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RAF in West and South Yorkshire

THE focus on RAF stations has historically been in the north and east of the region, with Leeming the best-known of the remaining active sites. However, as with most areas of the UK, there were many stations that opened up before and during the Second World War, all providing a vital service in the protection of Britain from the threat of Hitler’s forces. 

RAF Bawtry 

Opened 1941 

Closed 1986 

Bawtry Hall, located nine miles south of Doncaster, was the HQ for No. 1 Group Bomber Command during WW2, co-ordinating raids involving Lancasters and Wellingtons, with the location making using of the airfield at Bircotes, situated on an adjoining site to the grounds of the hall. 

Bawtry Hall

(Bawtry Hall)

Bawtry became No. 1 Group as part of Strike Command after WW2, operating up to the latter stages of the Cold War, and famously was the centre co-ordinating the RAF bombing of Port Stanley airfield during the Falklands War, Operation Black Buck One. It was also the centre of the RAF Meteorological Service for many years, with military operations ending in 1986; the Air Training Corps 2008 Squadron is still located at a site near the hall.    

RAF Bircotes

Opened 1941

Closed 1948 

Located next to Bomber Command at Bawtry, the grass airfield at Bircotes was used by Avro Ansons, Wellington bombers and Avro Manchesters from No. 25 Operational Training Unit RAF, OTU, located at RAF Finningley (see below). No. 1 Group Bomber Command Communications Flight RAF from RAF Bawtry was also present from April 1941, flying Miles Masters, Airspeed Oxfords, Miles Martinets, Tomahawks and Westland Lysanders, with a number of training units also based there. It was decommissioned in 1948, with the site now farmland. 

RAF Doncaster

Opened 1909

Closed 1945

Now the location of Doncaster Racecourse, the venue was chosen to host the first aviation meeting in England, with around a dozen pioneers of manned flight present. The Daily Mail offered a prize to the first British pilot to a fly a circular mile in a British aeroplane, leading to American Samuel Cody signing British naturalisation papers in front of the crowd – he crashed his aircraft on the first day of the meeting and was unsuccessful in making any significant flights.

Royal Flying Corps, RFC, fighters were based there during WW1, deployed to counter the threat of German airships, with the end of the war seeing the site sold. An aviation centre opened up in 1934 with a service to Amsterdam starting in 1936, before No. 616 Squadron was formed at RAF Doncaster in 1938, famously playing a key role in the Battle of Britain – the squadron was later to become the first to be equipped with Gloster Meteors.

Civilian flying returned after the war, the site officially closing in 1992, the old RAF buildings now housing the South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum.    

RAF Finningley

Opened 1915

Now Doncaster Sheffield Airport

11 Squadron English Electric Lightning F3 landing at RAF Finningley

(11 Squadron English Electric Lightning F3 landing at RAF Finningley)

In 1915, the Royal Flying Corps, RFC, needed to move operations from Doncaster, with Finningley the chosen destination, an air strip created at Bancroft Farm about five miles south west of Doncaster. The aircraft operating from the site were BE.2c fighters, their aim to intercept Zeppelin bombers approaching the region from the east coast.

The site was effectively mothballed after the First World War, reopening in 1936 when No. 7 and No. 102 Squadrons moved in. In October 1939, No. 106 Squadron arrived in their training role from Cottesmore and in 1940, No. 98 Squadron transferred to the station flying Fairey Battles; with WW2 at a critical point with a real threat of invasion, No. 106 was placed on operational call. The early missions of No. 106 were to drop mines in the approaches to French ports, venues believed to contain invasion barges. 

In 1942, Finningley was involved in Bomber Command operations, Wellingtons flying missions from the site, before they were moved ahead of a hard runway being laid at the end of 1943, the station reopening for flying in May 1944. 

Post-war a number of training units were stationed with a variety of aircrafts, No. 616 reforming there in July 1946, firstly with Mosquitos and then Gloster Meteors, and by the mid-1950s the station was in need of reboot, which arrived with the decision to extend the runway to 2.7km. In 1957, the station reopened as a V-bomber home, No. 101 Squadron reforming flying Vulcans, with No. 18 Squadron arriving soon after operating Vickers Valiants. 

Vulcan

(Vulcan XH558 was based at RAF Finningley between 1960 and 1968)

In May 1970, Training Command took over the station, with the RAF Search and Rescue Wing formed at Finningley in 1976; No. 22 and No. 202 Squadrons combining, operating Sea Kings, Whirlwinds and Wessexes.

In January 1992 a new £5million Air Navigation School was opened before, somewhat bizarrely, the MoD announced the closure of the station two years later. It was later transformed into a new airport. But for how long?

RAF Firbeck

Opened 1937 

Closed 1948 

A private airfield, Firbeck was effectively acquisitioned under the Emergency Powers Act at the outbreak of WW2, No. 613 Squadron the first to arrive in September 1940. From July 1941 until the end of hostilities, Firbeck was used as a relief landing site for No. 25 Elementary Flying Training School RAF (EFTS), with Air Observation Squadrons – No. 654 and No. 659 – flying missions from the site, located eight miles north of Worksop, to identify enemy positions.

No. 28 Gliding School RAF also took up residence, succeeded by No. 24 Gliding School RAF, the airfield closing in 1948.

RAF Lindholme 

Opened 1940

Closed 1985

Lindholme opened under No. 5 Group a year into WW2, situated seven miles east of Doncaster. No. 50 Squadron arrived operating Hampdens, the sole residents until June 1941 when the new No. 408 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force joined them, also flying Hampdens. Lindholm was handed over to No. 1 Group, with the runways extended and the station becoming an operational training base, however, over the course of hostilities its importance to the war effort was seen by the scale of losses: 40 Hampdens, 35 Wellingtons and one Lancaster.

Post war, Lindholme welcomed Bomber Command Bombing School, BCBS, from Scampton in 1952, with the late 1960s seeing 721 Mobile Radar Bomb Score Signals Unit (MRBSSU) taking up a location near the airfield. MRBSSU’s role was to track V-force strike aircraft during simulated bombing runs and score the accuracy of the attack. 

There were three Bristol Bloodhound SAM missile sites located withing a 25-mile radius of the station, but by the late 1970s Lindholme had become a relief landing ground for RAF Finningley. The site was sold in 1985, becoming a prison.   

RAF Manywells Height 

Opened 1913

Closed 1919

A rare Royal Flying Corps/RAF station that was used during the First World War, mothballed in 1919, never to see an aircraft take off or land again. The location at Cullingworth, near Keighley, was first used as a landing strip in 1913, a BE2A landing there on a journey north to Montrose. It was requisitioned by the military in 1916 as a relief landing ground for Squadrons 33 and 76, focusing on night-time operations to combat against the threat of German airships. On the formation of the RAF, it switched its name from RFC, remaining active until June 1919.

RAF Oxenhope Moor

Opened Around 1939

Closed 1970

A Second World War radio station located just south of Keighley formed part of the GEE navigation system, guiding bombers from the UK to find their targets on enemy soil.

RAF Tadcaster

Opened 1916

Closed 1919

Opening in 1916, RFC Bramham Moor Aerodrome, as it was then known, was home to several aircraft squadrons tasked with the protection the area from potential Zeppelin attacks during the First World War. The first unit detailed at Bramham was No. 33 Squadron, operating BE2c aircraft, and alongside their defensive role they had a further remit of training, the latter duty taken on in June of that year by No. 57 Squadron.

First World War era aircraft hangar built for the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 at their base at Bramham Moor (Tadcaster)

(First World War era aircraft hangar built for the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 at their base at Bramham Moor (Tadcaster))

When the RAF was formed in 1918, the station became RAF Tadcaster, and on July 15 of that year, No. 38 Training Depot Station, 38 TDS, was formed, disbanding just over a year later. With training the key role, a number of US personnel arrived after they entered hostilities, several US squadrons passing through the station along with two Arabian pilots from the Ottoman Air Corps.

Other Squadrons at the site included No. 75, No. 76 and No. 94, with the site effectively closing in 1919 with the disbandment of 38 TDS. In the Second World War, the site was filled with old vehicles, military chiefs concerned that it could be used as a landing ground during a feared invasion.

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