The Second World War bomber airfields of Yorkshire have long been forgotten, but a new book by former RAF wing commander, Peter Jacobs, takes us through the county to revisit those once vital lines of defence.
Peter is an accomplished military author and his book Bomber Command Aifields of Yorkshire is his fifth title in the Aviation Heritage Trail series.
One of the airfields that was considered, but never actually used for bomber aircraft was Doncaster Racecourse.
Although the history of this site dates back more than a hundred years, when Doncaster Racecourse was first used for an aviation meeting and then as a landing ground during the First World War, Doncaster was not one of Bomber Command’s operational airfields during the Second World War.
As an all-grass civil airfield between the wars it was only natural that Doncaster should be considered for further development, but it seemingly lacked the facilities to become a main bomber airfield.
It was, however, used during the very early days of the Second World War when Doncaster was home to the Avro Ansons and Handley Page Hampdens of 7 Squadron, a squadron then being used as a training unit for 5 Group, Bomber Command, although the squadron moved to Finningley just as hostilities were about to get underway.
Doncaster later became home to various transport and communications aircraft of 217 Squadron, a diverse unit providing assistance to all of the RAF’s commands in areas such as the moving of squadron equipment and personnel between bases and, during 1941/42, the airfield was used by Lysanders and Tomahawks of 613 Squadron.
Then, as a satellite of nearby Finningley during the latter period of the war, the Wellingtons of 18 OTU became frequent visitors to Doncaster, as the demand for training more bomber crews increased. But when the OTU disbanded at the end of 1944 it brought an end to the visiting bombers, although the airfield was still used by various transport
Life at the airfield during the post-war period was quiet and, as the town of Doncaster expanded, the days of the old grass airfield were over. The former airfield has long disappeared, although the Doncaster Racecourse on the junction of the A638 and A18 Leger Way, on the south-east part of the town, marks its approximate location.
From the opening day of hostilities, RAF Bomber Command took the offensive to Nazi Germany and played a leading role in the liberation of Europe. Yorkshire’s airfields played a key part throughout. Indeed, Bomber Command’s first night operation of the war was flown from one of the county’s many bomber airfields. Then, as the bombing offensive gathered pace, all of Bomber Command’s major efforts during the hardest years of 1943/44 – against the Ruhr, Hamburg and Berlin – involved the Yorkshire-based squadrons.
Most of Yorkshire’s wartime bomber airfields have long gone, but many have managed to retain the flying link with their wartime past. For example, the former RAF airfields of Finningley and Middleton St George, and the factory airfield of Yeadon, are now the sites of international airports, while Breighton, Burn, Full Sutton, Pocklington and Rufforth are still used for light aircraft flying or gliding and Elvington is home to the magnificent Yorkshire Air Museum.
Stories of two men being awarded the Victoria Cross (Britain’s highest award for gallantry) is included, as are tales of other personalities who brought these airfields to life. The stories of thirty-three airfields are told in total in the book, with a brief history of each accompanied by details of how to find them and what remains of them today. Whatever the interest, be it aviation history or more local, the book shows that the county of Yorkshire has rightly taken its place in the history of Bomber Command.
This book will be of interest to local readers as well as aviation history enthusiasts.
Peter Jacobs’ other recent titles for Pen and Sword include Daring Raids of World War Two; Heroic Land, Sea and Air Attacks, Setting
France Ablaze; The SOE in France During WWII and Fortress Island Malta; Defence & Re-Supply during the Siege.
Bomber Command Airfields of Yorkshire is sold at £14.99 and is available from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher at www.pen-and-sword.co.uk website.