RAF Westcott opened in September 1942 as 11 OTU (Operational Training Unit) with crews using Wellington bombers for training. Many of these crews went on to see active service in Lancaster bombers in the fierce aerial campaign waged by Bomber Command over occupied Europe. The RAF moved out at the end of August 1945 shortly after welcoming nearly 53,000 liberated POW's who were flown into Westcott and Oakley in Operation Exodus.
Historic Fact 1 - Did You Know?
Originally created as a base for training bomber crews in WWII, Westcott became a Government Research Establishment in 1946 specifically for research into rocket propulsion and the development of rocket motors.
Historic Fact 2 - Did You Know?
The E-Site buildings located near the entrance of the park were once home to British aero engine manufacturer, Bristol Siddeley, for the development of a twin chamber liquid fuelled rocket engine named Stentor.
Designed to power nuclear bombs carried by the Vulcan and Victor V Bomber, the Stentor engine generated 20,000Ibs of thrust using kerosene and hydrogen peroxide, created to power the Hawker Siddeley Blue Steel nuclear stand-off bomb to a distance of 104 miles at speeds of up to Mach 2.6. Built in the mid 1950’s and opened in June 1957, the E-Site buildings have recently been awarded Grade II listed status due to the significance of the development work carried out there during the Cold War period.
Historic Fact 3 - Did You Know?
When approaching the main gate at WVP you may notice the tower on the right hand side, this is known as P2 Site. This site is Grade II listed and was preserved due to the association with the Blue Streak rocket engine.
Blue Streak was a British medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), the project was intended to maintain an independent British nuclear deterrent, replacing the V bomber fleet, which would become obsolete by 1965.
The missiles used liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. Whilst the vehicle could be left fully laden with over 20 tones of kerosene, the 60 tones of liquid oxygen had to be loaded immediately before launch or icing became a problem. Due to this, fuelling the rocket took 15 minutes, which would have made it useless as a rapid response to an attack.
The rocket engine was developed by Rolls-Royce along with RAE/RPD (Rocket Propulsion Department) now known as Westcott Venture Park. Apparently you could hear the motor up to 20 miles away.
Historic Fact 4 - Did You Know?
Crude oil burning trials were conducted at WVP in 1970 following the Torrey Canyon disaster on 18 March 1967.
SS Torrey Canyon was an oil tanker with a cargo capacity for 120,000 tons of crude oil. She was shipwrecked off the west coast of Cornwall, England in 1967 causing an environmental disaster. At the time she was the largest vessel ever to be wrecked. On 28th March, just ten days following, Fleet Air Arm sent forty-two 1,000 lb bombs on the ship. Then, the Royal Air Force sent Hawker Hunter jets to drop cans of aviation fuel to make the oil blaze. Bombings continued into the next day before the Torrey Canyon finally sank.
Following the disaster, Westcott was used to test burn crude oil in an attempt to find a method for its dispersal. A tank simulator was constructed, it was then fired up in an attempt to understand how effectively the oil burnt.
These historic images show the oil tank being constructed, the oil on fire and the resulting bent tank several days later.
Historic Fact 5 - Did You Know?
June 2015 marked 70 years since RAF Westcott was used as a clearing centre for former allied prisoners of war being repatriated back to Britain by air in ‘Operation Exodus.’
The operation, which started on 2nd April and went on until 3rd June 1945 saw 75,000 personnel, airlifted back from Europe with around 35,000 landing at Westcott.
The picture below was taken by on the 10th May 1945 at Melsbroek an airfield near Brussels. They were a somewhat reluctant group having crashed twice already that day on takeoff because of a large badly filled in bomb crater in the runway. On landing at Westcott they were greeted by the villagers who waved at each plane as it landed. They taxied and parked on one of the runways not being used and unloaded and were then all treated to tea and cakes until trucks arrived to take the men away.
At Westcott this would have been at Hangar 5 by the main gate. This had been decorated with bunting and stoves and a sound system installed. They were all deloused and fed and then transported back to their bases to receive their pay, fresh clothes and leave. On 5th May 2010 the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight overflew Westcott in recognition of the 65th anniversary of Operation Exodus.