Peter Long’s brief history of Watton – 1969

On the 1st January, RAF Signals Command was absorbed into RAF Strike Command and reverted to its old status as 90 (Signals) Group. Thus the Signals Command Air Radio Laboratory (SCARL) would become Signals Air Radio Laboratory (SARL).

The IRIS Hastings IRIS III made its last flight from Watton in January, flying Pershore before flying on to Carlisle for disposal.

Pending the move away from Watton, changes were occurring. Groundcrew from Jet Line and Piston Line were allocated to the various squadrons and would accompany them when the move took place.

Normal exercises and working continued at Watton. Six Canberra aircraft of 360 Squadron and two from 98 Squadron detached to Akrotiri and Muharraq to exercise with the Middle East Air Forces (MEAF)

The close down of RAF Watton an operational airfield began immediately after the Easter grant. The three flying squadrons transferred to RAF Cottesmore. 115 Squadron moved on the 9th April, 98 Squadron on the 17th and 360 Squadron on the 21st. The last aircraft away was a Canberra Mk17 on the morning of the 22nd. Operations Wing had begun a gradual transfer of tasking to Cottesmore on the 9th April and completed by the 21st, with Cottesmore’s first signals tasking being carried out on the 21st April. The last air movement at Watton as an operational airfield was on the 24th April when Air Commodore E.W. Tacon, AOC Military Air Traffic Organisation departed following an AOC’s inspection of Eastern Radar ATCRU.

For the immediate future the only air movements that would take place at Watton under its own air traffic control were the arrivals and departures of aircraft needing the services of EWSW’s special installations section in 3 Hangar or the occasional VIP flight. One Air Traffic Controller was kept on strength for this task.

EWSW/SARL was to remain at Watton for the immediate future as the power supply needed for these section to function was not yet available at what was to be their new home, RAF Wyton.

There were still second line aircraft engineering personnel at Watton working on outstanding servicing work. As this residual second line work finished, so the personnel involved were posted away.

Although RAF Watton was no longer an operational airfield, its proximity to the Stanford Practical Training Area (STANTA) otherwise known as the Battle Area, made it useful as an airhead for army and combined services exercises. from the 1st to the 8th of May a combined Army/38 Group RAF exercise ‘Replete’ was held at STANTA with Watton’s airfield housing part of the exercise base organisation. Watton’s airfield is used for similar exercises to the present day.

RAF Watton, no longer an operational flying Station, was being kept open to cater for SARL/EWSW with its special installations Flight (SIF) and Eastern Radar. These units provided the only active RAF presence at RAF Watton. No’s 1, 2 and 4 Hangars were empty. Aircraft Servicing Flight (ASF) and mainstores had followed the flying squadrons to RAF Cottesmore. No 3 Hangar was still in use by SIF and would be for perhaps another year. SIF was still responsible for the fitting and updating of special equipment in the aircraft of the signals squadrons including 51 Squadron, as well as the ongoing preparation of the Argosy aircraft for duty with 115 Squadron. .

During May, all remaining personnel were moved into the accommodation blocks on the main site and with the exception of the Airmen’s Mess or Restaurant and boiler house, which remained in service, all buildings on the north site were closed, to be upkept on a care and maintenance basis.

Disposal instructions were received for the Griston and missile site. Eventually Wayland Prison would be built there.

In the midst of the run-down Station, the Royal Observer Corps held a series of summer camps from the end of June.

During October, RAF Watton was to be the site for Strike Command Exercise ‘Senator’. This exercise was designed to practice and test the organisation which existed to respond to an aircraft incident involving dangerous cargoes. The exercise simulated a crash at Watton of an aircraft carrying a nuclear device. Organised recovery practice took place which included decontamination.

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

‘In Support Of So Many’
Royal Air Force Station Watton 1945-2007
A Story of a Peacetime RAF Station

© Peter J. Long 1999 -2007

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