RAF Wittering, Harrier Heritage Centre Visit 28th June 2019
This is an extract from RAF Wittering’s web page regarding its history and some key dates for the base and its staff:-
Military flying at Wittering began in 1916 when 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.
In 2006 the Station became the Royal Air Force Expeditionary Logistics Hub, with the arrival of No 85 Expeditionary Logistics (EL) Wing. No 42 Expeditionary Support (ES) Wing stood up in 2007, providing a command structure for the engineering units of the A4 Force.
In 2010 the airfield fell silent with the retirement of the Harriers, but was reactivated in 2014. Wittering now provides elementary flying training to the next generation of RAF pilots.
1918 – Formally named RAF Wittering.
1955 to 1968 – V-Force bombers (the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan) flew from RAF Wittering.
1969 – Harriers arrived and remained until 2010.
2014 – The airfield was reactivated and flying squadrons returned in early 2015 to train the next generation of RAF pilots.
On Friday 28th June 2019 some members of The Suffolk Military Aviation Society’ visited RAF Wittering to undertake a tour of the heritage centre and view the Harriers.
Meeting in the main car park jut of the A1 initially we were very swiftly through the security proce4ss and issues with our I.D. and parking passes for the day and asked to move into the inner car park where we met our guide from the bas e and were escorted to our mini bus to take us to the heritage centre itself.
The first part of the visit consisted of a few safety points for the day and then a presentation detailing some very interesting history of the base and its expansion over the years from its beginning as two fields Stamford and Easton on the Hill which were subsequently renamed and then joined by the purchase of the land in between to allow for a longer runway to be built and Wittering to become more like what we know it as today.
During the early 1950s the airfield at RAF Wittering was redeveloped to accommodate the arrival of the jet age. English Electric Canberra’s arrived in March 1954 and Valiant B1s, the first V-Bomber, arrived in July 1955.
Valiant bombers from RAF Wittering were detached to Operation GRAPPLE, a series of British nuclear weapons tests of early atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs carried out in 1957 and 1958 in the Pacific Ocean.
During the 1950s and 1960s all three V-Force bombers operated from RAF Wittering: the Valiant, Victor and the Vulcan.
In 1969 the Harrier arrived. It was an association that lasted for over forty years. The Harriers were involved in almost every major UK conflict including the Falklands, Gulf War Two, the Balkans and Afghanistan.
Details were given of the various aircraft that the base has been home to over the years and the squadrons associated with operating them. And quite a wide and varied selection it is too initially propeller driven aircraft before the machines of the jet age began to arrive. The RAF Wittering webpage as some useful information about its current role for those wishing to find out more. What the future holds with talk of ‘The Reds’ moving in the staff and volunteers had no confirmed details they could share with us on the day, but it’s evident that whoever moves in will have a wonderful home there.
The presentation took place in one of the former squadron briefing rooms which now serves as the briefing room for tours and also as a remembrance room with beautiful pictures adorning the walls and a selection of remembrance books for the base. Following the presentation were given the opportunity to look around some of the adjoining rooms which form a museum of the bases operation with some very interesting exhibits. We were then taken to the hanger housing the preserved Harries and given the opportunity to photograph them and be photographed in one of the cockpits and as questions of the staff and volunteers present. There is a wealth of supporting material, equipment and information boards to help you get a sense of how they were operated both at their home base and on deployment and on the various operational missions they took part in.
The love and passion the volunteers and staff at the base have for their beloved Harries is very infectious and I believe it’s safe to say that the group had a wonderful and enjoyable time during the visit. As there is no direct funding for the preservation project donations can be made to aid in the continued upkeep of these beautiful and icon British engineering masterpieces and it was pleasing to see many supporting them by making donations. Thank you.
Aircraft present in the Heritage Centre
Harrier GR7A ZD469 (Gate Guardian at the main entrance by the A1)
Harrier GR3 XV779
Harrier GR3 XW923
Harrier T4 XZ146
Harrier GR7a ZD318
Many thanks to Doug for arranging the visit for us, to the staff and volunteers from RAF Wittering and the Heritage Centre for making us feel so welcome and giving us such a wonderful opportunity and to the members of the society that attended for your continued support of SMAS.
Report and photos by Kevin Barwell