Peter Long’s brief history of Watton – 1946

Lancaster conversion training for aircrew began at Watton in early 1946 and the first of the type arrived to gradually replace the B17 Fortresses and Halifax aircraft. The RWE’s first Lancaster was ED607 to be used for training purposes.

February – Six Halifax aircraft left Watton for disposal.

Decisions were made to expand the activities of RWE Watton by absorbing other units associated with signals work. To this end, 60 (Signals) Group was merged with 26 (Signals) Group, Fighter Command to form No. 90 (Signals) Group with headquarters at RAF Medmenham, in Buckinghamshire. This new Group was to be responsible for signals tasks within the RAF with no direct responsibility to any specific RAF Command.

Plans were formulated for 26 Group’s Signals Flying Unit (SFU) to move to Watton to become part of the RWE. During the war the SFU had been involved in trials and testing of airborne radar, radar and navigation/landing aids calibration work and Ground Controlled approach training and maintenance.

A selection programme was instituted to find a suitable airfield for use as a satellite for Watton’s airborne activities. Eventually RAF Hepworth, near Bury St. Edmunds, better known as Shepherds Grove was chosen.

527 Squadron disbanded at Watton in April, its personnel and aircraft being absorbed into the RWE’s Flying Wing as another Flight.

May/June – All B17 Fortresses, four Halifaxes and two Mosquitoes left Watton for disposal as more Lancasters were arriving.

By the end of June, Flying Wing had moved to Shepherd Grove in time to receive the SFU. The aircraft of the SFU as well as its duties were absorbed into RWE’s Flying Wing. Most of the RWE’s flying activities were now carried out from Shepherds Grove using Watton only for servicing and special fits of RW equipment. Only Station Flight and aircraft attached to ‘Y’ Wing were based at Watton.

With the arrival of the SFU Watton became the RAF’s base for GCA administration and maintenance.

Watton’s first post war air accident occurred on 9th July when Station Flight’s Proctor crashed on the airfield killing its pilot and two WAAF passengers.

Watton’s single Vickers Wellington, it’s Spitfires and Beaufighters left for disposal before the end of September.

In September, the GCA School moved from Stratford to Watton. Watton was now responsible for all RAF GCA training. With the GCA School came a flight of Airspeed Oxford aircraft to act as targets for GCA training. These aircraft became Flying Wing’s F’Flight and operated from Watton. Flying Wing were flying Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Ansons and Halifaxes from the satellite airfield.

Because of it’s new responsibilities, the RWE was absorbed into a new organisation titled the Central Signals Establishment (CSE). On 1st September 1946 Watton became CSE Watton with Air Commodore Weston as Commandant CSE. The CSE’s remit focused heavily on the development of Radio Warfare equipment and techniques, whilst also having responsibility for GCA, Air Traffic Control inspection, and radar and air traffic aids calibration work.

December 1946 saw the start of a very bad winter.

Peter Long

These and the other ‘snapshots’ of my post-war history of RAF Watton are extracts from

‘In Support Of So Many’
Royal Air Force Station Watton 1945 ~ 2000
A Story of a Peacetime RAF Station

© Peter J. Long 1999