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
Sorties Per A/c
Tons Per A/c
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
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.