RAF Honington is a Royal Air Force station located 6 mi (9.7 km) south of Thetford near Ixworth in Suffolk, England. Although used as a bomber station during the Second World War, RAF Honington is now the RAF Regiment depot
Construction of Honington airfield, which was undertaken by John Laing & Son, began in 1935, and the facility was opened on 3 May 1937. Squadrons of RAF Bomber Command used the airfield prior to the Second World War.
IX Squadron flew the first RAF bombing raid of the Second World War on 4 September 1939 flying a mission against the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic resulting in the loss of two Wellingtons. The squadron lost 79 Wellingtons flying from Honington before moving to RAF Waddington.
In July 1940, No. 311 (Czech) Squadron RAF formed at Honington with Wellingtons, later moving to RAF East Wretham in November 1940.
The Luftwaffe made several attacks on the airfield one of which killed about twenty airmen who were crossing the old parade ground on their way to tea. Another bomb demolished part of Barrack Block 76, which was rebuilt between 1993 and 1996.
In 1941, a Junkers Ju 88 was shot down by ground fire from Honington. The aircraft crashed at the east end of E Hangar.
Then, in May of that year, a Wellington returning from a night trip attempted to land at Honington with its wheels retracted. It skidded to one side and crashed into the main bomb dump where it burst into flames. Group Captain J. A. Gray and Squadron Leader J. A. McCarthy, the station medical officer, were the first on the scene of the crash. Both entered the burning aircraft in an attempt to rescue the crew who were trapped and, between them, two crew-members were saved. For this gallantry, both officers were awarded the George Medal.
United States Army Air Forces use
In June 1942, the airfield was transferred to the USAAF and was upgraded to a Class A Bomber base. Honington was assigned USAAF designation Station 375.
Aerial photography of RAF Honington airfield, 25 January 1944 oriented north. The pre-World War II Honington Airfield is on the right, the 1st Strategic Air Depot is to the left. Note the large number of B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft parked on numerous hardstands at both the airfield and depot. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7PH/GP/LOC160. English Heritage (USAAF Photography)
With the departure of the USAAF in February 1946, Honington airfield was returned to the RAF.
It became a major servicing centre for RAF Transport Command aircraft. During the Berlin Airlift, RAF Honington played a major role in keeping the aircraft of Transport Command flying. In 1949, the station reverted to Bomber Command.
From 1950 to 1956, RAF Honington housed No. 94 Armament Maintenance Unit for bomb storage. The airfield was upgraded during this time to include a 9,000 ft concrete runway.
English Electric Canberra bomber squadrons, 10, XV, 44, and 57 were based at RAF Honington from February 1955 to 1957. 10 and XV Squadrons took part in the Suez Crisis of 1956.
In 1956, RAF Honington also became one of the main V bomber bases maintaining three Vickers Valiant squadrons, Nos, 7, 90, and 199. Later Handley Page Victor Squadrons, 55 and 57 were added. New facilities were constructed including a large East-West runway.
Valiant of 90 Squadron landing at Honington, January 1957.
These squadrons left in 1965 and the airfield was placed in reserve for conversion to accommodate the new General Dynamics F-111 fleet. While in reserve, Honington Married Quarters were used to accommodate evacuees from the Aden Emergency in 1967, as recorded in the book “From Barren Rocks to Living Stones”.
In the event, the F-111 never entered service with the RAF, and in 1968, the airfield became the UK base for the RAF’s Hawker Siddeley (Blackburn) Buccaneer bomber. The first aircraft arrived in November 1969 and deliveries continued throughout the early 1970s. Nos. 12, 15 and 16 squadrons were formed. 15 and 16 squadrons moved to RAF Laarbruch in West Germany in 1971. These were followed by No. 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) which was formed when the RAF took over Buccaneer training from the Royal Navy, then finally 208 and briefly 216 squadrons.
The station was then selected to become a base for the RAF’s Panavia Tornado fleet with the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit (TWCU) established there in 1981. The UK-based Buccaneer fleet (12, 208, and 237 OCU) were relocated to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
In August 1982 IX(B) Squadron reformed at RAF Honington, becoming the world’s first operational Tornado squadron, with the squadron’s equipment including the WE.177 nuclear laydown bomb. IX Squadron relocated to RAF Bruggen in Germany in 1986, leaving the TWCU (which had acquired the “shadow” designation of No. 45 Squadron in 1983) was the sole occupant until XIII Squadron formed there in January 1990.
At this time only one RAF Regiment Sqn was based at Honington, 20 Sqn. Their equipment being sent to the Gulf via Hercules aircraft from RAF Lyneham.
RAF Regiment Depot
On 15 July 1992, it was announced that the Tornados would depart Honington and that the station would relinquish its primary flying role and become the RAF Regiment Depot. As a result, the TWCU moved to Lossiemouth (to replace the Buccaneers) in November 1993. Honington ceased to be a flying station on 1 February 1994 when No. 13 Squadron relocated to RAF Marham.
RAF Honington became the RAF Regiment Depot in June 1994, when RAF Catterick in North Yorkshire, home of the existing depot, closed. RAF Honington then became the home to 611 Volunteer Gliding Squadron due to the closure of RAF Watton in April 2012, requiring their conversion to the Grob 109B Vigilant motor glider until the closure of that unit in 2016.
During 2018, No. 2 Squadron RAF Regiment moved to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, completing the move in September of that year.
Modern day use.
The Station today is the home of RAF Force Protection who are responsible for protecting the RAF at home and abroad.
The Station hosts initial and further training for the RAF Regiment and specialist training for the RAF’s entire Force Protection capability.
RAF Honington is home to three front-line RAF Regiment field squadrons and several operational and specialist units, including a specialist RAF Police Wing, and an RAF Regiment unit with responsibility for countering threats from chemical, biological and radiological hazards. Over 1,500 Service personnel, civil servants and contractors work at RAF Honington.
RAF Honington’s badge, awarded in June 1956, features the head of St. Edmund in front of two crossed arrows pointing downwards. The head of St. Edmund represents the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds which is approximately 9 km (5.59 mi) to the south-east of the station, in whose coat of arms the representation is featured. The arrows in saltire, represent St. Edmund’s martyrdom.
Valiant for England