Navigator





Situated 5 miles south of Oxford, plans were laid for this permanent type of aerodrome in 1926, at a time when the RAF was being increased in strength due to a threat thought to be presented by France. Evidence of its early origins can be found by the type of buildings erected, as these involved red brick and are similar to those built at military establishments during the First.World War.

The hangars too were of the 1920s pattern known as Type A, with four being originally provided, with an additional type ā€˜Cā€™ built in 1936. All the hangars and the associated buildings were grouped together at the south east corner of the grass landing area, and there was eventually enough accommodation for 1700 personnel.

The station opened on the 1st of September 1932 as part of the Wessex Bombing Area, to serve as the base for light bomber aircraft. The first bomber squadron arrived in the following month, this being No.40 Squadron equipped with Fairey Gordons. The customary second squadron arrived in June 1934 this time flying Hawker Harts, but by 1936 both were operating with the light bomber version of Harts.

During these first seven years, six other light bomber squadrons had formed here, and although some had received Hawker Hinds, the majority, which included the two permanent residents, were issued with the new Fairy Battles by 1937/8. Sadly these aircraft were soon to be proved useless as bombers.

Abingdon had by this time become part of the newly formed Bomber Command and the actual H.Q. of No,1 Group. It continued to house light bomber units, chiefly flying Fairey Battles right up to the time when they left for France on the 2nd of September 1939.

Being so far west, the station was unsuitably located to act as an operational wartime bomber base so it consequently became involved in the training of new bomber crews. In early September 1939, Nos..97 and 166 Squadrons arrived from Yorkshire with their twin engine Whitley bombers, which henceforth were to be employed in the training of new crews.

Eventually both squadrons lost their identities and formed into No.10 Operational Training Unit (OTU) that was one of over 20 similar establishments to be in existence during the war. This training task was to continue at Abingdon throughout the war years. So great was this requirement that new groups within Bomber Command had to be formed, Abingdon becoming part of 91 Group, which incidentally made its Headquarters here too, taking the place of No.1 Group which went to Bawtry.

Recently qualified aircrew tradesmen such as pilots, navigators, air gunners, wireless operators and bomb aimers, would all meet here for the first time. After sorting themselves out into crews they would learn to operate as a team whilst flying in Whitley Mk5 bombers. The unit also used a number of Ansons for the early stage of the course when only navigators and pilots were involved.

Because of the ever increasing demand for new crews a satellite airfield was brought into use at close by Stanton Harcourt, and this in particular was used for night flying practice when it was deemed unwise to have the main station lit up with runway lighting. However, this did not stop the enemy bombing Abingdon when several raids occurred during 1940/1 when much damage was caused, especially to the H.Q. buildings. On the other hand No.10.OTU were involved in many bombing missions to Germany or France, the latter being part of the final training curriculum.

The unit also lent some 25 Whitleys and their crews to Coastal Command during 1942 for the urgent anti-submarine operations, this sort of thing being possible because the instructors were all qualified bomber crews, having already finished an operational tour on a squadron. This detachment to St. Eval lasted from April 1942 to July 1943.

The number of aircraft on strength in mid 1941 was around 50 Whitleys and 18 Ansons, but these numbers were swelled when the first one of the many Beam Approach Training Flights (1501) was established here in January 1941, initially using a few Whitleys. It later received Ansons and Oxfords and remained here until April 1943. As the title implies this Flight trained pilots in the art of making blind approaches to the runway using a special radio beacon system. Also present from July to December 1943 was No.1682 Bombing and Gunnery School with its handful of Tomahawks which were used for brushing up the skills of 91Group's air gunners.

Up to March 1944, Abingdon had only been a grass airfield so steps were taken to lay the usual three concrete runways. This necessitated the transfer of all aircraft to the satellite at Stanton Harcourt. By the time this work was completed in November the Whitleys had been replaced with Wellington aircraft when the unit returned.

Although the requirement for new crews was decreasing the training continued even after the war and it was October 1946 before No. 10 OTU disbanded and disposed of its 60 or more Vickers Wellingtons.

Transport Command immediately took control of the station, a tenancy that was to last through to the 1970s. From October 1946 onwards there was usually three squadrons in attendance, initially flying Dakota aircraft, followed by Yorks. Later still Valettas were in use but the longest residents were Hastings equipped squadrons in the 1950s, followed by the huge Beverleys of the late 1950s early 60s. Naturally these aircraft were used for the general movement of both supplies and personnel to all the RAF outposts overseas.

From June 1950 the station also housed the Parachute Training School as well as many Tactical Development Units of Transport Command. From July 1966 it was the Andover aircraft that was most prominent with the first ones that entered service arriving at the station. By January 1976 the Parachute Training School had left for Brize Norton, followed by the Joint Air Transport Establishment in June of that year, and so ended the air transport role from Abingdon.

Flying from Abingdon was down to a trickle from November 1976 onwards when the station housed only the Jaguar Aircraft Servicing Department. This unit eventually embraced other types of aircraft such as Hawks and Hunters, and even the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which received its major overhaul here in the mid 1980s. It is not known just when this engineering facility closed.

Apart from the few aircraft movements of the above Engineering Wing the only other flying to take place has been by the Chipmunks and Bulldogs of the London/Oxford University Air Squadron which has been based here since August 1973.

It was the above mentioned U.A.S, which incidentally had been lodging here intermittently since way back in November 1932, that was to be the last to leave the station when it departed to Benson on the 31st of July 1992 when Abingdon was finally abandoned by the RAF.