Peter Long’s brief history of Watton – 1953

In January, two English Electric Canberra BMk2 aircraft arrived at Watton and went straight to the Special Radio Installation Flight (SRIF) to be fitted for their sigint gathering task with 192 Squadron. The three Boeing RB29 Washingtons had by now become operational and had superseded the three Lincoln aircraft of ‘A’ Flight. The Washingtons began their job of eavesdropping on communications and radar frequencies of potential enemies, mainly around the Warsaw Pact borders, bringing back intelligence to be scrutinised by ‘Y’ Wing for the GCHQ.

The three Lincolns, now surplus to 192’s requirements, were passed to Development Squadron. At the same time Dev. Squadron took on strength a Gloster Meteor T.Mk7 to be used for aircrew continuation training for jet aircraft. With 199 Squadron having left the CSE, exercises and tasks requiring co-operation with other units either within the RAF or inter-service had once again to be carried out by Watton’s own units. The brunt falling mainly upon Development Squadron’s Lincoln aircraft which were involved in a combined Fleet (Home and Mediterranean) exercise from mid February to early March. The aircraft performed ‘passive’ search tasks (monitoring communications and radar but no jamming).

During March, along with other aircraft of the CSE, the three Washingtons of 192 Squadron took part in Bomber Command’s Exercise ‘Jungle King’ and flew several sorties. It is not known what their tasking was. 192’s fourth Washington WW346 arrived at Watton in early April.

For three days in mid May, Watton played host to eight USAF North American Tornado aircraft from the US base at RAF Sculthorpe. It may be presumed that these aircraft were RB45C photo reconnaissance variants, considering the role of the Station and, that by 1953 the B45C light tactical bomber was obsolescent. One of these aircraft provided some light entertainment when part of its undercarriage collapsed on landing. None of the crew were hurt.

The highlight of the RAF’s year was the review to be held at RAF Odiham in June in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Watton was to contribute five aircraft, all to the static display. 116 and 527 Squadrons each donated a Lincoln and an Anson, suitably painted and polished for the event. The IRIS Hastings, IRIS II was also on parade.

Due to runway resurfacing work at Watton starting in July, with the exception of 192’s aircraft, all the CSE’s heavy and jet aircraft and the Mosquitoes of 751 Naval Air Squadron operated from RAF Methwold. 192’s

Washingtons flew from RAF Marham, which was operating Washingtons of their own.

While operating from Methwold, six Lincolns of Development Squadron took part in Exercise Momentum. They provided countermeasures (jamming) for Bomber Command against Fighter Command assets. With runway resurfacing completed, the CSE’s aircraft returned home in mid October.

Just before Christmas an Anson of the CSE crashed just short of the runway whilst landing at Watton. Fortunately, none of the crew were seriously injured.

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