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RAF in the East Riding of Yorkshire, A-F

THE RAF boasts long and distinguished association with the East Rising of Yorkshire, the last active station closing around a decade ago, but numerous statues and plaques across the region mark where sites once stood. During both world wars, it was an area vital to both attack and defensive operations, geographically offering a clear route across the North Sea to northern Germany.

It was also one of the centres for USA’s Thor nuclear missile defence operation which began in the late 1950s, several stations taking delivery of weapons which were maintained and operated by the RAF, with the nuclear warheads under the control of the United States.

RAF Bellasize

Opened 1916

Closed 1945

Located around ten miles east of Goole, just south of where the M62 now stands, RAF Bellasize opened during the First World War in a Home Defence role occupied by Nos. 33 and 76 Squadrons, but its limitations soon became apparent with the site, just 12ft above sea level, prone to flooding. After closing in 1919, it was reactivated in WW2 under the control of Flying Training Command, and was used as a relief landing ground for nearby Brough Aerodrome.

RAF Bempton

Opened: 1940

Closed: 1972

Present day ruins of RAF Bempton

(Present day ruins of RAF Bempton)

The site, six miles north of Bridlington, was used as radar station during WW2, part of the Chain Home Low, CHL, network, the name referring to the ability to detect enemy aircraft at low altitudes. It was disbanded in the summer of 1945 but re-established as a radar station in the late 1940s before transferring to RAF Fighter Command in the early 1950s, later becoming a satellite station of RAF Patrington (see RAF East Yorkshire, H-Z) until its final closure in 1972.

RAF Beverley

Opened: 1916

Closed: 1920; part of the site used by RAF in 1930s for non-flying duties

The site, part of Beverley Racecourse was requisitioned in 1916, No. 47 Squadron arriving in March with the role of protecting Hull and the surrounding area from Zeppelin attacks, soon joined by No. 33 Squadron. In the early part of 1917, several Canadian squadrons were based at the site before posting in France, or returning to Canada. A memorial to the airmen who died in training accidents is located at the nearby church at Bishop Burton.

RAF Breighton

Opened: 1942

Closed: 1964; currently used to house private/historic aircraft and home to a flying club

Opening in 1940, Breighton was built for No. 1 Group RAF, with No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF, the first arrivals at the site 10 miles north of Goole, conducting bombing raids initially flying Vickers Wellingtons, before firstly re-equipping with Handley Page Halifaxes, and then Lancasters.

 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile

(Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile)

Post-war, Breighton became a base for American Thor nuclear missiles, operated by No. 240 Squadron RAF, before closing in 1964.

RAF Bridlington

Opened: 1929

Closed: 1980

A Royal Naval Air Service, RNAS, seaplane was stationed at Bridlington Harbour during WW1 but an RAF station only opened at the harbourside in 1929, initially supplying dummy aircraft that were moored off the coast for bombing and target practice.

The outbreak of WW2 saw Marine Craft Unit, MCU, at the site were handed the additional role of Air Sea Rescue, ASR, with a growing number of aircraft flying over the North Sea, and regularly ditching into it – during one month in 1941, 38 men were rescued. Training formed a big part of the wartime role of the station, Nos. 14 and 20 Initial Training Wing, ITW, part of No. 54 Group RAF, performing the function – famously the last Dambuster, Johnny Johnson, trained at the site in the winter of 1942.

Post war, only the MCU remained, part of its role supporting the RNLI when required, continuing to operate from the site until the RAF finally left in 1980.

RAF Carnaby

Opened: 1944

Closed: 1969

One of several locations across the east coast with an extended runway, primarily to allow heavy bombers a landing site close to the sea if either damaged, suffering technical problems, or forced to divert due to weather conditions. Despite not opening until 1944, more than 1.400 bombers were forced to make emergency landings at Carnaby, located on the outskirts of Bridlington.

Carnaby also used a system known as FIDO, Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation: petrol was burnt at either side of the runway to raise the air temperature above the landing strip and cut through the fog, giving pilots a well-lit strip when coming into land.

After the war, Carnaby was used as a training site for pilots heading to the Korean War and as a relief landing ground, RLG, for 203 Squadron, then operating from Driffield (see below). It also became a missile base for USA Thor nuclear weapons from 1959-1963, until its closure as an RAF site in the late 1960s.

RAF Catfoss

Opened: 1929

Closed: 1963

No. 1 Armament Training Camp were located at Catfoss, four miles inland from Hornsea, with aircraft using the nearby gunnery ranges for practice. In 1935, No. 97 Squadron arrived operating Handley Page Heyford heavy bombers, with the Spitfires of No. 616 Squadron providing air defence in 1940. The airfield was transferred to Coastal Command as it became busier, three concrete runways were constructed at the end of 1942.

Handley Page Heyford

(Handley Page Heyford)

Training continued throughout the war, including for crews deploying to the Far East, and at the end of hostilities training operations switched to RAF Leconfield (see RAF East Yorkshire, H-Z), the station closing. Like other sites in the region, Catfoss became a missile base for USA Thor nuclear weapons in the late 1950s, until its closure in 1963.

RAF Cottam

Opened: 1939

Closed: 1954

Built as a satellite station for Driffield (see below), Cottam was never used as an operational airfield, its main role in August 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain: it became a dispersal site following severe damage at Driffield. Post-war, the site four miles north of Driffield was used for bomb storage until the mid-1950s.

RAF Cowden

Opened: 1959

Closed: 1998

While the site, located four miles south of Hornsea, was used during WW2 for training, it was only purchased by the War Office in 1953, before being used as a RAF bombing range. It had two target railways and four reinforced concrete towers, the range extending out into the North Sea. Following closure of the site, cliff erosion exposed practise bombs, with the beaches around the area closed while they were dealt with, a private firm now contracted to clear ordinance from the site.

RAF Driffield

Opened: 1918

Closed: 1977

In the final year of WW1, Driffield started life as RAF Eastburn, closing two years later before reopening in 1935 when a new airfield was built to train bomber crews.

During the Battle of Britain, it suffered severe damage on August 15, 1940, bombers dropping 169 devices killing 14 people on the ground, as well as destroying 12 bombers. Dummy aircraft and vehicles were moved to the site with no operational activity for the next few months, with Nos. 77 and 102 Squadrons moving to Linton-on-Ouse and Leeming respectively.

In the late 1950s, Driffield became a missile base for USA Thor nuclear weapons, continuing as an RAF station until it was turned over to the army in 1977.

RAF Full Sutton

Opened: 1944

Closed: 1963

WAAF exercise on Full Sutton Airfield in January 1945 using a crashed Halifax III aircraft

(WAAF exercise on Full Sutton Airfield in January 1945 using a crashed Halifax III aircraft)

One of the last airfields to be created during WW2, Full Sutton was home to the Halifaxes of No. 77 Squadron, arriving from RAF Elvington, switching to operating Douglas Dakotas in July 1945; the squadron moved to RAF Broadwell in August 1945. At the end of hostilities, the station came under the control of RAF Transport Command, and in the 1950s it formed part of RAF Flying Training Command. In 1959, No. 102 Squadron arrived at Full Sutton, the site located 12 miles east of York being turned into a base for USA Thor nuclear missiles, closing as an RAF station when the missiles left four years later.

To read part two H-Z click here

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