A memorial in All Saints Church, Great Steeping to the members of 44 Squadron who flew from Spilsby
Decommissioned and closed in the 1970s
Military Bomber airfield and a United States Air Force Base
A change of location
During the Second World War the Air Ministry attempted to build an airfield at Gunby Hall that would have covered most of the estate and necessitated the demolition of the magnificent and historic hall. The then owner, Field Marshal Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd personally appealed to King George VI and the Air Ministry relented, redrawing the plans that resulted in the building of the resited RAF Spilsby although the runway would eventually end only a few yards short of the Gunby estate boundary hedge.
The airfield was built at Great Steeping, just 2 mi (3.2 km) south west of its originally planned location at Gunby, during 1942 to 1943 and opened for action on 20 September 1943 as an overflow satellite airfield to RAF East Kirkby in 5 (Bomber) Group RAF. The first operational squadron to be based at Spilsby was No 207 squadron RAF who moved from RAF Langar on 12 October 1943. The squadron bombed Hanover in Germany six days later on 18 October and the following week the station was upgraded from satellite status to a full station in its own right.
Later in the war
In April 1944 the three local bomber stations at Spilsby, Strubby and East Kirkby combined to form the 55th (Bomber) Group RAF with the headquarters located at East Kirkby. RAF Spilsby became a two squadron station when No 44 Squadron RAF relocated from RAF Dunholme Lodge near Lincoln in October 1944.
In 1944 a Spilsby-based 207 Squadron airman, Flying Officer Denys Street was one of the real escapees from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III and was one of the fifty executed by the Gestapo in the aftermath of the mass escape that was later filmed as The Great Escape.
During the war the Lancasters of 207 Squadron flew over 6,000 individual sorties during 540 operational missions, by both day and night with the loss of 154 seven man crews killed or missing, with at least another 9 aircraft lost on non-operational training or ferry flights.
As the Second World War came to an end 44 Squadron was moved south to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire and they were replaced by No 75 (New Zealand) Squadron who were planned to be part of the Tiger Force against Japan. However, when the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended, the Spilsby squadrons were moved elsewhere in October 1945. The airfield defence force of No 2751 Sqn (RAF Regiment) remained at RAF Spilsby and it became No 2 Armament and Gunnery Practice School.
On Easter Monday 10 April 1944, during the preparation for an operation, a major incident occurred in a fusing shed while a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb was being disarmed. It exploded causing the death of 10 Squadron armourers, three of whom were never found and therefore have no known grave. The force of the explosion also caused damage to some of the Airfield's buildings and even some slight damage in the nearby community.
The second accident happened on 1 November 1944. During 207 Squadron's daylight departure on sorties, one of the Lancasters, piloted by Flying Officer Arthur Loveless, swung violently on take-off. It careered across the Airfield, demolishing a Nissen hut before coming to rest among four Halifaxes belonging to 429 'Bison' Squadron (RCAF) which had been diverted to Spilsby from the previous night's operation. The result was the loss of the Lancaster and three of the Halifaxes by explosion and fire. A fourth Halifax was severely damaged and it was in this aircraft that the only fatality occurred when its Flight Engineer started up the engines with the intention of getting clear of the inferno. Once again a number of the Airfield's buildings were damaged with the control tower having a narrow escape.
A few days later on 11 November, a further tragedy befell Spilsby airmen when returning home from an operation. Two Lancasters - one from 44 Squadron, flown by Pilot Officer Garyer, and one from 207 Squadron - received identical landing instructions from the Spilsby control tower and collided in the approach funnel over the village of Bratoft, east of the airfield, killing both crews and scattering debris over a large area. This led to revised approach procedures being implemented with aircraft being allocated specific time slots to prevent overcrowding in the circuit.
The Cold War period and closure
In December 1946 RAF Spilsby was abandoned and placed on care and maintenance until June 1955, during which time it was used for storing overflow supplies for RAF East Kirkby. After the Korean War and as the Cold War started RAF Spilsby re-opened to host units of the USAF and the east-west runway was extended by 1,590 ft (480 m) in preparation for accommodating long range escort fighters.. However no USAF squadrons were ever based at Spilsby, where only non-flying units were stationed, there is no evidence that the airfield was used by any aircraft. The Korean war had ended in 1953 but the USAF did not move out until March 1958, relocating to RAF Mildenhall, when the Spilsby airfield immediately closed. The extended runway was long enough to handle the RAF's jet engined nuclear bomber V-force and a decision to rip it out was delayed for nearly twenty years just in case it became needed again by the RAF.
Spilsby remained on RAF maps as a designated emergency landing site for the Vulcan bombers based at RAF Scampton. With the V-force disbanding the runways and perimeter track were finally torn up during the late 1970s, with most of the crushed aggregate being used in the construction of the new Humber Bridge.
RAF Spilsby is commemorated by an Airfield Memorial standing just outside Great Steeping and by plaques in the All Saints' Church Great Steeping. The ghost cropmarks showing the airfield's runway layout are still visible on some aerial photographs and at certain times of the year.
Units and aircraft based at Spilsby
|No. 29 Squadron RAF||1946||de Havilland Mosquito||XXX|
|No. 44 Squadron RAF||1945||Avro Lancaster||I and III|
|No. 65 Squadron RAF||1945||Supermarine Spitfire||LF16E|
|No. 75 Squadron RAF||1945||Avro Lancaster||I and III||New Zealand manned squadron|
|1945||Avro Lincoln||B2||Disbanded and transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force|
|No. 129 Squadron RAF||1946||Supermarine Spitfire||IXE|
|No. 207 Squadron RAF||1943–1945||Avro Lancaster||I and III|
|No. 219 Squadron RAF||1946||de Havilland Mosquito||XXX|
|No. 222 Squadron RAF||1946||Gloster Meteor||F3|
|No. 264 Squadron RAF||1946||de Havilland Mosquito||NF30|
|USAF||1955||B-52||Moved to RAF Mildenhall in March 1958|
- Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2 - Page 173
- White, Alan; Air Commodore Simon Baldwin. Group Captain John Laycock (2007). The King's Thunderbolts - No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Royal Air Force An Operational Record and Roll of Honour 1917-1982. TUCANN Books. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-873257-85-2.
- "RAF Spilsby Memorial Information Board". 207 Squadron RAF Association. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
- White, Alan; Air Commodore Simon Baldwin. Group Captain John Laycock (2007). The King's Thunderbolts - No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Royal Air Force An Operational Record and Roll of Honour 1917-1982. TUCANN Books. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-873257-85-2.
- Aerial photo of RAF Spilsby today - runways showing as cropmarks in the fields
- Jefford 1985, page 159
- Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2 (1981) (ISBN 978-1852604059)
- Jefford, C.G. (1988). RAF Squadrons. Airlife Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
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