RAF Wittering is located in Cambridgeshire and the district of East Northamptonshire. Although Stamford in Lincolnshire is the nearest town, the runways of RAF Wittering cross the boundary between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Wittering’s use as a military airfield dates back to 5 May 1916 when it began as Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Stamford. Major Arthur T Harris of the Royal Flying Corps identified Wittering Heath as one of several suitable sites for No. 38 Home Defence (HD) Squadron.
Squadrons from RAF Wittering have played a significant role in almost every major conflict for the last 100 years, including the Battle of Britain. The Harriers saw action in the Falklands, Balkans, Gulf War II and Afghanistan.
During World War One the Station served as training facility for pilots (a role to which it has now returned) and as a prisoner of war camp. In 1918 the Station was officially named Royal Air Force Wittering. The Station hosted many diverse units during World War Two and its aircraft were dispatched to southern England to take part in the Battle of Britain.
Maintenance Command took responsibility to undertake some significant redevelopment between 1950 and 1952 as the Cold War saw RAF Wittering become a vital part of the United Kingdom’s strategic nuclear deterrent under the control of Bomber Command in 1953. English Electric Canberras arrived in March 1954 and the first V-bomber arrived in July 1955, when No. 138 Sqn arrived with its Vickers Valiants to replace No 61 Squadron.
Wittering had been home to the RAF’s slowly increasing stockpile of nuclear weapons since 1953 and now finally the RAF had bombers and bombs in the same place.
During the 1950s and 1960s all three V-Force bombers flew from RAF Wittering.
Many trials and test were still undertaken by Wittering aircraft, and in 1955 No. 49 Squadron was formed with Valiant aircraft.
Strength is Freedom
In front of an escallop, a lion rampant. The lion in the arms of Stamford and the collar and chain detached there from are to suggest that the units at Wittering are released for operations from there. The lion’s three tails are indicative of the three commands under which the station has operated in the past and of the wings of the station organization.
Authority: Elizabeth II, August 1955.
Operation Buffalo commenced on 27 September 1956, on Maralinga range, Australia.. The operation consisted of the testing of four nuclear devices, codenamed One Tree, Marcoo, Kite and Breakaway. One Tree and Breakaway were exploded from towers, Marcoo was exploded at ground level, and Kite was released by a No.49 Squadron’s Valiant WZ366 from a height of 35,000 feet. This was the first drop of a British atomic bomb (Blue Danube) from an aircraft.
During the Suez Crisis of 1956, No.138 Sqn was detached to Malta where they took part in conventional bombing missions on targets in Egypt during Operation Musketeer. The Valiant was the first of the V-bombers to see combat and it was the last time the V-bombers flew a live combat mission until Avro Vulcans bombed Port Stanley airfield during the Falklands War in 1982.
During 1957 and 1958, the No. 49 squadron was detached to Christmas Island in the Pacific. On 15 May 1957, Valiant XD818 dropped the first British hydrogen bomb (Short Granite) over the Pacific as part of Operation Grapple. Operation Grapple was a series of British nuclear weapons tests of early atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs.
The Valiant is the only V-bomber to have dropped live nuclear weapons.
September 1959 saw No.49 Squadron depart on an extended tour of the Middle East, the Far East and Australasia. During the same month No. 100 Squadron was disbanded at Wittering. In 1961 the Freedom of Stamford was granted to the station in the Borough’s 500th year and a parade was held to mark the occasion.
By late 1964 it was found that all variants of the Valiant showed metal fatigue, bringing a premature end to the Valiant’s service career. Their place at Wittering was taken by No. 139 (Jamaica) Sqn, which formed the first Victor B2 squadron in the RAF, and the reformed No.100 Sqn, also with Victors. These Squadrons were equipped with the Blue Steel stand-off missile and formed part of Britain’s nuclear deterrent force of the 1960s. Many overseas visits were undertaken by both squadrons including Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand and Canada. No. 139 Sqn also flew Strike Command’s first mission when, at 0001 hours on the 30th April 1968, a Victor was launched from Wittering. During that year the Victors left Wittering when the Royal Navy assumed the nuclear deterrent role. In February 1969 the station became part of Air Support Command, and Wittering began to take its present form.
Today, Wittering is the main operating base and headquarters for the RAF A4 Force and is a major Station for flying training.
The A4 Force deploys the vital engineering and logistic support needed to sustain RAF operations and exercises around the world, from explosive ordnance disposal to catering, and aircraft repair to ground transport vehicles.
No 16 Squadron is part of No 3 Flying Training School and provide elementary flying training to the next generation of RAF pilots.
The squadrons of No 6 Flying Training School, teach qualified pilots to become flying instructors, deliver elementary flying training to University Air Squadron students and give Air Cadets their first flying experiences.