Unit History: RAF Wattisham

RAF Wattisham
The Royal Air force station of Wattisham is located in East Anglia just by the village of Wattisham.  It’s one of four W Stations that hosted No. 2 Group’s squadrons at the beginning of the war.  This airfield was part of the expansion scheme project on which work began in 1937.
Wattisham was handed back to the RAF on December 15, 1945. The station was in care and maintenance for a time until it was taken over by Fighter Command in October 1946, which based Meteor squadrons there for a few months, 152 Squadron was using Meteor night fighters NF11. In April 1947, the station was again closed for flying while hard runways were completed and other building work undertaken. Fighter squadrons did not return until October 1950, Meteors giving way to Hunters in 195, from 257 and 263 Squadrons, the UK's next generation fighter, which helped secure Wattisham's future as a major fighter base.
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 1955.
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.
RAF Wattisham's final days as a fighter base were with Phantoms with 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.
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.   After much additional building work the Army made Wattisham its major helicopter base to operate Sea King Search and Rescue helicopters on the site of the former QRA hangars. Also with as many as seven squadrons in residence at any one time.

RAF Wattisham during WW2


Wattisham opened in March 1939 as a medium bomber station and joined by part of No. 2 Group, Nos. 107 and 110 Squadrons from Harwell and equipped with Bristol Blenheim Bombers upon the outbreak of war. On 4th September 1939, only 29 hrs after the declaration of war, bombers from RAF Wattisham took off for their first attack of the war against Germany by attacking shipping in Wilhelmshaven harbour. The attrition rates were very heavy during the spring and summer of 1940 and a total of 61 aircraft were lost by Nos. 107 and 110 while flying from Wattisham.

The Squadron No. 107 left in May 1941 when sent north for coastal Command aid in Leuchars. It was replaced by No. 226 Squadron from Ireland and retrained to fly Blenheims. Then No. 226 left in December for Swanton Morley and this being taken over by a re-formed No. 18 Squdron. The remaining RAF Wattisham squadron, No. 110, was posted to the Far East in March 1942, leaving there Blenheims behind. No. 18 Squadron was disbanded in March only to reappear from Scotland in May but then by August it was despatched for preparation to go to North Africa and send to West Raynham. This marked the end of Bomber Command operation from Wattisham. This station had the highest losses of Blenheims from any station with 118 Blenheims failed to return or crash. The station was the in some time October 1942 handed over to the United States Army Air Force.

RAF Wattisham was assigned USAAF designation Station 377 and they started to work on the runway with the intention to use it for heavy bombers making it a class A standard along with an air depot. Though plans where changed when sufficient heavy bomber airfields were available to the USAAF.

The 4th Strategic Air Depot was also based here and serviced many types of aircraft and fighters. They renamed the station Hitcham, which was the name of a village two miles away to differentiate it from the fighter station using the same airstrip. By 1944 the base was responsible for the maintaince, service and repair of all American fighters in the UK, these in the form of P-38 Lightning’s and the P-51 Mustang. The three runways eventually laid down at Wattisham were 11-29 at 1,400 yards, all concrete, and 16-34 comprising 350 yards of concrete and 1,050 yards of turf. The main 06-24 had a mixture of 567 yards of concrete and 1,433 yard of steel matting. A concrete perimeter track was linked to 19 existing hard pans to which 39 loops were added. Other pan hardstandings were destroyed during development of the airfield. Additional domestic sites with Nissen huts were constructed in Great Bricett parish giving accommodation for up to 1,709 men.

Along with the depot maintenance mission, RAF Wattisham also hosted an Eighth Air Force fighter group, the 479th Fighter Group, arriving from Santa Mari California, on 15 May 1944. The group was part of the 65th Fighter Wing of the VIII Fighter Command. Aircraft of the group had no cowling colour markings as did other Eighth Air Force fighter groups and were marked only with coloured 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.

The group consisted of the following squadrons:

434th Fighter Squadron
435th Fighter Squadron
436th Fighter Squadron

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