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RAF in Nottinghamshire

Eighty years ago, the roar of bombers leaving a number of stations at all hours was a regular occurrence across the county, with the defence of Britain and its population the RAF’s priority during wartime. Today, Syerston stands alone as the only active RAF station in Nottinghamshire, home to RAF Central Gliding School, RAF CGS, and No. 644 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, 644 VGS, with the Central Flying School maintaining an examining unit on site.

Active Stations

RAF Syerston

Opened 1940

Currently the home of Two Flying Training School, 2 FTS, Syerston started out as part of Bomber Command, the first aircraft arriving being Wellingtons crewed by Polish air personnel, followed by the Royal Canadian Air Force, RCAF, flying Handley-Page Hampdens.

RAF Syerston Air Traffic Control Tower
(RAF Syerston Air Traffic Control Tower)

A year after opening it was closed for construction of a concrete runway, becoming part of No. 5 Group, with several squadrons of Lancasters posted, with one notable CO, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who is best known for forming 617 (Dambusters) Squadron.

Post-war the station became part of Transport Command with a Heavy Conversion Unit, HCU, arriving before leaving for Dishforth in January 1948, the site six miles south west of Newark taken over by Flying Training Command, its training role continuing until 1970 when the need for pilots diminished; Syerston was then placed under care and maintenance until 2014 when the reformation of 2 FTS saw a permanent home established for RAF CGS and 644 VGS.

Closed Stations

RAF Balderton

Opened 1941

Closed 1954

Opening two years into the Second World War, Balderton’s initial role was as a satellite station, first for the bombers of No. 25 Operational Training Unit, OTU, at Finningley in South Yorkshire, and then for RAF Syerston when it was transferred to No. 5 Group. No. 408 Squadron were moved to the station, located just south of Newark, in December 1941, flying Handley Page Hampdens, before they left the following September, the airfield closing while three concrete runways were constructed.

RAF Balderton 18 April 1944

(RAF Balderton 18 April 1944)

The new runways signalled the formation of No. 1668 Heavy Conversion Unit, HCU, flying Lancasters and Halifaxes, the HCUs allowing crews to qualify to operate the heavy bombers before posting to operational squadrons. A decision was made to move 1668 HCU to Syerston a few months later, with Balderton handed over to the Americans, becoming a reception centre for the 437th and 439th troop carrier groups, TCG.

The airfield played a crucial role in Operation Market Garden, the campaign to secure bridges over the rivers Maas, Waal and Rhine in the Netherlands, 439th TCG launching numerous aircraft and gliders in September 1944 to drop troops onto Dutch soil. The station returned to RAF control in September 1944, with several bomber squadrons operating from the airfield, and after hostilities ended it was used as bomb storage centre.

Balderton also played a key role in the development of Britain’s first jet, the Gloster Meteor, the Flight Trials Unit testing their new aircraft at the site while the man seen as its inventor, Frank Whittle, was based at Balderton Old Hall.

RAF Gamston

Opened 1942

Closed 1993, opening as a civil airport.

Located two miles south of Retford, Gamston was built with three runways in the classic A-shape, part of the RAF Flying Training Command and a satellite to RAF Ossington (see below). Six months later it was handed over to RAF Bomber Command Training and in June 1943, No. 82 OTU arrived with Wellingtons and Hurricanes, later involved with night training for bomber crews.

Late in 1944 it was transferred to No. 7 Group Bomber Command, with No. 3 Aircrew School arriving from RAF Shepherds Grove in Suffolk before they were disbanded in 1945. Post-war the site was used for motor races before it reopened in 1953 as a satellite station for RAF Worksop (see below), No. 211 Advanced Flying School RAF, No. 211 AFS, operating Gloster Meteors and de Haviland Vampires from the runways.

RAF Hucknall

Opened 1918

Closed 1971

Opening during the final year of the First World War, the De Havillands of No. 218, No. 130 and No. 205 Squadrons operated from the site six miles north of Nottingham, with a detachment of the US Army Air Service arriving in August 1918. The following year it was closed and the site sold to a local farmer.

The Air Ministry bought it back in 1927, the official re-opening leading to the formation of No. 504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron, initially operating Hawker Horsleys. An annual Empire Air Day was held at Hucknall until 1939, and at the start of WW2, No. 504 Squadron departed for intensive training at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, No. 98 Squadron the sole unit based on site.

Airfield protective measures were upgraded ahead of any potential attack, the RAF Regiment taking over primary defence of the station; a bunker at the nearby RAF Watnall (see below) was constructed to house No. 12 Group RAF (Fighter Command), who had previously been based on site. In January 1941, No. 1 (Polish) Flying Training School was formed at the station – Tiger Moths, Fairey Battles and Airspeed Oxfords used to ready Polish airmen for conflict, with training a key part of the station’s war service.

One of the station’s most notorious visitors during WW2 was a man claiming to be a Dutch pilot who was part of a special squadron, and needed a plane to fly to RAF Dyce in Scotland. The Dutchman was in fact German fighter pilot, Franz von Werra, who had recently escaped from a POW camp in Swanwick, Derbyshire – he wasn’t given a plane and was soon arrested, his exploits making it to film in The One That Got Away.

Hucknall was very much a testing centre for Rolls-Royce engines pre-war, and this continued post-war with an expansion of the flight test facilities and in July 1953, the station saw an aircraft perform the world’s first vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) – the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig, also known as the Flying Bedstead.

RAF Langar

Opened 1942

Closed around 1967, becoming base for parachuting

The first unit to arrive at Langar in September 1942 was No. 207 Squadron, flying Lancasters, a large hangar complex constructed for use by Avro to repair and maintain the heavy bombers. In November 1943, Langar was handed over to the Americans, the 435th Troop Carrier Group arriving with four squadrons of C-47 Dakotas, followed by 438th Troop Carrier Group, then the 441st – all three groups moving on after a short period.

RAF Langar 17 April 1945

(RAF Langar 17 April 1945)

In October 1944, RAF Bomber Command returned moving in with No. 1669 HCU – 32 Lancasters flown from the station until March 1945.

Post war, the site located six miles south east of Radcliffe-on-Trent was used to house POWs and in 1952 it was taken over by the RCAF as a supply station for their NATO squadrons – the only Canadian airfield in the UK.

RAF Misson

Opened 1940

Closed 1995

RAF Misson was a bombing range, training area, and in the early 1960s, a Surface Air Guided Weapons site, SAGW, with the protection of the nearby RAF Finningley its primary role.

In the Second World War, the location just over the border from South Yorkshire, seven miles south of Doncaster, was used as a bombing range by the OTUs of Finningley, a role that continued until 1948, and in 1960, No 94 (SAM) Squadron operated with MK 1 Bristol Bloodhound missiles under the control of the Tactical Command Centre at RAF Lindholme. The missile defence was the protection of the V-bomber force based at Finningley, the idea to destroy Soviet bombers targeting their British counterparts. Parts of the site were sold off in 1969, but its use as a military training area continued until the mid-1990s.

RAF Newton

Opened 1940

Closed 2000

Assigned to No. 1 Group in June 1940, Nos. 103 and 150 Squadrons were the first arrivals, initially with Fairey Battles before both squadrons switched to Vickers Wellingtons. When both squadrons left, the station, located seven miles east of Nottingham, became a training base, primarily for Polish airmen with a detachment of No. 2 Flying Instructors School based Newton.

Post-war, Newton became the headquarters of No. 12 Group Fighter Command until 1958, when it was taken over by Technical Training Command, before it became home to the RAF School of Education and RAF Police Training School, amongst other roles.

RAF Ossington

Opened 1941

Closed 1946

Constructed as the classic A-shaped bomber airfield with three hard runways, Ossington opened under the control of No. 5 Group RAF Bomber Command, before becoming an RAF Flying Training Command station in January 1942. It returned to Bomber Command control and became a satellite station of RAF Gamston, No. 82 OTU formed and operating with Vickers Wellingtons, staying until January 1945 when they were disbanded.

Those trained at the site 12 miles north of Newark, also included eventual British Overseas Airways Corporation, BOAC, aircrews, with long-distance flying training of Avro Lancasters and Avro Lancastrians for routes including London to New Zealand.

RAF Watnall

Opened 1940

Closed 1946

Established as an HQ for No. 12 Group whose area included the Midlands, Norfolk and North Wales, the Operations Centre was housed in three locations – Operations Room, Filter Room and Communications Centre – partially buried for protection. The ops room was responsible for directing RAF aircraft over a wide area of the central part of the country; the Filter Room was for disseminating intelligence arriving on potential enemy targets and activity; the communications centre accommodating all technical equipment monitoring both enemy aircraft and UK air defensives. Part of the site six miles north west of Nottingham was sold by auction in 2008.

RAF Winthorpe

Opened 1940

Closed 1959 – declared inactive

Opening as a Bomber Command Station in 1940, Nos. 300 and 301 (Polish) Squadrons moved to the station two miles north east of Newark in August and September 1940, a month later the Luftwaffe launching an attack on the site. Both squadrons left the following year, with very little activity while control of the station was passed over to RAF Ossington, before three hard runways were constructed – the station becoming a training centre for Avro Manchester and Avro Lancaster bomber crews.

An Avro Lancaster of No. 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF from RAF Winthorpe
(An Avro Lancaster of No. 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF from RAF Winthorpe)

While the Lancasters of 1661 HCU carried out numerous operations, the Manchesters quietly drifted into obscurity, that aircraft’s production halted due to technical problems and aircrew dissatisfaction with its reliability.

Post war the station became a satellite for RAF Syerston and was used for storage, the location today a site for an air museum with much of the three runways surviving.

RAF Worksop

Opened 1943

Closed 1958

Another classic A-shaped bomber base, Worksop was intended as a satellite for Finningley, No. 18 (Polish) OTU arriving with Wellington bombers among other aircraft in November 1943, RCAF aircrews also training with their Polish counterparts.

Night flight training was also undertaken at Worksop, with post war seeing army personnel located at the station, notably members of the Royal Tank Regiment, In the early 1950s No. 211 AFS arrived, taking pilots trained on piston-engined aircraft through the basics of jet aircraft – the RAF’s first jet squadron, 616, were relocated with their Gloster Meteors in May 1955, before they were disbanded two years later, the airfield closing soon after.

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