The airfield has a notable place in history, being the site of both the first attempt to develop a viable long-range electronic navigation system, during the First World War, and also of the first British military helicopter unit and first European helicopter flying training school, during the Second World War. Corporal Josephine Robins, one of only six members of the WAAF to win the Military Medal during the Second World War, won her award for courage rescuing people during an air-raid on the airfield in the Battle of Britain. RAF Andover was also used before and after the Second World War for a variety of other aeronautical research and flight testing. The RAF Staff College, Andover was founded here in 1922, the first college to train officers in the administrative, staff and policy aspects of running an air force. The Royal Air Force Association was also founded at RAF Andover
RAF Andover saw action during the Second World War. During the Battle of Britain, a Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) telephone operator at RAF Andover was awarded the Military Medal for her courage during two air raids, one of only six such awards to members of the WAAF in the entire Second World War. Before and during the Battle of Normandy, RAF Andover was used by the United States Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force as a tactical fighter airfield. It was also known as USAAF Station 406, Pundit Code AV. The code AV was broadcast in morse code by a mobile red light beacon at night, during the latter prt of the Second World War. The Pundit Code was also painted on the airfield hangar nearest to the control tower, and remained visible until the hangers were demolished in 2001.
The earliest known human activity on the site of Andover Airfield took place in the Bronze Age, according to archaeological evidence, which has uncovered significant Iron Age and later activity, including both an Anglo-Saxon and medieval cemeteries. Military activity on the site is certainly established with the construction during or shortly after 43 AD of the Portway (called on Andover Airfield Monxton Road) Roman Road from Venta Belgarum (Winchester) to Cunetio (Marlborough), which just north of the Airfield meets at East Anton Crossroads the Icknield Way Roman Road from Sorviodunum (Old Sarum) to Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester). The Andover sections of these Roman roads in Britain were constructed by the Legio II Augusta Roman Legion.
The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) opened a station near Andover in August 1917 during the First World War. The station was mainly built by German prisoners of war, some of whom left their signatures in roof spaces of buildings on the station. It is close to the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre at Amport House and the Army Air Corps Centre at Middle Wallop.
Plans for an RFC "Training Depot Station" on the airfield site had originally been made in 1912. The station motto was Vis et armis consilioque orta (With determination and equipment, I take counsel to rise up). This is appropriate as the station was built as a Training Depot for aircrews, who had completed basic flying training, to learn to fly the Handley Page Type O and Airco D.H. 9 bombers. The first unit to occupy the station was No. 2 School of Navigation and Bomb Dropping. This unit took up residence while the station was still under construction.
Amongst squadrons formed at Andover was 106 Squadron, formed on 30 September 1917, who were equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 reconnaissance aircraft for army co-operation duties, being posted to Ireland in May 1918.
In early 1918 experiments were conducted with Handley Page Type O bombers, based at Andover and Cranwell, fitted with Radio Direction-Finding (RDF as it was called) equipment for night flying. The intention was to guide British bombers to and from Berlin, and early results led to 550 sets of RDF equipment being ordered by the United States Army Air Service, but the First World War ended before any attempts could be made to use the system operationally. This was the first attempt to develop a viable long-range electronic navigation system, of a kind that is today used routinely worldwide.
Between the wars, the airfield housed a number of RAF units, including from 1919 the RAF School of Navigation, as No. 2 School of Navigation and Bomb Dropping was retitled.
The first RAF aircraft to bear the name Andover has, unlike the second such aircraft, no known trials or operational connection with Andover Airfield. Three examples of the Avro 561 Andover served as air ambulances at RAF Halton in the early 1920s. The fourth example of this type, the Avro 563 Andover , was a 12 passenger airliner which entered RAF service in 1925.
The Royal Air Force Association was formed in 1929, following a conversation in the Sergeants’ Mess of RAF Andover.
Two experimental bomber squadrons were based at RAF Andover in the late 1920s and early 1930s, No. 12 Squadron RAF and No. 101 Squadron RAF. 12 Squadron was based at RAF Andover from March 1924, along with No. 13 Squadron, operating Fairey Fawn light bombers.
The Fairey Fox bombers of No. 12 Squadron RAF was one of the two experimental bomber squadrons based on the station, these aircraft being significantly faster than all other contemporary fighters and bombers. To this day, 12 Squadron's official unit motto 'Leads the Field' and crest commemorates their time at RAF Andover by depicting the head of a Fox. The Fairey Fox was the first all metal aircraft in operational service and 12 Squadron was the only squadron to operate it. The aircraft was a private venture by Fairey, which had been demonstrated to the Squadron secretly during an 'At Home' at RAF Andover in 1925, when the Fox appeared in Royal Air Force markings and 12 Squadron colours. During the Air Defence of Great Britain exercise in 1928, the Squadron was tasked with the simulated bombing of London. To commemorate 12 Squadron's success in the exercise, the Commander in Chief of the Royal Air Force chose a Fox's face as the Squadron emblem.
A typical annual training programme for 12 Squadron consisted of individual training in the autumn, working up to Squadron training in the summer consisting of bombing, formation flying, navigation exercises and gunnery. Experimental trials carried out included some limited night flying and the introduction into service and testing of parachutes for aircrew. This involved a number of practice jumps being performed by observers, who would climb out of the aircraft onto a small ladder and await a signal from the pilot as the aircraft flew over the airfield at 2000 ft. The observers carried no reserve parachutes, and the silk material from which the parachutes were constructed had a tendency to build up a static charge whilst in storage, such that when the ripcord was pulled, the silk stuck together. 12 Squadron was also tasked with further trials work, experimenting with oxygen systems, high altitude photography, and low temperature trials work, particularly in respect to lubricants. In addition, cloud flying in formation and pattern bombing techniques were tested.
The Foxes were replaced in January 1931 with the Hawker Hart, after which much work was put into formation flying in cloud, instrument flying, pattern bombing and aircraft icing trials. The purpose of these trials was to enable Royal Air Force aircraft to bomb an enemy ship successfully, regardless of weather. To this end, 12 Squadron dropped several practice bombs on an obsolete battleship, HMS Centurion, which was a radio-controlled target off the south coast. On 6 July 1935, King George V performed the first Royal Review of the Royal Air Force, in which 12(B) Squadron led the Light Bomber Wing flypast at RAF Mildenhall. Several home-based squadrons, including 12 Squadron, were re-deployed in October 1935, to the Middle East and Aden in preparation for action being taken by the League of Nations against Italy for invading Abyssinia. 12 Squadron returned to RAF Andover in August 1936, and on its return took delivery of the Hawker Hind. It was around this time that the majority of B Flight were taken to form the nucleus of the newly formed No. 63 Squadron RAF. In February 1938, the Squadron was re-equipped with Fairey Battles, the squadron leaving RAF Andover in May 1939.
In October 1929 No. 101 Squadron RAF, the second experimental bomber squadron, was also posted to RAF Andover, to enable its Boulton-Paul Sidestrand bombers to work alongside 12 Squadron with its Fairy Fox light bombers. The high performance of the Sidestrand amazed crowds at the Hendon Air Pageants, where it flew mock combat aerobatics with the fighters of the day. 101 Squadron Sidestrands won a number of bombing and reconnaissance competitions and carried out trial anti-shipping strikes against Royal Navy battleships. In December 1934 the squadron left RAF Andover.
During the Second World War, RAF Andover was the headquarters of RAF Maintenance Command. It was also used by several operational flying training units and as an operational fighter station by the United States Army Air Forces.
It was one of four airfields in Hampshire to be given a decoy site in 1940, to deceive enemy aircraft into attacking a spurious target. Andover's decoy site was at Hurstbourne Tarrant, and was a type 'K' decoy site with fake aircraft and buildings. From September 1940, fake machine gun posts were added to Hurstbourne Tarrant.
RAF Andover was attacked twice by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. At 1700 hours on the 13 August 1940, approximately 12 high explosive bombs were dropped by Junkers Ju 88s of III Staffel, Lehrgeschwader 1, of Luftflotte 3, from Châteaudun in France. The Station Headquarters and officer's quarters were extensively damaged. One aircraft on the station was also damaged. Casualties were two killed. The following day, on 14 August 1940, RAF Andover was attacked again, about 15 high explosive bombs being dropped which destroyed a transmitting set in the centre of a group of radio masts, and killing a civilian radio operator.
Corporal Josephine Robins, a Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) telephone operator at RAF Andover was awarded the Military Medal for her courage during these raids. She was in a dug-out which received a direct hit, killing two men and injuring others. Despite dust and fumes filling the shelter, Cpl Robins calmly gave first aid to those injured and superintended their evacuation to safety. This was one of only six such awards to members of the WAAF in the entire Second World War.
It was thought at the time that these air raids were attempts to attack the important 11 Group Fighter Command Sector Station nearby at RAF Middle Wallop, but German records make it clear that RAF Andover was the intended target, as the Luftwaffe thought wrongly that it was an operational bomber station. In 1941 RAF Andover was attacked twice, causing heavy damage to one hangar, which had to be demolished.
In June 1941 No. 2 School of Army Co-operation at Andover was re-designated as No 6 Operational Training Unit (OTU). It was equipped with Bristol Blenheims and operated within No 17 Group, Coastal Command. Its task was to re-train Westland Lysander pilots onto Bristol Blenheim Mk. Vs used in the ground attack role, serving primarily in the used primarily in the Middle East and Far East. No 6 OTU was absorbed into No 42 OTU on 18 July 1941, moving to RAF Ashbourne in October 1942.
From February through July 1944, Andover was used by fighter squadrons (the 401st, 402nd, and 485th squadrons of the 370th Fighter Group) of the Ninth Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces, flying Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft. Flying from RAF Andover, the 370th dive-bombed radar installations and flak towers, and escorted bombers that attacked bridges and marshalling yards in France as the Allies prepared for the invasion of the Continent. The 370th also provided cover for Allied forces that crossed the English Channel on D-Day and flew armed reconnaissance missions over the Cotentin Peninsula until the end of the month. The 370th Fighter Group moved to their Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Cardonville, France (ALG A-3) on 20 July.
The USAAF lost a total of 31 P-38s from Andover before the move to France. (See weblink below to USAAF photos documenting RAF Andover's use as a fighter station, taken in 1944 by Cyril Bernard "Cy" Coenen of the 402nd Fighter Squadron).
Three Canadian Army Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, No. 664 Squadron RCAF, No. 665 Squadron RCAF, and No. 666 Squadron RCAF were formed at RAF Andover between 9 December 1944 and 5 March 1945. The Canadian squadrons were equipped with Auster Mark IV and V aircraft. The pilots and observers in the squadrons were officers recruited from the Royal Canadian Artillery and O.R.s from the Royal Canadian Artillery and Royal Canadian Air Force. The pilots were trained to fly de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft at No. 22 Elementary Flying Training School (Cambridge); thereafter, successful candidates were further trained at No. 43 Operational Training Unit, the AOP School based at RAF Andover dedicated to training British and Commonwealth AOP flight-crews. Lieutenant-Colonel Terry Willett, Royal Artillery, commanded No. 43 OTU at RAF Andover. British Army AOP training at RAF Andover, with Auster Mark V aircraft, continued until at least 1949. One of the three squadrons was re-established after the war as 665 Squadron, Army Air Corps, based in Northern Ireland.
RAF Andover has a unique place in British history, as the first British military unit to be equipped with helicopters, the Helicopter Training School, was formed in January 1945 at RAF Andover under the command of Squadron Leader B.H. Arkell. This was also the first European helicopter flying-training school, however the first European military unit formed solely with helicopters was the Luftwaffe's Transportstaffel 40 in 1944. The Helicopter Training School was equipped with nine Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly I helicopters, and trained 100 British Army pilots for Air Observation Post duties, as well as pilots for the first RAF squadron to be equipped with helicopters, 529 Squadron, which carried our radar calibration duties. Radar calibration duties were later carried out by the Hawker Siddeley Andover and Air Observation Post duties are today carried out by the Army Air Corps.
Post-war, RAF Andover continued to be used for helicopter flying training and operational research, C Flight of 657 Squadron, Army Air Corps, being renamed 1901 Flight in February 1947. The Flight used six Sikorsky R-6A Hoverfly 2 (an improved version of the Hoverfly I) helicopters, and Auster AOP.6 aircraft to train British Army and Royal Air Forcepilots and carry out operational trials. The Hoverfly 2s had little effective operational capability, but gave the Army valuable experience in the helicopter's potential use. In addition to artillery direction, the Flight's experimental activities included photography, radar trials, air/ground communications, and fighter evasion. In January 1948, the Flight moved to Middle Wallop. It still exists today as 1 Flight, Army Air Corps.
On 14 September 1955, RAF Andover was honoured with the freedom of the Borough of Andover. No. 12 Squadron RAF took part in the ceremony with a flypast of its English Electric Canberra B Mk. 6 bombers, to mark the Squadron's pre-war association with RAF Andover.
Andover continued its association with pioneering the use of helicopters in Britain when the Joint Helicopter Unit, which was a joint Royal Navy, Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force unit exploring operational helicopter roles, was based at the station from 1958 to 1959. The unit used Westland Whirlwind (rotary wing) helicopters and was disbanded at the end of 1959 to form No. 225 Squadron RAF.
The station's association with aviation research continued, as trials of the Hawker P.1127, the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel FGA 1 (both were experimental vertical take-off aircraft), and the Hawker Siddeley Harrier partially took place on the station. The Harrier was the developed form of the P.1127 and Kestrel and was the world's first operational vertical/short take-off and landing aircraft.
Trials of the Hawker Siddeley Andover (the second RAF aircraft of that name) were also partially carried out at RAF Andover. In commemoration of this, Hawker Siddeley presented the Borough of Andover with a framed photo of the aircraft, and the type was also named after RAF Andover. The Andover's main role in RAF service was tactical transport, for which its unique ability to “kneel” - to allow vehicle entry at a shallow angle via a rear ramp – was an asset. Other roles included aero-medical evacuation, STOL, and parachute and 1 ton container drops. The Andover could also be fitted with long-range ferry tanks, which enabled the short-range Andover to fly surprisingly long distances, such as across the Atlantic Ocean. Andovers are still in RAF service for the photo reconnaissance role under the Open Skies Treaty and for use by the Empire Test Pilots' School.
RAF Andover was throughout the post-1945 period the home of a number of communications squadrons, the last one of which was No. 21 Squadron RAF, which used De Havilland Dove and Percival Pembroke aircraft. This was formed on 3 February 1969, when the Western Communications Squadron was re-designated at RAF Andover. It provided transport for senior officers in the western part of the United Kingdom and was disbanded following defence cuts on 31 March 1976.
The RAF station was closed on 10 June 1977 and the airfield was handed over to the British Army. It is in use by Army Air Corps units based at Middle Wallop, as well as Defence Equipment & Support (formerly the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO)), and retains an RAF link through the presence of 1213 (Andover) Squadron, Air Training Corps.
The RAF Museum preserves a number of individual aircraft which were based at RAF Andover during their service lives: a Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly I; an Avro Anson C. 19; a De Havilland Dove C. 1; a Percival Pembroke C. 2; and, unusually, two Luftwaffe aircraft captured in 1944, a Junkers Ju 87 G-2 dive bomber and a Messerschmitt Bf 110 G-4 night fighter. The National Museum of Flight in Scotland preserves RAF Andover's former gate guardian, a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. XVIE.
From 2009, it is planned to become the British Army's HQ Land Forces, controlling most of the Army's operations.
The RAF Staff College was founded at RAF Andover on 1 April 1922, to provide staff training to selected officers, usually of Flight Lieutenant or Squadron Leader rank to enable them to undertake staff officer duties at the Air Ministry, and Command or Group HQs. It was closed on the day that Britain declared war, 3 September 1939. But in November 1939, shortened courses were re-started until the College was placed under Care and Maintenance on 28 May 1940. The Staff College re-opened at Bulstrode Park in December 1941, the College returning to Andover in 1948. It was raised to Group status within Training Command on 1 June 1968 and eventually moved to the Bracknell in 1970.
1213 (Andover) Squadron was formed in 1939 and has occupied several buildings on Andover Airfield since its formation, before moving to its current Headquarters building on the DLO South Site. The Squadron meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6.45 p.m. until 9.15 p.m., and offers a wide range of activities for young people aged between 13-18 years with an interest in military aviation. Amongst the opportunities available are possibilities to take part in flying, gliding, shooting, camps, visits to RAF Stations, the Squadron's marching band and many other activities.
After disbanding at the end of the Second World War, the Squadron was reformed in 1947 and by September 1949 more than 30 cadets were qualified FAI glider pilots to ‘A’ standard and the Squadron had twice won the Group Gliding Cup.
A similar rise in cadet numbers took place from 1979, when a vigorous recruitment campaign started. This campaign included the purchase of a minibus to ferry cadets to and from the Squadron and Andover town centre, as well as a photographically illustrated monthly column in the ‘Andover Advertiser’ local newspaper, resulting in cadet numbers rising from 12 to over 40. A proportional increase in adult staff recruitment also took place at this time, and the Squadron's band was refounded in 1980. Humour also featured in the Squadron's activities, with the founding of a formation wheelbarrow(!) display team called the Red Barrows after the famous RAF Red Arrows aerobatic display team.
1213 Squadron was evidently well thought of in the ATC nationally, as in 1980 it was chosen to be one of 50 squadrons to recruit young women for a 2 year trial period. (The ATC had previously only recruited young men.) The trial was a success, leading to today’s fully integrated national youth organisation.
A former cadet of the Squadron, Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander Gordon Batt DSC of 800 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, was killed in action flying a Sea Harrier FRS 1 from HMS Hermes during the Falklands War, on 23 May 1982.
At least one former cadet of the Squdron has moved to Australia, and other ex-cadets of the Squadron have followed a wide range of vocations: the Army Air Corps, Bank Manager, Church of England Vicar, the construction industry, the Fleet Air Arm, Health and Safety Officer, RAF Air Traffic Control, RAF Chaplain, RAF Fighter Control, the RAF Regiment, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Signals, and Schoolteacher to name but a few. One ex-cadet even helped found and works for a Norwegian-Danish international human rights NGO.
In 2007 the site of Andover Airfield became the focus of a some local controversy. Developers Goodman submitted a planning proposal to build a large distribution centre for the supermarket giant Tesco on the site of the airfield. This was proposed phase 1 of as part of the site redevelopment, Along with some office units and smaller industrial spaces, there is also a Combined Heat and Power plant planned for the site. Many local residents who object to the plan formed action groups such as "Residents of Andover and District Awareness Committee" and "STOP Megasheds". The Member of Parliament for the constituancy of North West Hampshire, Sir George Young also lent his support to the campaign.
According to the proposed plans, the main building will be more than 85,000 sq metres (21 acres), which will make it one of the biggest buildings in Europe and larger than Heathrow's new terminal 5.
There are two main concerns regarding the proposed use of the site.
On the 1st September 2008 at a well attended meeting of Test Valley Borough Council's Northern Planning Committee, the scheme was rejected, though it has been referred to the local council's planning control committee for a further decision.
It has been reported that if the proposal is rejected the developers will appeal.