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Waterbeach Military  Heritage Museum

Waterbeach Barracks Denny End Road Waterbeach
Cambridge
CB25 9PA

+44(0)1223861846

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Image from internet - copyright?

Image from internet - copyright?

Image from internet - copyright?

Image from internet - copyright?

RAF Waterbeach in World War II


During WW2 the following RAF squadrons were based at Waterbeach:

RAF Waterbeach is located alongside the A10, the main road between Cambridge and Kings Lynn. Construction began in 1939, and by the summer of 1940 was well advanced. Despite some setbacks, including the unfortunate and mildly destructive visit of a German Dornier, the station was officially opened on 11 January 1941. Its facilities were far from complete, but did include three paved runways - unlike nearby RAF Oakington, where runways weren’t added until much later.

The first squadron to be allocated to Waterbeach was 99 Squadron, although its arrival was delayed by more German bombing attacks. They were finally installed in March 1941. A number of other units were based at Waterbeach during the early years of the war, and a number of royal visits were made to the station, including one by the King and Queen in July 1942.

In June 1943, under the Base Station system, in which bomber stations were grouped in threes to achieve optimum use of aircraft, equipment, and facilities, RAF Mepal became a sub-station of Waterbeach, followed shortly afterwards by RAF Witchford. Formation of 33 Base took effect in August, although it was not formalised until a month later. RAF Waterbeach featured in the BBC’s Round The World programme, broadcast from the control tower, on New Year’s Eve. In the party and dance that followed, it was remarked that “...seldom had so much lipstick been transferred by so few to so many in so short a time!”.

In November 1943, advance parties of 514 Squadron and 1678 Conversion flight arrived from RAF Foulsham in Norfolk. Later in the month, the main elements of those squadrons moved in, and began resumption of their duties. 1678 would only stay until around the time of the D-Day landings, but 514 Squadron remained at Waterbeach until the end of the war. From 15 June 1944, 514 Squadron was the only flying unit at RAF Waterbeach, waging an almost continuous bombing campaign against targets in Nazi Germany, reaching its climax in April 1945.

After the war


Peacetime squadrons at Waterbeach up to 1950 were

After a jubilant parade at Waterbeach on 15 August 1945, the officer in charge of 59 Squadron arrived to arrange transfer to RAF Waterbeach. 33 Base was finally disbanded on 1 September, and the first fifty personnel of 59 Squadron arrived on the same day. Waterbeach was placed under the administrative control of 48 Group in November, while remaining under the operational control of 47 Group. Resurfacing work was required at Waterbeach, and the two Liberator squadrons operated from RAF Oakington for a few days. 59 Squadron disbanded on 15 June, and preparations were made for 51 Squadron to arrive from RAF Stradishall. An advance party reached Waterbeach in August, the main party some days later. With only one resident squadron, Waterbeach became a little quieter.

A Battle of Britain display was staged at Waterbeach in September 1947, and 12,000 people visited the station to watch a flying display that included a Meteor F3, the first jet engined aircraft to be seen there, along with a Lancaster, a Spitfire, and others.

After a major drive in January 1948 to improve the amenities and appearance of the station, the summer of that year saw the start of one of the biggest airlift operations ever mounted: the Berlin Airlift, instigated to overcome the Russian blockade of Berlin. Starting on 25 June, all four Waterbeach squadrons were sent to Germany, and by the end of the year just a skeleton staff remained at the station, working with their Oakington counterparts.

From 1950 onwards, until the takeover by the Royal Engineers, squadrons based at Waterbeach included

On 1 March 1950, RAF Waterbeach was handed over to 11 Group of Fighter Command to begin its next operational phase, as a jet fighter station.

Intensive landing patterns were now demanded, and Ground Control Approach equipment was quickly installed. Very soon, foreign fighter squadrons began to visit Waterbeach, including, in September 1950, a Vampire squadron of the Swedish Air Force, with three Junkers Ju86s in a supporting role. The reaction of those at Waterbeach who had spent years trying to shoot such aircraft down was never recorded! Also during that year, Marshall’s of Cambridge returned to make use of hangarage at Waterbeach, repairing and modifying Vampire and Venom aircraft.

Intense Fighter Command activity during the Korean War prompted the formation of a Central Holding Unit at Waterbeach to cope with the demand for aircraft spares and equipment. Staff felt, nevertheless, that they were performing vital services in keeping squadrons and airfields operational, so morale remained high.

In the autumn of 1953, UFO’s were allegedly seen on Waterbeach’s GCA equipment, approaching the airfield at great speed, and stopping at an altitude of 1000 feet a mile or so from the runway. Several feet of film were taken, during which time the photographer is said to have received facial burns and singed hair. A F-86 was despatched to investigate the object, which immediately moved eastwards at high speed. Three years later, in August 1956, another spectacular UFO incident occurred involving Waterbeach personnel. Radar operators at USAF Bentwaters began to track an object 25 or 30 miles to the east, which then disappeared to the north west at an apparent speed of 4000 mph. A Venom night fighter was scrambled from Waterbeach, but had to return after losing a wing tank. More objects were sighted, and RAF Fighter Command ordered another Venom to Lakenheath to investigate. The pilot successfully locked onto it with his airborne radar, only to find it appearing behind him and then vanishing. The Venom crews did not, at the time, equate any sightings with the popular fad of saucer-shaped craft of extra-terrestrial origin...

During 1958, Waterbeach was designated as a readiness station, and a succession of squadrions spent short periods there on standby. A range of aircraft and attachments flew in, including – at various times – camouflaged Gloster Javelins from RAF Coltishall, Meteor NF.12 and NF.14 night fighters from RAF Church Fenton, and then more Javelins from RAF Leuchars in Scotland.

Three years later, after a very successful Battle of Britain Day attended by 30,000 visitors, and at which a Valiant V-Bomber made a memorable appearance, Hawker Hunters returned to RAF Waterbeach. Two new squadrons, 1 and 54, moved in from RAF Stradishall, and became part of 38 Group of Transport Command in January 1962 until August, when 64 Squadron moved to RAF Binbrook. The end of Waterbeach’s life as an operational station was now in sight. Maintenance Command took over in September 1963, and the RAF Airfield Construction Branch moved in from RAF Wellesbourne Mountford in Warwickshire. In December 1964, every officer and airman in the ACB received a personal letter from the Ministry of Defence on the subject of a possible transfer to the Royal Engineers. The Airfield Construction Branch disbanded on 31 March 1966, and the RAF relinquished operational control of Waterbeach the next day, when the premises were formally handed over to the Corps of Royal Engineers, and RAF Waterbeach became known as Waterbeach Barracks.

From 1950 onwards, until the takeover by the Royal Engineers, squadrons based at waterbeach included

On 1 March 1950, RAF Waterbeach was handed over to 11 Group of Fighter Command to begin its next operational phase, as a jet fighter station.

Intensive landing patterns were now demanded, and Ground Control Approach equipment was quickly installed. Very soon, foreign fighter squadrons began to visit Waterbeach, including, in September 1950, a Vampire squadron of the Swedish Air Force, with three Junkers Ju86s in a supporting role. The reaction of those at Waterbeach who had spent years trying to shoot such aircraft down was never recorded! Also during that year, Marshall’s of Cambridge returned to make use of hangarage at Waterbeach, repairing and modifying Vampire and Venom aircraft.

Intense Fighter Command activity during the Korean War prompted the formation of a Central Holding Unit at Waterbeach to cope with the demand for aircraft spares and equipment. Staff felt, nevertheless, that they were performing vital services in keeping squadrons and airfields operational, so morale remained high.

In the autumn of 1953, UFO’s were allegedly seen on Waterbeach’s GCA equipment, approaching the airfield at great speed, and stopping at an altitude of 1000 feet a mile or so from the runway. Several feet of film were taken, during which time the photographer is said to have received facial burns and singed hair. A F-86 was despatched to investigate the object, which immediately moved eastwards at high speed. Three years later, in August 1956, another spectacular UFO incident occurred involving Waterbeach personnel. Radar operators at USAF Bentwaters began to track an object 25 or 30 miles to the east, which then disappeared to the north west at an apparent speed of 4000 mph. A Venom night fighter was scrambled from Waterbeach, but had to return after losing a wing tank. More objects were sighted, and RAF Fighter Command ordered another Venom to Lakenheath to investigate. The pilot successfully locked onto it with his airborne radar, only to find it appearing behind him and then vanishing. The Venom crews did not, at the time, equate any sightings with the popular fad of saucer-shaped craft of extra-terrestrial origin...

During 1958, Waterbeach was designated as a readiness station, and a succession of squadrions spent short periods there on standby. A range of aircraft and attachments flew in, including – at various times – camouflaged Gloster Javelins from RAF Coltishall, Meteor NF.12 and NF.14 night fighters from RAF Church Fenton, and then more Javelins from RAF Leuchars in Scotland.

Three years later, after a very successful Battle of Britain Day attended by 30,000 visitors, and at which a Valiant V-Bomber made a memorable appearance, Hawker Hunters returned to RAF Waterbeach. Two new squadrons, 1 and 54, moved in from RAF Stradishall, and became part of 38 Group of Transport Command in January 1962 until August, when 64 Squadron moved to RAF Binbrook. The end of Waterbeach’s life as an operational station was now in sight. Maintenance Command took over in September 1963, and the RAF Airfield Construction Branch moved in from RAF Wellesbourne Mountford in Warwickshire. In December 1964, every officer and airman in the ACB received a personal letter from the Ministry of Defence on the subject of a possible transfer to the Royal Engineers. The Airfield Construction Branch disbanded on 31 March 1966, and the RAF relinquished operational control of Waterbeach the next day, when the premises were formally handed over to the Corps of Royal Engineers, and RAF Waterbeach became known as Waterbeach Barracks.

Royal Air Force

In April 1911, eight years after the Wright Brothers first flew their aeroplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the first air units of British armed forces were formed. An air battalion of the Royal Engineers was established with one balloon and one aeroplane company. Later that year the first naval flying school was founded in Eastchurch, Kent.

In May of the following year a combined Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed. It comprised naval and military wings and a Central Flying School at Upavon on Salisbury Plain. It was soon recognised, however, that an air force had special requirements, and on July 1, 1914, the naval wing of the RFC became the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), while the military wing retained the title Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

The RFC sent four squadrons to France when war broke out in August 1914. Four years later, the RNAS and RFC were absorbed into the Royal Air Force, a separate military service which had its own ministry under a Secretary of State for Air. At that time the RAF boasted nearly 291,000 officers and airmen. It possessed 400 operational and training squadrons, with a total of over 22,000 aircraft.

In September 1939, at the beginning of the second world war, the strength of the RAF in the United Kingdom was about 2,000 aircraft. The RAF pilots, fighter and bomber crews, and others, distinguished themselves not only in the Battle of Britain, but also in the course of many operations carried out over the next few years. RAF Waterbeach played its part in this success.