Royal Air Force links with city celebrated with RAF100 event at Norwich Airport
- Credit: Lauren De Boise
Centenary celebrations are underway at Norwich Airport to mark 100 years of the Royal Air Force.
The airport's links with the RAF stretch back to the start of the Second World War, but even before that close by at Mousehold Heath there was a first world war aerodrome.
Formerly known as RAF Horsham St Faith, the site was first developed in 1939 and officially opened on 1 June 1940 as an RAF bomber station. The first aircraft were Bristol Blenheim's from No 21 Squadron and the first operational aircraft were Spitfires of No 19 Squadron which came from RAF Duxford.
One notable incident was in August 1941 when an 18 Squadron Blenheim from Horsham St Faith on route to attack a power station at Gosnay, dropped a box by parachute over the south west corner of the Luftwaffe airfield at Saint-Omer containing a pair of legs for Wing Commander Douglas Bader who'd been shot down over France and had lost his artificial limbs in the process.
Many other RAF squadrons were stationed over time at Horsham St Faith, and in September 1942 it was made available to the United States Army Air Force – the 8th Air Force. The first of many USAAF tenants was the 319th Bombardment Group flying the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber, followed by the 56th Fighter Group with three squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. The group entered combat with fighter sweeps over France, the low countries and Germany to escort bombers including raids against industrial establishments, V-weapon sites and submarine pens.
Subsequently Horsham St Faith was enlarged and became a heavy bomber station with the 458th Bombardment Group flying consolidated B-24 Liberators. The group flew its final and 240th mission in April 1945 having lost 47 aircraft in combat and a further 18 in accidents.
RAF Horsham St Faith was a front-line RAF station for many years and its squadrons participated in many post-war exercises. There were also many non-flying units associated with the airfield prior to the station being deactivated in August 1963.
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It was then redeveloped into Norwich Airport.
Richard Pace, MD of the airport, said the event was 'to celebrate the history of the RAF but also to give them a platform to inspire youngsters to join the RAF in the future'.
He added: 'Clearly we are very pleased with the good attendance and on Friday afternoon we had 120 school children ranging from ages 10 to 15 who came along and had a chance to look at the hawk cockpit.
'That has proved very popular and it has definitely captured people's imaginations.'