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

RAF Lissett

Located six miles south-west of the faded seaside town of Bridlington in East Yorkshire, the melancholy shadow of the RAF Lissett cuts a strange form on the landscape. Field boundaries which re-emerged after the war betray the locations of Lissett’s demolished runways, while the attenuated outlines of hard standings are fed from the surviving perimeter track on the abandoned airfield’s western side.

raf-lissett-abandoned-airfield (Image: Google Earth)

Lissett was originally designed as a satellite station for nearby RAF Catfoss, built to the Class-A specification of three runways and 36 hard standings dispersed across the airfield. The base became home to the Handley Page Halifax bombers of No. 158 Squadron, formerly of Driffield, when it opened in Febuary 1943.

raf-lissett-abandoned-airfield-5 (Image: Google Street View)

Several weeks later the heavy bombers of RAF Lissett flew their first operational sortie from the base, when 10 aircraft took off to bomb the German city of Stuttgart. Only nine returned. Somewhat unusually, and with the exception of a few visiting units, 158 remained Lissett’s only active squadron for the duration of the conflict. (Several miles to the north lay the massive emergency runway of RAF Carnaby, one of just three such facilities in the UK.)

raf-lissett-abandoned-airfield-2 (Image: Google Street View)

The end of the war saw Lissett relegated to care and maintenance status, but the airfield had been completely abandoned by late 1945. The drive for renewable energy in recent years has seen a dozen or so wind turbines erected on land previously occupied by Lissett’s concrete runways. A local farmer has also taken over the technical site, which once boasted two large maintenance hangars.

raf-lissett-abandoned-airfield-4

raf-lissett-abandoned-airfield-3 (Images: Google Street View)

Open Google Street View and take a drive around the abandoned base, entering from Main Street in Lissett village to the east. From the tree-lined road onto the former airfield, flanked by crumbling, overgrown wartime buildings on each side, Street View continues to the old perimeter taxiway, far narrower than it once was, where the unmistakable sound of heavy bombers waiting for the active runway was once deafening.

abandoned-blast-shelter-raf-lissett-2

abandoned-blast-shelter-raf-lissett (Images: Rich Cooper 2012)

Abandoned blast shelters can also be found hidden amid long grass around the former airfield, their brick-built entrance ways leading to hardened, roofless chambers dug into the earth in an effort to protect personnel during air raids.

bomb-damaged-halifax-HR837 (Image: IWM. Lissett-based Sergeant D. Cameron and crew survive a falling bomb over Cologne)

Above, pilot Sergeant D. Cameron and two of his crew pose with their damaged Halifax Mk.II, serial number HR837. Coded NP-F, the aircraft was hit by a falling bomb dropped by another allied plane during a raid on Cologne on the night of 28-19 June, 1943. Incredibly, none of the crew was injured in the incident and Sergeant Cameron managed to nurse the damaged bomber home. HR837 was repaired and flew 11 more operational missions before the ‘clapped-out’ Halifax was handed down to training squadron 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit.

halifax-lv907-friday-the-13th-raf-lissett (Image: IWM. Halifax LV907 ‘Friday the 13th’ at Lissett after its 100th mission)

Another famous Lissett Halifax, meanwhile, was LV907 ominously named Friday the 13th. The aircraft is pictured above standing quietly on a Lissett dispersal following its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on the German city of Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia. LV907 went on to complete 128 missions before being struck off charge and scrapped. The aircraft is commemorated today by Britain’s only restored Halifax at the Yorkshire Air Museum (see below).

158-squadron-memorial-raf-lissett-yorkshire (Image: Peter Wannop, cc-sa-4.0)

The memorial that stands on the edge of the former RAF Lissett today is among the most poignant of its kind. The memorial sculpture to No. 158 Squadron depicts seven airmen in full flight gear, a haunting tribute to the 851 young men who lost their lives on operations from the now-abandoned bomber base.

RAF Melbourne

Located near Seaton Ross in East Yorkshire, RAF Melbourne was first opened in 1940 as a relief landing ground for RAF Leeming (an airfield which is currently somewhat notorious in aviation circles as the place where retired Tornado GR4 bombers are being RTP’d).

raf-melbourne-yorkshire (Image: Noel J. Ryan. RAF Melbourne’s restored control tower)

Melbourne’s initial contingent of No. 10 Squadron Whitleys used a grass landing strip until the airfield was closed for redevelopment – reopened with three concrete runways, three hangars and the usual assortment of Class-A dispersal pans.

raf-melbourne-yorkshire-4 (Image: Google Earth)

With its new infrastructure up and running, 10 Squadron, like many Yorkshire-based units, re-equipped with the Handley Page Halifax and soon launched raids deep into the heart of Nazi Germany.

handley-page-halifax-bomber-raf-melbourne-yorkshire (Image: IWM, public domain; above: 10 Squadron Halifax Mk.II at RAF Melbourne)

One of Melbourne’s most notable features was FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation), which allowed returning aircraft to land safely in poor weather, aided by two rows of burning fuel down either side of the main runway. Of the hundreds of airfields hastily constructed across the UK during World War Two, less than 20 were equipped with FIDO, making RAF Melbourne a popular diversion for crews caught in bad weather.

handley-page-halifax-bomber-raf-melbourne-yorkshire-2 (Image: IWM, public domain; 10 Sqn Halifax lands at Melbourne after bombing Turin, Italy)

But by May 1945, like several other 4 Group bomber stations, Melbourne passed to RAF Transport Command and closed permanently the following year. Much of the land returned to agriculture though the abandoned bomber runways, perimeter taxiway and a small number of hard standings remain relatively intact. The main east-west runway is in good enough condition to accommodate the farmer’s light aircraft and is home to York Raceway during summer months.

raf-melbourne-yorkshire-2 (Image: Noel J. Ryan)

Though their runways and hard standings were built to the same Class-A specification as permanent military bases, austerity airfields generally featured temporary buildings that were easy to assemble and later remove. Melbourne was no exception, and the base’s closure brought the dismantling of many of its wartime structures as the site slowly reverted to farmland.

raf-melbourne-yorkshire-3 (Image: Noel J. Ryan)

Among the few buildings that do survive are a B1 hangar and restored control tower, while the former airfield’s main gate is now the location of a poignant memorial to the crews of No. 10 Squadron, which lost 128 Halifax and their crews while operating from RAF Melbourne.

RAF Pocklington

Just five miles north-east of Melbourne by the York Road, between Market Weighton and Barmby Moor, lies the remnants of RAF Pocklington, another shortlived Bomber Command airfield in use from 1941 to 1946. Primarily a Wellington and Halifax base during its operational years, the facility began life as a grass airfield before being upgraded to cope with the demands of four-engine heavy bombers.

raf-pocklington-6 (Image: via Airfield Information Exchange)

The concrete runway layout at RAF Pocklington was relatively unique at the time of its construction, in that four runways were actually constructed as opposed to the usual three. The reason for this was that the original east-west runway was too close to the village of Barmby Moor and, for safety reasons, was abandoned in favour of a fourth runway at a slightly altered angle.

raf-pocklington-2

raf-pocklington (Images: Google Street View)

No evidence of the original third runway exists today, though one of the secondary runways survives relatively intact, along with about half of the fourth strip. Three hangars were built on the main technical site to the south-west of the airfield, supplemented by two additional aircraft sheds across the A1079 York Road. Several survive today for farming and storage purposes, one of them a cavernous shell with its doors and windows removed.

raf-pocklington-4 (Image: RAF. ‘Bombing up’ a 405 Sqn Halifax at Pocklington, August 1942)

In 1941 No. 405 Squadron RCAF took up residency at the base, losing 20 Wellingtons on 84 bombing raids over an 11 month period. In April the following year the Canadian squadron converted onto Halifax and flew an additional 20 missions before moving to RAF Topcliffe. In turn, Topcliffe’s 102 Squadron RAF relocated to Pocklington and remained there until the end of the war.

raf-pocklington-5 (Image: IWM. A 102 Sqn crew deplane after a successful raid on Frankfurt, October 1943)

The day before World War Two officially came to a close in Europe, RAF Pocklington was transferred to Transport Command operating American-built B-24 Liberators, which were in turn were transferred to RAF Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire.

raf-pocklington-3 (Image: Google Earth)

Pocklington’s surviving runways are now used by the Wolds Gliding Club, which also hosts reunions for former members of No. 102 Squadron. Various wartime buildings survive amid the modern industrial estate that has grown up around the abandoned technical site, while the routes through the base – including Wellington Road and Halifax Way – pay tribute the bomber crews stationed there 70 years ago.

raf-pocklington-pillboxes (Image: Rich Cooper 2012)

As is the case with the vast majority of abandoned wartime airfields, the undergrowth around the site abounds with hidden history, in this case one of RAF Pocklington’s last surviving pillboxes.

 
 


 
 
 

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