RAF Duxford began life at the end of WW1 – initially as a training airfield for No 2 Flying Training School. Later 19 Squadron was formed here, and the Cambridge University Air Squadron flew from Duxford in the 1920s and 30s. In 1935 19 Squadron provided the Silver Jubilee review at RAF Duxford in front of King George V and Queen Mary.
In 1938 19 Squadron became the first to be equipped with the new Spitfires. Following Hitler’s attack on Norway in April 1940, Duxford was rapidly expanded in readiness for the defence of Britain, as the Luftwaffe now had bases within striking distance of East Anglia and the East coast. RAF Duxford was the key defensive airfield to face attacks from across the North Sea.
The first new squadron to be based here was 310 Squadron, which was formed in July 1940 from Czech pilots who had escaped from France, equipped with Hurricanes. In August 1940 12 Hurricanes of 242 Squadron arrived. Nearby RAF Fowlmere was designated as a satellite station for Duxford to handle all the additional aircraft and ground crew. The concentration of a number of squadrons into what became known as the ‘Duxford Wing’ was in preparation for a new though controversial tactic favoured by 12 Group’s commanding officer Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and his subordinate Squadron Leader Douglas Bader. In contrast to Keith Park’s 11 Group’s tactics of sending individual squadrons up to meet the incoming attacks – which allowed for speed and flexibility but led to large rates of attrition – the Big Wing involved sending up 3-5 squadrons together, to overwhelm the enemy.
It’s first outing was on September 9th, when Duxford’s three squadrons, acting in concert, attempted to intercept a large force of German bombers. However, the squadrons arrived late, though 11 enemy aircraft were claimed shot down. Subsequently two more squadrons were added to the Duxford Wing – 302 Squadron with Hurricanes and Polish pilots, and Spitfires from No.611 Auxiliary Squadron.
On 15 September 1940 this combined force of 60 Hurricanes and Spitfires intercepted a large German attack and prevented many of them from reaching London. The victories that day – across Southern England – turned the tide of the Battle of Britain, and 15th September became the official Battle of Britain day to commemorate the Battle. However, the Big Wing tactics practised from Duxford were a source of bitter controversy between 11 and 12 Groups, and often led to 11 Group’s airfields to the south being left undefended, since the time taken to put together such a large formation delayed arrival over the airfields.
RAF Fighter Command Squadrons which operated from RAF Duxford during the course of the war included : 19, 56, 66, 133, 181, 195, 222, 242, 264, 266, 310, 312, 601, 609, 611, and the Air Fighting Development Unit, which evaluated captured German aircraft as well as other new aircraft types.
In 1943 RAF Duxford passed to the USAAF and the Eighth Air Force fighter command.