History Podcasts

No. 97 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 97 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

No. 97 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.97 Squadron went through three incarnations during the Second World War, of which only the third saw active service.

At the start of the war the squadron was a training squadron in No. 6 Group, operating a mix of Avro Ansons and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. In April 1940 the squadron was redesignated as No. 10 Operational Training Unit.

The second incarnation was very short lived, lasting from 1-20 May 1940, disbanding before it received any aircraft.

The third and final incarnation of the squadron formed on 25 February 1941 around a nucleus provided by No. 207 Squadron. The new squadron was equipped with the troubled Avro Manchester, beginning operations on 8 April 1941. This aircraft was so unreliable that for a short time in the summer of 1941 the squadron had to supplement it with a number of Handley Page Hampden Is.

The much superior Avro Lancaster began to arrive in January 1942, and the squadron operated that type for the rest of the war, mostly with the main bomber force but from April 1943 to April 1944 with the Pathfinder Force.

February 1939-April 1940: Avon Anson I, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley II and Whitley III

March 1941-February 1942: Avro Manchester I and IA
July 1941-August 1941: Handley Page Hampden I
January 1942-July 1946: Avro Lancaster I and Lancaster III

7 January-17 September 1937: Leconfield
17 September-6 April 1940: Abingdon

1-20 May 1940: Driffield

25 February-10 March 1941: Waddington
10 March 1941-2 March 1942: Coningsby
2 March 1943-18 April 1943: Woodhall Spa
18 April 1943-18 April 1944: Bourn
18 April 1944-5 November 1946: Coningsby

Group and Duty
26 September 1939-April 1940: Pool bomber squadron with No. 6 Group
February 1941-April 1943: Bomber Command, Heavy Bomber Squadron
April 1943-April 1944: Pathfinder Force
April 1944-end of war: Bomber Command, Heavy Bomber Squadron


Traces of World War 2 RAF - No. 79 Squadron 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

On 22 March 1937, B Flight of No 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill became No 79 Squadron and flew Gauntlets until the arrival of Hurricanes at the end of 1938. After the outbreak of war, it flew defensive patrols and in May 1940 was sent to France for ten days when the German offensive opened.

79 had very few aircraft when they got back from France. As well as losses in France it seems that they had lost three more due to landing in the fog at Manston. The remaining aircraft of 79 Squadron got back to Biggin Hill on the 22nd May.

After taking part in the Battle of Britain the squadron moved to South Wales.

Biggin Hill 5 June 1940
Hawkinge 2 July 1940
Sealand 11 July 1940
Acklington 13 July 1940
Biggin Hill 27 August 1940
Pembrey 8 September 1940

Operations and losses 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940
Not all operations listed those with fatal losses are.

11/05/1940: Patrol, B/F. 1 Plane lost, 1 WIA
12/05/1940: Patrol, B/F. 1 Plane lost
Patrol. 2 Planes lost, 1 MIA, 1 WIA
Patrol. 1 Plane lost, 1 POW
20/05/1940: ? 1 Plane lost, 1 MIA
23/06/1940: ?, Biggin Hill, UK. 1 Plane lost
27/06/1940: Escort to St Valery, F. 1 Plane lost, 1 KIA

Losses 01/01/1940 - 09/05/1940 (incomplete)

Pilot Officer (Pilot) Thomas S. Lewis, RAF 40401, 79 Sqdn., age unknown, 02/01/1940, Cardiff (Llanishen) Cemetery, UK
Aircraftman 2nd Class Sidney H. Smith, RAF 620008, 79 Sqdn., age 22, 02/01/1940, Westcott (Holy Trinity) New Churchyard, UK

Pilot Officer James J. Tarlington, RAF 40763 (Australia), 79 Sqdn., age 26, 16/02/1940, missing

Sergeant (Pilot) Bernard J. Spencer, RAF 565344, 79 Sqdn., age 25, 26/04/1940, Dursley Cemetery, UK

11/05/1940: Patrol, B/F

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L2068, AL -?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 11/05/1940
F/Lt R. Edwards bailed out after attacking a He111 north west of Mons, Belgium. Burn injuries.

12/05/1940: Patrol, B/F

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L2065, AL -?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 12/05/1940
P/O T C Parker bailed out after combat with a Do 17 of KG77

14/05/1940: Patrol

Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, AL -?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 14/05/1940
Pilot Officer Llewellyn L. Appleton, RAF 40497, 79 Sqdn., age 23, 14/05/1940, missing

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: N2490, AL -?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 14/05/1940
P/O J.E.R. Wood bailed out after a combat with Ju 88, north of Leuze. Injured.

17/05/1940: Patrol

Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L2140, AL -?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 17/05/1940
Hurricane L2140. Failed to return from patrol between Vilvoorde and Braine-le-Comte and believed shot down by AA fire 8.30 p.m. Pilot Officer R. Herrick baled out and captured. Aircraft a write-off.

Source: The Battle of France Then & Now p303

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L2145, AL -?
Operation: ?
Lost: 20/05/1940
Pilot Officer Lionel R. Dorrien-Smith, RAFVR 72501, 79 Sqdn., age 21, 20/05/1940, missing
Shot down by groundfire during attack on enemy armoured columns west of Arras, 14.30 hrs.

P/O Dorrien-Smith was a nephew of Lord Trenchard, the founding father of the RAF

CWGC Peter D. Cornwell, The Battle of France, Then and Now, 2008

23/06/1940: ?, Biggin Hill, UK

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: P2698, AL -?
Operation: ?
Lost: 23/06/1940
P/O D.W.A. Stones - safe
Descended through fog and landed off the runway colliding with gun emplacement, 11.00 hrs. Aircraft a write-off.

Source: Peter D. Cornwell, The Battle of France, Then and Now, 2008

27/06/1940: Escort to St Valery, F

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, AL -?
Operation: Escort to St Valery
Lost: 27/06/1940
Sergeant (Pilot) Ronald R. McQueen, RAFVR 993914, 79 Sqdn., age 24, Glasgow Western Necropolis, UL
Took off 1015 hrs. Bailed out picked up dead from the sea.

back up

R Beaumont 'Flying to the limit' (1941) (PSL 1996)
Peter D. Cornwell, The Battle of France, Then and Now, 2008
Jackson 'Men of Power: lives of Rolls-Royce chief test pilots Harvey & Jim Heyworth' (2007)
D Sweeting 'Wings of chance' (Hurricanes) (Asian Business Press 1990)

Distinguished Flying Cross : Flying Officer W P Ryan, 97 Squadron RAF

Distinguished Flying Cross (Geo VI). Engraved reverse lower arm with year of award and engraved cross arms with recipient's details.

Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) awarded to Flying Officer W P Ryan, for gallantry while serving with 97 Squadron RAF during the Second World War. William Patrick Ryan was born in March 1919 at Monee Ponds, Victoria. Prior to his enlistment with the RAAF, Ryan was employed with the Department of Customs based in Canberra, ACT. He enlisted for military service in July 1941 and undertook initial training in Australia at various locations in Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, before qualifying as a pilot in April 1942. Ryan embarked for the United Kingdom in August 1942 and trained at No 5 Lancaster Finishing School. He was promoted to flight sergeant on 15 December 1942, warrant officer on 25 December 1943 and pilot officer on 18 February 1944. He flew numerous bombing missions over Germany throughout 1944 and 1945. Ryan's DFC was gazetted on September 1945. The citation reads: 'Flying Officer Ryan has always shown the greatest enthusiasm for operations. He has pressed home each of his attacks with the utmost determination, often in the face of severe opposition. In addition to taking a leading part in the recent offensive against German oil targets, this officer has attacked Kiel, Stuttgart, Munich, Gdynia and Dresden. During a daylight attack on Cassan in August, 1944, Flying Officer Ryan's aircraft was badly damaged while in the target area. It became very difficult to control but, by outstanding airmanship he succeeded in flying it safely to base. He has proved himself to be a fine pilot and captain of aircraft.' The damage to Ryan's aircraft, referred to in the citation, was caused by two bombs falling through the left wing. Despite this, he was able to ensure the safety of himself and his crew. Flying Officer Ryan was repatriated to Australia in October 1945, after having accumulated 1246 flying hours including 1 1/2 tours as Pathfinder.

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (412902) Pilot Officer Thomas Eric Charles, No. 97 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Second World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (412902) Pilot Officer Thomas Eric Charles, No. 97 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Second World War.

412902 Pilot Officer Thomas Eric Charles, No. 97 Squadron, Royal Air Force
KIA 30 January 1944.

Story delivered 30 January 2015

Today we pay tribute to Pilot Officer Thomas Charles, who was killed on active service with the Royal Air Force in 1944.
The son of Thomas and Mary Jane Charles of Sebastopol, New South Wales, Thomas Eric Charles was born on 17 July 1918.

He worked as a farmer before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on the 15th of August 1941. Once in the RAAF he trained at No. 2 Wireless Air Gunners’ Schools in Parkes, and then at No. 2 Bombing and Air Gunners’ School at Port Pirie.

He qualified as an air gunner in May 1942 and in August he embarked in Sydney for overseas service. As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, Charles was one of almost 27,000 RAAF pilots, navigators, wireless operators, gunners, and engineers who joined squadrons in Europe throughout the course of the war.

After arriving in Britain in November 1942, Charles undertook further training, before being posted in May 1943 to No. 466 Squadron. This was a Royal Australian Air Force squadron within Bomber Command. It was a heavy-bomber squadron and flew the Handley Page Halifax four-engine bomber.

Between May and November 1943 Charles flew on 20 operations with No. 466 Squadron. In December he transferred to No. 97 Squadron, Royal Air Force, also a heavy-bomber squadron within Bomber Command. Here he flew a further eight operations on the four-engine Avro Lancaster bomber.

On the night of 30 January 1944 the Lancaster in which Charles flew failed to return from a bombing raid on Berlin. Charles and all six of his crewmates were killed in action. They are all buried side by side in the community cemetery at Kolhorn, north-east of Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Charles was 25 years old.

Flight Officer Thomas Eric Charles was one of thousands of Australians who served with British and Commonwealth forces in Europe during the Second World War.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, with the names of some 40,000 Australians killed in the Second World War. His photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Pilot Officer Thomas Eric Charles, and all those Australians – as well as our Allies and brothers in arms – who gave their lives in the service of our nation.

97 Squadron – Leaving the Pathfinders

97 Squadron was broken up in March 1944, “C” Flight going to 635 Squadron.

The following month, “A” and “B” flight of the remaining two-flight Squadron was “lent” to Cochrane of 5 Group, against the strongest opposition from Bennett, the leader of 8 Group, Path Finder Force.

The following entries in the ORB detail how the squadron left Bourn.

19.3.44 Movement Order is attached for the move of “C” Flight to form one flight in No 635 Squadron at Downham Market. This move reduces 97 Squadron to a two flight Squadron with aircraft on basis of 16.1.E and 41.R in accordance with Estab. LVE/BC/3364. The Advance Party moved off on the 18th March and the Main Party moved off with equipment by road on 20th March.

20.3.44 9 aircraft and crews also took off by air. The rear party consisting of 2 crews leave on the 21st. 14 aircraft were detailed for operations today but were cancelled soon after briefing.

21.3.44 The move of “C” Flight to No 635 Squadron has been completed today. 14 Lancasters have been detailed for operations for tonight and crews briefed. The operation was cancelled in late afternoon.

15.4.44 News heard today of the Squadron’s impending move and return to 5 Group. Some training carried out.

16.4.44 No flying today, pending move of Squadron tomorrow. Arrangements made for move commencing the 17th but held in abeyance owing to transport difficulties. Postponed until the 19th/20th April under instruction signal from PFF HQ. Late in the evening these instructions were cancelled and the original order to move on the 17th (tomorrow) to take place. Transport has now been organised and the movement order as referred to in the Appendix will be amended for movements on the 17, 18 and 19th April in place of the 19th, 20th, and 21st April.

17.4.44 Advance Party moved off early in the morning with the Equipment under command of F/O Broome.

18.4.44 Main party and equipment, under command of S/Ldr Leatherland, moved off by road in the morning according to order. 21 aircraft and crews departed by air about midday for RAF Coningsby.

19.4.44 Rear party clearing at Bourn. The Advance and Main Parties are now at RAF Coningsby. On the 18th April two of our pilots flew with 617 Squadron from Woodhall to watch the operational method of bombing and marking as used by 5 Group. The attack was carried out against Juvisy, France. The raid was considered successful.

20.4.44 15 aircraft have been detailed for operations. The raid was carried out against the marshalling yards at La Chappelle, Paris. The attack was made in clear weather. Fighters reported on route and flak over target more troublesome than expected. Green TI clearly seen by all aircraft. Flares dropped in tight cluster. VHF and 1196 generally failed over target, but success of operation unaffected. Very large petrol explosion and other minor explosions seen. The second attack on the northern AP followed same lines as first attack, with believed equal success. Two aircraft were damaged by enemy action. S/Ldr Leatherland and crew failed to return from the operation.

21.4.44 Crews resting for remainder of day, and settling in.

22.4.44 The rear party from Bourn arrived today. The movement is now complete and the Squadron is now temporarily detached to Coningsby until further orders. 15 aircraft have been detailed for tonight’s operations against Brunswick.

Ration Cards for Aircrew

It is perhaps a little-known fact that aircrew, whose food was provided by their station, still sometimes needed ration cards. These were for their periods of leave or duty, and lasted either seven days or fourteen days.

These temporary ration cards very rarely survived. They were used and then discarded. However, one such ration book belonging to Leslie Jones, a member of 97 Squadron, has survived until the present day. The square which has been cut out of the side would have contained a printed coupon.

Leslie, one of the heroes of the Augsburg raid in April 1942, died before 97 Squadron joined the Pathfinders. He has no known grave, his name being remembered at Runnymede.

With many thanks to War and Son for permission to photograph these items.

Ration Coupon

Here is a different sort of ration document, one belonging to AC2 Leslie Leonard Bullimore. It is a coupon for ‘Cigs’ and ‘Choc’. Again this is a very rare survival.

This has turned up in a ‘Sort This Out’ file, one of those rag-bags of everything waiting for a proper home, and we are not currently sure of where it came from.

Lancaster Bomber Groundcrew 97 Squadron

My grandfather James 'Eric' Hall served in the RAF between 1941 and 1945 as an RAF Volunteer Reserve Corporal, Instrument Repairer , in 5 Group , 97 'Strait Settlements' Squadron. This was a Pathfinder Squadron of Lancaster Bombers - meaning that 97 was an elite squadron of 'target marker' aircraft.

I can recall two brief stories that may Grandfather told me .

On D-Day he was involved in the usual checks and testing that he did prior to a raid ,however, on this occasion he also helped to load the bombs into 97 Squadron aircraft that were dropped on St Pierre du Monte at 0450 hrs 6.6.1944 .

On another occasion he told me that he had been making a cup of tea in the Disperal Hut on the airfield at Bourn in Cambridgeshire and had just walked out of the hut when a flak damaged Mosquite Bomber crashed on landing and smashed right through the hut he had left only moments before - this was his 'closest shave' during world war two !

His Service Book which I have , states that he ' shows special aptitude for work requiring patience , skill , and exact workmanship' . He was awarded a Mention in Dispatches on 2nd June 1943 for distinguished service, more than likely as a result of his hard work and dedication to duty.

My Grandfather was very proud of the the small part he played in the Second World War. He was one of the many thousands of unsung heroes who toiled ceaselessly behind the scenes during the war.

The attached photo shows a Lancaster from 97 Squadron which my Grandfather worked on . This particular Bomber was signed and dedicated on the production line by the then Queen Elizebeth and was therefore known as 'Elizebeth' by the Squadron .

There is an excellent website about 97 Squadron at the following address - it contains many interesting photo's and anecdotes about the squadron . The site is run by Des Evans a member of 97 Squadron Groundcrew who served with my Grandfather .
http://www.97squadronassociation.co.uk/ About links

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

RAAF winter service tunic : Flight Lieutenant W F Williams, 97 Squadron, RAF

RAAF winter service dress tunic made of wool gabardine. The tunic has two pleated breast pockets and two patch pockets at the waist, both with buttoned flaps. The tunic fastens with three buttons down the centre. All buttons are made of dark plastic and have the RAAF eagle and crown insignia. A padded embroidered brevet (pilots wings) is sewn above the left breast pocket. Each sleeve has an embroidered 'AUSTRALIA' shoulder title and an oxidised brass RAAF insignia at the wrist. Below this insignia are two black and blue rank stripes. The jacket has a self fabric belt with a plastic buckle and black painted brass eyelets. A makers label is sewn to the inside of the collar and the back lining is stamped in white with the service number '6255'.

Worn by 6255 Flight Lieutenant William F Williams who joined the Royal Australian Air Force on 20 November 1939 as a Fitter 2E. Williams served at Milne Bay with 75 Squadron, RAAF before being remustered as Aircrew in September 1942. Williams then served with 97 Squadron RAF based at Coningsby in the United Kingdom until January 1946. Williams' last operation was crewing Lancaster ND 746 OF-N on the night of 17/18 April 1945.

7 Squadron

Chris Ottewell writes:
My Dad John Ottewell has wanted to fly for as long as he remembers (and he’s now 93 years old). Indeed, one of his earliest memories is of being caught jumping off the porch roof with an umbrella to use as a parachute!
So whilst WW2 was a tragedy, it was also his opportunity. He joined the Royal Air Force just as soon as he reached the minimum age and was sent on his basic training. Even those very first weeks opened his eyes to the horrors of war. As he was doing PT exercises on the beach at Babbacombe, he looked up to see an FW190 fighter bomber flying straight towards him, releasing a bomb from under each wing. Whilst they missed him, one destroyed a nearby Sunday School meeting, killing many people, and the other hit his room in the hotel where he was billeted, destroying the kit he had just been issued.

Later on, he and his fellow cadets were sent to clear up the wreckage from the Sunday School bomb – a sobering experience for teenagers about to be sent to war. This event was significant enough to be reported in the Daily Telegraph in May 1943.

Dad went on to complete his Navigator training and was eventually sent to a Squadron where he became part of a seven-man Lancaster Bomber crew. He was particularly friendly with the rear gunner or “Tail End Charlie” who was appropriately called Charlie Sergeant. When not on Ops, they would often cycle to nearest town for who knows what adventures. The mid upper gunner, Charlie Shepherd would also join them.

Soon they had “their own Lancaster” which they decided to name after whichever horse won the 1944 St Ledger horse race. (I still find it amazing that horse racing continued throughout the war!) Thus the aircraft became christened “Tehran”.

The crew with Johnny Boden, the pilot, in the centre, at 7 Squadron, flying for the Pathfinders

Having miraculously survived their first tour of duty, during which Dad and Charlie Sergeant were awarded the DFM, most of the crew volunteered to go directly on to a second tour, this time in the elite Pathfinder Force. They somehow survived that ordeal as well and were training for “The Tiger Force” which was being readied to aid the assault on Japan when the dropping of the atom bombs ended the war, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
Most of the crew were transferred to Transport Command, flying York transports, but as there was now no need for gunners, they were deployed elsewhere. Dad didn’t see the two Charlies after that but would talk about them from time to time thereafter.
After a long career in aviation, Dad retired nearly 30 years ago but with the renewed interest in WW2, he would occasionally wonder what had happened to the two Charlies. Still, 60 or 70 years on, they were probably both dead, weren’t they?

Facebook was invented and I joined and quite soon found various groups, including a group called “Project Propeller” which specialises in getting WW2 aircrew together for an annual reunion. In 2015, I persuaded Dad (who is not a natural man for reunions) to go along. He had a great time (much to his surprise I think!) and was keen to go again.

Then on 2nd March 2016 a lady called Helen Edwards posted a photograph of a Lancaster on Facebook – I took one look and thought, “That’s Dad’s old Lanc”. Even though the aircraft serial number confirmed this, I couldn’t quite believe it. Then I read what Helen had written “I’ve got this photo from Dad, Charles James Sergeant, DFM. It’s his Lancaster which they called Tehran … & cookie, which I think is the bombs?? It was taken in September 1944.”
I immediately contacted Helen and we started exchanging a lot of information and told our respective Dads news of the other. Naturally they were both delighted to find the other alive and well. Finally Helen told us that it was Charlie’s 93rd birthday on Tuesday 16th January 2018 and said that she intended to take him out to lunch in Cardiff. We soon plotted a meeting and that morning I took Dad over the bridge from Bristol to Cardiff to wait in the Mount Stuart Pub in Cardiff Bay until they arrived.
As soon as Charlie arrived, he sat down, and the two of them started chatting as though they had last been together 72 hours ago, not 72 years ago. It was quite amazing.
We spent a couple of hours just listening as they talked about old times, and what had happened to the rest of the crew.
Now we are hoping for a “part 2” to this story in which Charlie, John, Helen, and I go to Project Propeller 2018 and meet Mellissa Sheppard, daughter of the other Charlie, Charlie Sheppard, to hear her part of the story.

Charlie and John, January 2018

World War II Database

ww2dbase RAF Woodhall Spa became operational in February 1942 as a heavy bomber airfield within Ralph Cochrane's No. 5 Group. A site for the airfield, located between the town of Woodhall Spa and the village of Tattershall Thorpe in Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom, had been identified by Air Ministry surveys early in 1941 and construction began towards the end of the year, the contractors having to clear many trees during the work. The airfield finally opened as a satellite of RAF Coningsby in February 1942. Coningsby at that time, was still without a hardened runway, and hence the Hampden bombers of No. 106 Squadron would often operate from Woodhall whenever conditions at Coningsby prevented them from taking off with a full bomb load.

ww2dbase The first RAF squadron to make Woodhall its permanent home was No. 97 Squadron which transferred from RAF Coningsby on 1 March 1942. As the second unit to be equipped with Lancaster bombers, this squadron was heavily involved in early operations with the new aircraft, and was famously involved in the daring low-level mission to bomb the MAN diesel engine factory at Augsburg, Germany, during which Squadron Leader John Nettleton would win the Victoria Cross. When No. 97 Squadron moved to RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire in early 1943 they left behind three crews to form a nucleus for No. 619 Squadron which formed at Woodhall Spa in April 1943. No. 619 Squadron would be heavily involved during the year in the bombing campaigns against the Ruhr region, Hamburg, and Berlin. The latter campaign costing the squadron the loss of ten aircraft in pursuit of Arthur Harris' unrealistic promise to Winston Churchill that he could end the war by destroying Berlin "from end to end." A serious loss to the squadron occurred in August 1943 when Wing Commander I. J. McGhie, the squadron commanding officer, and his crew were one of three aircraft shot down during a raid on the German rocket research establishment at Peenemünde.

ww2dbase In January 1944 No. 619 Squadron moved to Coningsby and was replaced at Woodhall Spa by No. 617 "Dambusters" Squadron under the legendary Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, which brought 34 Lancaster aircraft and two Mosquito aircraft (for low-level marking) to the airfield. Cheshire, a vastly experienced pilot was one of the most outstanding commanders in Bomber Command. He eventually amassed 100 missions before being ordered to stop operational flying, and was one of the few men ever to win the Victoria Cross for a sustained period of the highest service rather than for a single act of courage. The arrival of No. 617 Squadron coincided with a reorganization of No. 5 Group into five Base Headquarters each with two satellites stations. Woodhall Spa now came under the control of No. 54 Base Headquarters at Coningsby which had Woodhall Spa and nearby Metheringham as its component satellite stations.

ww2dbase The target marking techniques developed by the "Dambusters" proved so successful that Sir Arthur Harris "loaned" No. 627 Squadron (a Mosquito unit in No. 8 (PFF) Group) to Cochrane's No. 5 Group to operate in the role. This was much to the annoyance of Donald Bennett, No. 8 Group's difficult and arrogant Australian commander who was less than happy at losing one of his cherished Mosquito and two Lancaster Squadrons (No. 83 and No. 97 whose role would be to illuminate the target marked by the Mosquito aircraft) over to his No. 5 Group rival whom he fiercely detested. Nevertheless, despite a direct appeal to Robert Saundby at High Wycombe the move took place and No. 627 Squadron's Mosquitos duly arrived at Woodhall Spa on 14 April 1944.

ww2dbase It was in a No. 627 Squadron Mosquito aircraft that Guy Gibson was killed on the night of 19/20 September 1944. At the time he was Base Operations Officer at Coningsby but decided to fly a No. 627 Squadron marker aircraft in an attack on München-Gladbach and Rheydt. He was heard giving instructions over the target but on the return flight his aircraft, which may have suffered flak damage, crashed at Steenbergen-en-Kruisland, killing both Gibson and his navigator. They are buried in the village cemetery.

ww2dbase No. 617 Squadron would operate from RAF Woodhall Spa until the end of hostilities, pioneering the use of Barnes Wallis' ultra-heavy bombs the 12,000-pound "Tallboy" and 22,000-pound "Grand Slam", both of which were used against "special targets" in operations over North-West Europe. The German V-weapon launch sites were high on the list of targets for Allied aircraft and Cheshire's Squadron would play a major role in the campaign against them. On 5/6th June 1944 (D-Day), No. 617 Squadron ran "Operation Taxable" - a spoof mission by to create a "Ghost" image of an invasion fleet heading towards Le Havre, France on the German coast-watching radar. Then in August the emphasis switched to attacks on the German U-Boat pens and, on 12 November, the squadron together with Lancaster bombers from No. 9 Squadron, from nearby Bardney, successfully destroyed Adolf Hitler's feared battleship, Tirpitz, moored in a remote Norwegian fjord.

ww2dbase In early 1945 the Squadron made repeated daylight attacks on the German U-Boat pens. On 14th March 1945, No. 617 Squadron finally severed the Bielefeld Viaduct linking Hamm and Hanover and on 16 April. They successfully sank the German warship Lützow in Swinemünde harbour (now Swinoujscie, Poland), although with the loss of Squadron Leader Powell and his crew shot down by intense flak over the target. In total No. 617 Squadron would drop more than forty of these monsterous weapons on hitherto impregnable installations before the end of hostilities. The last operation being against the SS Headquarters at Berchtesgarden in southern Germany during which four "Tallboy" bombs were dropped.

ww2dbase With the end of the war in Europe, RAF Woodhall Spa was used as an assembly and kitting out point for personnel earmarked for Tiger Force, the planned heavy bomber force destined for the Far East, but after VJ Day, when Tiger Force was dispersed, No. 627 Squadron disbanded, and No. 617 Squadron moved to Waddington, the airfield was closed. In the years that followed the site was used by 92 MSU merely for the storage of bombs.

ww2dbase From the late 1950s to 1965 Woodhall Spa became the base for the Bloodhound SAM missiles. With the rest of the airfield sold-off for agricultural or mineral extraction only the former missile site would survive under the control of RAF Coningsby. Overgrown and derelict by 1987 part of the former airfield consisting of the officers' mess, sergeants' mess, airmens' dining hall, NAAFI building, and ration store were acquired by the Thorpe Camp Preservation Group who have today restored the site and created a visitors centre to depict the story of RAF Woodhall Spa, its squadrons and civilian life in Lincolnshire during WWII.

ww2dbase Sources:
Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre
Sir Max Hastings, Bomber Command (Pan Books, 1981)
Patrick Otter, Lincolnshire Airfields in the Second World War (Countryside Books, 1996)
"World Aircraft Information Files", File 021/08 (Bright Star/ Aerospace Publishing)
Dr. Alfred Price, "Spoof Operations" (Aeroplane Magazine, June 2004)

Last Major Update: Dec 2013

RAF Woodhall Spa Interactive Map

RAF Woodhall Spa Timeline

1 Mar 1942 No. 97 Squadron RAF was transferred to RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom.
18 Apr 1943 No. 619 Squadron RAF was formed at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom.
14 Apr 1944 Mosquito aircraft of No. 627 Squadron of No. 8 (PFF) Group RAF arrived at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom.
25 Jun 1944 Following a visit to British No. 617 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in England, United Kingdom by USAAF Generals Carl Spaatz and James Doolittle, a crated Mustang fighter was delivered as a gift from the United States to Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire. Cheshire wanted to use it that evening for a raid on the V-bomb site at Siracourt, France, and his mechanics worked all day removing the grease and the guns. One hour after the Lancaster bombers had taken off Cheshire followed in the Mustang fighter (which type he had never flown before) and he arrived in time to mark the target at low level for the heavy bombers.

Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.


  1. Sarlic

    Hooray! and thanks!)))

Write a message