A BRIEF HISTORY OF WELLESBOURNE AIRFIELD
WELLESBOURNE AIRFIELD IS UNDER THE THREAT OF BEING CLOSED TO MAKE WAY FOR A VERY LARGE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT.
Early in 1941 the Government purchased over 200 acres of Warwickshire farmland 6 miles East of Stratford Upon Avon.
By Summer, new runways had replaced crops and livestock and the farmhouse of the Littler family. It was designated as RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, the base of No.22 Operational Training Unit until the close of the war in 1945. No. 22 OTU was equipped with Vickers Wellington bombers supplemented by Avro Anson navigational trainers.
On 14th April 1941 No. 22 OTU was formed. This was devoted to the training of UK and Commonwealth aircrews, pilots, navigators, bomb-aimers, wireless operators and air gunners. At it’s peak in March 1944 RAF Wellesbourne was turning out 113 aircrews a month.
The airfield was attacked from the air four times during May 1941. In the first raid 11 bombs fell, slightly damaging the fire tender building, three bombs fell near No. 1 Dispersal in the second attack and during the third a dozen bombs were dropped in the North-East corner of the airfield damaging two Wellingtons and an Anson.
On May 10th 1941 a raider, believed to be a Heinkel 111 fired upon a dispersed Wellington and attacked the active runway and flarepath with a stick of three bombs which overshot into a field near the village.
As training intensified, flying accidents were very frequent, with much loss of life and aircraft, in 1942 Wellesbourne aircraft were used in the 1,000 bomber raids on Germany, again with many casualties. On the first bomber raid on Cologne on the night of 30th May 1942. Wellesbourne managed to put up 35 Wellingtons crewed by pupils and instructors. From this raid Wellesbourne lost 4 aircraft with their crews all killed. On 1st June 1942 the second 1,000 bomber raid was on Essen, Wellesbourne managed 34 aircraft and all returned safely to base. On the 25th June 1943, the 3rd bomber raid was on Bremen and the airfield managed 31 aircraft, 2 failing to return and their crews killed. On completion of these operations Wellesbourne returned to it’s training role.
During the war period Wellesbourne lost 96 Wellingtons in operational and training accidents. 80 airmen were injured and 315 killed. These comprised of 243 Canadians, 59 RAF, 9 New Zealand, 2 Belgian, 1 Australian and 1 WAAF.
On 25th July 1945 22 OTU was closed after having trained over 9000 airmen.
At the end of July 1945 No. 3 Glider Training School moved in to train glider pilots for war in the Far East. After Japan’s surrender this was closed and moved out in 1947
In Spring 1948 the airfield became a base for the School of Photography utilizing Avro Ansons, staying until 1964.
By 1950 No.9 Oxfords arrived for advanced flying training, these departing in 1954.
The airfield was also host to the Airfield Construction Unit from 1951-1964 and the School of Education from 1950-1952
Wellesbourne was closed in 1964 and put on care and maintenance until it was sold back to it’s pre-war owners, the Littler Family in 1965. During the next 15 years the site was then used for vehicle testing, a temporary base for Air Atlantique’s DC-3s, microlighting and then in 1981 the airfield was licensed by the CAA for commercial activity. Flying Clubs soon began to arrive on the airfield, offering flying training and aircraft hire.
In February 1984, Avro Vulcan XM655 arrived on Runway 36 from RAF Waddington. The aircraft is parked in the north-west corner and is now looked after by the Vulcan XM655 Maintenance and Preservation Society. The aircraft is able to perform taxi runs for the public. For more info see the XM655 website.
A museum was set up in the late 1980’s in the underground emergency wartime command and control bunker near the present day control tower. Displays cover the history of Wellesbourne Airfield, together with various aircraft components and memorabilia. The museum is open on Sunday’s and Bank Holiday Monday’s from 10am until 4pm.
In the mid 90’s a large hangar was constructed in the south west corner of the field for Heliair, providing a Helicopter maintenance facility. Heli Air are now a Robinson Dealer and offer training for commercial and private rotary licenses.
Wellesbourne airfield is now very busy with general aviation activity and now has around 70 based aircraft. There are still two active asphalt runways, the longest of which is 4000ft (1200m) long.
In November 2004, Warwickshire Aviation Limited was set up and now offer aircraft maintenance at the hangar situated on the western side of the airfield on Loxley Lane. They are EASA Part 145 approved, providing services for aircraft up to 5700Kg MTWA.