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A brief history of 44 Squadron

Badges of 44 & 207 Squadrons

which were based at Spilsby

44 Squadron and RAF Spilsby

This page is dedicated to the crews of the Lancasters of 44 and those of 207 Squadron who failed to return from operations at Spilsby and its other bases.
    Also to Eric Howell, (died October 1998) groundcrew with 44, who I had the privilege of knowing as a friend during the latter years of his life; and to all the other groundcrew of both Squadrons who worked in all weathers to keep the bombers flying. The men of Bomber Command are the "forgotten army" of the air war, and while the sacrifices of the aircrew are glorified, neither air or ground crew have received official recognition in the form of a Campaign
    Medal for their part in World War II. Controversy still rages over the bombing campaign.
    Thankyou for your sacrifice.

RAF Spilsby lies 3 miles east of Spilsby town and a few miles west of Skegness, taking in much of the parish of Monksthorpe in “Bomber County” - Lincolnshire, at Ordnance Survey National Grid reference TF 450645, Lat.53 09 45N / Long 00 10 15E, and at a height Above Sea Level of 33 feet.
       
The station was built during 1942-43 as a Class A standard airfield, and opened on 20 September 1943 as a satellite to

East Kirkby in 5 Group, Bomber Command.  
Construction contracts issued allowed Ј62,000 for preparing the site, Ј260,000 for runways, Ј60,000 for aircraft dispersals and Ј175,000 for buildings. Several minor roads had to be closed including that between Monkthorpe and Gunby. The runways were OS-23, 11-29 and 16-34 of which the first two were 1,400 yards long and the 16-34 at 1,430 yards. The OS-23 and 11-29 were both later extended to 2,000 yards although 11-29 was, for some unrecorded reason, restricted to 1,400 yards use, one source stating that it was extended due to an Air Ministry clerical error!

Hardstandings were 17 pans and 19 loops, but two of the pans were lost through later ground work. There were three T2 hangars, one on the technical site between runway heads OS and 11, another south-west between runway heads 29 and 34 and a third east of runway head 16.
The bomb store was off the north side between runway heads 16 and 23. The camp, to the south-west of the airfield around Monkthorpe village and the area known as Sand Hills, consisted of two communal, two WAAF, six domestic and a sick quarters site with maximum accommodation for 2,112 males and 222 females.  2751 Squadron RAF Regiment was deployed to airfield defence.

Group Captain W.G. Cheshire was Its first Commanding Officer.
Its  first operational unit was 207 Squadron who moved in from Langar,  the main body arriving on 12 October 1943. Equipped with Lancasters,  it was commanded by Wing Commander P. N. Jennings. The Station ORB records the following comments:

 

13 September 1943
Arr. Spilsby. Accomodation available,  no water, messing or rations. All meals consequently had to be purchased outside station!
          

19 September, 1943

Officer and 35 ranks of RAFR arrived but no bedding; East Kirkby couldn't supply at 1900; one lorry arrived with enough beds!

Three cooks loaned from EK. (East Kirkby - pronounced East Kirby)

 

20 September, 1943

no electricity, no boilers. Not a very auspicious start to life at the station!

 

The first occupant of the station was No. 207 Squadron, removed from Langar in October 1943 to make way for USAAF occupation.  207 flew its first operational flights on 18 October, with the airfield being upgraded from satellite to Station status from 24th. The squadron had Spilsby to itself for a year when it was joined by another Lancaster squadron, No. 44, which had to vacate Dunholme Lodge when that airfield was transferred to No. 1 Group.   44 Squadron arrived on 30 September 1944, commanded by Wing Commander F.W.Thompson, DSO, DFC, AFC. The two squadrons were not disturbed from their base until after victory in Europe. Their combined operational loss in raids flown from this station was 85 Lancasters.

 

In July, No. 44, selected to form part of Tiger Force to be sent to the Far East, exchanging places with No. 75 Squadron at Mepal, the New Zealand manned unit disbanding at Spilsby in October that year. The same month No. 207 was moved to Methwold whereupon Spilsby closed for flying.


An armament practice school was installed at the station in November, which remained for a year, after which the base was relegated to care and maintenance status. The caretaker party was withdrawn in 1947 and the airfield left unattended but it remained in a reasonably complete state until the early `fifties. The Cold War had brought a considerable number of USAF personnel to the UK and Spilsby was one of the stations held ready for possible reception of flying units should the Cold War intensify. The Americans carried out some refurbishment and also modified the control tower but the USAF occupation was brief and they were gone by the end of the `fifties. No further military use was made of the airfield and most of the concrete was removed over the following two decades apart from lengths used for reinstating minor roads. A memorial to No. 207 Squadron stands on the base of the Fire Tender shed.

 

Lancaster KM-C, PA 256, early 1945.

Eric Howell, front row, middle.

(Unfortunately I have lost the larger copy of the photo and unable to enlarge it!)

Commanded at the outbreak of the Second World War by Wing Commander JN Boothman of Schneider Trophy fame, the squadron's early operations consisted mainly of North Sea sweeps, security patrols and minelaying.
There followed raids on land communications, on Hitler's concentrations of invasion barges in the Channel and North Sea ports, on Luftwaffe airfields and naval targets, as well as the first raids on German industrial centres. TheSqdn was a part of 5 Group Bomber Command, (Aircraft code letters KM) and flew Hampdens at the outbreak of war, but was the first operational squadron to convert to Lancasters, as from December 1941.<br>
 
At that time 129 of 490 ground crews were Rhodesians, commanded by W/Cdr R.A.B.Learoyd.,  VC., being stationed at Waddington, their first operational Lancasters being L7537, L7538, and L7541. The intention being to convert them to 24 Lancasters by the end of the year, with their Hampdens being transferred to 420 R.C.A.F.
Squadron. All manufacturing output of Lancasters were directed to 44 Squadron.

The Group Commander was A.V.M. J.C.Slessor, C.B., D.S.O., M.C.

The first mishap was with S/L Nettleton, who later won the V.C. This was caused by snow and ice , when his tail wheel was broken off. Next was a major crash, with P/O Maudslay trying an emergency landing at Chedderton, and struck a pile of concrete posts. Undercarriage collapsed, aircraft became a major repair. It is interesting to note that 44 Squadron at that time (1941)
were taking off at three minutes interval, whilst in 1944, from Waddington,  463, and 467 were taking off and landing, at 30 second intervals. It moved to Dunholme Lodge Then Spilsby on 30th September 1944; Mepal on 21st July 1945; Mildenhall 25th August

1945. Here it took over the aircraft of No 622 Squadron and converted to Lincolns in October 1945.

No 5 Group  "War Effort" - May 1944
    Table of statistics for 44 Squadron
(Extracts from The National Archives Squadron Records)
No. of A/c
(avg)
on charge
Avg hrs per a/c
Tons
dropped
Sorties
Sorties
Per
A/c
Tons
Per
A/c
Early returns
Missing
Op Hrs
Training hrs
Day hrs
Night hrs
Avoidable accidents
18.4
62.40
611.50
153
8.3
33.2
2
5
669
286
83
0

44 Squadron Crew and Aircraft Losses, 1939-45

Dates, Names, Aircraft Nos, A/c Letters, Place of Loss.
 

Extracted from "ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND LOSSES 1939-1945"  Volumes 1-6
Midland Counties Publications  
with kind permission of the author, W.R Chorley.
Names in alphabetical order:

In the links below are modern map locations of 44 Squadron airfield sites
 

Note: The Spilsby northern perimeter track lies above the name "Monksthorpe";
  the main runway was just north of the yellow road, almost E-W and roughly parallel
  to the blue drainage ditch; the southern perimeter skirted Kelsey Hall.

 The small cross on the north side is the site of Monksthorpe Chapel.

External Links

Waddington

Dunholme Lodge

Spilsby

Lancaster Bomber Archive

Bob Baxter's Bomber Info

RAF Association

Lincs Aviation Heritage Centre

207 Squadron Association

POW Camps map

B24.net POW Research

Fleet Air Arm POW camps list

Wartime Memories Project

© 1999 -2011 Richard Caville.  except where credited to original authors, researchers or owners of images.

 All genealogical and military indexes are freely available from sources cited,

Therefore you may not charge for this information to third parties.

Please notify me where these conditions are breached.

 

Click HERE for  COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: Top 10 Copyright Myths - UK Copyright Service

 

About Me    I   Genealogy   I   History   I   Aviation   I   Scrapbooking   I   Contact   I   Site Map  I   Links