RAF High Wycombe

RAF High Wycombe is a Royal Air Force station, situated in the village of Walters Ash, near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England. It houses Headquarters Air Command, and was originally designed to house RAF Bomber Command in the late 1930s. The station is also the headquarters of the European Air Group.

RAF High Wycombe
Walters Ash, Buckinghamshire in England
Aerial view of RAF High Wycombe.
Non sibi
(Latin for Not for ourselves)[1]
RAF High Wycombe
Shown within Buckinghamshire
Coordinates51°40′53″N 000°48′07″W
TypeRAF non-flying station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Controlled byRAF Air Command
Site history
Built1938 (1938)
In use1938 – present
Garrison information
Group Captain Shaun Harris

The location of the station was originally suggested by Wing Commander Alan Oakeshott when the Air Ministry was seeking a new, secure, site for Bomber Command away from London. Wing Commander Oakeshott was killed in combat in 1942 and is commemorated on the Naphill War Memorial and in the name of the station's welfare centre, opened in 2011.

The motto of RAF High Wycombe in Latin is 'Non Sibi', which translates as 'not for ourselves'.



Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the Air Ministry sought a safe location for RAF Bomber Command away from London. The wooded area near Naphill, Walters Ash and Lacey Green was suggested by Wing Commander Alan Oakeshott as ideal for this purpose, since the trees could provide natural camouflage from the air.[2]

Buildings were designed to resemble other uses, such as the Officers' Mess which was built to look like a manor house. The fire station was built with a tower to resemble a village church. Trees were preserved as much as possible to maintain the camouflage they provided. Roads were laid out so as to avoid most trees. The building work was carried out by John Laing and Son,[3] with 400 workmen and 80 specialists involved. Tunnels were dug to connect each block on the station, linked to an Operations Block built 55 feet (17 m) below ground.[2]

To preserve secrecy, the station was known as "Southdown" in March 1940, as part of a directive by the Air Ministry. The site's postal address was given as "GPO High Wycombe."[4]

Whilst High Wycombe was not an official flying station, a small airfield was used in the nearby village of Lacey Green 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north. The airfield was unpaved and was used for small flights into and out of RAF High Wycombe and was only used between June 1944 and late 1945.[5][6]

During the Second World War, High Wycombe was used by the 325th Photographic Wing, United States Army Air Forces, from 9 August 1944 though 20 October 1945.

Cold War

Operationally during the Cold War the Director UKWMO would have been located at the United Kingdom Regional Air Operations Command (UK RAOC) within Strike Command's Operations Centre nuclear bunker at RAF High Wycombe to instigate the national four-minute air raid warnings, with the Deputy Director located at a standby UK RAOC, described at the time as being "elsewhere in the UK", but subsequently revealed as being at the UKWMO Western Sector nuclear bunker at Goosnargh, near Preston. Warnings were instantly distributed around the country by the HANDEL Warning Broadcast System via 250 Carrier Control Points located at major police headquarters, and 17,000 WB400 (later WB1400) carrier receivers in armed forces headquarters, hospitals, post offices, Royal Observer Corps posts and private homes in remote rural areas, where hand operated sirens replaced the power sirens used in urban areas.

In 1958, Headquarters, 7th Air Division of the Strategic Air Command, supporting SAC operations in UK relocated to High Wycombe from RAF South Ruislip, and commanded all SAC operations until 1965.

The station crest, incorporating a thunderbolt and two pillars to symbolise the support the station gave to Bomber Command, was approved on 23 November 1966. The station's title, Royal Air Force Station High Wycombe, was officially approved on 1 January 1969.[4]

From 1983 to 1984 there was a peace camp protesting against the building of a bunker there at that time to house RAF Strike Command.[7]

On 1 July 1994, Headquarters Allied Forces North Western Europe (AFNORTHWEST) of NATO was established at High Wycombe.[8]

Current operations

RAF High Wycombe is situated roughly three miles from the town of High Wycombe over three sites - No 1 Site houses the Command HQ, the HQs of Nos 1, 2,11, 22 and 38 Groups, and the UK Combined Air Operations Centre (UK CAOC), No 2 Site houses the Officers' Mess, while No 3 site is the domestic site, airmen and NCO's quarters, MT yard, PT flight and Supply Flight. There is a large bunker at the site, the existence of which is officially classified, but which nevertheless is clearly visible on satellite photographs (e.g. Google Earth). An automatic weather station was installed in the complex in 1995 (WMO ID 03660) with an official station name of High Wycombe, HQAIR.

The site is a non-flying station and was home to RAF Strike Command before it became part of the newly formed RAF Air Command on 1 April 2007[9] within Air Command it is part of No 38 Group. Air Command is commanded by an Air Chief Marshal. No 38 Group is commanded by an Air Vice-Marshal. RAF High Wycombe is commanded by a Group Captain.

Since 2009, the station has been responsible for reviewing UFO sightings as part of efforts to identify any possible unauthorised military incursions into UK airspace. Civil servants tasked with reviewing such sightings relocated to the station from the Ministry of Defence Main Building in London.[10]

The Ministry of Defence and Serco agreed a ten-year contract in February 2010 whereby Serco would provide support services at RAF High Wycombe and RAF Halton, including leisure services, general engineering and catering.[11]

The actor David Jason officially opened the station's new welfare centre, named after Wing Commander Alan Oakeshott, in July 2011.[12]

An Armed Forces Community Covenant between the station and Wycombe District Council was signed on 16 April 2012, designed to strengthen the links between the military and the local community.[13] Personnel exercised the station's Freedom of Wycombe District on 29 May 2012, parading through Princes Risborough.[14]

Based units

The following notable units are based at RAF High Wycombe.[15][16]

Royal Air Force

Air Command

  • Headquarters Air Command
  • RAF Safety Centre

No. 1 Group (Air Combat)

  • Headquarters No. 1 Group (Air Combat)

No. 2 Group (Air Combat Support)

  • Headquarters No. 2 Group (Air Combat Support)

No. 11 Group (Multi-domain Operations)

Headquarters No. 11 Group (Multi-domain Operations)

No. 22 Group (Training)

  • Headquarters No. 22 Group (Training)

No. 38 Group (Air Combat Service Support)

  • Headquarters No. 38 Group (Air Combat Service Support)


European Air Group

  • Headquarters European Air Group

See also


  1. Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 156. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. "History". Royal Air Force. 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  3. Ritchie, p. 91
  4. "History of Royal Air Force High Wycombe". Royal Air Force. 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  5. "RAF Lacey Green". Airelds of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  6. Burnett, David (2010). The Best of Lives; Air Commodore Wilf Burnett. Author House. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-4520-6480-2.
  7. Peace Camps
  8. March, Peter R. (1998). Brace by Wire to Fly by Wire. RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Enterprises. p. 162. ISBN 1 899808 06 X.
  9. "HQ Air Command". Royal Air Force. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  10. "New home for UFO investigations". BBC News. 7 January 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  11. "Serco in new ten year contract to support two key RAF stations". Serco Group. 24 February 2010. Archived from the original on 27 February 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  12. Phillips, Neil (3 July 2011). "Sir David Jason visits RAF High Wycombe". Bucks Free Press. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  13. "Wycombe Council signs Community Covenant with RAF station". Defence Policy and Business. Ministry of Defence. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  14. "RAF High Wycombe exercises Freedom of the District". Ministry of Defence. 30 May 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  15. "RAF High Wycombe". RAF High Wycombe. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  16. Lancaster, Mark (24 July 2018). "Written Answers to Questions – Air Force (165498)" (PDF). UK Parliament. p. 17. Retrieved 15 November 2019.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.


  • Ritchie, Berry (1997). The Good Builder: The John Laing Story. James & James.
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