RAF Driffield

RAF Driffield is a former Royal Air Force station located 1.7 miles (2.7 km) south West of Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire and 10.7 miles (17.2 km) North West of Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the site extended from Kelleythope in the East to Eastburn in the West and it was the latter after which it was originally named.

One of the early airfields, this site was first used by ‘C’ Flight of 33 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, whilst on home defence duties.  The site was never developed as a permanent aerodrome until 1918.

During April 1918, No 3 Fighter School took up residence, but this was only a cadre unit equipped just with an Avro 504 and a Bristol Monoplane. There were no other aircraft other then these, no pupils, no instructors, only Captain (later Lord) Balfour who was chief flying instructor and commanding officer.

No 3 FS was the only unit at the airfield and was housed in one and only temporary hanger.  No living quarters were available and Capt. Balfour was billeted in Driffield town with Mr & Mrs Good.  Towards the end of May 1918 Capt. Balfour moved No 3 FS to Bircham Newton.

Work now started on the airfield and it officially opened as Eastburn Aerodrome on 15th July 1918, when No 21 Training Depot Station was formed here from No 3 Training Squadron, Shoreham, and No 27 Training Squadron, London Colney, with an establishment of 36 SE5a’s and 36 Avro 504K’s.  Even though the airfield was open, it was far from complete and construction work was still in progress with make shift buildings.

In February 1919, the construction work was finally complete.  Eastburn now had seven 170ft. x 100ft. hangers on the Southern edge of the airfield which covered an area of 240 acres.  On 24th of March No 202 Squadron arrived and was followed four days later by No 217 Squadron with their DH4 aircraft.  On 19th October 1919 the latter disbanded followed by No 202 on 22nd January 1920.

The following month No 21 TDS also disbanded and the station was reduced to a Care and Maintenance basis.  Eastburn was not to be scheduled to be retained as a permanent aerodrome and was eventually dismantled some years later.

During 1930’s the site was surveyed and found suitable to reactivate as an airfield.  Althogh work did not start until the end of 1935, the airfield was one of 14 listed on the 1935 war map for North-East.  

 

The airfield was planned to the standard pattern with five ‘C’ type hangers on the Eastern side and substantial brick built administrative buildings, officers and other ranks messes and living quarters grouped neatly behind them.

The new airfield was now called Driffield, opened on 30th July 1936, as a bomber station with No 3 Group, under the command of Group Captain Murlis-Green (who later was CO of Digby).  The grass airfield was far from complete and the hangers and living quarters was not complete until 1937.

In September 1936 the first aircraft arrived with No’s 58 and 215 Squadrons from Worthy Down.  Their Vickers Virginia biplane bombers touched down on the grass runways and an extensive course of day and night flying training was begun.

Two squadrons reformed here on 15th March 1937.  The first was No 51 from ‘B’ flight of 58 Squadron, but this moved immediately to Boscombe Down on the 24th March along with 58 Squadron.  The other squadron reformed was No 75 from ‘B’ flight of No 215 Squadron.  75 Squadron was initially equipped with Virginia’s and Anson’s but later re-equipped with Handley-Page Harrow.  As the build-up continued the station transferred to No 4 Group on 29th June 1937.

There were further changes in July 1938.  During the early part of the month, No 75 Squadron exchanged places with No 102 at Honington, Suffolk.  In the latter part of the month No 215 squadron also moved to Honington and the Honington based Wellesleys of No 77 Squadron moved to Driffield.

The two resident squadrons began to re-equip with the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley during October and November 1938, and it was these aircraft they entered the Second World War with. Driffield sent some of the first fully operational bomber squadrons to operate against the enemy.  Their first operational mission of the war was No 102 Squadron coded ‘DY’ on the night of 4th/5th September 1939 when three Whitley’s dropped ‘Nickels’ (leaflets or propaganda) over the Ruhr. 77 Squadron coded ‘KN’ repeated the operation on 5th/6th September 1939 with two of their Whitley’s.

Immediately after the outbreak of war Driffield was allocated Cottam as a satellite and Sealand as a scatter airfield

The site was first opened in 1918 by the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the name of RAF Eastburn, before closing in early 1920. However in 1935 a new airfield was built for the RAF initially training bomber crews before closing in 1977 when the site was turned over to the British Army for use as a driving school being renamed Alamein Barracks.

 

Above:RAF Driffield (date unknown)

The first aerodrome to occupy the site was made up of wooden and brick buildings, similar to those found at Duxford or Hendon. Known as Eastburn, No.21 Training Depot was the first unit to occupy the site from 15 July 1918, joined later by Nos. 202 and 217 Squadrons from March 1919. However, by early 1920, these units had disbanded, leaving a deserted airfield, which was removed some years later.

During the early 1930s, Driffield was selected for one of the RAF’s expansion scheme aerodromes, with construction work beginning in 1935.  This new airfield consisted of five large aircraft hangars, curved round the grass runways that stretched towards the north-west. Placed neatly behind these hangars were the many buildings that made up the camp. Opened in July 1936, RAF Driffield became home to a number of bomber squadrons. By 1938, these had been replaced by No.77 and No.102 Squadrons, and were eventually equipped with the twin-engined Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber.

 

Second World War

Crews of both No.77 and No.102  Squadrons endured a series of training courses and exercises, so that on the outbreak of war, Driffield was ready for action.

 

Above: Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Bomber ©IWM

The morning of 4 September brought great activity to RAF Driffield. Three aircraft from No.102 Squadron were to drop leaflets during that second night of the war. The fuselages of these bombers were crammed with large parcels of propaganda leaflets, wrapped in brown paper. Access that was normally difficult because of the retracted ventral gun turret, was now extremely challenging through the narrow gaps, between the parcels on either side of the turret. Flying at 15,000 ft, the three aircraft crossed the enemy coastline and maintaining strict radio silence, flew down the Ruhr Valley and into France, releasing their load of leaflets, which were dropped through the aircraft’s flare chute. The following night of 5 September, No.77 Squadron was given its opportunity to drop leaflets, when two aircraft repeated the operation.

On 15–16 March 1940, two aircraft of No.77 Squadron alone dropped 6,000,000 leaflets during a raid over Warsaw; a mission successfully accomplished, despite difficulties encountered with navigation and atrocious weather conditions. This was followed on 19 March by the first deliberate bombing on German soil, when Whitley aircraft from both Driffield squadrons joined those from RAF Dishforth, who together bombed the mine-laying seaplane base at Hornum on the Island of Sylt.

On Thursday, 15 August 1940 there was a German air raid on the airfield. At approximately midday, some 50 Junkers Ju 88 bomber aircraft attacked the aerodrome, killing 13 military personnel and 1 civilian, and destroying 12 Whitley aircraft. The 169 bombs dropped caused extensive damage, with many buildings, including all five hangars, being either damaged or destroyed.

 

Weeks later, the surviving aircraft from both Whitley squadrons departed, leaving Driffield to repair the damage, which remained non-operational until early 1941. With repairs to the airfield complete, Driffield saw a new role in the early months of 1941, as fighters replaced bombers, when No.13 Group Fighter Command took control of the airfield. Equipped with Spitfires and Hurricanes, the three squadrons based at Driffield patrolled the North Sea. April 1941 saw the return of No.4 Group Bomber Command and the formation of two new squadrons, both equipped with the Wellington twin-engined bomber. No.104 Squadron and No.405 Squadron RCAF (the first Royal Canadian Air Force bomber squadron formed) commenced bombing operations against Germany.

 

Above: Vickers Wellington Bomber

9 May 1941 saw the first operation by No.104 Squadron, when six Wellington aircraft were dispatched to bomb Bremen. One aircraft failed to reach Germany and returned to Driffield with a jammed rear gun turret. Flying at 16,000 ft, four aircraft managed to release their bombs over Bremen, but were unable to see the results, due to the bright glowing haze of the already burning city. One other aircraft failed to reach the target due to intercom failure, but was able to bomb the secondary target of Wilhelmshaven. Despite both targets being heavily defended, all aircraft and crews returned safely.  Other Wellington squadrons based at Driffield during the war were No.158 Squadron, No.466 Squadron RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) and No.196 Squadron.

 

In 1943, RAF Driffield was temporary closed for the construction of three concrete runways, the longest stretching 6,000 ft, linked by a perimeter track, along the length of which were situated the aircraft dispersals and bomb dump.  The airfield became operational again in June 1944 with the return of No.466 Squadron RAAF, now equipped with the heavy four-engined Handley Page Halifax bomber. This unit began operations supporting the Allied invasion of Europe by bombing targets in the Normandy area

Above:Handley Page Halifax Bomber

12 August 1944 saw the formation of No.462 Squadron, a second Australian unit. During the months that followed, both squadrons joined forces to hit targets across Europe. On 10 September 1944, a small force of some 69 bombers, including 30 from Driffield, targeted the German occupied garrison and coastal defence battery at Le Havre.  This was immediately followed by a much larger force of some 930 aircraft, which dropped 47,000 tons of bombs. The following day, the raid was repeated when 22 aircraft from Driffield, combined with a total of 218 from Bomber Command, again attacked the target. Ten hours later, the German garrison surrendered to allied ground forces. In December 1944, No.462 Squadron moved to Norfolk, leaving No. 466 Squadron to fight on from Driffield. The Australians carried out their final raid of the war on 25 April 1945, when a force of 18 aircraft bombed gun emplacements on the island of Wangerange.

After the Second World War

After the war, Driffield became home to a number of training establishments. The first, No. 10 Air Navigation School, flew from 1946, equipped with Avro Anson, twin-engined aircraft, which were employed to fly student navigators on short three-hour flights. The unit’s Wellington aircraft, endured flights of up to six hours, flying sometimes at night, down to the Channel Islands, along the English Channel and up the North Sea to Scotland. Replaced in 1948 by No. 204 Advanced Flying School, this unit taught pilots how to fly the fast twin-engined de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber, an aircraft built entirely out of wood.

In 1949, the jet age reached Yorkshire, when No.203 Advanced Flying School formed at Driffield – replacing the Mosquitoes, which departed with their parent unit. This new school would be the first in the world responsible for teaching a new breed of pilot how to fly fast jet aircraft. There were two sections within the school: No.1 Squadron operated the Gloster Meteor – Britain’s first operational jet fighter, while No.2 Squadron flew the de Havilland Vampire.  This was followed by actual flight training, when pilots were taught basic manoeuvres, aerobatics, formation flying, instrument flying and navigation. Renamed No.8 Flying Training School in June 1954, the unit continued at Driffield before moving to Lincolnshire in July 1955.

That September, RAF Driffield reverted to the role of a fighter station, when No.13 Group Fighter Command again took control of the airfield. During this period, Nos.

219 and 33 Squadrons, equipped with the de Havilland Venom night fighter, occupied the base until June/July 1957, when both units were disbanded. The following October saw the arrival of the Fighter Weapons School from RAF Leconfield, a unit equipped with a variety of jet aircraft, which itself departed in March 1958.

In 1957, the British Government announced that the RAF would deploy 60 nuclear intermediate range ballistic missiles. From November 1958, Driffield would be home to No.98 Squadron, which was equipped with three Douglas Thor missiles, each with a range of 1,750 miles and capable of reaching Moscow. With the length of 60 ft, these missiles were stored horizontally on the ground and were erected only when ready for firing or during training exercises. Although the missiles were British owned, the nuclear warheads were still under American ownership. Accordingly, the United States Air Force maintained a sizeable presence at Driffield. In good bureaucratic fashion, the RAF Launch Officer was expected to sign for the warhead after it had been launched, because technically it was then under British control. The missiles at Driffield were never used and the system was dismantled in 1963.[8]

During the late 1960s, Blackburn Buccaneer naval aircraft were flight tested at Driffield, and in the early 1970s, gliders of No.642 Volunteer Gliding School also occupied the airfield, albeit briefly, while RAF Linton on Ouse had its main runway resurfaced. Sadly, there were to be no more happy landings, and in 1977, the airfield and camp were taken over by the British Army, who renamed it Alamein Barracks. By the early 1980s, the runways were removed and the hardcore used in the construction of the Driffield bypass. The control tower and air-raid shelters disappeared, while the hangars that protected aircraft for many years were converted to protect Government surplus grain from the elements.

Current use

The army used Driffield as a driver training Centre, until RAF Leconfield (which was also taken over by the Army in 1977) was enlarged to accommodate those who lived and trained at Driffield. In 1992, the RAF regained ownership of this historic aerodrome, naming it: RAF Staxton Wold – Driffield Site. Once again, the RAF ensign flew over Driffield, but not for long. In 1996, the RAF itself transferred its own personnel and facilities to RAF Staxton Wold, thus bringing an end to 60 years of service. On 28 June 1996, the RAF ensign was lowered for the last time, bringing to an end RAF Driffield. It is used as a CTC (cadet training Centre) for army cadets The site has since been used as a driver training area by DST Leconfield

Main units: –

No 2 School of Aerial Fighting (11 Oct 1917 – 6 May 1918)

No 3 School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery (May 1918)

No 21 Training Depot Station (15 Jul 1918 – Jul 1919)

202 Sqn – Cadre (27 Mar – Dec 1919)

217 Sqn – Cadre (29 Mar – 19 Oct 1919)

No 21 Training Sqn (Jul 1919 – Feb 1920)

58 Sqn (3 Sep 1936 – 24 Mar 1937)

215 Sqn (3 Sep 1936 – 25 Jul 1938)

51 Sqn (15 – 24 Mar 1937)

75 Sqn (15 Mar 1937 – 11 Jul 1938)

102 Sqn (11 Jul 1938 – 25 Aug 1940)

77 Sqn (25 Jul 1938 – 28 Aug 1940)

No 4 Group Target Towing Flt (Feb 1940 – 14 Nov 1941)

No 5 Group Target Towing Flt (14 Feb – 2 Apr 1941)

97 Sqn (30 Apr – 20 May 1940)

88 Sqn (14 – 23 Jun 1940)

213 Sqn (15 Jan – 18 Feb 1941)

1 Sqn RCAF (10 Feb – 1 Mar 1941)

485 Sqn (1 Mar – 21 Apr 1941)

RLG for No 5 SFTS (1 – 7 Mar 1941)

104 Sqn (7 Mar 1941 – 14 Feb 1942)

No 2 Blind Approach Training Flt (14 Apr – Oct 1941)

405 Sqn (23 Apr – 20 Jun 1941)

No 1502 Beam Approach Training Flt (Oct 1941 – 23 Jul 1943)

No 1484 Flt (14 Nov 1941 – 23 Jul 1943)

158 Sqn (14 Feb – 6 Jun 1942 )

Air Bomber Training Flt (No 4 Group) (17 Jun 1942 – 15 Mar 1943)

466 Sqn (15 Oct – 22 Dec 1942, 3 Jun 1944 – 6 Sep 1945)

196 Sqn (7 Nov – 22 Dec 1942)

No 1613 (Anti-Aircraft Co-operation) Flt (20 Feb – 13 Jul 1943)

No 2833 Sqn RAF Regiment (xxx 1943 – xxx xxxx)

No 2954 Sqn RAF Regiment (xxx 1943 – xxx 1944)

HQ, No 43 Base (6 Jun 1943 – 1 Sep 1945)

462 Sqn (12 Aug – 22 Dec 1944)

426 Sqn (25 May – 25 Jun 1945)

No 4426 (RCAF) Servicing Echelon (25 May 19 – 25 Jun 1945)

10 Sqn RAAF (20 Jun – 6 Sep 1945)

No 10 Air Navigation School (19 – 30 Sep 1946)

No 204 Advanced Flying School (1 Mar 1948 – 15 Aug 1949)

Air Bomber Training Flt (No 4 Group) (17 Jun 1942 – 15 Mar 1943)

466 Sqn (15 Oct – 22 Dec 1942, 3 Jun 1944 – 6 Sep 1945)

196 Sqn (7 Nov – 22 Dec 1942)

No 1613 (Anti-Aircraft Co-operation) Flt (20 Feb – 13 Jul 1943)

No 2833 Sqn RAF Regiment (xxx 1943 – xxx xxxx)

No 2954 Sqn RAF Regiment (xxx 1943 – xxx 1944)

HQ, No 43 Base (6 Jun 1943 – 1 Sep 1945)

462 Sqn (12 Aug – 22 Dec 1944)

426 Sqn (25 May – 25 Jun 1945)

No 4426 (RCAF) Servicing Echelon (25 May 19 – 25 Jun 1945)

10 Sqn RAAF (20 Jun – 6 Sep 1945)

No 10 Air Navigation School (19 – 30 Sep 1946)

No 204 Advanced Flying School (1 Mar 1948 – 15 Aug 1949)

Research by Martyn Owst

© RAF Badges and other Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of and under the terms of a licence issued to us by the Directorate of Intellectual Property Rights, Ministry of Defence.

 

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