RAF Honington is a Royal Air Force station located six miles south of Thetford near Ixworth in Suffolk, England. Although used as a bomber station during World War II, RAF Honington is now the RAF Regiment depot and home to the Joint CBRN Regiment. Construction of Honington airfield began in 1935, and the facility was opened on 3 May 1937. Squadrons of RAF Bomber Command using the airfield prior to World War II were:
RAF use[edit | edit source]
No. 77 Squadron RAF (Hawker Harts and Vickers Wellesleys) (July 1937 - July 1938)
No. 102 Squadron RAF (Handley Page Heyford) (July 1937 - July 1938) - Moved to RAF Driffield
No. 75 Squadron RAF (Handley Page Harrow and Vickers Wellington) (July 1938 - July 1939) - Moved to RAF Stradishall.
No. 215 Squadron RAF (Harrow and Wellington) (July 1938 - July 1938) - Moved to RAF Bassingbourn.
IX Squadron (Wellington Mk Is, later changing to Mk lAs.) (4 September 1939 - 1940). IX Squadron flew the first RAF bombing raid of World War II on 4 September 1939 flying a mission against the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic resulting in the loss of two Wellingtons. The squadron lost 79 Wellingtons flying from Honington before moving to RAF Waddington.
In July 1940, No. 311 (Czech) Squadron RAF formed at Honnington with Wellingtons, later moving to RAF East Wretham in November 1940.
The Luftwaffe made several attacks on the airfield one of which killed about twenty airmen who were crossing the old parade ground on their way to tea. Another bomb demolished part of Barrack Block 76, which has since been rebuilt sometime between 1993 and 1996.
In 1941, a Junkers Ju 88 was shot down by ground fire from Honington. The aircraft crashed at the east end of D Hangar.
Then, in May of that year, a Wellington returning from a night trip attempted to land at Honington with its wheels retracted. It skidded to one side and crashed into the main bomb dump where it burst into flames. Group Captain J. A. Gray and Squadron Leader J. A. McCarthy, the station medical officer, were the first on the scene of the crash. Both entered the burning aircraft in an attempt to rescue the crew who were trapped and, between them, two crew-members were saved. For this gallantry, both officers were awarded the George Medal.
USAAF use[edit | edit source]
B-17s from the 3d Bomb Division at Honnington Air Depot. Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning Serial 42-67978 "Betty A" of the 383d Fighter Squadron. North American P-51D-15-NA Mustangs of the 385th Fighter Squadron. 44-15493 "Jeannie II" in foreground, 44-14322 "Coffin With Wings" behind.Honington was assigned USAAF designation Station 375.
1st Strategic Air Depot In June 1942 the airfield was transferred to the USAAF and was upgraded to a Class A Bomber base. In September, the VIII Air Service Command set up an Air Depot to service and repair B-17s, became the 1st Strategic Air Depot. Built to the west of the main airfield it was called Troston, specialising in B-17 models and supporting the 3d Bomb Division located in the area. Badly-damaged Fortresses were often instructed to crash land at Honington on return from operations, particularly if their landing gear could not be lowered, as this avoided the necessity to dismantle and transport the aircraft from its home base for repair.
364th Fighter Group Besides the air depot, Honington also housed an operational fighter unit when the 364th Fighter Group took up residence at Honington in February 1944, arriving from Santa Maria AAF California. The group was under the command of the 67th Fighter Wing of the VIII Fighter Command. Aircraft of the 364th were identified by a blue/white stripe pattern around their cowlings.
The group consisted of the following squadrons:
383d Fighter Squadron (N2)
384th Fighter Squadron (5Y)
385th Fighter Squadron (5E)
The 364th FG flew escort, dive-bombing, strafing, and patrol missions in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. At first the group operated primarily as escort for B-17/B-24 Liberator heavy bombers.
The group patrolled the English Channel during the Normandy invasion in June 1944, and, while continuing escort operations, supported ground forces in France after the invasion by strafing and bombing locomotives, marshalling yards, bridges, barges, and other targets.
Converted from P-38 Lightnings to P-51 Mustangs in the summer of 1944 and from then until the end of the war flew many long-range escort missions heavy bombers that attacked oil refineries, industries, and other strategic objectives at Berlin, Regensburg, Merseburg, Stuttgart, Brussels, and elsewhere. The 364th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an escort mission on 27 December 1944 when the group dispersed a large force of German fighters that attacked the bomber formation the group was escorting on a raid to Frankfurt.
The 364th also flew air-sea rescue missions, engaged in patrol activities, and continued to support ground forces as the battle line moved through France and into Germany. Took part in the effort to invade the Netherlands by air, September 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945; and the assault across the Rhine, March 1945.
Although the last mission by the 364th took place on 25 April 1945, the group did not depart until November, returning to Camp Kilmer New Jersey for deactivation. Even then, Honington remained the lone Eighth Air Force outpost in the UK becoming Fighter Command HQ on October 5.
Honington was the last USAAF station to be returned to the RAF. By the beginning of 1946, the airfield remained the only active station of all the 122 which had been used by the Eighth Air Force and a fitting ceremony was planned to mark its closure and official handing back to the Royal Air Force. On 26 February, Brigadier General Emil Kiel - the Eighth Fighter Command commander - was present to hand over the keys of the station to Air Marshal Sir James Robb, AOC RAF Fighter Command. An RAF band played The Star-Spangled Banner as the Stars and Stripes were lowered for the RAF Ensign to be hoisted in its place.
Postwar use[edit | edit source]
With the departure of the USAAF in February 1946, Honington airfield reverted to the RAF, and became a major servicing centre for RAF Transport Command aircraft. During the Berlin Airlift, Honington played a tremendous part in keeping the aircraft of Transport Command flying. In 1949 the station reverted to Bomber Command.
From 1950 to 1956. RAF Honington housed No. 94 Armament Maintenance Unit for bomb storage. The airfield was upgraded during this time to include a 9,000 ft concrete runway.
Beginning in February 1955 through 1957 10, XV, 44 and 57 Squadrons were based at Honington with English Electric Canberra bombers. 10 and XV Squadrons took part in the Suez Crisis of 1956.
Also in 1956, Honington became one of the main V-Bomber Force bases maintaining three Vickers Valiant squadrons, Nos, 7, 90 and 199 and later two Handley Page Victor Squadrons, No. 55 and No. 57. Additional facilities were constructed including a large E-W runway. These squadrons were moved out in 1965 and the airfield was placed in a reserve status.
In 1968 the airfield was selected to become the home of the RAF's UK-based Hawker Siddeley (Blackburn) Buccaneer bomber. The first aircraft arrived in November 1969 and deliveries continued throughout the early 70s. Nos 12, 15 and 16 squadrons formed there, with 15 and 16 squadrons moving to RAF Laarbruch in West Germany in 1971. Also No 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) formed to provide the training squadron. No 208 squadron formed in 1974. The Buccaneers operated from Honington until the 80s when they relocated to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
The last aircraft (of the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit) based at Honington left in 1994. The base is now the RAF Regiment depot and home to the Joint NBC Regiment.
1 Squadron RAF Regiment, the oldest unit in the Regiment has now relocated to RAF Honington. The Station is now home to the following RAF Regiment Squadrons: 2 Sqn RAF Regt; 1 Sqn RAF Regt; 15 Sqn RAF Regt; 27 Sqn RAF Regt and 2623 Sqn RAuxAF Regt.
Operational units[edit | edit source]
- RAF FP Force Headquarters
- Jt CBRN Regt
- Support Wing
- Training Wing
- 1 Sqn RAF Regiment
- 2 Sqn RAF Regiment
- 15 Sqn RAF Regiment
- 27 Sqn RAF Regiment
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