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RAF Upwood – An abandoned military base that went through three major wars

Nikola Petrovski

Declared as a non-flying station, this Royal Air Force base was under the guidance of the United States Air Force (USAF) starting from 1981.

Known as RAF Upwood, it was one out of three Royal Air Force bases located around Cambridgeshire that was essentially utilized by the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). The two other USAFE bases were RAF Molesworth and RAF Alconbury.

Inside one of the buildings. Author: Pixel-Logic CC BY 2.0

Inside one of the buildings. Author: Pixel-Logic CC BY 2.0

Over the years this military base saw its fair share of war activity, starting with World War One and ending with the Cold War.

At the time of World War One, 160 acres of land was taken over by the RFC – Royal Flying Corps (as they were known at the time before they joined forces with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force).

Huge paint peel close up view. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Huge paint peel close up view. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

The land they seized was close to the village of Upwood. In September 1917 the base was established and initially became known as Bury, due to the close proximity of the village Bury.

During these early years, there were no flying activities. Instead, the base was pretty much used as a night landing and satellite ground, most notably by No. 75 Squadron. This unit was flying the famous Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 aircraft and served as a bombardment unit during the Second World War.

BE2c at the Imperial War Museum. Author: Stahlkocher

BE2c at the Imperial War Museum. Author: Stahlkocher

There were no established buildings at this base to begin with, at least not before 1918 when a couple of huts and a few hangars were erected.

Just one year after it was officially opened, this Royal Air Force base was renamed Upwood. As WWI progressed, more and more units were stationed here, bringing with them their aircraft such as the FE.2b and the 504K.

Avro 504. Author: TSRL CC BY-SA 3.0

Avro 504. Author: TSRL CC BY-SA 3.0

Once the war ended there was no further need of these units and so they left in 1919. The landing field was then returned back to the locals, and all of the structures found on site were dismantled.

During the years between the two world wars, Britain came to the conclusion that the air defense they were so proud of was in need of a serious upgrade.

DAN GER. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

DAN GER. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Even though Britain and France had chosen to follow a policy of Appeasement rather than investing heavily in rearmament, Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations and flouting of the Treaty of Versailles did prompt some preparations for a possible war to be made. And so, during the period from 1934 to 1940, various airfields were opened and expanded. This included the reactivation of RAF Upwood.

Wild West theme graffiti. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Wild West theme graffiti. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Construction began at RAF Upwood in 1936, and one year later a number of flying divisions were already being stationed there. Once Poland was invaded on September 1, 1939, and the start of World War Two was announced, RAF Upwood began its activities.

Huge paint peel. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Huge paint peel. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

The goal of this base was to serve as a training ground for future war pilots. But the soldiers stationed there did manage to get some action when this base was attacked on two separate occasions in 1940 and 1942 by a Nazi Luftwaffe unit.

They defended the base well with a causality of just one man. During this period, the base housed around 2,500 people. Once the Second World War was over, RAF Upwood lost around 200 pilots from its aircrew.

One of the neglected buildings. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

One of the neglected buildings. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

It was during the Cold War that RAF Upwood saw a number of different units present on its grounds. It was used as a training ground, once again.

Once the Cold War was brought to an end in 1991, the United States Air Force presence at the base was slowly diminishing. With time the control of the base was handed back to the United Kingdom.

Part of the abandoned toilet. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

Part of the abandoned toilet. Author: Olga Pavlovsky CC BY 2.0

One by one the soldiers and their families were moved from the base, with the last family leaving in 2005. By 2012, the base was completely closed.

Part of the RAF Upwood was sold to civilians, part remained abandoned, and another part is used by airsoft players. The abandoned US medical facility was deconstructed to make room for a private property investment.