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Part Three :: World War Two

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Updated: 9 Dec 12

World War Two

The Second World War was a period of intensive air force activity spanning all the disciplines of offensive and flying operations and ground-based defence. Air roles included offensive bomber, day fighter, night fighter, anti-shipping strike, transport and flying training. Land-based roles included the Chain Home High and Chain Home Low RADAR stations at RAF Stenigot, RAF Skendleby and RAF Ingoldmels, schools covering air armaments, air gunnery and other ground defence disciplines. The sea-based air-sea rescue launches of Coastal Command should not be overlooked. Finally, the RAF Regiment was born in the county at Alma House in Dec 1941, with RAF Regiment Depots at Belton Park, RAF Folkingham and RAF North Witham.

In Sep 1939, when war was declared, there were 10 operational or near-operational military airfields in Lincolnshire. The onset of war completely changed the strategy of airfield construction, focussing resources on runways and technical accommodation while living accommodation and domestic buildings became much more rudimentary. Older airfields had been designed with all the buildings close together for efficiency; new airfields saw buildings widely dispersed in small clusters to complicate any aerial attack.

From 1939 a fairly standard plan was adopted for new airfields, with older ones
being brought up to the same standards when they could. Three concrete runways
were laid out, along with a perimeter track and dispersal pans for the aircraft.
The runways were usually in an A-plan, with a long one, from 1940 a minimum of
1,400 yards long, later increased to 2,000 yards, running south-west to
north-east. The other two runways initially 1,100 yards, later extended to 1,400

The key contribution of Lincolnshire was to be as Bomber County, with No 1 Group and No 5 Group of Bomber Command playing a decisive role in the offensive air operations over Europe. 1 Group's airfields were generally in north Lincolnshire, and 5 Group's in the south. Although accounts differ as to how many operational airfields existed by the end of the war, due to the definition of Lincolnshire's borders and operational airfields, it is generally accepted that there were 49, more than in any other county in England. 2 per cent of the county was airfield.

Many key and innovative missions were generated from Lincolnshire's RAF bomber bases, earning just under half of Bomber Command's 19 Victoria Crosses.

In addition to the Royal Air Force squadrons there were allied squadrons from the Royal Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Air Forces and squadrons manned largely by personnel from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France and Poland (see the overview of nations).

In the fighter war, particularly from 1940 to 1942, the two key airfields in Lincolnshire were at RAF Kirton in Lindsey and RAF Digby. However it was from RAF North Coates and Coastal Command that the last RAF attack sortie in Europe was generated, 236 Sqn and 254 Sqn sinking 4 U-boats on 4 May 1945.

The increasing demands on allocation of the available pool of labour in 1942 planning for the following 18 months of conflict finally came to a head as it was clear that it would not be possible to honour all the services' requests for personnel, for ship, aircraft and airfield construction, and for the personnel required to enable the growing US presence in preparation for liberation of the Continent. For example, in the last half of 1942 and it was agreed that the aircraft industry in this period would need another 208,000 men and women. At the same time, the output from the aircraft construction industry was falling behind plan. The Prime Minister pointed out that disappointments in the supply of aircraft would cut the RAF's new demands for service personnel by fifty percent and there was naturally an associated reduction in the requirement for additional planned, but not yet constructed, airfields. The Lincolnshire site at Essendine was among the unstarted airfields deemed to be surplus to requirements in the revised 1942 national building priorities. This discussion can be traced in War Cabinet minutes from late 1942:

P.M. You have made expansion programme wh. isn’t being realised – prob. for lack of aircraft.
S/Air (Secretary of State for Air). M.A.P. (Ministry of Aircraft Production) told me tht. given men and tools bomber programme wd. reach 100% output by end ’43.
P.M. R.A.F. shd. be held back until aircraft catches up.

In the preparations for Operation OVERLORD and D-Day, the First Airborne Division assembled in Lincolnshire, training and living in the villages around Grantham. The troop carriers of the Ninth Air Force launched from many of the airfields of southern Lincolnshire. USAAF bases of the 9th Air Force's 82nd Troop Carrier Group were RAF Fulbeck, RAF Folkingham, RAF Barkston Heath and RAF Saltby. A separate page details the US contribution.

At the end of the war there were 49 active airfields or which 28 were bomber bases, more than any other county in the United Kingdom.

On to the Cold War and beyond >>

> RAF history in Lincolnshire

The early years up to 1918
Early days in Saint Omer
The Inter-war years

World War TwoRAF
Cold War to the present

> The command structure

Bomber Command
Fighter Command
Coastal Command
Training Command
Balloon Command

> Airfield information

Generic airfield layout
Emergency landing grounds
Hangar types
FIDO fog dispersal
Airfield defences
Airfield call signs
Pundit codes
ICAO Codes

> Decoy airfields and deception

Q Sites
K sites
Starfish sites

> Other historical pages

Key dates of bomber offensives

Mission types

The secret, electronic war

Aircraft manufacturers in Lincolnshire

The US Air Forces in Lincolnshire

Selected books about Lincolnshire aviation history

The 'RAFwaffe'

History of the RNAS on the Fleet Air Arm Archive

The Architectural context -

> Sources

Official Records
Crashes and Oral History

Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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