  21. Jefford 2001, p. 81.
  22. Lake 1999, p. 18.
  23. Lake 1999, p. 19.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Jefford 2001, p. 63.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Jefford 2001, p. 79.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Jefford 2001, p. 80.
  27. Jefford 2001, p. 32.
  28. Jefford 2001, p. 34.
  29. Jefford 2001, p. 39.
  30. Jefford 2001, p. 43.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Jefford 2001, p. 48.
  32. 32.0 32.1 "RAF Wattisham airfield". Control Towers. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  33. Lake 1999, p. 215.
  34. Jefford 2001, p. 56.
  35. "The Wattisham chronicles". Air Scene UK. Retrieved 16 April 2009. 
  36. "Wattisham Mk. 2 Bloodhound Missile Site". Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 16 April 2009. 


External links

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