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

Honourable Mention – RAF Elvington (Yorkshire Air Museum)

The former Bomber Command airfield at Elvington in North Yorkshire, which was on the charge of 4 Group for several years during World War Two, deserves mention for a variety of reasons. During this time RAF Elvington, along with RAF Melbourne and RAF Pocklington were collectively known as No. 42 Base (due to the military practice of grouping a main station with several sub-bases). Resident unit No. 77 Squadron lost 88 Halifaxes with some 500 aircrew killed, missing or captured while operating from the airfield.

raf-elvington (Image: David Dixon, cc-sa-4.0. RAF Elvington’s Memorial Garden)

From 1944, when 77 Squadron relocated to RAF Full Sutton, Elvington became the home of Nos. 346 Guyenne and 347 Tunisie Squadrons, making it the only UK airfield used by the surviving bomber contingent of the Free French Forces. Almost half its aircrew were killed on operations from Elvington and a memorial to the Free French squadrons stands in the North Yorkshire village to this day.

elvington-runway (Image: Acombmate2114, cc-sa-3.0)

RAF Elvington remained in use after the war and was significantly upgraded by the US Air Force. Its main runway was lengthened to 3,000 metres to accommodate the heavy jet-age bombers of the Strategic Air Command. Rumour has it that said runway, which is technically long enough, was one of several emergency landing facilities for the Space Shuttle in Europe, though this claim is likely an urban legend.

raf-elvington-3 (Image: Chris Robertshaw, cc-4.0)

More recent times have brought motor sport to Elvington’s massive runway, where several UK records have been broken over the years. But what is arguably the most important memorial to the personnel of No. 4 Group Bomber Command, and many other units also, can be found at Elvington’s Yorkshire Air Museum in the form of a fully restored Handley Page Halifax (above).

raf-elvington-4 (Image: Paul Field. The wartime control tower)

Of the 6,176 Halifax bombers built during the Second World War, Elvington’s Halifax is one of only two (restored) surviving examples of the heavy bomber workhorse left in the world, the other in Canada. (Another Yorkshire Halifax, a Mk.II serial number W1048, which crash landed in April 1942 during an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz and was recovered from a Norwegian fjord in 1973, is displayed in a conserved state at the RAF Museum in Hendon, London).

restored-halifax-elvington-yorkshire (Image: Rachel Semylen, cc-sa-4.0)

The Elvington Halifax is a hybrid airframe, rebuilt from a fuselage section of Halifax B.Mk.II HR792 and the wings of a Handley Page Hastings. One side of the aircraft is painted to represent a Free French aircraft coded “N – Novembre”, while the other honours Halifax LV907, “Friday the 13th”, which completed its 100th mission while based at RAF Lissett.

restored-halifax-elvington-yorkshire-2 (Image: Craig Sunter, cc-4.0)

LV907’s ominous name was derived from the date it entered military service – January 13, 1944. But despite any omens of ill fortune, the 158 Squadron Halifax was destined to survive the conflict. In May 1945, just a year and a half after it was rolled off the production line, the worn-out bomber was struck off charge with 128 successful missions to its credit.

raf-elvington-fly-past (Image: IWM. Halifax Mk.II (JB911’ ‘KN-X’) makes a low pass over Elvington.)

With Bomber Command’s aircraft averaging around 14 sorties before being lost, Friday the 13th’s achievement was impressive. But that wasn’t enough to save the neglected aircraft. Soon after, LV907 was scrapped. At the end of World War Two, as allied and axis planes were recycled en masse and their crews returned to civilian life, not one single Halifax was preserved by British and Commonwealth forces.

raf-elvington-fly-past-2 (Image: IWM. Low pass by 77 Squadron Halifax KN-X)

Those that survive today (see here) are largely testament to the efforts of dedicated volunteers, enduring memorials to those who built, flew and maintained them over that short and decisive period from 1939 to 1945.

Keep Reading – 10 Abandoned Allied Control Towers of World War Two


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About the author: Tom




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