RAF in Lincolnshire A-D

Arguably the county capital of the RAF in Britain, Lincolnshire has a long association with the military dating back to WW1. Its eastern coastline allows the clearest route to and from the German mainland with the area threatened during WWI by Zeppelin attacks and in WW2 by the Luftwaffe.

However, its stations were used extensively during the Second World War to launch the Allies counter-offensive, with many of the most famous and daring missions starting out from bases in the county – the Dambusters raid in May 1943 departed from RAF Scampton. While several sites are critical today to the defence of the nation, some which played a crucial role back in 1940s have been almost forgotten, their only visible connection to a previous life, buildings that have long since been abandoned. If you know where to look you can still find WW2 Nissan huts being used to store farm machinery, or deserted concrete watchtowers once used to locate enemy aircraft approaching.

Along with RAF stations, a number of Q-sites were set up in the county during WW2 as decoys to direct German pilots away from their primary targets, short-lived locations displaying a series of lights to simulate an active airfield, usually operated by two volunteers: a location near Bassingham, equidistant between Lincoln and Newark, was one such Q-site used to draw German bombers away from RAF Swinderby.

Still Active

RAF Coningsby

Opened: November 1940

The importance of Coningsby to the defence of the UK cannot be over-emphasised, its role as the southern QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) site meaning its Typhoon jets are first responders to any incursion, or threat of incursion, into UK airspace of enemy aircraft. It is home to two combat-ready squadrons and the training station for Typhoon pilots.

Its history, however, is far from high-tech with the WW2 bomber station opening on November 4, 1940, complete with grass runways. No. 106 Squadron was its first flying unit, operating Handley Page Hampden medium bombers, one of their first missions the bombing of Cologne in March 1941. In the summer of 1942, it was decided that to operate heavy bombers from the station, concrete runways were needed, the station closing for a year while they were laid; the first unit to return was No. 617 Squadron, then without their ‘Dambusters’ moniker, but with their Lancasters.

Post-war, the station received its first jet, the English Electric Canberra in 1953, Vulcans arriving in 1962, before the station was the home of Phantom squadrons in 1968, then Jaguars in the 1970s, the Tornado in the 1980s, with the Typhoons’ official arrival at Coningsby in May 2005 – the aircraft was first publicly displayed at the station in December 2004. Since June 2007, the station has maintained the QRA South mission, aircraft and crews ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to any threat to the UK airspace.

With around 3,000 personnel based at Coningsby, it is home to many squadrons as well as the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight since 1976 – a Lancaster, six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, two Chipmunks and a C47 Dakota – along with the associated visitor centre.

RAF Barkston Heath

Opened: 1937

While no longer a fully functioning RAF station, Barkston Heath is used as a relief landing ground, RLG, for nearby RAF Cranwell, seen as a valuable asset for trainee pilots from the three services, much the same role as it had when it first opened to air traffic in around 1937.

It was used for training during WWII, with the site selected for an ‘A’ upgrade – the laying of three tarmac runways starting in the summer of 1943, with the station allocated to the USAF for training ahead of the cross-Channel operation in 1944. Various American Troop Carrier Groups arrived at the station during 1944 before control returned to the RAF in June 1945.

Douglas C-47 Skytrain assigned to 314th Troop Carrier Squadron at RAF Barkston Heath in 1945

(Douglas C-47 Skytrain assigned to 314th Troop Carrier Squadron at RAF Barkston Heath in 1945)

Post-war, various squadrons used the station and in the 1980s it was home to ‘A’ Flight 25 Squadron, with Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles, and in the 1990s the Joint Elementary Flying Training School, JEFTS, relocated to Barkston Heath from RAF Topcliffe in North Yorkshire, later retitled as the Defence Elementary Flying Training School.

RAF College Cranwell

Opened: 1916

Home to the RAF College, the centre overseas all phase 1 Training as well as the initial officer training course. It is also home to the Central Flying School training all RAF Qualified Flying Instructors, and No. 3 Flying Training School, providing elementary training for student pilots.

It was 1915 when land was requisitioned from the Marquess of Bristol’s estate by the Admiralty, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Training Establishment Cranwell born on April 1, 1916, becoming RAF Cranwell in 1918. The College was formed in November 1919 as the world’s first Air Academy, the venue becoming the entry point for all those who wanted to become permanent officers in the RAF, the extremely stringent selection process continuing to this day.

RAF Digby

Opened: 1917

While flying ceased at Digby in 1953, the station remains an important signals site for all three services: home to the tri-service Joint Service Signals Organisation and RAF units, Digby is part of UK StratCom, managing allocated joint capabilities from the three armed services.

While it officially opened towards the end of WWI in 1918 as RAF Scopwick, it was first utilised for flying in 1917, Royal Navy pilots from the HMS Daedalus facility at Cranwell using Digby for training purposes. The station was a target for German Zeppelins, one raid seeing several bombs dropped which fortunately missed the site, falling into a nearby field.

Post-war, it changed its name to Digby after aircraft parts destined for the Lincolnshire station ended up at RAF Shotwick in North Wales, with the 1920s and 30s seeing facilities upgraded, with Digby becoming an operational fighter station responsible for providing cover for cities including Lincoln, Nottingham and Leicester. Among those who served at Digby during WW2 was Guy Gibson, famously one of the Dambusters, who had learned to fly there in 1936.

In 1942 control of the station was handed to the Canadians becoming RCAF Digby after a number of the Commonwealth country’s squadrons relocated to the Lincolnshire site, before it was handed back to the RAF in May 1945, the badge of Digby bearing a maple leaf in honour of its heritage.

Digby’s role moved away from flying post-war, with the station home to No. 1 Initial Officer Training unit along with a number of other non-flying units, with aerial operations ending in January 1953.

Closed Airfields

RAF Anwick

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919; used as decoy airfield during WW2

Opening as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome in October 1916, the site 10 miles south east of Lincoln was used for training with three grass runways regularly used by a variety of aircraft including de Havillands and the Royal Aircraft Factory FE2bs of No. 38 Squadron. Returning to agricultural use inbetween wars, it was earmarked as a potential fighter base in the late 1930s only for a decision to be made that the terrain and location were unsuitable to build tarmac runways. Its grass runways were redrawn and in September 1939 it started life as a decoy airfield for Digby, flare lamps regularly lit to simulate a runway with the aim of drawing the attention of any German bombers.

RAF Bardney

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1963

RAF Bardney control tower present day

(RAF Bardney control tower present day - 📸 Steve Knight)

Its role was initially as a home for No. 9 Squadron, who were joined by Nos. 227 and 189 Squadrons at the station 10 miles east of Lincoln, the site being closed soon after the end of WW2. From 1945 onward it was used by the British Army for vehicle storage, before in 1959 it returned to RAF use, No. 106 Squadron located at Bardney as a Thor missile unit, maintaining USAF nuclear missiles which were able to reach Russia. When the missiles were removed in 1963, the station closed.

RAF Belton Park

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1946

Located two miles north of Grantham, Belton Park had been used for various purposes by the military over the years including as a training centre for the Machine Gun Corps in WWI. However, its RAF service began following the establishment of the RAF Regiment by Royal Warrant on February 1, 1942, Belton Park becoming their first depot.

RAF Belton Park closed a year after the end of WW2 when the RAF Regiment relocated to RAF Catterick, at the time the site converted to temporary housing and a primary school.

RAF Binbrook

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1992

The site ten miles north west of Louth was opened in June 1940 for use by Bomber Command, Nos. 12 and 142 Squadrons arriving with Fairey Battles, their aircraft replaced by Vickers Wellingtons soon after. Hard runways were constructed in the autumn of 1942 and it was May 1943 before it reopened as home to No. 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

12 Sqn at RAF Binbrook Officers Mess in 1942

(RAF Binbrook Officers Mess in 1942)

Post-war it was notable for forging strong links with the English Electric company, the Canberra first operating from there in May, 1951, and later the Lightning for more than 20 years, from 1965 to 1988. Following the retirement of the Lightning, Binbrook continued as a RLG for Scampton, before closing in 1992.

The station’s later life was perhaps most noted for its use in the film Memphis Belle, with many locals from around the surrounding area used as extras in production. One of the film’s B-17 Flying Fortresses infamously crashed at Binbrook on take-off, with the ten on board all escaping serious injury.

RFC Blyborough

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1918

A class 1 Home Defence landing ground, the area nine miles east of Gainsborough was opened under the Royal Flying Corps banner, Blyborough used by No. 33 Squadron flying Royal Aircraft Factory FE2s.

RAF Blyton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1954

It was heavily used during the second part of WW2 for bombing missions, so much so that the runways at the station ten miles south of Scunthorpe required constant repair work. It was home to a number of units, with No. 199 Squadron arguably the most notable resident at the Lincolnshire site, with the station put under care and maintenance in January 1946.

RAF Bracebridge Heath

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1920, used during WW2 for aircraft repair

Used for test flying Sopwith aircraft during WWI and in the years following, a Grade II-listed triple-bay Belfast truss hangar was built, safety reasons forcing its demolition in 2001. It closed as an RAF station four years after opening, before WW2 saw AV Roe and Co, Avro, famous for producing the Lancaster bomber, use the site for aircraft repair work, another hangar constructed which survived until 2014.

RAF Braceby

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

No. 38 Squadron used Braceby as a Home Defence landing ground until they headed overseas with their FE2b fighters to France in May 1918. No. 90 Squadron was formed at the station eight miles east of Grantham in August of that year, operating Avro 504K biplanes until the station’s closure in 1919; during WW2, the location was used as a decoy Q-site.

RAF Buckminster

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

No. 38 Squadron flew FE2b fighters from the station located nine miles north east of Melton Mowbray, acting as a Home Defence Flight Station during WWI. No. 90 Squadron were formed at the station following No. 38’s exit to France, Avro 504Ks operating from Buckminster until 1919.

RAF Bucknall

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Established to house a detachment of No. 33 Squadron, aircraft operated from the location five miles west of Horncastle included Bristol F.2bs and Avro 504Ks, the landing ground consisting of two grass strips.

RAF Caistor

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1963

Serving as a RLG for many nearby stations, the site six miles south east of Brigg was typically used for night flying, with a routine of aircraft arriving in the early evening, operating from the airfield overnight and then returning to RAF Cranwell the morning after. The night-time operations ended in September 1943 with the airfield’s location close to the east coast meaning that any aircraft operating were at risk from enemy fighters. The station was used by a number of US units from then on, with the station effectively mothballed at the end of hostilities.

Remains of RAF Caistor

(Remains of RAF Caistor)

While remaining under RAF control, operations ceased until the late 1950s when No. 269 Squadron reformed at Caistor as part of the Hemswell Missile Wing, maintaining US Thor missiles which stayed on site until 1963.

RAF Cammeringham, formerly RAF Ingham.

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1947

Used as an overflow airfield for RAF Hemswell, there were initially no squadrons based at what was then RAF Ingham as repeated surveys were carried out before it was decided that the area, 10 miles north of Lincoln, was unsuitable for concrete runways.

Work on the outskirts of the grass runways, however, saw hangars constructed and two Polish squadrons, Nos. 301 and 305, arrived in June 1941 flying Wellingtons, joined later by No. 300 Squadron. In February 1943, No. 199 Squadron arrived from Blyton, training flights conducted over The Wash ahead of maritime mine-laying operations. In the same way that RAF Digby inherited its name, Ingham became Cammeringham when urgent repairs destined for Lincolnshire Ingham ended up in Ingham in Norfolk, and also at the third Ingham in Suffolk.

No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron posed in front of a Vickers Wellington bomber aircraft in 1942 at RAF Cammeringham
(No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron posed in front of a Vickers Wellington bomber aircraft in 1942 at RAF Cammeringham)

The station closed to flying early in 1945 with the grass runways severely damaged, with the site used as a temporary home for Polish aircrew awaiting repatriation or settlement. before its complete closure in 1947.

RAF Cockthorne

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

A RLG on farmland near Middle Rasen, west of Market Rasen, available to the fighters of No. 33 Squadron.

RAF Coleby Grange

Opened: 1939

Closed: 1963

Like Cammeringham, Coleby Grange opened with the intention of the imminent construction of tarmac runways, but remained a grass airfield throughout WW2, limiting what aircraft could operate from the station located seven miles south of Lincoln.

It was initially used only as a RLG for Cranwell but early in 1940, Nos. 253 and 264 Squadrons arrived, several hangars constructed with the nearby Coleby Hall requisitioned for use by officers. In May 1941 the station transferred to No. 12 Group RAF becoming a satellite for RAF Digby, Canadian and Polish squadrons arriving, flying operations increasing so much that the nearby Dunston Pillar inland lighthouse had 40ft removed from it and its top-piece statue of King George II taken down to aid access to the airfield: the statue remains to this day at Lincoln Castle.

RAF Coleby Grange Control Tower

(RAF Coleby Grange Control Tower)

It continued as a night fighter station and was used by the USAF during the D-Day landings in support of the US 9th Armored Division, US operations controlled by the Ninth Air Force from its HQ in Grantham. The station was placed under care and maintenance from 1947 before, like several other sites in Lincolnshire, it reopened in the late 1950s as a Thor missile base, maintained and operated by No. 142 Squadron.

RAF Cuxwold

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Similar to sites such as Cockthorne, Bucknall, Blyborough and Buckminster, Cuxwold started life as a RFC Station before inheriting its RAF status on its formation on April 1, 1918. Biplanes such as BE2cs and Avro 504Ks used the location ten miles south west of Grimsby as a home landing ground.

RAF Donna Nook

Opened: 1936

Closed: 1945 (as RAF Station)

The area of Donna Nook on the east coast, several miles south of Grimsby, has been in continual military use since WWI, and today is still a bombing range utilised by the RAF, the USAF and NATO allies. Its life as an official RAF station lasted less than a decade, the mid-1930s seeing it open before becoming a decoy airfield during WW2 and a RLG for RAF North Coates.

Dummy Bristol Blenheims were placed at strategic locations, but the station took on increased importance when overcrowding became an issue at North Coates, with 206 Squadron moving there.

The coastal location was first used as a bombing range in the 1920s, closing for around 30 years at the end of WW2, before reopening to bombing operations in the mid-1970s, an area of around 885 hectares on land and 3,200 hectares at sea utilised. The military shares the area with a grey seal population, which breed between October and December every year.

RAF Dunholme Lodge

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1964

The station opened initially as a grass airfield before concrete runways were constructed in 1942, becoming part of Bomber Command with No. 44 Squadron among those operating Lancaster heavy bombers from the site six miles north east of Lincoln.

The station was under care and maintenance from the end of WW2, used for vehicle racing from 1948 to 1959, before it reopened as an RAF station, No. 141 Squadron arriving with Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles. The station closed when No. 141 Squadron was disbanded on March 31, 1964.

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1 comment

  • worked on raf hemswell 1972 in the kitchens when the ugandens came over

    kenneth burton

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