RAF Cottesmore

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The Station has a long and distinguished history stretching back more than 60 years, located in Rutland, RAF Cottesmore is home to four Squadrons (Sqns) of the famous Harrier "jump jet", making it one of the most important frontline bases currently in use by the Royal Air Force.

1935-1942 Expansion and the early war years

The construction of RAF Cottesmore commenced in 1935 in response to the rapid re-armament of Germany and heightened tensions of the period. The grass airfield opened on 11th March 1938 and 35 and 207 Sqns arrived the following month; initially equipped with the Wellesley, these were soon exchanged for the Battle, which were used to train aircrews. Late 1938 saw the Battles used for some of the first night bombing trials.

Fairey Battle

At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, ten Squadrons of Battles were immediately despatched to France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF); however, both 35 and 207 Sqns moved to Cranfield to act as war reserves. Crews from both Sqns later deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and flew bombing missions in a desperate attempt to stop the German blitzkrieg through Belgium and France. Unfortunately the Battle proved to be very vulnerable to the superior German fighter aircraft and suffered horrendous losses. By June 1940 the remnants of the Battle fleet had returned to England.

After the Battle aircraft had left Cottesmore for France, Bomber Command assumed control and 106 and 185 Sqns moved in. On 6th October 1939 106 Sqn departed Cottesmore for Finningley but 185 Sqn remained behind to become 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU), equipped with 32 Hampdens, 24 Ansons and a little later, 16 Herefords. 185 Sqn was later reformed but only lasted six weeks before being disbanded again on 17th May.

During May 1942, the Cottesmore Hampdens took part in the first Bomber Command 1000 aircraft raids over Germany, with Cologne, Essen, Bremen and Düsseldorf targeted. 151 sorties were flown by the Cottesmore based aircraft with the sad loss of nine aircraft and 23 aircrew; due to high losses experienced with this aircraft the crews re-christened the Hampden "the flying coffin".

During late 1942 Cottesmore was chosen as a storage centre for Horsa gliders being prepared for use in the future Allied assault across the English Channel. 14 OTU re-equipped with the Vickers Wellington and moved to Market Harborough to make room.

American Service

In 1943 RAF Cottesmore was handed to the Americans and became USAAF Station 489, an element of US HQ Troop Carrier Command. By March 1944, Cottesmore had a 2000 ft hard runway.  The C-47 Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers of the 316th Troop Carrier Group dropped paratroopers from the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment/82nd Airborne Division during Operations OVERLORD and MARKET GARDEN during 1944.

C-47 4315509

A memorial stone has been laid by the Americans, it is currently located in front of the Station’s main headquarters and is inscribed, "May the memory of the comradeship sown in the skies of Europe forever be as green as the fields of Cottesmore".

Following the departure of the American units after VE day in May 1945, the base was handed back to the RAF and reverted back to operations as a bomber flying training station, operating Beaufighters and Lancasters until 1946. Then it was the turn of 16 OTU, which was later renamed 204 Advanced Flying School, operating Mosquitoes and Oxfords from 1948-1954. Cottesmore was also home to the Tiger Moths, Harvards, Balliols and Prentices of 7 Flying Training School (7 FTS) training both RAF and Royal Navy pilots.

The Jet Age – the Canberra era

March 1954 saw the departure of 7 FTS to Valley. During May Cottesmore entered a new era, with the arrival of the twin jet Canberra B.2s of 15, 44, 56, 57 and 149 Sqns. The Canberra's Sqns had all moved to other bases by February 1955 and the airfield was placed under care and Maintenance. In 1957 it was announced that Cottesmore was to enter another historic era as a V Force airfield and a new 9000 foot long runway was constructed.

V FORCE – Cottesmore becomes a nuclear base

The 15th April 1958 saw the arrival of the V Force with 10 Sqn and their new Victor B.1 bombers. 15 Sqn followed them on the 1st September with Victor B.1 and B.1A Variants. Also joining them for 18 months was 'C' Flight Operation Conversion Unit with the new Victor B.2.

The Victors carried out Nuclear Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties from 1962 until 1964 when the Victor Sqns were disbanded and replaced by Vulcan equipped 9, 12 and 35 Sqns – these aircraft immediately undertaking QRA duties.

Vulcan XM648 9 Sqn

Vulcan's from Cottesmore were deployed to bases in the Far East during the Indonesian confrontation in 1965. In 1969, the Cottesmore Vulcan Wing was transferred to Akrotiri in Cyprus. The last QRA duty to be held at Cottesmore was on 31st January 1969; this marking the end of 1551 consecutive days of Vulcan QRA duties. Following the departure of the V force, Cottesmore became the home of three Canberra Sqns: 98 Sqn operating in the airfield checking role, 360 Sqn in the electronic warfare role (and was a unique joint RAF/RN Sqn) and 231 OCU was the Canberra Operational Conversion Unit.

115 Sqn equipped with the Varsity and Argosy were also present at Cottesmore, based here alongside the Canberra units until March 1976, when following a defence review, the units moved elsewhere. The airfield was subsequently placed back into care and maintenance.

TTTE – Tornado Training

In 1979 it was announced that Cottesmore was to undergo a major refit and become the future home of the Tri National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE). The TTTE commenced operations on 29th January 1981 and housed three squadrons of Panavia Tornadoes flown by staff and students from Britain, Germany and Italy. In 1994 the TTTE celebrated the first Female Pilot to graduate from the OCU and at the height of training operations the TTTE trained 300 crews a year. However, in 1998 the three nations decided to run their own individual training operations in the future and this, along with an urgent need for a new home for Sqns returning to the UK following service in Germany, led to the closure of the TTTE at the end of March 1999.

Tornado GR.1 ZA324 TTTE

The Harrier

Almost immediately following the closure of the TTTE, Cottesmore saw the arrival of the Harrier GR.7s of 3(F) and IV (AC) Sqns, following service in Germany. 1(F) Sqn followed in June 2000 and Cottesmore became the home of all the RAF’s front line Harrier Sqns. The Harriers personnel didn’t have much time to settle at their new home, with service during Operation BOLTON (Balkans - 1999) and six aircraft based on HMS Illustrious for Operation PALLISTER (Sierra Leone - 2000).

Harrier GR.9 ZG505 1(F) Sqn

Harrier GR.7 ZD438 3(F) Sqn

Harrier GR.7 ZD348 IV(AC) Sqn

Harrier GR.7 ZD327 800 NAS

At this time it had been planned for 800 and 801 NAS (Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy) with the Sea Harrier FA.2 to also move to Cottesmore, to form Joint Force Harrier (JFH), but the Sea Harrier was hastily withdrawn from service in March 2006 and both 800 & 801 NAS disbanded. 3(F) Sqn disbanded at Cottesmore on 31st March 2006, but immediately reformed at nearby RAF Coningsby as the first front line Typhoon Sqn. The same day also saw 800 NAS re-commisioned at Cottesmore, to be joined during 2008 by 801 NAS to form the Naval Strike Wing element of JFH.

The Harrier Sqns have taken part in extensive deployments since their move to Cottesmore, both land based and carrier based. Furthermore, a Harrier detachment participated in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (RAF Operation TELIC – 2003) and all the Sqns have deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan since 2004 as a part of the on-going Operation HERRICK.

Long term plans see the hard working ground attack Harriers to be replaced by the F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) from 2018, also to be jointly operated by both RAF and RN personnel.

F-35 AA-1

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