Peter Long’s brief history of Watton – 1959

The Surface to Air Guided Weapons (SAGW) Wing Headquarters, to be known forever after by those not closely involved as ‘The Radar Site’ was completed and taken over by No 24 SAGW Wing in April. 24 Wing was a Fighter Command unit belonging to 12 Group and would be responsible for the control of three new operating squadrons, No’s 242, (Marham), 266 (Rattlesden) and 263 (Watton) Surface to Air Missile Squadrons. These squadrons, not yet operational, would be equipped with the Bristol Ferranti Bloodhound Mk1 surface to air missile. The purpose of these and other SAGW units was to protect the RAF’s new ‘Thor’ intermediate range ballistic missiles and the ‘V’ Bomber force from airborne attack.

In June, No. 263 SAM Squadron became operational at Watton. The squadron was based on the Griston site.

At the end of May, Air Commodore S.D. Melvin took over command of the CSE as Commandant from Air Commodore Nicholas.

On the 3rd June, in the early hours of the morning a fire was discovered in No.4 Hangar. One of 51 Squadron’s Comet aircraft was burning and by 0800 hrs, despite the best efforts of the Station Fire Section and a number of outside Fire Services, had been completely destroyed. This left 51 Squadron with only two Comet aircraft to carry out it’s Elint tasking.

From the 23rd to the 25th July, Development Squadron flew all of its Lincolns in support of Exercise ‘Mandate’, the annual UK air defence exercise. The Lincolns were employed in making electronic countermeasures (ECM) attacks on radar installations such as Boulmer, Neatishead and North Coates. For the purposes of this exercise, No.831 Naval Air Squadron was based at Watton. 831 had left Watton in September 1957 as 751 Squadron and was renumbered to 831 at Culdrose. Equipped with Fairey Gannet ECM4 and Sea Venom 21ECM aircraft, 831 Squadron flew in support of the countermeasures task.

Watton provided ‘airhead facilities’ for Transport Command when the Command held an air mobility exercise in August. One Handley Page Hastings and three Blackburn Beverley aircraft airlifted 44 Independent Parachute Brigade TA and its heavy equipment from Watton to be dropped over the Stanford Practical Training Area.

In September three of Dev. Squadron’s Lincolns supported by a Varsity aircraft detached to Nicosia, Cyprus to carry out barrage jamming exercises against various radars on the island. A further five Lincolns detached to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland in November to carry out ECM demonstrations against NATO fleet units.

The year ended with one of Dev. Squadron’s Lincolns, being wrongly identified as a Lancaster suspected of gun running, was forced down onto a French airbase by French fighters. Having realised their error, the French entertained the Lincoln’s crew in style before they continued their journey to Watton.

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

1 Comment

  • I visited RAF Watton for an ATC summer camp. I think it was 1959, but could have been 1958. I had an air experiance flight in a Varsity. I was allowed to sit in the righthand seat and complete a rate one turn with captain in charge of the throttles. We then flew to Waddington and after a walk under a row of parked Vulcans we took off for Wittering where we burst a tyre on landing which involved a fire engine out to the aircraft on the runway. We (ATC) we shown to the billiards room to wait several hours for a spare wheel to be flown out from Watton. We returned to Watton quite late and the mess room had closed so we were allowed to eat with the aircrew in the officers mees. I remember many of the types on the airfield, Lincolns, Washingtons, javelins, Comets, Camberras, Meteors, and Thunderbolts. I remember learning how to flow and pack a parachute and also fired a 303 rifle and never to forget the kickback. We were allowed toclamber up into the cockpit of a camberra and listen on the radio to a Comet being given clearance for take off. The Camberra was cartridge started with an incrediable bang. I also remember watching a film in the station cinema of what happens in an aircrash and was horified to see a broken bone sticking out through the flesh of a live person. I am not certain I remembered anything else about the film. I saw my first Spick and Span there in the tent at night. RAF Watton holds happy memories of growing up.

Can you add to this? Comments are moderated so posting will be delayed