RAF Coltishall

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Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, September 2014
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.


Between 1964 and 1974, RAF Coltishall was a training station for Lightning pilots. In 1974 the first Jaguar fighter aircraft arrived and RAF Coltishall had been synonymous with the Jaguar fighter aircraft for the following three decades, until these were replaced by Tornados in the mid-1980s. Eight front-line RAF squadrons, four of which based in the UK, and an operational conversion unit were equipped with the Jaguar and Coltishall had been the home of the UK-based squadrons since 1974, and with the arrival of No. 16 (Reserve) Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth in June 2000, it became the only RAF station to operate these ground-attack aircraft. During the Cold War, Coltishall’s Jaguars were allocated to the Strategic Air Command Europe (SACEUR) Strategic Reserve and they were also tasked with defending NATO’s northern flanks in Denmark and Norway and in the decade following the Cold War, the Jaguars were deployed during the first Gulf War and the Bosnian War, and later during operations in Sierra Leone.

Several examples of Jaguar nose art dating from the 1991 Gulf War have been preserved. The Spirit of Coltishall Association owns one and three more are on display in the Coltishall Rooms of the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead, where some of the old signs that once used to be affixed to buildings on the Technical site can also be seen.


TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG2623 : Nose art by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak


Before the arrival of the Jaguar Force and its aircraft, operated by Nos. 6 and 54 Squadrons (armed with conventional weapons and tasked with strike and attack duties) and No. 41 Squadron (photo-reconnaissance), and from 2000 onwards also by No. 16 (Reserve) Squadron as part of Strike Command, 38 Group, a number of new buildings were erected to service this new type of aircraft. The new buildings included a workshop built specifically for the assembly of the Jaguar’s engines, officially known as the Propulsion and Aircraft Components Flight (PACF) Adour Engine Assembly Facility. A Jaguar paint shop and a detached building for testing uninstalled jet engines were also constructed. A second jet engine testing facility occupies one of the Cold War dispersal points located south-west of the flying field. Here the Jaguars were run up to full reheat and as the resulting noise was directed upwards it was supposedly not disturbing the local residents.

To support No. 41 Squadron, a temporary double-storey analysis building was erected to the east of the 1930s hangars. Digital imaging and additional sensing techniques later replaced the Jaguar’s wet film cameras but the temporary building is still standing seven decades later. The data processing was undertaken in mobile cabins. This compound is adjoined in the east by the headquarters of the Electrical Engineering Squadron (building 295), which was constructed in the early 1950s to maintain and service the increasingly complex electronic equipment carried by post-war jet aircraft.


TG2622 : Jet engine tester by Evelyn Simak TG2622 : Jet engine tester by Evelyn Simak TG2622 : Blast walls from the Cold War period by Evelyn Simak TG2622 : Cold War blast wall by Evelyn Simak

TG2622 : Jaguar paint shop by Evelyn Simak TG2623 : Building Col 22C by Evelyn Simak TG2623 : Building 295 by Evelyn Simak TG2623 : Photo reconnaissance building by Evelyn Simak TG2623 : Jaguar engine assembly workshop by Evelyn Simak


During the late 1970s three standard NATO munitions storage "igloos", named for their distinctive shape, were constructed on the site of the airfield’s refurbished 1940s bomb and ammunition storage area to the east of the flying field. These "igloos" are generally built at ground level and they have an earth-covered roof, sides and rear. They are constructed with reinforced concrete and can be used to store conventional or nuclear weapons and they are bullet, theft, weather and fire-resistant. An entry control point housing offices is situated at the centre of this compound and to the rear are the missile inspection and preparation buildings. An attack-warning siren can still be seen on the roof of building 227.

The new missiles stored here included De Havilland "Firestreak" and Hawker Siddeley "Red Top". "Firestreak" was a passive infrared homing air to air missile, the first such weapon to enter active service with the RAF. It was later partially replaced by the "Red Top". From 1975 to 1998, when the RAF's last nuclear weapon (WE-177) was withdrawn, the station's squadrons were given a nuclear attack role and each was allocated eight WE-177 nuclear weapons to be used in the event of instructions from SACEUR.


TG2722 : Entry control point to missile storage area by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Building by the entry control point by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Munitions storage building by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Munitions storage buildings by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Munitions storage building by Evelyn Simak

TG2722 : NATO munitions storage buildings by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : NATO munitions storage building by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : NATO munitions storage building by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : NATO munitions storage building (detail) by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : NATO munitions storage building by Evelyn Simak

TG2722 : Missile inspection and preparation buildings by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : This way to the Isolation Switch by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Old signage in the missile inspection compound by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Missile inspection and preparation buildings by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Missile inspection and preparation buildings by Evelyn Simak


Somewhat incongruously, a fuel storage area adjoined one of the airfield’s ammunition storage areas, and both adjoined the "igloo" missile stores. One can only dread to think what might have happened had there been an explosion on one of these storage areas and how the neighbouring buildings where the missiles were stored might have fared.


TG2722 : Fuel storage compound by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Grassed-over fuel tank by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Building in fuel storage compound by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : The fuel compound - sign by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : Buildings in fuel storage compound by Evelyn Simak


Coltishall's aviation fuel supply came from the Hethersett Aviation Fuel Distribution Depot, which had private railway sidings dating back to WW2 when the site was a Ministry of Defence oil depot. The fuel was stored in a number of subterranean tanks which appear to still be in place. The presence of a powered capstan and rope-rollers between the sidings indicates that a rope system was used to move tank wagons of aviation fuel into and within the depot. The haulage was provided by the capstan which could have been electrically or hydraulically powered. The use of rope haulage avoided locomotives having to enter the sidings, as steam locomotives would have posed an obvious fire hazard in an aviation fuel depot.

TG1704 : Sidings in former MoD oil depot by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Railway sidings in WWII Ministry of Defence oil depot by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Rollers and saddles by railway sidings by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Capstan and rope-rollers by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Railway sidings into petrol depot by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Old buffer stops at end of disused railway sidings by Evelyn Simak TG1704 : Redundant railway sidings by Evelyn Simak



In the summer of 2004 the then Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, announced that RAF Coltishall would be closing at the end of 2006. Several cartoons related to this occasion can be seen on display in the Coltishall Rooms of the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum in Neatishead > LinkExternal link - LinkExternal link - LinkExternal link. In December 2012, the Norfolk County Council purchased what remained of the site, the fate of which is as yet undetermined. At the time of writing (September 2014) it is being advertised by the NPS Group (property design and management services) as "To Let". By April 2014, the Norfolk County Council had however decided that a solar farm would be an appropriate use of the area of the former flying field and proposals by a newly created company, Scottow Moor Solar Ltd, to construct a 40-50MW solar farm were hence swiftly approved. Construction work started in January 2015 and is progressing swiftly. The solar farm is planned to generate electricity by using photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity and could generate enough clean energy to power approximately 12,000 to 15,000 homes.


TG2723 : Security fencing at the former RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2723 : Solar farm construction at RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2723 : Sections of concrete beside the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TG2723 : Solar farm construction at RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2723 : Solar farm construction at RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak

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Please note that the former airfield is currently not open to the public. Most of the pictures were taken on the occasion of a guided tour held in September 2014 during the National Heritage Open Days. The tour was organised by Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment Service, with the assistance of the Spirit of Coltishall Association and NPS. More detailed information about the airfield is available as a free download: LinkExternal link

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A defence structure dating from WW2 still stands beside the perimeter fence on the east side of the flying field. It is now so overgrown that it can no longer be seen even when standing right next to it; there are several more of these small buildings dotted about at strategical points, all of which were recorded on the occasion of a survey carried out by the Airfield Research Group (ARG) in 2013. This particular building measures about two by three metres and is brick built, with an entrance at one corner, and a sloping concrete roof with a small rectangular opening at its centre. Each wall has two embrasures (loop holes).


TG2722 : Field boundary hedge by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : WW2 defence post by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : WW2 defence post by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : WW2 defence post by Evelyn Simak TG2722 : WW2 defence post by Evelyn Simak

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About one kilometre to the south of the airfield's WW2 bomb and ammunition storage area, but outside the airfield's perimeter fence, two overgrown pillboxes and a few ruined structures dating from the war still stand on the north side of the B1150 road, a short distance south of Sco Ruston Hall. A number of lumps of concrete with steel girders or posts embedded in them can be found lined up along the compound's perimeter. A ruined picket post is still guarding the site entrance and a pillbox (DoB reference: S0005485) stands on the other side but it is now so overgrown that it can no longer be seen.


TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : Derelict military building by Adrian S Pye TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak

TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak


The reinforced concrete top of another pillbox is lying beside the track leading into the site a short distance further along. A second intact pillbox (DoB reference: S0005484 is situated at the opposite end of the compound which, roughly at its centre, also still contains the remains of a ruined brick-built hut consisting of three small rooms, and a shower, a toilet and a bathroom. The hut is surrounded by a brick wall. A short distance further to the north-east a concrete platform, surrounded on three sides by a high and sturdy brick wall with a small opening on one side can be found. What would seem to be a pit can be seen in the corner below this opening.


TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall - pillbox by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak

TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall (detail) by Adrian S Pye TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2721 : WWII site south of RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak


Which purpose this site served is as yet unconfirmed, and although it is now known that an official plan existed, this plan has to date not been found. The site is known locally as the "old radio station" and there are reports of large masts secured by concrete stanchions and wooden accommodation huts encased within the brick walls having stood there during the war. This would suggest that the site was either used as a direction finding radar station or, perhaps more likely, as a W/T (wireless/telegraphy) station serving RAF Coltishall.

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During the early months of the war, an area on the northern side of the Scottow Parish burial ground, situated below the runway's northern flight path, was set aside for burials from RAF Coltishall and this is now the war graves plot. It was used only until September 1943, when growing shortage of space and the great expansion of the RAF Station made it necessary for the new cemetery at North Walsham to be used. After the war a Cross of Sacrifice was erected at the far end of the plot. Nearly 60 war casualties from Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Germany, and one unidentified - are buried here and a memorial stone can also be found.


TG2724 : Entrance to War Graves Plot by Evelyn Simak TG2724 : Memorial to those who served at RAF Coltishall by Evelyn Simak TG2724 : Cross of Sacrifice by Evelyn Simak TG2724 : War Graves Plot by Evelyn Simak

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Exhibits relating to RAF Coltishall can be seen at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum in Flixton (Suffolk), at the City of Norwich Aviation Museum in Horsham St Faith and at the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum in Neatishead.


TG2114 : The City of Norwich Aviation Museum (CNAM) by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak TG3418 : RAF Air Defence Radar Museum - The Coltishall Rooms by Evelyn Simak



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