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Royal Air Force Station Watton
USAAF Station 376

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch 8thUSAAF.png

Located Near Thetford, Norfolk, England
Wattonafld-1945.jpg
Watton Airfield - 1945
Type Military Airfield
Coordinates 52°33′50.04″N 000°51′46.24″E / 52.5639°N 0.8628444°E / 52.5639; 0.8628444
Location code WN
Built Late 1930s
In use 1930s-Present
Controlled by Royal Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Garrison Royal Air Force
Eighth Air Force
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Watton is located in Norfolk
RAF Watton, shown within Norfolk

RAF Watton is a former Royal Air Force Station and airfield dating from before the Second World War in England. The field is located at Watton in Norfolk 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Thetford.

Contents

RAF Bomber Command use

RAF Watton was a permanent RAF station built in the late 1930s and first used as a light bomber airfield housing for varying periods Nos. 18, 21, 34, 82, 90 and 105 Squadrons of RAF Bomber Command.

USAAF use

In 1943 Watton was turned over to the United States Army Air Force Eighth Air Force for use as an air depot. The airfield was originally grass surfaced but, during the American tenure, the airfield had a 2,000-yard long concrete runway constructed. A concrete perimeter track was built and a total of fifty-three hardstandings, of which forty-one were spectacle and twelve of the frying-pan type. The four original C-type hangars, arranged in the usual crescent on the northern side of the airfield, were backed by the permanent buildings of the pre-war RAF camp. Additional hangars were added and three blister hangars at dispersals. The construction of the airfield necessitated the closure of two public roads.

Watton was given USAAF designation Station 376 (WN).

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3rd Strategic Air Depot

Under the American tenancy, Watton was expanded to become the 3rd Strategic Air Depot, which was the major overhaul and repair of the B-24 Liberators of the 2nd Air Division. The air depot complex was adjacent to Watton airfield and built in the village of Griston to the south, bordering the B1077 road. However, the depot was known officially as Neaton, a village located to the north of Watton town.

The 3rd Strategic Air Depot remained operational until the American departure in July 1945.

25th Bombardment Group (Reconnaissance)

Watton was also the home of the 25th Bombardment Group (Reconnaissance) being formed at Watton as the 802nd Reconnaissance Group in February 1944. The unit was renamed the 25th in April. Operational units were:

  • 652d Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) (YN/R4) B-17F/G, B-24J
  • 653d Bombardment Squadron (Light) (WX) B-26G
  • 654th Bombardment Squadron (Provisional) (XN) de Havilland Mosquito Mk XVI
Consolidated B-24J-401-CF Liberator Serial 42-50578 of the 652d Bomb Squadron.
Martin B-26G-1-MA Marauder Serial 43-34195 painted black for night recon missions of the 653d Bomb Squadron.
A British de Havilland Mosquito XVI of the 654th Bomb Squadron.

The 652d Bomb Squadron originated as a provisional weather recon unit that was formed at RAF St Eval in Cornwall with B-17 Flying Fortresses on 8 September 1943 for conducting meteorological fights over the Atlantic Ocean. In November 1943 the unit moved to RAF Bovingdon after flying 231 weather sorties. At Bovington, the squadron was reorganized as the 8th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron on 28 March 1944, then transferred to Watton on 22 April 1944.

The 653d and 654th Bomb Squadrons were established at Watton on 22 April for special weather recon missions over enemy-occupied territory in advance of bomber formations and visual coverage of target strikes. Pilots for the Mosquitos came from former P-38 Lightning pilots of the 50th Fighter Squadron transferred from the 342d Composite Group based in Iceland.

From Watton the 25th continued weather flights over the waters adjacent to the British Isles and occasionally to the Azores to obtain meteorological data along with night photographic missions to detect enemy activity; and daylight photographic and mapping missions over the Continent.

Also, the group occasionally engaged in electronic-countermeasure missions in which chaff was spread to confuse enemy defences during Allied attacks.

The 25th Bomb Group moved to Moved to Drew AAF, Florida during July-August 1945 and was deactivated on 8 September 1945.

The group flew a total of 3,370 sorties for the loss of 15 aircraft.

Postwar RAF use

After the war, Watton reverted to RAF control on 27 September 1945. It was used by various flying units of RAF Signals Command, No. 199 Squadron, for example being based at Watton in the early 1950s with Mosquito NF36s operating with the Central Signals Establishment, and in 1953 116 Squadron operated with Lincolns, a Hasting and a number of MkII Ansons. The last three Lincolns serving with No. 151 Squadron on signals duties were withdrawn in March 1963.

By the 1970s, the aircraft at Watton had been replaced by technology and, at the beginning of 1973, the Matelo system of HF communication was supplied to Strike Command by Marconi Communications Systems.

In 1969, 1970, 1989 and 1990 RAF Watton was the location of the annual Royal Observer Corps summer training camps when up to 400 observers per week attended specialist training. For the latter two years Watton had already closed for active RAF use and was on a care and maintenance basis, temporary support catering and security staff being drafted in from nearby stations to support the ROC presence.

With the installation of secondary surveillance radar (SSR) at Watton, the station became one of the five units in the joint military/civil National Air Traffic Services Organisation with Eastern Radar until the 1980s. Then in the 1990s, the airfield came into use by the Army in connection with the nearby Stanford Training Area (STANTA).

Part of the camp put up for sale in 1995 was sold to a developer for the creation of a new housing estate. Three of the type C hangars were used for grain stores for some years, prior to their demolition, which now leaves only one partially remaining.

The site is home to 611 VGS (Volunteer Gliding Squadron) flying Viking Gliders for the Air Cadet Organisation.

Other Units

  • No. 17 (P) AFU - Until Jul 1943

See also

References

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1991) The Mighty Eighth The Colour Record. Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35708-1
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Watton at www.controltowers.co.uk
  • Watton at mighty8thaf.preller.uk

External links


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