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Waterbeach Military  Heritage Museum

Waterbeach Barracks Denny End Road Waterbeach
Cambridge
CB25 9PA

+44(0)1223861846

Wartime control tower at Waterbeach. Photo WMHM

Map of airfield. Photo WMHM

In September 1945, after the end of WW2, the Station was transferred to No 47 Group Transport Command and two squadrons operated Liberators on trunk-route flying. These were later replaced by a squadron of Yorks which continued trunk-route operations to the Middle East and Far East. By 1946 a Blind Approach Beacon System (BABS) plus a high frequency direction finding (HF/DF) station were installed. 51 Squadron left early in 1948 and were replaced by four Dakota squadrons of 46 Group, which participated in the Berlin Airlift in the summer of 1948.

In March 1950 runway re-structuring was carried out by Mowlem. They also created two concrete aprons in front of the technical site, and a number of concrete blast walls were erected at selected dispersal points, combining jet blast protection with an engine noise barrier. Fighter Command moved in two Meteor squadrons in May, the first jets to fly here. 56 Squadron was selected to introduce the Supermarine Swift but it proved troublesome and was withdrawn after a year. Eventually both squadrons converted to Hunters. Venom night fighters were present for two years and Javelins for three years. The final occupants were two Hunter squadrons of 38 Group operating in the ground attack and transport escort roles.

In 1963 the station was transferred to RAF Maintenance Command and became the base of the Airfield Construction Depot (5001 and 5003 Squadrons). The airfield was on care and maintenance, although occasionally it was used for manoeuvres and training. In 1966 the Airfield Construction Branch was disbanded and its role was taken over by the Army.

On 15 May 1966 the station was officially handed over to the Airfield Construction Branch of the Royal Engineers. In March the following year 39 Engineer Regiment (Airfields) was formed. At the time it consisted of two construction squadrons and two independent specialist plant and construction troops, along with a Regimental Headquarters. The Regiment was based in Waterbeach until July 2012, when it went north to Kinloss in Scotland.

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Waterbeach Barracks in 2019. Drone picture courtesy of Geoff Soden

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History of RAF Waterbeach

RAF Waterbeach station was built for No. 3 Group, Bomber Command, between 1940 and 1941, on farmland and orchards of Winfold Farm, a large agricultural concern between Denny Abbey and Waterbeach village. Waterbeach was one of 29 wartime airfields in Cambridgeshire.

Three concrete runways were built in 1940, between 1200 and 1460 metres long, with a perimeter taxiway and hardstandings, as well as two J-type Hangars. The runways were extended later to make the longest 1850 metres (2023 yards), and this runway still exists on the airfield. In the winter of 1941 a B-type hangar and three T2-type hangars were added. RAF Waterbeach officially opened on 1st January 1941 with 440 personnel on site. However on 3 February 1941 a German Dornier Do17Z dropped nine bombs along the face of the western J-type hangar and damaged the runway. In spite of this, 99 Squadron arrived at Waterbeach from Newmarket in March 1941, and started bomber operations over Germany and occupied territory using Wellington I and IIs.

33 Base was formed at Waterbeach in August 1943, and it was responsible for the nearby airfields at Witchford and Mepal until 1945. Operational losses from RAF Waterbeach during WW2 were 122 bombers (33 Wellingtons, 8 Stirlings and 81 Lancasters).