RAF in Lincolnshire E-H

Continuing our series on RAF Stations in Lincolnshire with Stations E-H.

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RAF Holbeach Air Weapons Range

Opened: 1928

While not a RAF station in the truest sense, Holbeach has a long association with military aircraft and weapons testing, the site equidistant between Boston and Kings Lynn, opening in the mid-1920s as an air gunnery range, established as RAF Practice Camp Sutton Bridge, with biplanes firing at targets and dropping bombs in the area. It was renamed RAF Holbeach Bombing Range in the late 1950s, with the range extending over an area of 15 square miles including mudflats and salt marshes.

Holbeach Range Control Tower

(Holbeach Range Control Tower)

It is utilised by the RAF and its NATO allies for weapons testing and, since 1993, this has included night bombing and helicopter operations, with a number of ships beached on the sands for target use.


RAF East Kirkby

Opened: 1943

Closed: 1958

Opening as a bomber station in August 1943, East Kirkby served as the HQ for No. 55 (Bomber) Group RAF in command of several Lincolnshire satellite stations, with No. 57 Squadron one of the first units based at the site, eight miles east of RAF Coningsby.

One of the most notable incidents at the base occurred on April 17, 1945 when a 1,000lb bomb being loaded on to a No. 57 Squadron Lancaster was dropped on to the tarmac and detonated, which in turn caused the full bomb load on the plane to explode. Three airmen were killed, a further 16 were injured with six other Lancasters destroyed beyond repair. The accident came just a week before aircraft flew from the station on their final wartime operations.

Just Jane Lancaster at East Kirkby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre

(Just Jane Lancaster at East Kirkby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre)

Post war, the station was used by the USAF’s Air Rescue squadrons for four years, closing in 1958. It is now home to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, with its main exhibit Just Jane, a Lancaster under restoration, the aim to make her airworthy once more.

RAF Elsham

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Serving as a Flight Station for No. 33 Squadron, FE2s flew defensive fighter patrols from the station 13 miles east of Scunthorpe to counter the threat to major cities from German Zeppelin raids. It opened under the Royal Flying Corps banner with the FE2s superseded by Bristol F.2s and Avro 504Ks, No. 33s ‘C’ Flight moving to RAF Harpswell in 1919.

RAF Elsham Wolds

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1947

Located very close to RAF Elsham, it was identified as a potential RAF site in the 1930s, opening in 1941 as a heavy bomber station with tarmac runways. No. 103 Squadron was one of the main units operating from Elsham Wolds, flying Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Lancasters, with the most individually successful Lancaster of WWII, ED888 M2 ‘Mike Squared’, flying operations from the Lincolnshire site – according to Bomber Command; ED888 served both Nos. 103 and 576 Squadrons and completed 140 sorties between May 1943 and December 1944.

Later in the war it was used as a Relief Landing Ground, RLG, by No. 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit based at Blyton. At the end of hostilities, Elsham Wolds’ Lancasters moved to Scampton, with flying ceasing from the station at the end of 1946.

RAF Faldingworth

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1972

Entering service as a decoy airfield for RAF Hemswell (see below), it later became a satellite for RAF Lindholme and then RAF Ludford Magna, Faldingworth initially put under the control of 1 Group Heavy Conversion Base. Among its first occupants were the Handley Page Halifaxes and Lancasters brought by 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit, HCU.

Modern day aerial view of RAF Faldingworth

(Modern day aerial view of RAF Faldingworth)

Post war, the station ten miles west of Market Rasen was used to store the nuclear weapons for the RAF’s V-bomber force from the late 1950s: when tensions rose, such as during the Cuban missile crisis, weapons from the site would be moved to nearby V-bomber airfields such as Scampton, Coningsby and Finningley. When Britain’s nuclear deterrent became submarine based in the late 1960s, the station was no longer required.

RAF Fiskerton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1945

Avro Lancaster D for Donald of No. 49 Squadron RAF returns to RAF Fiskerton after bombing Berlin, 22 November 1943

(Avro Lancaster D for Donald of No. 49 Squadron RAF returns to RAF Fiskerton after bombing Berlin, 22 November 1943)

Located five miles east of Lincoln, Fiskerton was one of only 15 airfields equipped with FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation) during WWII, a system that used petrol burnt alongside the runway to clear fog. Nos. 49 and 576 Squadrons were amongst the first arrivals, both involved in key operations: No. 49 in the raid on the V2 missile research and development centre, and No. 576 in the attack on Hitler’s Bavarian hideout.

RAF Folkingham

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1963

The station, 14 miles east of Grantham, opened up as a decoy airfield for RAF Grantham, only being upgraded with tarmac runways several years later ahead of its transfer to the US Ninth Air Force, becoming Station 484. It was used primarily as a troop carrier airfield for airborne units and as training depot for the newly-formed RAF Regiment.

Aerial photograph of Folkingham Airfield in 9 May 1944

(Aerial photograph of Folkingham Airfield in 9 May 1944)

When the RAF Regiment relocated to Catterick in 1947, the station was put under care and maintenance for over a decade, with the runways used by British Racing Motors for development testing of racing cars. It returned to RAF service in 1959 when it was used as a Thor missile site before its closure in 1963 when the missiles were removed.

RAF Freiston

Opened: 1917

Closed: 1921

Prior to the site opening originally as RFC Freiston, RNAS Freiston was established on the mudflats to the south and east of Boston to serve as a bombing and gunnery range for pilots. The need for a landing ground closer to the bombing range – aircraft had to travel for 40 minutes from Cranwell – saw around 90 acres of farmland near Freiston, east of Boston, requisitioned with hangars built along with a control tower and accommodation. Along with training, a number of Bristol Scouts were stationed at the station to carry out anti-Zeppelin operations.

RAF Fulbeck

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1970

After several years under RAF control, the station six miles east of Newark was shared with the USAF, becoming known as AAF-488, predominantly used as a troop carrier airfield. In late September 1944, it returned to RAF control, No. 49 Squadron arriving from Fiskerton and No. 189 Squadron from Bardney, their Lancasters based there until April 1945.
RAF Fulbeck during World War II, 18 April 1944. About six weeks before D-Day, dozens of gliders are dispersed around the airfield.

(RAF Fulbeck during World War II, 18 April 1944. About six weeks before D-Day, dozens of gliders are dispersed around the airfield)

The airfield was noted for a serious crash on Sunday April 22, 1945, just before 10am, when a No. 49 Lancaster making a low farewell pass before a planned transfer to Syerston hit a shed, the aircraft brought down on to a large group of ground personnel who were on parade: six crew and 15 on the ground were killed, a further nine suffering serious injuries.

It remained in use post war, involved with equipment disposal and latterly as a RLG for Cranwell until 1970.

RAF Gosberton

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1919

Starting life as RFC Gosberton, Royal Aircraft Factory FE2bs of No. 38 Squadron used the site six miles north of Spalding as a Home Defence landing ground, the area on the receiving end of a Zeppelin attack due to the lit flares that illuminated the landing zone.

RAF Goxhill

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1953

While a landing ground existed near the village of Goxhill during WWI, the RAF station only opened during WWII with Bomber Command taking control of the site with three runways built. However, the station situated nine miles north west of Immingham, close to the Humber Estuary, was believed to be too close to the air defences of Hull to be used by Bomber Command, No. 1 Group its first occupants providing towing practice targets with Westlander Lysanders.

A Spitfire Mk. Va (C7-M, serial number W3815) of the 555th Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group at Goxhill, 1944.

(A Spitfire Mk. Va (C7-M, serial number W3815) of the 555th Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group at Goxhill, 1944)

Fighter Command took control in December 1941, the station being used as a satellite field by RAF Kirmington until August 1942 when it was taken over by the USAF, the transfer ceremony attended by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was utilised as a training airfield for the rest of the war, squadrons crossing the Atlantic using Goxhill for their initial deployment before being transferred to a permanent facility for operational missions.

It was returned to the RAF in January 1945 and was used for the storage for excess munitions, and as a satellite for RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey, remaining as a storage depot until it was deactivated in December 1953. Many of the stations’ original building are still standing today, but the control tower was acquired by the Military Aviation Museum in Pungo, Virginia, USA: it was dissembled, all sections catalogued, and shipped to America where it was reconstructed by the museum.

RAF Grantham/Spitalgate

Opened: 1915

Closed: 1975

Opening during WWI as RFC Grantham, it was a training centre hosting Canadian and American squadrons as well as British, becoming RAF Grantham on April 1, 1918. Training continued following the end of hostilities, with Squadrons Nos. 39 and 100 present for much of the 1920s, with the station in constant use until the summer of 1937 when it was placed under care and maintenance, reopening in July 1938 with No. 12 Flying Training School RAF moving in on December 1, 1938.

Westland Lysander Mark I of No. 5 Group Communications Flight at RAF Spitalgate

(Westland Lysander Mark I of No. 5 Group Communications Flight at RAF Spitalgate)

It was renamed RAF Spitalgate in 1942, with training continuing at the site two miles south of Grantham throughout the war, and following the end of hostilities. In the 1950s it was an Officer Cadet Training Unit and later it became the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) Depot, responsible for the recruitment and training of all non-commissioned women in the RAF. The station was also home to the Central Gliding School which moved to RAF Syerston in 1975, shortly before RAF Spitalgate’s closure, the army inheriting the site in 1976.

RAF Grimsby

Opened: 1933

Closed: 1950

Flying began in the early 1930s at a grass strip at Waltham, just south of Grimsby, which was the area municipal airport with a small aero club formed. The airfield was requisitioned by the Air Ministry officially in May 1940, but military flying had been ongoing for several years, with concrete runways laid to accommodate the bombers of No. 1 Group RAF, initially used as a satellite for RAF Binbrook. Three main squadrons were resident, Nos. 100, 142 and 550, with No. 100’s first operational sortie in March 1943, Lancasters laying mines along the coasts of occupied Europe.

Post war it was used by No. 35 Maintenance Unit RAF for storage, before the site reverted to agricultural use.

RAF Harlaxton

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1947

The station opened as a RFC training aerodrome in November 1916 with three grass runways, aircraft operated included the de Havilland DH marque and Sopwith Camels. No. 98 Squadron was formed at the site three miles south west of Grantham and, after training, the squadron was deployed to France in a bombing role.

Harlaxton Manor was requisitioned by the RAF during the Second World War as the station's officers' mess.

(Harlaxton Manor was requisitioned by the RAF during the Second World War as the station's officers' mess)

It was placed under care and maintenance during the inter-war years, a survey carried out in the late 1930s considered the area unsuitable for tarmac runways, RAF Harlaxton reopening as a satellite field and RLG. It continued its role post-war, most notably as a RLG for Cranwell, but the arrival of jet aircraft meant its grass runways were no longer suitable, so it was closed in 1947.

RAF Hemswell

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1967

Used during WWI as a Home Defence landing ground, its role expanded later in the war with the area eight miles east of Gainsborough, then known as RFC Harpswell, utilised for night-flying training. Operations effectively ceased shortly after the end of hostilities, reopening in 1937 as RAF Hemswell, now a bomber airfield with Nos. 61 and 144 Squadrons early residents.

In July 1941, Nos. 300 and 301 (Polish) Squadrons replaced 61 and 144, operating Wellingtons, later joined by No. 305 (Polish) Squadron before Hemswell closed in June 1943 for hard runways to be constructed. Nos. 83 and 97 Squadrons were new residents with their Lancasters, staying for extended periods which saw the aircraft they operated graduating through to the English Electric Canberra.

The late 1950s saw a new role for Hemswell, like many sites in Lincolnshire it became home to Thor nuclear missiles, but its future was thrown in the air when the British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 strike bomber project was cancelled – Hemswell was earmarked to be key in the aircraft’s future development. It was later used as an overspill for Swinderby until its closure in 1967.

The station was famously used in 1954 for the filming of the The Dam Busters, as it resembled the wartime layout of Scampton, from where the daring raid was launched.

RAF Hibaldstow

Opened: 1941

Closed: 1948

The station eight miles south east of Scunthorpe was used as a satellite airfield for Kirton-in-Lindsey, with No. 255 Squadron one its first arrivals with their Boulton Paul Defiant night fighters.

By January 1943, however, the risk of night attacks by the Luftwaffe was concerning enough to force the airfield’s closure, reopening for a short time in May before closing again, during which time one of the most memorable incidents occurred at Hibaldstow. A Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) member, Margaret Horton, was, like many ground crew, utilised in the role of tailweight for a Spitfire to prevent it overturing during taxi-ing in windy conditions. Sometimes individuals were simply told to get themselves on to the aircraft’s tail without the pilot’s knowledge, with this being one such occasion; the pilot over-keen to get airborne either missed or ignored the protestations of ground personnel and took off with Margaret clinging on to the tail. Realising all was not right with the aircraft, the pilot returned to the runway with Margaret still hanging on and thankfully surviving her impromptu flight.

The airfield is still in use today as a parachute centre, the area one of biggest civilian drop zones in the country and a regular host of the British National Championships.

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