History of Royal Air Force Cranwell

Lincolnshire is renowned as the 'Home of the Royal Air Force' and has a vast aviation heritage. Lincolnshire's flat, open countryside and its location made it ideal for the development of airfields during the Great War. Lincoln was one of the top five aircraft manufacturing centres of the Great War with over 5,000 aircraft being constructed in the city's factories. Towards the end of the Great War, there were 37 military aerodromes in the County.

In World War II, Lincolnshire became the most significant location for Bomber Command. Situated on the eastern side of the country, Lincolnshire was an ideal launching platform for a bomber offensive. By the end of the war in 1945, 49 airfields in Lincolnshire were operational. Today several stations and airfields are still operational and serving the modern day RAF.

Starting with the formation of the RAF and continuing through the Second World War with great developments in our air power, for example the design and production of a jet engine which began at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire when Sir Frank Whittle was stationed there, this rural under populated county saw a great influx of service personnel over the years. This still continues today with personnel from all over the world and the various arms of the military attending RAF College Cranwell for many different types of training.

Cranwell's association with aviation began during World War I. The Admiralty needed to establish a series of air stations around the south and east coasts to supplement the coastguard system and to alert our shore defences against sea and air invasion. In 1915, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) sought to establish a single unit at which officers and ratings could be trained to fly aeroplanes, observer kite balloons and airships.

By November 1915, the Admiralty had requisitioned some 2,500 acres of farmland and in the following month, construction of a hutted camp and aircraft hangars began. The Royal Naval Air Service Central Training Establishment Cranwell was commissioned on 1 April 1916, under the command of Commodore Godfrey M. Paine.

Cranwell later became known as HMS Daedalus. In addition to flying training and airship operations, a Boys' Training Wing was also established at Cranwell. Its task was to train Naval ratings as air mechanics and riggers.

With the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps on 1 April 1918, ownership of Cranwell was placed in the hands of the RAF. The former Naval base title was replaced by the designation Royal Air Force Station Cranwell.

The Royal Air Force College opened on 5 February 1920 under the command of Air Commodore C.A.H. Longcroft. The Chief of the Air Staff's message to the first entry of cadets left them in no doubt of his expectations for the College:
"We have to learn by experience how to organise and administer a great Service, both in peace and war, and you, who are present at the College in its first year, will, in future, be at the helm. Therefore, you will have to work your hardest, both as cadets at the College and subsequently as officers, in order to be capable of guiding this great Service through its early days and maintaining its traditions and efficiency in the years to come."

In 1927, the first long range flight took off from Cranwell and covered almost 3,500 miles in 34.5 hours landing in the Persian Gulf. Over the next few years, several other record-breaking long range flights took off from the base culminating in a flight lasting 57 hours and covering 5,341 miles to south west Africa.

In April 1940, the base's medical unit took over the nearby Kesteven Mental Hospital which became No.4 RAF Hospital Rauceby serving wounded pilots and aircrew. The Crash and Burns Unit was under the control of the excellent burns specialist, Squadron Leader Fenton Braithwaite. The pioneering plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, regularly visited Rauceby to perform operations and many of the patients became members of his famous 'Guinea Pig Club'. In 1947, the hospital returned to its previous role. Some rare photographs of this period in the hospital’s history form part of the archive at Cranwell Aviation Heritage Centre.

Britain’s first jet aircraft flew from RAF Cranwell. The Gloster E28/39, designed by Frank Whittle and popularly known as the 'Pioneer' or 'Whittle' flew westwards from Cranwell's southern airfield on the evening of the 15 May 1941.