Unit History: RN Air Station Defford
RAF Defford was a Royal Air Force station (airfield) in Worcestershire, England during the Second World War.
Construction of RAF Defford was completed in 1941, and for a few months the airfield was used as a satellite station by the Wellington bombers of 23 Operational Training Unit (OTU), based a few miles away at Pershore.
In may 1942, the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), responsible for radar research and development, and located near Swanage, moved to Malvern College. At the same time the Telecommunications Flying Unit (TFU), which operated flight trials on behalf of TRE, transferred its aircraft to Defford.
So hurried was the move to Defford that many of the personnel had to be accommodated in tents at first. However, at Defford the tempo of work carried out by TFU increased month by month, and by 1945 there were approximately 2500 personnel and 100 aircraft on the station.
Civilian scientists, flying from Defford with aircrews drawn from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, tested radar systems which were to revolutionise the operational capability of Allied aircraft. Early successes with Airborne Interception (AI) systems were demonstrated by John "Cats Eyes" Cunningham and other night fighter pilots, while Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) radar enabled the German U-boat menace to be effectively countered in 1943, and thus was critical to the success of the Battle of the Atlantic. By 1944, H2S radar was enabling accurate navigation and target identification to be achieved by Bomber Command crews, taking part in the strategic bombing offensive.
There were many other notable "firsts" demonstrated by TFU. A converted Wellington bomber was the forerunner of the modern AWACS aircraft. This was successfully used to detect fast moving German E-boats, and to control their interception by other aircraft. The world’s first automatic approach and landing also took place at Defford in 1945, paving the way for today’s airliners which are able to safely arrive at their destinations, whatever the weather.
TFU remained at Defford after the war, and was renamed the Radar Research Flying Unit (RRFU) in 1953. However, the airfield at Defford was too small to allow the operation of the large "V" bombers on flight trials, and so RRFU moved to Pershore in 1957. Most of the technical and domestic sites at Defford were soon de-requisitioned, but the central part of the now disused airfield still houses the Satellite Communications facility operated by QinetiQ. The various dishes and aerials used can be seen from passing trains between Worcester and Cheltenham and if you look in the right place, from the M5 motorway near Strensham services.
The site is now owned and used by the West Mercia Constabulary and many of the "golf balls" and other communications equipment have been removed.