Unit History: RAF Waterbeach
A late expansion scheme airfield, RAF Station Waterbeach was built on farmland at Windfold, north of Waterbeach village and adjacent to the A10 trunk road five miles outside Cambridge. Permanent buildings and the usual crescent of hangars facing the bombing circle were planned but the outbreak of war brought some modifications with only two Type J hangars erected on the technical site which lay on the south-east side. Apart from the main camp area, a few domestic sites were dispersed in former orchards around the village of Waterbeach. The low-lying location in the Fens necessitated concrete runways, a perimeter taxiway and hardstandings, although this work was not complete when the station was deemed ready to receive its first squadron in March 1941. This was No. 99, which brought its Wellingtons in from Newmarket.
The runways were O5-23 at 1,600 yards, 1028 at 1,300 yards and 16-34 at 1,420 yards. Twenty-four pan type hardstands were eventually increased by another 12. The bomb stores lay beyond the north side of the airfield. Late in 1941 work started on lengthening runways OS-23 and 10-28 to 2,023 and 1,380 yards respectively, and during that winter and the following year a B1 hangar and three T2s were erected, all adjacent to the technical site. One of the T2s was tucked in behind the southernmost J hangar. The other T2s were on the north side with the B1 was just east of these two. The northern T2s, used for glider storage, caused the loss of a hardstanding and runway extensions cut out two other pans, resulting in three loops being put down as replacements.
No. 99 remained until March 1942 when it was ordered overseas. At this time the station was being shared with the first organisation equipped with the Short Stirling to prepare crews for handling this four-engined type in No. 3 Group squadrons. No. 1651 Conversion Unit was established in January 1941 and remained the main tutor for Stirling crews for near three ears until moved to Wratting Common in November/December 1943. During this period there were a large number of accidents involving Stirlings based at this station, most occuring during take-off and landing resulting in the collapse of the type’s ungainly undercarriage. By late 1943, No. 3 Group was turning to Lancasters and No. 1678 Heavy Conversion Flight appeared at Waterbeach to administer to No. 514 Squadron, one of the few equipped with Lancaster IIs, the radial-engined version.
No. 514 Squadron formed to fly the Mk II at Foulsham joined Bomber Command’s mounting campaign in November 1943. These Hercules-powered Lancasters endured until the following summer by which time the Merlin-engined marks were more favoured and No. 1678 Flight was disbanded. No. 514’s Lancaster IIs were finally withdrawn at the end of September 1944. The squadron remained at Waterbeach until the end of hostilities, for much of the time with three flights and a complement of over 30 aircraft. Operational losses from Waterbeach amounted to 122 bombers, 33 Wellingtons, eight Stirlings and 81 Lancasters.
No. 3 Group’s tenure of Waterbeach came to an end in August 1945 when No. 514 Squadron disbanded. No. 47 Group of Transport Command took over the station a few weeks later and Nos. 220 and 59 Squadrons, late of Coastal Command with Liberators, were impressed for long-range flights to the Middle and Far East. These squadrons endured until the following spring and by the time both were disbanded in May and June respectively few Liberators remained at Waterbeach. However, the station was retained by Transport Command, which moved in the Yorks of No. 51 Squadron in August 1946, which stayed until July 1948.
Four Dakota squadrons were stationed at Waterbeach late in 1947, the last, which disbanded early in 1950 leaving No. 24 Squadron and its mixed bag of aircraft, which had moved in the previous year. It left in March 1950, the same year that runway re-structuring was carried out by Mowlem. Transport Command then surrendered the station to Fighter Command, which moved in two Meteor squadrons, Nos. 56 and 63. The former was selected to introduce the Supermarine Swift into service but this troublesome type was withdrawn after a year and eventually both squadrons converted to Hunters. Venom night fighters were present from the spring of 1955 for two years and Javelins from July 1959 for three years. Between 1955 and 1964, Nos. 1, 25, 46, 54, 60, 153 and 253 Squadrons were at Waterbeach at sometime or another, the final fighter occupants being two Hunter squadrons.
The two decades following the Second World War saw a number of changes to the airfield. Runway 10-28 was taken out of use, two concrete aprons for aircraft parking were constructed in front of the technical site and a number of concrete blast walls were erected at selected dispersal points combining blast damage protection with engine noise barrier. Thereafter the airfield was on care and maintenance although occasionally used for manoeuvres and by training aircraft for touch and go. In the 1980s the station was transferred to the Army who viewed the domestic and administrative sites as far superior to the Victorian barracks at some of its more traditional establishments. The Royal Engineers have been in residence for several and use the airfield for training enterprises. The main runway has been maintained for visiting aircraft use.