Station History

Situated five miles south west of Newark, this was one of a series of additional bomber stations that were built under the second phase of the RAF “Expansion Scheme” that occurred in the latter half of the 1930′s, as a result of the happenings in Nazi Germany. Because time was running short as the Second World War approached the station finished up with a mixture of permanent buildings, married quarters etc.., but its two main hangars were the more austere J types.

Being a late starter, it was the 1st of December 1940 before the station opened under the control of No. 1 Group of Bomber Command. During the following days Nos. 304 & 305 Squadrons moved in with their Vickers Wellington bombers, both Squadrons being manned by Polish airman who had managed to escape to England. These aircraft were new to them and it took until April to work up before engaging in their first night bombing mission to Rotterdam. In January 1941 King George VI and the Queen mother visited the station.

Many more night operations were performed before both of the Polish Squadrons departed to Lindholme on the 20th July 1941, to be replaced by No. 408 Squadron, who came in the opposite direction with its Handley Page Hampdens. Once again, this was not manned by the RAF, but by Canadians. They wasted no time in conducting bombing operations from Syerston but had to move to the satellite airfield at Balderton on the 8th December 1941 to allow runways to be constructed.

Over the next five months, three concrete runways were laid and two more T2 hangars were erected. During this time certain parts of the airfield were used for circuits by Oxford training aircraft based at RAF Newton.

large2

Members 106 Sqn gather in front of Lancaster, ED593 ‘ZN-Y’ “Admiral Prune II”, the aircraft flown by the Commanding Officer of the Squadron, Wing Commander G P Gibson (standing 14th from the left), to mark the completion of his tour of operations at Syerston.

On re-opening on 5th May 1942, the station became part of No. 5 Group, with No. 61 Squadron taking up residence. They had come here to convert onto the new Lancaster bomber and for the first few months kept company by two other Conversion Flights belonging to other No. 5 Group squadrons, who were also receiving their new Lancasters..

guygibsoncentre

Wg Cdr Guy Gibson (Centre) at RAF Syerston.

By August No. 61 Squadron was ready for normal night bombing operations, and in the following month were joined by No. 106 Squadron similarly equipped with Lancasters and commanded by Guy Gibson. Regular bombing operations were thereafter performed two or three times a week, weather permitting. The two Lancaster squadrons flying against the Peenemunde Air Research and Development Station where the German VI and V2 rockets were being developed. The V2 was the predecessor of the American Saturn rocket programme that took part in the 1969 Moon Landing. German scientists worked for the allies after the war.

On one particular night in October a fully loaded Lancaster crash landed on the airfield and started to burn. The Station Commander was Gus Walker, who dashed into the blaze to try and rescue the crew, but a bomb exploded and severed his arm. He lived to become an Air Chief Marshall in the 1960s, his disability never being allowed to interfere with his ability to pilot an aircraft.

In early 1943, No. 61 Squadron changed to radial engined Lancaster Mk 2′s. It was one of their pilots, Flt Lt Bill Reid, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for pressing on with his mission after his aircraft was damaged by enemy fighters, which caused injuries to himself and the loss of his navigator.

On the 17th November 1943, the operational squadrons departed, when the role of the station changed to bomber crew training. Initially No. 1668

A crowd waves off Plt Off W Eager RCAF and his crew in Lancaster W4236 ‘QR-K’, of  61 Sqn, as they begin their take-off run from the now Runway 33, for a night raid on Hamburg, Germany. This was W4236′s 74th mission, from which it returned safely: it was lost, however, during a raid on Mannheim on 10 August 1943.

Heavy Conversion Unit was present, engaged in training new bomber crews on Halifax and Lancasters, but due to the shortage of Lancasters it was retitled No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School in January 1944. This was a stop gap measure where crews were trained on Stirlings or Halifaxes at other HCU’s then came to Syerston for their final week to get used to operating with Lancasters.

From November to July 1944, there was also a Bombing and Gunnery Training Flight in attendance with several Wellingtons, Spitfires, Hurricanes, plus a few Martinet tug aircraft, all employed in brushing up the skills of No. 5 Groups air gunners on air to air exercises.

On the 1st April 1945, the requirement for crew training was coming to a close, so No. 5 LFS disbanded, its place taken by No. 49 Squadron who arrived from Fulbeck on the 22nd April. With the war almost at an end only one bombing operation was performed before the squadron kicked its heels until transferring to Mepal on the 28th September 1945.

On the 25th October 1945, the station became part of Transport Command, when No. 1333 Conversion Unit arrived from Leicester East with its Dakota and Halifax tugs plus Horsa gliders. However, the glider aspect was slowly running down, after which crews would be trained purely in the air transport aspect. In December 1946 the above unit transferred to North Luffenham but part of it stayed behind and formed into No. 1331 Heavy Conversion Unit that was chiefly equipped with Dakotas although it also possessed a few Wellingtons. It remained here until disbanding on the 5th of January 1948, when its few remaining trainees transferred to Dishforth.

Control Tower 1950's

Syerston’s Control Tower in the 1950′s

Syerston was taken over by Flying Training Command on the 1st of February 1948 when No. 22 Flying Training School (FTS) arrived from Ouston.

This school specialised in training pilots for the Fleet Air Arm and employed both Tiger Moths and Harvards. By 1950 Prentice aircraft had replaced the Tiger Moths but in November 1953 the new Percival Provost had replaced the other types. Take offs and

landings were the main part of the syllabus and to help relieve the pressure on Syerston circuit, first Tollerton, then Newton and finally Wymswold were used as Relief landing Grounds over the period 1948 to 1970.

VX770 breaking up during its fly past at the 1958 airshow.

On the 1st of May 1955 the above school was retitled No. 1 FTS, but to the outsider nothing changed, as it was still Provosts that were in use for the training of FAA student pilots. In early November 1957 this school left for a more acceptable airfield at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, but in its place came No. 2 FTS on the 18th of the month. So yet again nothing changed other than the fact it was RAF and not FAA pilots that were under training.

On 20 September 1958 during the annual Battle of Britain Air show tragedy came to the Airfield. Avro Vulcan B1 VX770 being used by Rolls Royce for engine tests was giving a display. During a high speed run the aircraft broke up and crashed killing all the crew.

A common sight at training bases during the era! Here is JP ‘XM364′ after sliding off the runway at Syerston.

In 1959 the new Jet Provost replaced the piston engined counterpart, and these continued to pound the circuit for another ten years until the requirement for new pilots decreased in 1969, which resulted in this FTS disbanding on the 16th January 1970.

 

RAF Syerston circa 1961. Photo taken from the pan with the old ‘Hangar 8′ visible in the background.

In 1964 at a special meeting of the Borough of Newark on Trent the Freedom of the Borough was granted to RAF Syerston. A parade was duly held to mark the occasion.

From 1970 to 1975 the station lay vacant and began to rapidly deteriorate, but in January 1975 the airfield aspect started to be used by the Central Gliding School (who had moved from RAF Spitalgate), whose headquarters was at Newton.

Today the airfield is still used by the RAF Central Gliding School, but is joined by 643 & 644 Volunteer Gliding Squadrons. The airfield is extremely active and is used seven days a week for the training of Gliding Instructors and Cadets.

Close
loading...