RAF Cottesmore

RAF Cottesmore

RAF Cottesmore is a Royal Air Force station in Rutland, England, situated between Cottesmore and Market Overton. The station houses all the operational Harrier GR7 squadrons in the Royal Air Force, and No 122 Expeditionary Air Wing.

Station crest

The badge of RAF Cottesmore consists of a hunting horn, a five-pointed star and a horseshoe. The hunting horn symbolises the location in foxhunting country and the link with the Cottesmore Hunt; the American Star recalls the time the Station was United States Army Air Force base; the inverted horseshoe is a traditional emblem of Oakham and the County of Rutland.The motto "We rise to our obstacles" is both a reference to the Cottesmore Hunt and is intended to convey the spirit with which the Royal Air Force confronts difficulties.


In 1935 the Air Ministry became interested in building an RAF Air Station in this largely pastoral area of England. The threat of Nazi Germany had spurred the British government to take some steps towards re-armament and to expand the Royal Air Force. More aerodromes were required. A site was earmarked south of Thistleton, to the east of Market Overton and north of Cottesmore village, where 200 acres sloped gently east towards the A1 highway. Work commenced the following year on removing hedges and building a permanent camp.

As with most military airfields of the period, the flying area was required to be a grassy, circular field with a diameter of 3,300 ft. Four C-type hangars were erected on the Cottesmore edge of the circle and behind them lay the technical site and administrative buildings, backed still further by barracks. The layout was typical of the new military airfields of the expansion years.

Prewar RAF Use

RAF Cottesmore opened on 11 March 1938. The station was used mainly for training, and the first squadrons were equipped with Vickers Wellesley aircraft, but soon converted to Fairey Battles. Later RAF Bomber Command took over the airfield, again as a training station, flying Handley Page Hampdens.

These units remained in residence until a few days before the outbreak of war in 1939 when they were sent to RAF Cranfield to serve as a pool providing replacements for combat losses. Their place at Cottesmore was taken by Nos. 106 and 185 Squadrons, with Handley Page Hampden, moving in from RAF Thornaby.

Early Wartime Use

However, with the outbreak of war, the aircraft and crews were sent to locations in the north and west, as enemy air attacks were expected over the southern half of England. As these never materialised, the Hampdens returned in the spring of 1940 and No. 185 Squadron became the Hampden operational training unit, No. 14 OTU.

Cottesmore's Hampdens' first trespass into hostile airspace was a leaflet dropping operation over northern France. In October 1940, No. 106 Squadron moved to RAF Finningley while No. 14 OTU remained training crews for Bomber Command, its Hampdens and HP.53 Herefords being replaced by Vickers Wellingtons in 1942. Training continued for three years and three months until August 1943 when No. 14 OTU moved to RAF Market Harborough.


On 8 September 1943 the United States Army Air Forces took the facilities over, under the designation USAAF Station 489, flying troop transport aircraft. In anticipation of the station's future use by airborne forces, 32 Horsa gliders were delivered for storage in July 1943.

The station was officially closed on 10 August and runway construction commenced shortly thereafter to bring the landing area up to Class A standard. The site was enlarged and three concrete runways laid, the main 6,000 ft aligned 04-22 and the two auxiliaries 4,800 ft aligned 09-27 and 4,500ft at 01-19. Additional aircraft standings, also in concrete, raised the total to 52 of which 17 were the earlier tarmac structures. The access tracks to several of these crossed former public roads. A fifth hangar, a T-2, was built for the gliders. Additional accommodation, mostly in the form of Nissen huts, was erected by Constable. Hart & Company on the Cottesmore village side of the airfield so that 2,338 personnel could be housed.

Headquarters IX Troop Carrier Command

The USAAF Ninth Air Force, with a mission to support the ground forces, was about to be re-deployed to the UK and IX Troop Carrier Command was established immediately at Cottesmore after this became effective on 16 October 1943. The IX Troop Carrier Command was basically a re-designation of the existing headquarters at the station until facilities at Grantham were ready.

Early in February 1944, the USAAF began movement of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing and its groups from Sicily to the Grantham area, the wing headquarters reaching Cottesmore on the 17th. This HQ soon transferred to nearby Exton Hall, a mansion surrounded by parkland.

IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional)

Pathfinders were a group of volunteer parachutists selected within the airborne units who were specially trained to operate navigation aids to guide the main airborne body to the drop zones. The pathfinder teams dropped approximately thirty minutes before the main body in order to locate designated drop zones and provide radio and visual guides for the main force in order to improve the accuracy of the jump. Once the main body jumped, the pathfinders then joined their original units and fought as standard airborne infantry.

The nucleus of a Douglas C-47-equipped Pathfinder training unit was born at Cottesmore on 28 February 1944, with the unit moving to the newly-built RAF North Witham in March due to facility overcrowding.

316th Troop Carrier Group

The 316th Troop Carrier Group began to arrive at Cottesmore on 15 February 1944 when 52 C-47 and C-53 transports began flying in from Borizzo Afld., Sicily. Operational squadrons and fuselage codes of the group were:

* 36th Troop Carrier Squadron (6E)
* 37th Troop Carrier Squadron (W7)
* 44th Troop Carrier Squadron (4C)
* 45th Troop Carrier Squadron (T3)

The 316th TCG was part of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing.

The 316th, was a unit of Ninth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) and had participated in airborne operations during the invasion of Sicily as well as transported cargo in the North African Campaign. The ground echelon of the group, having had to travel by sea, did not arrive until a month later.

The mission of the 316th TCG at Cottesmore was to prepare for the invasion of France. Intensive training began from the newly-completed runways. Squadron strength was increased to 16 aircraft per squadron and eventually to 20. Waco CG-4Agliders began to arrive to supplement the Airspeed Horsas which had been in storage for some months.

By now, men of the US 82nd Airborne Division were gathering in the Leicester area and a number of practice jumps were undertaken. On one exercise, when the 316th was engaged in a training drop called Operation 'Eagle' during the evening of 11 May, two leading aircraft of the group collided while manoeuvring over the rally point. Both crews perished, including the Group CO, Lieutenant Colonel Burton R. Fleet, who had been flying as an observer in one of the aircraft.

Two days later Colonel Harvey Berger took command and he remained with the 316th until he was killed on 3 April 1945 when his C-47 crashed south-west of Cologne.

Normandy Invasion

On 5 June the hangars at Cottesmore served as temporary barracks for the men of the 82nd Airborne Division. That night, 1,256 paratroopers were carried in 72 of the 316th's aircraft to he dropped west of Sainte-Mère-Église where they were to secure road junctions and bridges. Some flak was encountered over Normandy and 12 of the C-47s returned with damage, one with a dead crew member aboard.

On 7 June the group flew a re-supply mission to the same area but suffered a serious collision between two aircraft while preparing for takeoff. One pilot was killed.

Operation Market-Garden

The next involvement in airborne operations was Operation "Market". On 17 September the group supplied 87 C-47s and three C-53s to carry 1,453 paratroops and 540 parapacks to the Nijmegen area. One aircraft was forced to ditch after a mid-air collision and minor flak damage was sustained by three.

The next day, when the group towed 82 CG-4A gliders, heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery fire was met and four C-47s were lost. On the 23rd, the 316th towed 89 gliders to Overasselt, losing one plane, and on the 26th, 72 planes flew troops and supplies to the airstrip at Kecnt, near Grave.

During the winter months, the group returned to hauling supplies to the Continent.

Operation Varsity

On 21 March 1945 most of the group's aircraft moved to RAF Wethersfield in Essex, a forward base for Operation Varsity, the airborne crossing of the Rhine. Its mission was to carry paratroops of the British 6th Airborne Division, who were dropped near Wesel on the 24th. Two C-47s were shot down and four others so badly damaged they made emergency landings at Eindhoven. Half the aircraft that returned directly to Cottesmore had flak damage.


During the final weeks of the war, the 52nd TCW moved its groups to bases in France, with the exception of the 316th which was scheduled to return to the United States in April. However, the group remained at Cottesmore until the cessation of hostilities, although it did not stay long thereafter as the major movement of personnel back to the USA began on 11 May when the unit returned to Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina.

The 316th TCG has special claims to fame. It was the only combat group assigned to the original Ninth Air Force organisation in the Middle East in 1942 to transfer to the UK, as well as being the only Ninth Air Force combat group still based in England at the end of the war albeit that IX TCC had been a component of the First Allied Airborne Army since September 1944.

A plaque was presented by the USAAF Troop Carrier units commemorating the IX Troop Carrier Command's stay at Cottesmore and it can still be seen outside the Station HQ.

Postwar Use

Cottesmore was officially handed back to the RAF on 1 July 1945. As a pre-war base with permanent buildings, it was inevitable that it would not remain vacant for long. Cottesmore again became a training station. In 1954 English Electric Canberras were moved in, the first time front-line combat aircraft had been based there, but all had left by the end of 1955.

In 1957 it was announced that Cottesmore would became a base for the V-bomber force, carriers of Britain's nuclear deterrent. The squadrons carried out "Quick Reaction Alert" duties using Handley Page Victor and later Avro Vulcan bombers, until 1969. When they left the base was used by 90 Signals Group. Flight Checking, Trials and Evaluation Flight (FCTEF) used 98 Squadron (Canberras) and 115 Squadron (Varsity and Argosy) to provide ILS and radar trials and checking services to RAF airfields around the world.

Cottesmore became home to the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE). Established in July 1980 and officially opened on 29 January 1981, the centre undertook training of new Panavia Tornado pilots from the RAF, Luftwaffe, German Navy and Italian Air Force.

The TTTE closed in 1999, and after a period of refurbishment was replaced by the Harriers of Nos 3 and 4 squadrons; these were later joined by 800 and 801 Naval Air Squadrons to form Joint Force Harrier.

With the introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon into RAF service, No.3 Sqn moved to RAF Coningsby and No.1 Sqn moved from RAF Wittering.

Present Day Service

No 122 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) was formed at the station on 1 April 2006 encompassing most of the non-formed unit personnel on station. The EAW does not include the flying units at the station. The station commander is dual-hatted as the commander of the wing.

RAF Cottesmore is now home to the Joint Harrier Force (JHF) which consists of No's 1(f) Sqn RAF, 4(a/c)Sqn RAF and the Naval Strike Wing of the Royal Navy, composed of a combined 800 and 801 Naval Air Sqns. Each of these operate and maintain 9 Harrier aircraft (a/c), 18 in total at front line full readiness.They currently operate Harrier GR7/7A, GR9/9A and training a/c T10/T12.

Current structure

The RAF Cottesmore structure as of April 2008: [Air Forces Monthly, April 2008 issue, pp. 44]
*122 Expeditionary Wing
*Air Combat 1 Group
**1 Fighter Squadron - Harrier GR7/GR7A/GR9/GR9A/T10
**4 (Army cooperation) Squadron - Harrier GR7/GR7A/GR9/GR9A/T10
**NSW Naval Strike Wing (800&801NAS Combind) - Harrier GR7/GR7A/GR9/GR9A/T10
*RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire
**20 (Reserve) Squadron - Harrier GR9/T10/T12

ee also

* List of RAF stations
* USAAF Ninth Air Force - World War II
* 82nd Airborne Division


*Bruce Barrymore Halpenny "Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2" (ISBN 978-0850594843)
* Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now 1994. After the Battle ISBN 0900913800
* Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
* [http://armyairforces.com http://armyairforces.com] 316th Troop Carrier Group
* [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher/usafserials.html] USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links

* [http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafcottesmore/ RAF Cottesmore web site]
* [http://www.multimap.com/map/photo.cgi?client=public&X=492000&Y=317000&width=700&height=400&gride=492000&gridn=318000&srec=0&coordsys=gb&db=grid&pc=&zm=0&scale=25000&down.x=286&down.y=6Aerial Photo of RAF Cottesmore from Multimap.Com]

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