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Middle Wallop Airfield

Middle Wallop Airfield 1939-1957

Middle Wallop - the largest grass airfield in England, formally became the property of the Air Ministry on 12 September 1938 when a Clerk of Works from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works arrived to assume his new post. The site was cleared, resulting in the loss of farms and some small dwellings. Work on the airfield started in November 1939 after eventually finding a water source for the project and its inhabitants, which had proved difficult. Top soil was removed revealing acres of white chalk and work continued through the winter weather, which had to be halted for ten days due to a severe frost. 

In early 1940 construction of the first of the five 'C' type hangars started, using reinforced concrete walls
and enormous sliding doors fitted with stone aggregate to provide both men and aircraft with blast protection. Even though the bitter winter frost had been a major hindrance the buildings were handed over to the Royal Air Force (RAF) on the 16th April 1940, following completion of the Station Headquarters, ten married quarters, main stores, station sick quarters and the temporary Group Operations Block (now the Station Church). Two days later Hangar 2 was occupied. Several squadrons were based at Middle Wallop at this time operating the Hurricane, Blenheim and Spitfire aircraft, however all had moved before the Battle of Britain. The airfield was bombed on numerous occasions resulting in several casualties and fatalities along with the demise of three Blenheims and several Spitfires. Despite this Middle Wallop pilots were very successful, claiming at least thirteen enemy aircraft. However, this resulted in the death of one pilot and the disappearance of two others. Fortunately attacks did not cause extensive damage to the site, although one unexploded bomb did close the main Andover road for two days. During the winter months the squadrons at Middle Wallop grew, as did the station and its facilities.

Preparations for the invasion of Europe led to the transfer of Middle Wallop in December 1943 to the United States Air Force. Middle Wallop was then used for tactical reconnaissance units, until they moved to advanced landing grounds in France in July 1944. In February 1945 Middle Wallop assumed the name of HMS Flycatcher, which was a Royal Navy unit. HMS Flycatcher became one of a series of Mobile Naval Air Operations Bases (MONABS), which were formed for service in the Far East. With the end of hostilities in 1945, leading to the abandonment of further operational activities, the Station was returned to Fighter Command on April 10th 1946.

657 Air Observation Post Squadron and 227 Operational Conversion Unit

Following the end of the Second World War Middle Wallop became the Headquarters for the newly formed Southern Sector. Between September 1947 to January 1948 an experimental steel mat runway was laid on the airfield. This proved to be unsuccessful due to damage by large aircraft and Middle Wallop reverted back to a grass airfield, as it still is today. In January 1948, 657 Air Observation Post Squadron RAF and 227 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) RAF, both located at RAF Andover, moved to the Station with their Auster aircraft. As a result Middle Wallop becoming the training centre for Royal Artillery Air Observation Post Pilots and Observers.

Control and Reporting School

In May 1947, the Control and Reporting School previously located at Box, Wiltshire, as part of 10 Group Headquarters, transferred to Middle Wallop. On the 13th August 1948 a small but significant air display took place with aircraft ranging from the Heston JC6 and Auster M, to specification A2/45, Prestwick Pioneer to A4/45 and several new helicopters namely the Sikorsky Hoverfly 1 and 2, Westland-Sikorsky S51 Dragonfly and Bristol 171 Sycamore as well as the incomplete Cierva W14 Skeeter. With Air Operations flying remaining with the RAF, 227 OCU RAF became the Air Operations School in May 1950 and subsequently resulted in all Air Operations flying training being centralised at Middle Wallop in the Elementary Flight of the School. The premise for a new Army Air Corps was already underway, with the establishment of light liaison courses for soldier pilots and for officers other than gunners.

The Glider Pilot Regiment

Gradually the Glider Pilot Regiment was reduced to two glider squadrons and a training and depot squadron as the large military gliders disappeared along with most of the Horsa and Hamilcar gliders. Eventually the remaining pilots were drawn together in an independent squadron based at Aldershot with their aircraft based at Netheravon. These pilots were trained at the Air Operations School on courses similar to the Air Observation Post courses and differed only in that less gunnery was taught. These airmen were the first light liaison pilots. When the Squadron disbanded the gliders were taken off charge and the Headquarters was used for the office the Chief Instructor (Light Liaison) who also acted as Commanding Officer of the Glider Pilot Regiment and, in turn, this became the Regimental Officer for the remainder of the Glider Pilot Regiment. As flying training progressed, Middle Wallop seemed an ideal place for a training centre as its location was so close to Salisbury Plain and its extensive training area. Helicopters were seen to be the choice of the future as they could be operated alongside the rest of the army. In 1955 the Squadron was renamed 651 Squadron RAF and then the wheels were put in motion to form an Army Air Arm in its own right. On 1st September 1957 the Light Aircraft School became the Army Air Corps Centre – exactly forty five years after the Royal Flying Corps was formed from two companies of the Air Battalion Royal Engineers in 1911. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) assumed engineering responsibility for the new Corps.

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