Site Records


Site Name: Wattisham Mk. 2 Bloodhound Missile Site

Wattisham Airfield
Wattisham
Suffolk
OS Grid Ref: TL035525

Sub Brit site visit 25th July 2006

[Source: Nick Catford]

 

The site for Wattisham Airfield was purchased in 1937 and a grass strip was built with four Type 'C' hangers. The station was handed over to the RAF on 6th April 1939 and on the 11th May; Bristol Blenheim bombers of 107 & 110 Squadrons arrived forming No. 83 Wing under the control of No.2 Group Bomber Command. Aircraft from both squadrons made the first Wartime bombing raid on the 4th September 1939, against German warships off Wilhelmshaven. The attack was ineffectual but half of the aircraft failed to return. Both squadrons flew many missions over Norway and Denmark during the German offensive in April 1940 and later flew tactical missions against German forces invading France.

In September 1942 Wattisham Airfield was handed over to the United States Army Air Force who laid new runways and taxiways. Initially it wasn't used as a bomber base, becoming instead the central supply depot and maintenance base for United States air formations in Britain.

This necessitated the construction of a second technical site in the southern corner of the airfield. Wattisham resumed its operational status in May 1944 with the arrival of 479th Fighter Group from America. The Group consisted of three Squadrons, the 434th, 435th and 436th flying P-38J Lightning's giving daylight bomber escort. The Lightenings were later replaced by the P51 Mustang. The Groups achievements were impressive with 432 enemy aircraft destroyed in one year.

P-38 Lightning

Wattisham was finally handed back to the RAF on the 6th January 1946 and was placed on care and maintenance until August 1946 when Fighter Command took over control.

Post war, Wattisham remained a very active airfield. In November 1946 266 Squadron arrived flying Meteor F3's; but their stay was short as the airfield was unsuitable for jet aircraft. To overcome this, the Air Ministry bought further land to build a longer 2000 yard concrete runway and in October 1950, 257 and 263 squadrons arrived flying the Meteor MK 8. Wattisham was ideally positioned as an interceptor fighter station being close to the coast but not on it. Wattisham was also scheduled to have a night fighter squadron but this never materialised at that time.

Photo:Recent airiel view of Wattisham Airfield - the bloodhound site is to the north east, just below the end of the runway.

In January 1954, it was proposed that Wattisham should have two short range day fighter squadrons with nearby Rattlesden acting as their standby airfield. This was to be supplemented by a Meteor night fighter squadron with 125 Squadron arriving in June 1954 flying Meteor NF12's and 14's whose additional task was to attack fast enemy patrol boats venturing close to our coastline. By February 1955 the Meteor had been replaced by the Hunter Mk 2.

In 1957 with Britain's 'V' bomber force fully operational and the increased threat from incoming missiles there was a cut back in fighter strength. 257 Squadron disbanded and a few months later 152 & 263 Squadron had moved to Stradishall. Wattisham was then prepared for the arrival of Lightenings.

In 1958, before the Lightening arrived, Wattisham became the home of 111 Squadron, 'The Black Arrows ' display team followed shortly by the arrival of 56 Squadron flying day fighters. The vacant Night Fighter position was filled by 41 Squadron flying the Javelin MK 4 later replaced with Javelin Mk 8's. This squadron remained at Wattisham until it was disbanded in 1963.

Photo:The protected post war station headquarters
Photo by Nick Catford

In 1960 both 56 and 111 Squadrons replaced their Hunters with the Lightning F1A finally arriving in January 1961 and upgrading to the F3 in 1965. 56 Squadron left Wattisham for Cyprus in 1967 and were replaced by 29 Squadron also flying the F3.

In September 1974,111 Squadron moved to Leuchars and on December 29 Squadron, also transferred to Coningsby. In January 1975, 56 Squadron returned from Cyprus to Wattisham with the Lightning F6 and by the May had been joined by 23 Squadron. Both Squadrons replaced their Lightning's with the Phantom FGR2 in June 1976.

23 Squadron moved the Falkland Islands in October 1983 and a year later the reformed 74 squadron arrived flying the Phantom F4J. In the early 1980's protected dispersals were built in the south west and north west areas of the airfield and hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) were built were later built in the north west area sufficient for two fighter squadrons.


The control tower
In October 1963, 25 Squadron which had disbanded in 1962 was reformed at RAF North Coates as the first operational Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missile unit equipped with the Bristol/Ferranti Bloodhound Mk 2. In 1970, the Squadron moved to Bruggen with detached Flights based at Laarbruch and Wildenrath, remaining in Germany until 1983 when the unit returned to the UK with bases at Wyton, Barkston Heath and Wattisham.With the end of the cold war many Phantom Squadrons disbanded or converted to the Tornado F3.

Surplus Phantoms were stored at Wattisham ready for re-sale or for use as spares for the remaining squadrons.

74 Squadron swapped its F4J's for the FGR2 in 1991. In July 1992, 56 Squadron was stood down and on the 1st October, 74 Squadron left to become a training squadron at RAF Valley and then on the 31st October 1992 RAF Wattisham stood down as a fighter base.

In March 1993 the station was taken over by the Army with the 3 Regiment Army Air Corps arriving in the summer of 1993 comprising three Squadrons of Westland Lynx AH7, AH9 and the Gazelle AH1 helicopters.

The last Phantom was airlifted by Chinook to RAF Neatishead where it served as a gate guardian until the closure of Neatishead in 2005 when it was cut up for scrap much to the dismay of the Air Defence Radar Museum who still occupy part of the Neatishead site.

In early 1995, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps joined 3 Regiment, with the same Lynx and Gazelle helicopters together with 7 Battalion REME, the army's second line helicopter repair unit.

The last Phantom from Wattisham being cut up for scarp at RAF Neatishead - click to enlarge
Wattisham now has the highest concentration of Army Air Corp aircraft anywhere in the UK. In August 2000 Wattisham's first Apache helicopters arrived.

The last Phantom was airlifted by Chinook to RAF Neatishead where it served as a gate guardian until the closure of Neatishead in 2005 when it was cut up for scrap much to the dismay of the Air Defence Radar Museum who still occupy part of the Neatishead site. In early 1995, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps joined 3 Regiment, with the same Lynx and Gazelle helicopters together with 7 Battalion REME, the army's second line helicopter repair unit giving Wattisham the highest concentration of Army Air Corp aircraft anywhere in the UK. In August 2000 Wattisham's first Apache helicopters arrived.

The RAF presence still remains at Wattisham in the form of B Flight 22 Squadron, operating Sea King HAR3 helicopters in the search and rescue role.

Other web sites: The Wattisham Chronicles - full history of Wattisham Airfield with many pictures.

Sources:

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Click here to return to Wattisham Mark II Bloodhound site

[Source: Nick Catford]


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Last updated 10th August 2006

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