A wartime expansion airfield with a very interesting history, Cottesmore has been used variously as a bomber, training, troop carrier and electronic counter measures base. Today, RAF Cottesmore is home to three squadrons of Harrier GR7s, making it one of the most important frontline bases in the Royal Air Force. But the Station has a long and distinguished history stretching back more than 60 years.
The area between Cottesmore and Thistleton villages was first surveyed as a possible site for an airfield in 1935, and the Station opened as a grassed airfield in 1938 when Fairey Battles of 35 and 207 Squadrons arrived in April of that year. RAF Cottesmore was to remain a bomber flying station, operating a variety of aircraft types, until 1943 when it was handed over to the Americans and became USAAF Station 489. Runways and taxiways were constructed prior to the arrival of C-47 Skytrains, C-53 Skytroopers and gliders of 316th Troop Carrier Group in March 1944. It was from RAF Cottesmore that troops of the 82nd Airborne Division took part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe, and also Operation Market Garden, the famous airborne operation which saw paratroops dropping into Holland.
The Americans handed the airfield back to the RAF in May 1945 towards the end of hostilities in Europe and it again became a bomber flying training station, operating Lancasters and Beaufighters until 1946. It then became the home of 16 Operational Training Unit, later renamed 204 Advanced Flying School, operating Mosquito and Oxford aircraft. From 1948 to 1954, Cottesmore was the home of No 7 Flying Training School, flying Tiger Moths, Harvards, Prentices and Balliols.
RAF Cottesmore was thrust into the jet age in 1954 with the arrival of the Canberra Bombers of 15, 44, 57 and 149 Squadrons. The Canberras were to remain for only a short time before the Station was again placed under care and maintenance whilst major works services were carried out from 1955 until 1958.
In April 1958, the V-Force arrived in the form of 10 Squadron with their new Victor B1 Bombers and 15 Squadron joined them shortly afterwards with Victor B1 and B1A variants. For 18 months until March 1963, the two Victor Squadrons were joined by 'C' Flight of 232 Operational Conversion Unit with the new Victor B2.
After a brief respite following the departure of the last Victor of 15 Squadron at the end of October 1964, the Vulcan B2s began to arrive. Numbers 9, 12 and 35 Squadrons operated the B2s of the Cottesmore Vulcan Wing until the last aircraft of 12 Squadron left the Station in February 1969. For the next 7 years Cottesmore was home to 98 and 36 Canberra Squadrons, 231 Canberra OCU and 115 Squadron with Varsity and Argosy aircraft.
At the end of March 1976 the Station was again placed under care and maintenance and often resembled a vast building site as preparations were made to receive a new prestigious aircraft and a unique unit: the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment.
In 1977, having taken the important decision to procure the Tornado, the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom determined to take the process a step further. They agreed that crews destined to fly the swing-wing jet should be trained side-by-side at a single establishment, sharing aircraft, training aids and instructors.
In 1978, work began in earnest to prepare the station for its role as the training unit for the new Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, the Tornado. Among the first units to transfer to the station was the Tornado Aircrew Course Design Team (TACDT) which was previously located at Headquarters Strike Command. Their important business was to create the syllabus for the aircrew to meet the requirements of the three Air Forces and the German Navy. The decision to set up the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment was finally confirmed when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the three nations in May 1979.
The first two RAF Tornados were delivered to Cottesmore in July 1980, followed by the first two German aircraft in the September of that year. The first two Italian aircraft arrived in April 1982. The culmination of years of preparation was reached in January 1981 when TTTE was officially opened by the three Chiefs of Air Staff.
For 20 years until April 1999, the major operational unit based at Cottesmore was the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE), with Tornado GR1s. TTTE carried out all the conversion training on the type for the RAF, Italian and German Air Forces. But with the decision to relocate Tornado training to member nations, the TTTE was disbanded. Within weeks however, flying returned to the Station when Cottesmore's new residents Nos. 3 and 4 Squadrons moved their 26 Harrier GR7s and T10s from RAF Laarbruch after it was closed. In the near future, both Cottesmore and nearby Wittering will be the bases for the new Joint Force 2000 - a combined RAF Harrier and Royal Navy Sea Harrier rapid reaction force. Also based here is the Offensive Support Squadron manned by members of the RAuxAF.
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