The Forgotten Yorkshire Airfields of No. 4 Group, Bomber Command

RAF East Moor

Occupying the flat land between York and Easingwold, the former RAF East Moor is a typical example of Britain’s abandoned wartime airfields. Lost amid farmland and best seen from the air, the remains of three concrete runways nevertheless remain extant, its main runway running north to south from the village of Sutton-on-the-Forest to Carr Lane.

raf-east-moor-yorkshire-2 (Image: Google Maps)

Like many austerity airfields built to accommodate the large numbers of heavy bombers rolling off allied production lines, the war was well underway when RAF East Moor opened in 1942. Initially the home of No. 4 Group’s 158 Squadron RAF, it became a Royal Canadian Air Force station when 158’s contingent of Halifax Mk.IIs moved to Driffield and then to RAF Lissett in 1943.

raf-east-moor-yorkshire-halifax-2 (Image: judgeimages. Halifax ‘Block Buzzter’ of 432 Squadron)

From November 1942 East Moor was home to 429 Squadron RCAF, equipped with the Vickers Wellington. Then, the following September, another Canadian squadron (432) arrived at the North Yorkshire base, initially operating Avro Lancasters until re-equipping with various marks of Halifax over the next few years.

raf-east-moor-yorkshire-halifax (Image: judgeimages. Halifax LW615, written off following a landing accident at East Moor)

RAF East Moor remained in Canadian Air Force use with the arrival of 415 Squadron in July 1944. The unit operated Halifax Mk.IIIs and later inherited a handful of Mk.VII machines when 432 disbanded at the station in May 1945. By November that year East Moor had been handed back to the RAF and served as a training base until closing in 1946.

raf-east-moor-yorkshire (Image: Atlantikwall. East Moor’s perimeter track then and now)

Today, the drone of heavy bombers has long since evaporated and the abandoned airfield is again a peaceful place. The perimeter track and runway remains are clearly visible from above, though only four hard standings survive, most of them obscured by trees, and much of the runway surface has been demolished. (The above image by Richard Drew, showing a heavy bomber superimposed onto the abandoned taxiway, gives an impression of what East Moor’s perimeter would have been like all those years ago.)

raf-east-moor-yorkshire-3 (Image: Google Street View)

Farm buildings occupy the former technical site and most of the temporary RAF structures have been dismantled. But take a drive through the old main entrance (off Carr Lane to the west) via Google Street View, and you’ll notice a line of dilapidated wartime huts amid a cluster of modern prefab buildings.

RAF Full Sutton

Situated in the East Riding two miles from Stamford Bridge, RAF Full Sutton was a late addition to Yorkshire’s Bomber Command airfields. Opened in 1944, Full Sutton operated the Halifax Mk.III and VI of No. 4 Group’s 77 Squadron. The following year, in July 1945, the airfield was passed to the charge of RAF Transport Command as its bomber role came to an end.

raf-full-sutton-abandoned-airfield (Image: Google Earth)

Unlike many wartime austerity airfields which reverted to agriculture as soon as hostilities ceased, Full Sutton remained in military use into the Cold War as a Thor missile base. It eventually closed in 1963.

raf-full-sutton-abandoned-airfield-3 (Image: IWM. Crashed Halifax Mk.III in staged photo of WAAF nurses attending to ‘injured’ crew)

Of all the airfields on this list, RAF Full Sutton is one of the least complete. The main technical site has been extensively redeveloped as a farm and industrial estate around the original wartime perimeter track. A separate complex to the north houses Full Sutton Prison and civilian light aircraft use a grass strip on the site of one of the original wartime runways.

raf-full-sutton-abandoned-airfield-2 (Image: Google Earth. Full Sutton airfield old and new)

The main asphalt runway, meanwhile, extends from north to south and, along with the western perimeter track, is one of the last surviving relics of its Bomber Command heyday. The abandoned control tower was demolished in 2003.

RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor

raf-holme-on-spalding-moor-abandoned-2 (Image: Ian Withnall. Typical wartime building alongside a repurposed hangar)

Unlike RAF Full Sutton, the abandoned runways and perimeter track of RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor are long gone, but the technical site, with its surviving hangars and other wartime buildings, remains more intact. Today, a memorial to its Bomber Command squadrons stands near the abandoned airfield’s main entrance – now an industrial estate where newer buildings stand amid their surviving wartime counterparts.

raf-holme-on-spalding-moor-halifax-2 (Image: RAF, public domain. Halifax DK148 ‘Johnnie the Wolf’ returns from Essen – just!)

Construction of RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor began in 1940 and was completed the following year. The airfield was built to Bomber Command’s Class-A standard – three concrete runways surrounded by 36 hard standings, dispersed across the base in a bid to protect valuable aircraft from enemy attack. To the north-east, the main technical site comprised three hangars, beyond which were administration and operations blocks, and accommodation for some 2,000 personnel. Bomb stores were housed well away to the north-west of the runways.

raf-holme-on-spalding-moor-halifax (Image: F/O W. Bellamy, public domain. A 1663 HCU Halifax lands at Holme, October 1943)

Originally a 1 Group station, the base passed to No. 4 Group Bomber Command in June 1943. The Halifax Mk.III and VIs of 76 Squadron remained at Holme until 4 Group transitioned to RAF Transport Command at the end of World War Two. The close of hostilities saw the deserted bomber base placed on ‘care and maintenance’ status until the escalating Cold War brought the US Air Force, who lengthened the runways before moving on in 1957.

blackburn-buccaneer-s1 (Image: Alan Wilson, cc-sa-4.0. An early Blackburn Buccaneer S1 of the Fleet Air Arm)

The enhanced infrastructure proved useful later when RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor was leased to Blackburn Aircraft Ltd the following year as a test site. Because the runway at nearby Brough Aerodrome, Blackburn’s main factory, wasn’t long enough for the new breed of fast jets under development including the successful Buccaneer, the old wartime airfield remained in use for the next 25 years.

raf-holme-on-spalding-moor-abandoned (Image: Ian D. Richardson via YouTube. Former Sergeants Mess, demolished around 2004)

It was finally abandoned in 1983 by British Aerospace which, by that time, had swallowed up most of the UK’s historic aviation companies.

raf-holme-on-spalding-moor-abandoned-4 (Image: Ossington_2008. Surviving hangars at Holme-on-Spalding Moor)

The area once occupied by RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor’s long runways has now returned to its pre-war use as farmland. The old T2 and J type hangars (above), meanwhile, live on amid a few other wartime buildings.


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About the author: Tom




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