Things to do in Cambridge

Explore WWII Airfields around Cambridge

WWII airfields around Cambridge: A wartime plane flying in the sky.

 Journey Back in Time: Exploring WWII airfields around Cambridge

Whether you are a history enthusiast, a student eager to delve deeper into the events of World War II, or just someone curious about our historical landscape, this is a snapshot of the World War 2 airfields in Cambridge.

So buckle up, and get ready to embark on a memorable flight into the past with the historical airfields of Cambridge.

Here’s a look at a few noteworthy locations with fascinating World War II histories.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Duxford

The most prominent of them is Royal Air Force (RAF) Duxford, situated 8 miles south of Cambridge. Opened in 1918, it was crucial during the Battle of Britain. By the time war was declared in 1939, the airfield was long-established and ready to play a role.

It was used by several different RAF squadrons before it was handed over to the US Air Force in 1943.

The Imperial War Museum currently manages this location. Duxford houses a comprehensive display of tanks, military vehicles, artillery, and many rare aircraft and it is open to the public throughout the year. Duxford also hold air shows on a regular basis, featuring a variety of wartime aircraft.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Bassingbourn

Situated just a few miles southwest of Cambridge, RAF Bassingbourn saw extensive service as part of the RAF Bomber Command and later as a base for the US 91st Bombardment Group.

After being decommissioned, part of the base was turned into a museum – the Tower Museum Bassingbourn, paying tribute to the role it played in the war.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Oakington

Oakington was one of several new airfields commissioned by the government in the late 1930s in the build-up to the Second World War as conflict with Germany became an increasingly likely possibility.

Oakington may have been chosen as a site for a new airfield because it was close to the Cambridge to St Ives railway, and the station and sidings at Oakington would make supplying the airfield easier

Operating primarily as a training base, RAF Oakington accommodated units like the 218 and 115 Squadrons that were involved in bombing operations.

Presently, the airfield is under development for housing. However, a memorial honouring the wartime servicemen is available to the public.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Bottisham

RAF Bottisham is a former Royal Air Force station that played a significant role in World War II.  It was first used by bomb-armed de Havilland Tiger Moths transferred from No. 22 Elementary Flying Training School RAF (EFTS) to be prepared for possible anti-invasion duties.

This site was in operation from 1940 to 1943 and served as a satellite airfield during the Battle of Britain and later became a base for fighter units protecting the Midlands and East Anglia. At its peak, it was the home to many American fighter units.

It’s now a museum which is open to the public from the end of March until the Wintertime. As well as the museum and coffee shop there is a P51 Mustang on display.   The Museum also  hold a variety of events throughout the year including a 1940’s weekend. Currently this hidden gem features at no 2 on Trip Advisors list of things to do in Cambridge.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Waterbeach

RAF Waterbeach is a former Royal Air Force station located in Waterbeach, near Cambridge. The site was operational from 1941 until 2013 and was originally used by Bomber Command during the Second World War. The airfield hosted several squadrons and aircraft types including Lancasters, Stirlings, and Wellingtons.

After the war, RAF Waterbeach was home to several transport and training squadrons. Following the defence cuts of 2013, the station was closed, and the land was sold off for housing.

Today, there are plans to transform the area into a major new community, including the development of homes, schools, shops, and open spaces, however there is a small museum which is open monthly to the public.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Wyton

This  airfield opened as a training airfield for the Royal Flying Corps in 1916.

During the war Aircraft from RAF Wyton took part in some of the first bombing raids of the Second World War, and in 1942 The Pathfinder Force was formed here under Group Captain Don Bennett.

The facilities are still in use as the site is home to a number of important Defence functions and also houses a Heritage Centre featuring the Pathfinder Collection. Access to the centre is limited and must be arranged in  as this is a working military site.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Bourn

RAF Bourn served as a satellite station to RAF Oakington from 1940, housing RAF Bomber Command. In 1942 it became a main station under No. 3 Group  and the base was subjected to four separate bombing raids by German aircraft over the course of the war. You can trace remnants of the original control tower, now part of the Hardwicke House residential home, and converted mess halls.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Witchford

Based approximately 16 miles north of Cambridge, RAF Witchford is the former site of No. 115 Squadron during WWII, predominantly operating Avro Lancaster aircraft. Post-war, the land returned to agriculture, with only the main runway left in its entirety.

A small display centre operates here today with fascinating exhibitions of photographs and wartime artifacts.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF Gransden Lodge

Gransden Lodge opened in 1942 as an operational RAF Bomber Command station. When the airfield first became operational, the units that were stationed there were involved in top-secret radar investigation and trials work, but within a year these units had moved away and the station became the base of the only Canadian squadron in the R.A.F.’s élite Pathfinder Force.

The site is now currently home to the Cambridge Gliding Centre, and some original infrastructure is still visible.

WWII airfields around Cambridge: RAF  Warboys

RAF Warboys is a former Royal Air Force station located in the village of Warboys. It was operational during the Second World War, primarily serving as a Bomber Command station for RAF Pathfinder squadrons.

It was opened in September 1942 and decommissioned in 1963. During the war, RAF Warboys primarily used Avro Lancaster and de Havilland Mosquito aircraft.

After its closure, some parts of the station were converted to other uses, including as a radar training school and for testing bomb disposal techniques.

Today, parts of the old airfield are used for agriculture, while others have been turned into a landfill site. A few buildings, including the control tower, still remain intact as poignant reminders of its wartime past.

The Eagle Pub

The perfect way to end this type of day would be a drink in the Eagle Pub in Cambridge. At the back of the pub is the RAF bar, where the ceiling is covered in signatures, slogans, and drawings of pilots from the British and US Air Forces who would congregate in the blacked-out bar during the long nights between deadly missions.

American Cemetery Madingley

The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England, is the only American World War II cemetery in the United Kingdom. It is located just outside the city of Cambridge and serves as the final resting place for 3,812 American servicemen who lost their lives in the Second World War.

It was formally dedicated in 1956. The cemetery covers 30.5 acres, and the headstones are arranged in a fan shape, spread over seven curved plots. There is also a large wall (the Wall of the Missing) upon which are inscribed the names of 5,127 missing servicemen who have no known grave.

In 2014, a visitor center was added, where personal stories of those buried in the cemetery are shared.

Exploring the past

Some of these areas can be tricky to get to without a car, but places like Duxford and Bottisham feature on some bus routes and can also be accessed by taxi or car.

Many more sites throughout the area contain stories and memories of courage. Today, many of these places continue to serve as constant reminders of an important era in history.

When visiting these sites, please be respectful, as many are on private land or have been redeveloped. Where permitted, enjoy exploring these historic places, soaking up their fascinating past, and honouring those who served during World War II.


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