RAF Catfoss

This airfield is situated on the east side of the A165 road near Brandesburton which lay in the South West corner, five miles from the coast. On the eastern edge of the airfield was Catfoss Grange from which the site probably got its named.

Catfoss 1933

Catfoss 2003 (Google Earth)

This was one of the early airfields because of its close proximity to the coast the site was perfect for training with the air gunnery and bombing range a few miles away at Skipsea.

Catfoss opened in the early 1930s and on 16th September 1935 No 97 Squadron reformed here from ‘B’ Flight of No 10(B) Squadron with a few Handley Page Heyfords, but in the same month they moved to Boscombe Down, Wiltshire.

Catfoss was never to be a Bomber airfield ever since it was conceived it was only ever earmarked for training, so remained as No 1 Armament Training School until September 1939 when the outbreak of war and the unit moved out.


It was then decided to enlarge the airfield so very little flying activity, during this time its only occupants were a detachment of Spitfires of 616 Squadron from Leconfield which arrived on 1st October 1939 and operated there until May 1940.

The station re-opened in August 1940 and on 1st October 1940, No 2(Coastal) Operational Training Unit formed with five Ansons and twelve Blenheim’s.

Six Bristol Blenheim Mark IVFs of No. 2 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit based at Catfoss, Yorkshire flying in starboard echelon formation..© IWM (CH 2469

Being an early airfield Catfoss was considered important enough to have two decoys, both being sited to the North-east at Dunnington and Skipsea but early in the war both was abandoned.

The duty officer in the tower at RAF Catfoss in Yorkshire keeps watch while an Airman signals to an aircraft using an Aldis lamp, April 1941. Catfoss was home to No 2 (Coastal) OTU. © IWM (CH 2465)

Whilst Lissett airfield was been constructed between December 1942 and February 1943, it was used as a relief landing ground by No 2 OTU’s aircraft, the OTU was responsible for training the majority of coastal commands Beaufighter crews, which revitalised coastal operations.

For some unknown reason it was decided the Catfoss should have three concrete runways in the standard pattern and were 5280 ft., 4620 ft. & 5100 ft. long respectively Hangers and other buildings were also erected and there was a general expansion to the whole site.

On 15th February 1944 No 2 OTU disbanded to be replaced by the Central Gunnery School which moved from Sutton Bridge, during the latter part of the month.  The status of the station at 6th June 1944 was the Central Gunnery School flying Wellingtons, Spitfires, Beaufighter’s, Martinets and a few Masters as part of No 25 Group. 

Wellington C Mark XVI, N2875, on the ground at Brooklands, Surrey, following conversion from a Mark IA bomber to passenger transport configuration. This aircraft joined the Central Gunnery School at Catfoss © IWM (ATP 13059E)

During this time the CGS officers Mess was at the village of Brandesburton in the hall.


At the school all gunnery subjects were lectured on profoundly by the RAF’s top tutors. The CGS covered:

Air Sightings

Boulton & Paul and Frazer Nash Turrets

0.303 and 0.5 in mm Browning Machine Guns

Hispano 20mm Cannon

Aircraft Recognition

Mk IIc gyro sights

Most of these lectures given by Professor Hill, ballistic advisor to the Air Ministry.

Also included were tactics, navigational and radar aids to gunnery and manoeuvres

All training was advanced and featured leadership as well as special training in the control and direction of firepower from groups of bombers on daylight raids.

The CGS was an advanced training unit and Catfoss had a very important role to play. The school was designed to produce Section Leaders to take over the gunnery sections at other squadrons and training units.  Gunnery leaders were commissioned and had the rank of at least Flight Lieutenant.

Fighter pilot also came to the CGS at Catfoss to improve their gunnery and flew Spitfires, Mustangs and Thunderbolts. They would have lectures similar to gunners on appropriate subjects.

From July 1944 until the end of the war in Europe, Group Captain A.G (sailor) Malan was CO


Group Captain Adolph Gysbert (Sailor) Malan

Malan was born in Wellington, Western Cape, then part of the Cape Colony. He joined the South African Training Ship General Botha in 1924 or 1925 as a cadet (cadet number 168), after which he joined the Union-Castle Line of the International Mercantile Marine Co. which later earned him the nickname of “Sailor” amongst his pilot colleagues.

Born in Wellington S. Africa, 3rd October 1910

In 1924 he boarded the ship General Botha as a cadet

Jr. deck Officer, Union Castle Steamship Line – 1927

Applied for an RAF short service commission late in 1935

Started training in England – early 1936

Becoming “Sailor” to his new RAF mates

Posted to 74 Squadron RAF in December 1936

Promoted to F/Lt. in March 1939

Saw 1st combats over Dunkirk in May 1940

Took command of 74 Sq. on 8 August 1940

Penned his famous “10 Rules of Air Fighting” (* below)

Continued on combat operations until mid 1941

As Wing Leader at Biggin Hill

Joined 58 OTU in August 1941

Did a lecture tour in the US with some other RAF pilots

– October, November & December 1941

1942 – CO of Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge

Promoted to Group Captain in October 1942

Returned to Biggin Hill on January 1st 1943 as CO

Took Command of 19 Fighter Wing 2TAF Oct. 1943

CO of 145 (Free French) Wing in March 1944

CO of Advanced Gunnery School Catfoss in July 1944

Attended RAF Staff College in 1945

Had a change of heart and left the RAF in 1946

Was involved in politics after the war fighting against

– S.A. Apartheid until he died of Parkinson’s in Sept. 1963

Malan developed a set of simple rules for fighter pilots, to be disseminated throughout RAF Fighter Command, which eventually could be found tacked to the wall of most airbases:

 “My Rules for Air Fighting”

1) Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of 1 or 2 seconds and only when your sights are definitely ‘ON’.

2) Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of the body, have both hands on the stick, concentrate on your ring sight.

3) Always keep a sharp lookout. ‘Keep your finger out’!

4) Height gives YOU the initiative.

5) Always turn and face the attack.

6) Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.

7) Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.

8) When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard.

9) INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE and TEAM WORK are words that MEAN something in Air Fighting.

10) Go in quickly – Punch hard – Get out!

and he had on his staff many famous air fighters like;

The CGS continued to operate after the war but its role at Catfoss was almost over. On 5th November 1945 the advanced parties moved to Leconfield and after the main party had left on 12th November the station closed down.

Catfoss lay derelict until the spring of 1947, two civil aviation applications were made re-opening of Catfoss for a landing ground for charter aircraft to bring in fruit from Europe but hit a dead end when having Customs on call which held up the project.

In July 1947 Lord Natham, then minister of civil Aviation announced that Catfoss was one of the 43 aerodromes outside of London which was intended to be state controlled.  Catfoss was to be developed to serve the Hull area as an airport.  For some time it had been understood that Catfoss would be earmarked for civil aviation purposes.  Representations had by this time made for the temporary customs facility to be installed.  However nothing came of the Hull airport idea and Catfoss was left to decay.

In 1959 Catfoss re-opened as a satellite of the Driffield Thor missile complex when three missiles were housed here along with 226 Squadron,


You can clearly see 2 of the Thor launch pads

But this was short lived and in 1963 the Thor unit disbanded and once and the airfield fell into disuse once again.

Today the control tower, engine and trailer sheds are derelict but the runways are intact and used for storage.  An ‘A’ type hanger is been used by a container firm two other hangers and small buildings remain.

Catfoss Control Tower ©Rich Cooper

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Photographs marked ‘© IWM’ are used with the permission of the Imperial War Museum and may not be copied without the permission of the IWM.

Todays Photographs by Rich Cooper

Researched and compiled by Martyn Owst

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