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

RAF Rufforth

Another abandoned austerity airfield with runways that remain relatively intact, RAF Rufforth’s history extends beyond its wartime use as a heavy bomber base. After closing in 1954, the North Yorkshire airfield became a two-mile-long motor racing track known as Rufforth Circuit, which itself was abandoned in 1978. The site is now split between the York Gliding Centre on the west side of the field and an arable farm to the east.

raf-rufforth-abandoned-control-tower (Image: Paul Field. Rufforth’s wartime control tower still stands)

During its wartime heyday, RAF Rufforth was home to the Halifax Mk.IIs of No. 158 Squadron from November 1942 until the unit moved to RAF Lissett in February 1943. Following construction of the airfield by John Laing & Son Ltd, Rufforth boasted three concrete runways, a B1 and two T2 hangars, and 36 hard standings for heavy bombers, some of which survive today to the southeast of the former base. Accommodation was provided for almost 1,800 personnel.

raf-rufforth (Image: Google Earth)

Following the departure of 158 Squadron, RAF Rufforth became home to No. 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) from 1943 to 1945. It was here, on the HCU, that would-be bomber pilots who had undergone basic training would learn to fly and operate the aircraft types they would take into combat.

raf-rufforth-abandoned-airfield (Image: RichTea, cc-sa-4.0)

At just three or four years old at the most (very young by today’s standards), these aircraft were often well-worn, battle-hardened veterans with multiple combat missions to their credit, relegated from front line service due to airframe fatigue or the advent of improved versions. This made training sorties hazardous in and of themselves, as ground crews worked hard to keep tired bombers serviceable for student pilots. (Below: Rufforth-based Halifax EB151, coded “OO-R”, of 1663 HCU is seen on a training flight over RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor.)

Halifax-EB151-OO-R (Image: IWM, public domain)

A total of 18 aircraft were lost from RAF Rufforth – a relatively small number by comparison to many operational stations. Among them was Halifax DK192, flown by 22-year-old Flt Sgt Stanley Bright, which crashed on February 7, 1944 at Garrowby Hill in the Yorkshire Wolds. All seven aircrew and a passing track driver, Arthur Wood Kirkby, perished in the accident. A memorial to the men now stands in a layby near the crash site.

RAF Snaith

Situated just to the east of Great Heck, the remains of RAF Snaith have been bisected by the M62 motorway from Hull to Leeds and Manchester. But the ghostly ruins of the abandoned East Yorkshire airfield’s runways are still visible on Google Earth.

raf-snaith-abandoned-5 (Image: Ossington_2008. The neglected technical site of RAF Snaith)

Open for just five years from 1941 until 1946, RAF Snaith was home to a variety of aircraft during its short operational tenure, including the Vickers Wellingtons of No. 150 Squadron and 51 Squadron Halifax bombers. No. 578 Squadron RAF temporarily operated from Snaith in early 1944. Later that year No 6266 Servicing Echelon repaired damaged aircraft at the base and in 1945 Airspeed Oxfords used its concrete runways to practice beam approach landings.


raf-snaith-abandoned-3 (Images: Google Earth/Maps. RAF Snaith’s abandoned northern runway)

Despite its close proximity to the M62, the former technical site was never repurposed as an industrial estate to the same extent as other abandoned Yorkshire airfields. And, as such, a number of historic wartime buildings have survived demolition and appear much as they did 70 years ago – quiet and neglected reminders of more than 2,400 personnel once stationed there.

raf-snaith-abandoned (Image: Michael Rothwell. J Type hangar and other rundown wartime buildings)

The former sergeants mess reportedly survives and all three hangars still stand, including one large J Type and two smaller T2 structures, the latter having been refurbished in recent times.

raf-snaith-abandoned-2 (Image: Michael Rothwell. Former Green Goddess fire engines stored at Snaith, 2012)

The abandoned airfield is also home to a number of withdrawn military Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump fire engines, better known as Green Goddesses,  parked on the grass alongside a host of other vintage vehicles.

RAF Topcliffe

With its five hangars and extensive complex of wartime buildings, RAF Topcliffe was a relatively late expansion scheme airfield (opened in 1940) and one of the few on this list of former 4 Group bomber bases. It’s also still in RAF use as a relief landing ground for the Tucano trainers of the Central Flying School based at nearby Linton-on-Ouse. As such, Topcliffe – now known as Alanbrooke Barracks – isn’t abandoned though the air force component of the base has no permanent personnel.

raf-topcliffe (Image: Google Earth)

When it opened, RAF Topcliffe was home to the Whitley bombers of 77 and 102 Squadrons, and later the Wellingtons and Halifaxes of 419 and 424 Squadrons (RCAF). Construction began in 1939 and featured a decoy site at Raskelf. But by early January 1943 the former 4 Group facility had been transferred to the charge of No. 6 Group RCAF.

raf-topcliffe-3 (Image: IWM. 102 Sqn Whitley, T4162 ‘DY-S,’ “’Ceylon’, later shot down over Cologne)

Topcliffe served out the remainder of the war as a training base with several sub-stations at Wombleton, Dalton and Dishforth. The former two are now disused and, confusingly, RAF Dalton was built closer to Topcliffe village than RAF Topcliffe itself thanks to the Royal Air Force’s policy of naming its airfields after the nearest railway station. Because Dalton was built later, Topcliffe’s name had already been taken.

raf-topcliffe-4 (Image: Bill Lovelock, cc-sa-4.0. RAF Topcliffe’s traditional military cemetery)

The former bomber base remained in use after the war and passed to the British Army in 1974. But elementary flying and gliding squadrons have persisted at Topcliffe over the years and, with few external updates to the wartime facilities, the base is an excellent representation of a Bomber Command expansion scheme airfield.

raf-topcliffe-2 (Image: Google Earth)

Beyond the large hangars are traditional H-blocks (barracks), brick-built operations facilities, station headquarters, mess buildings, housing and more. RAF Topcliffe’s three concrete runways also remain intact, two of them still in use, and the familiar network of hard standings define the airfield’s eastern perimeter.


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