RAF Elvington Airfield History
Located in Yorkshire, RAF Elvington was a bomber base and was part of No 4 Group Bomber Command. Originally a grass airfield, Elvington was rebuilt with three hardened runways which were completed ready for operations in October 1942. The airfield was one of three within the area, the others being RAF Melbourne and RAF Pocklington. The three airfields became known as 42 Base.
The first operational aircraft were Handley Page Halifax bombers which were flown by No 77 Squadron. No 77 arrived at Elvington to begin conversion from the Whitleys that they had previously flown. Conditions at Elvington were rudimentary as they were at many wartime RAF airfields. However, training began at once on the Halifax to enable the crews to take part in the on-going night offensive over Germany.
Once operations commenced No 77 began losing aircraft at quite a high rate. This was a bad time for Bomber Command in general with the risks of night fighters, flak & collision always upper most in the bomber crews minds. When aircraft were shot down some crew managed to escape the aircraft and it was after one such incident that a remarkable escape, or nearly, occurred. Having been damaged over Dusseldorf, the pilot of one Halifax, F/Lt Kendrick gave his crew the order to abandon the aircraft. Sgt Williams the tail gunner duly followed the order but as he swung himself out his turret his foot became trapped. This left him swinging in the aircrafts slipstream. With much effort he managed to get back into the turret where he found the order to abandon the aircraft had been rescinded. After this the Halifax was again attacked by three Bf 109’s which were in turn driven off with one shot down. The Halifax landed back at RAF Stradishall where Williams was awarded the DFM.
Heavy losses were suffered by No 77 Squadron during the bombing campaign. By the end of hostilities, 77 Squadron had lost eighty Halifaxes, with the loss of over five hundred aircrew. No 77 left Elvington in 1944 and in May of that year, a French Squadron No 346 (Guyenne) moved in, which was soon followed by No 347 (Tunisie). Both squadrons went on to play a major part in the on-going bomber offensive. Again there were losses of aircraft and crews. Before the war ended the French Squadrons flew over 2,700 sorties each losing fifteen aircraft.
Life for the French aircrews was very different from their experiences in North Africa. It must have been a shock to the system to encounter Yorkshires cold winds and rain but the French were determined to make the best of it. To this extent the tradition of each man being able to enjoy a glass of red wine with their meal was continued whilst the crews were at Elvington. Logistically this must have been difficult as the wine had to be of a variety that was only found in Algeria.
During the night bombing campaign Luftwaffe Night Intruders were a constant threat to returning bomber streams. Elvington saw evidence of this in March 1945. On the night of the 3rd & 4th the French Squadrons lost three of their number to intruders upon their return flight from an attack on Kamen. A Junkers JU88 attacked the airfield and then itself came to grief having clipped a tree near the airfield. The aircraft crashed into a farmhouse named Dunnington Lodge where four German aircrew and two civilians died. A small memorial was erected at Dunnington Lodge to record the event.
Both French Squadrons flew on No 4 Group’s last mission of the war, this being an attack on the gun batteries at Wangerooge. This attack took place on 25th April 1945. One Halifax NP921 of No 347 Squadron was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and was lost in the sea. There were no survivors which is the more tragic with this being at the war’s end.
In October 1945 the French Squadrons left Elvington and the airfield transferred to No 40 Group, Maintenance Command. In 1952 the airfield became part of the expansion programme of US Strategic Air Command. Major work was carried out at the airfield with the runways being lengthened which allowed the for its use by the latest jet bomber aircraft. After all this work took place the airfield never actually became operational and it was vacated in 1958. At 1.92 miles long, the runway was the longest the RAF had in the North of England.
In the early 1960’s, the Blackburn Aircraft Company (now BAe) who were based at Brough, used the runway for test flying their Buccaneer strike aircraft. Following on from this Elvington was used as a Relief Landing Ground by the Flying Training Schools at RAF Church Fenton and Linton On Ouse. Finally in March 1992, RAF Elvington closed.