RAF Wittering – The Beginning
In 1916, before the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Flying Corps needed a suitable site to provide air defence in the east of England against the German Zeppelin threat during the ‘Great War’.
Wittering Heath, south of Stamford became known as the Stamford Airfield with another to the south west taking its name from the local village, Easton-on-the-Hill. Major Harris RFC, who later became Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur T. Harris, played a part in the selection of the Stamford site. No 38 Home Defence Squadron utilised the airfield for its operations in the autumn of 1916, seeing action with BE2c aircraft. The airfield was 1,000 yards long and 900 yards wide, covering 193 acres when it was fully operational.
During the First World War, the station became No1 Training Depot Station for three training squadrons in 1917. The unit was used to train future pilots for frontline operations as well as for corps reconnaissance training in Avro 504K and Bristol F2b aircraft. No 5 Training Depot Station was formed at Easton-on-the-Hill to train new pilots on DH6, BE2c and BEc aircraft. Late in 1917 the base reverted to purely a training role, although it had some limited engagement with the Zeppelins.
On April 1, 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service amalgamated to become the Royal Air Force. Easton aerodrome was renamed RAF Collyweston and Stamford Airfield was renamed RAF Wittering. The site had basic accommodation with canvas hangars and wooden huts, and the Officers’ Mess was located in the Stamford Corn Exchange.
After the Great War, RAF Wittering became a storage unit and lay dormant until 1923 when the Central Flying School operated from the unit following a major re-building programme. The Central Flying School hosted many students including Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine, and many visits from other air forces for the maintenance of their flying status. Instrument flying was introduced into the training syllabus in 1931, and by 1933 RAF pilots had been trained to fly in ‘blind’ conditions using modified Avro 505N and later Vickers Victoria aircraft. The Central Flying School relocated to RAF Upavon in 1935, and No 11 Flying Training School, formed at Wittering to train pilots on Avro Tutors, Hawker Audaxes and Harts. Gloster Gaunlets and Hawker Furies arrived the following year.
On July 8, 1936, RAF Wittering received its inaugural Royal Visit by King Edward VIII, accompanied by the Duke of York – the future King George VI – and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Edward Ellington. His Majesty was the first King to fly his own aircraft to a station from his private aerodrome in Windsor Great Park.
Wittering changed its role in April 1938 to become a Fighter Command station within No 12 Group and was one of six sector stations within the Group. No 11 Flying Training School relocated to RAF Shawbury. No 23 Squadron equipped with Hawker Demons and No 213 Squadron with Gloster Gauntlets made up the initial fighter squadrons. In the following years the squadrons were to re-equip with Blenheim Night Fighters and Hurricanes and many tactical air exercises were conducted as the outbreak of the Second World War arrived.
Wittering was ready and the squadrons conducted defensive patrols and convoy duties for the east coast area. Within a month the Station had settled into a routine of flying duties also supported by No 610 Squadron. During the phoney war’ period of 1939/40, which saw little enemy activity, No 264 Squadron detached flights, which rotated between Martlesham Heath and Wittering for training. Wittering also saw the arrival of No 266 Squadron with Spitfires, which were immediately employed in convoy patrols.
On April 24,1940, the Station received its second Royal visit by The Duchess of Gloucester, Commandant of the WAAF, to inspect the WAAF at work.
* A special Centenary Journal is being produced to mark the anniversary, which will provide greater historical detail on RAF Wittering’s journey from the Royal Flying Corps to current day operations.