RAF Coltishall

Royal Air Force Coltishall, more commonly known as RAF Coltishall (IATA: CLF, ICAO: EGYC), is a former Royal Air Force station located 10 miles (16 km) North-North-East of Norwich, in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, which operated from 1938 to 2006.[2]

Royal Air Force Coltishall
Near Coltishall, Norfolk in England
A Sepecat Jaguar GR1A of No. 41 Squadron at RAF Coltishall.
Aggressive in Defence[1]
RAF Coltishall
Location within Norfolk
Coordinates52°45′17″N 001°21′26″E
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence (MOD)
OperatorRoyal Air Force
ConditionClosed
Site history
Built1939 (1939)
In use29 May 1940 - 30 November 2006 (2006)
Fate
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: CLF, ICAO: EGYC, WMO: 03495
Elevation20 metres (66 ft) AMSL
Runways
Direction Length and surface
04/22 2,286 metres (7,500 ft) Grooved Asphalt

It was a fighter airfield in the Second World War and afterwards, a station for night fighters then ground attack aircraft until closure.

After longstanding speculation, the future of the station was sealed once the Ministry of Defence announced that the Eurofighter Typhoon, a rolling replacement aircraft, displacing the ageing SEPECAT Jaguar, would not be posted there. The last of the Jaguar squadrons left on 1 April 2006 and the station finally closed, one month early and £10 million under budget, on 30 November 2006.

The station motto was Aggressive in Defence.[3] The station badge was a stone tower surmounted by a mailed fist grasping three bird-bolts (blunt arrows), which symbolised a position of strength in defence of the homeland, indicative of the aggressive spirit which Coltishall fighter aircraft were prepared to shoot down the enemy.

History

Second World War

Work on RAF Coltishall was started in February 1939. The airfield, then known as Scottow Aerodrome, was initially built as a bomber station, on land near Scottow Hall. Following the established tradition, the station would have been named after the nearest railway station, which would have made it "RAF Buxton", but to avoid possible confusion with the town of Buxton in Derbyshire, it was named after the local village of Coltishall instead. The airfield was completed and entered service in May 1940 as a fighter base. The first aircraft movement at Coltishall was a Bristol Blenheim IV L7835 flown by Sergeant RG Bales and Sergeant Barnes.

During the Second World War, Coltishall operated the Hawker Hurricane, and a notable Coltishall fighter pilot was Douglas Bader. It later became home to night fighters. At the same time, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm operated aircraft from RAF Coltishall over the North Sea. From 10 February to 7 April 1945 it was the airfield for No. 124 Squadron RAF, at that time a fighter-bomber squadron flying Supermarine Spitfire IX.HF's, whilst the squadron was bombing V2 launch sites in the Netherlands. At the end of the war, Coltishall was briefly given over to Polish squadrons until they returned home.

Postwar

In the 1950s, RAF Coltishall was a designated a "V-Bomber dispersal airfield", which V bombers (the British nuclear deterrent) - the Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant - could use in the event of their home station being damaged by enemy action.

Postwar, the station was home to a variety of units and aircraft including de Havilland Mosquitos, Gloster Javelins, English Electric Lightnings and - from 1963 - the "Historic Aircraft Flight" (now known as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight). The last Lightnings left Coltishall in 1974, and were replaced by the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar. The first Jaguar squadron, No. 54 Squadron RAF, arrived at Coltishall on 8 August 1974.

In terms of fixed-wing aircraft, the station was exclusively a Jaguar station from then on, and some of the station's pink-painted Jaguars participated in the 1991 Gulf War Operation GRANBY and Operation Warden, without sustaining a single loss of man or machine, and in subsequent operations over Balkans (Operation Deny Flight)) and then later Iraq once more. Coltishall was also home to the yellow Search And Rescue (SAR) helicopters of 202 Sqn conducting air-sea rescue operations (Sea King) and latterly 22 Sqn (Wessex), but under subsequent reorganisation, the SAR operations were moved to RAF Wattisham, in Suffolk where they remained until 15 July 2015.

Coltishall eventually became the last surviving operational RAF airfield involved in the Battle of Britain other than RAF Northolt, and a visible remnant in the form of a Second World War revetment still stands on the North-West taxiway and, together with one of the two sets of 1950s blast walls, is now a scheduled monument.[4]

Earmarked for closure

With the anticipated arrival of the Eurofighter Typhoon in the RAF, the gradual retirement of the Jaguar force began. Coltishall was not chosen as a future Typhoon airfield for a number of reasons, and so, with no future RAF role for Coltishall, the station was earmarked for closure.

The UK's Ministry of Defence, in the Delivering Security in a Changing World review, announced that the station would close by December 2006. The first two Jaguar squadrons to disband, No. 16 Squadron RAF and No. 54 Squadron RAF, did so on 11 March 2005. The final Jaquar squadrons departed on 1 April 2006, when No. 6 Squadron RAF transferred to RAF Coningsby, but was subsequently disbanded on 31 May 2007 (to await delivery of the Eurofighter Typhoon at RAF Leuchars in Scotland), and No. 41 Squadron RAF transferred to RAF Coningsby in OCU role. The final front line RAF movement from the station was by Jaguar XZ112, piloted by Jim Luke, on 3 April 2006.

Of the final gate guardians, the replica Hawker Hurricane was transferred to RAF High Wycombe, and the Jaguar was formally named the Spirit of Coltishall, and was subsequently transferred to the grounds of Norfolk County Council where she is dedicated to the memory of all those who served at Coltishall. The airfield is commemorated at the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum.

Some limited flying from light aircraft including those of the Coltishall Flying Club did continue after the end of RAF flying operations, until October 2006. While 1 April 2006 saw the disbandment parade for the station, it did not actually disband and finally close until 30 November 2006. Associated facilities such as the Douglas Bader Primary School were also closed. On the final day of the station the gates were opened to the public - anybody with photographic ID was welcomed onto the station to have a look around and view the final closing ceremony, which saw a flypast by four RAF Jaguars, and a solitary Hawker Hurricane from the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

On 30 November 2006, RAF Coltishall was officially handed over to Defence Estates (the MoD agency responsible for all UK Military sites) who are to handle the disposal of the site and will be formally known as MoD Coltishall until its ultimate disposal.

The site was sold to Norfolk County Council for £4 million.

Station commanders

Note: The ranks shown are the ranks held at the time of holding the appointment of Commanding Officer, Royal Air Force Coltishall.
date from date to Rank Name
15 May 19409 January 1941Wing CommanderW K Beisiegal
9 January 194111 September 1942Group CaptainRonald Lees
11 September 194220 April 1943Group CaptainGeorge D Harvey
20 April 194310 December 1943Group CaptainArthur V Harvey
10 December 194325 May 1945Group CaptainA H Donaldson
25 May 19459 August 1945Group CaptainA H Dunn
9 August 194527 February 1946Group CaptainT H Rolski
27 February 194613 February 1947Group CaptainAleksander Gabszewicz
13 February 194722 January 1948Wing CommanderRobert Stanford Tuck
22 January 19486 March 1950Wing CommanderDenis Spotswood
6 March 19501 February 1951Wing CommanderE L Colbeck-Welch
1 February 19518 May 1953Group CaptainA H Smythe
8 May 195312 December 1955Group CaptainP P Hanks
12 December 195525 November 1958Group CaptainJohn Clayton Sisson CBE DFC
25 November 19581 June 1959Wing CommanderW Laing
1 June 195915 November 1961Group CaptainHarold A C Bird-Wilson
15 November 19611 November 1963Group CaptainL H Malins
1 December 19633 June 1966Group CaptainR L Topp
4 June 19663 January 1969Group CaptainM E Hobson
3 January 196920 November 1969Group CaptainW J Stacey
20 November 196918 November 1971Group CaptainJ T Jennings
18 November 197128 December 1973Group CaptainJ A Gilbert
28 December 19736 August 1976Group CaptainL Swart
6 August 19766 September 1978Group CaptainJ H Honey
6 September 197815 October 1980Group CaptainT H Stonor
15 October 19803 December 1982Group CaptainT J Nash
3 December 19828 February 1985Group CaptainG R Profit
8 February 19854 June 1987Group CaptainM R French
4 June 19872 August 1989Group CaptainF J Hoare
3 August 198916 August 1991Group CaptainM J Abbott
16 August 19915 July 1993Group CaptainJ P Dacre
5 July 199328 July 1995Group CaptainN C Rusling
28 July 19995 September 1997Group CaptainT C Hewlett
5 September 19975 September 1999Group CaptainStephen G G Dalton
6 September 19995 October 2001Group CaptainChris N Harper
6 October 200128 November 2003Group CaptainR D Cobelli
28 November 20032006Group CaptainGraham A Wright, OBE
200613 October 2006Wing CommanderPaul Robins[5]
13 October 200630 November 2006Squadron LeaderJason Hughes[6]

Coltishall aircraft

Some 40-plus different types of aircraft have operated out of Coltishall at various points in its history, among these:

Resident squadron aircraft

Westland Wessex Search and Rescue Helicopter

Non-resident aircraft

Operated by detachments from other squadrons
SAR Air/Sea Rescue squadron detachments
Operated by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm
BBMF

As home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a sole Avro Lancaster bomber operated out of Coltishall post-war.

Coltishall squadrons

Redevelopment

The former married quarters were transferred to the MoD's preferred property agents, Annington Homes, who started the lengthy process of upgrading the former military housing into civilian houses for sale on the open market.

During January 2007, the Home Office expressed an interest in the site, and in early February earmarked it for potential use as an immigration detention facility, but this was subsequently ruled out.

In July 2007, a petition was set up on the 10 Downing St website to campaign for Coltishall to be reopened as a civil airfield.

In December 2007, fresh reports in the media suggested the site would be used as a prison, but this angered local residents who had not been informed of the disposal progress.

In January 2009, a plan to build a Category C prison at the site was approved by North Norfolk District Council.[7] The entire site is now under the temporary control of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and, as of October 2009, building works on converting all of the former H-blocks is near completion, along with the completion of the dual perimeter fences, and a new access road. The new establishment will be known as HMP Bure, named after a nearby river, and will house 500 male sex offenders.[8]

On 19 July 2010, North Norfolk District Council proposed that the entire site should be designated as a conservation area (United Kingdom) because of its historical and architectural interest.[9]

In 2013, Scottow Enterprise Park was opened on part of the site, taking up approximately 600 acres of the former RAF base. Its repurposed military buildings are now home to tenants in industries from construction to film. [10]

In April 2015, Scottow Moor Solar Limited built a 32 MW solar farm on the site.[11] In April 2016, another 18 MW of solar panels were added, bringing the solar farm's total capacity to 50 MW.[12]

In June 2019, A British aircraft manufacturer is now based at the airfield. Swift Aircraft have been allowed to produce up to 98 planes a year and use the runway for 8 flights a day by the local government. This will employ roughly 100 local people and greatly benefit the local economy.

See also

References

Citations

  1. Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 7. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. Official Commemorative Magazine: Royal Air Force Coltishall, 65th Anniversary, 'Aggressive in Defence' 1940-2005
  3. Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 7. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  4. Historic England. "World War II fighter pen, Cold War blast walls and associated remains at the airfield formerly known as RAF Coltishall (1021425)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  5. Norwich.gov.uk Norwich City Council news release - A final farewell to RAF Coltishall Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 12 October 2006
  6. AirSceneUK.org.uk Spirit of Coltishall Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 30 November 2006
  7. BBC.co.uk Prison at old RAF base approved
  8. "Norfolk ex-airbase jail to house sex offenders". Archant Regional Ltd. EDP24.co.uk. 11 August 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  9. Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. http://www.edp24.co.uk/business/raf-coltishall-scottow-enterprise-park-500-employees-simon-coward-hethel-innovation-1-5662345
  11. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-32353870
  12. http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/environment/what_the_huge_solar_farm_at_raf_coltishall_looks_like_from_the_air_1_4510767

Bibliography

  • Jennings, Mick MBE. Royal Air Force Coltishall, Fighter Station. A Station History. Cowbit, Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK: Old Forge Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-906183-01-1.
  • Sullivan, Wing Commander John MBE, MSc, RAF. Big Cat Diary: The Last Year of the Jaguar with 6 Squadron RAF. Published by the author, 2008. ISBN 0-9557247-0-8.
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