A Brief History
Constructors Higgs & Hill started work on the Airfield in early 1943. RAF Spilsby was built as a Class A Bomber Station with three concrete runways, of which two were 6000ft (1830 metres) in length and the standard 150ft width. The Airfield was named after the nearest market town to the West and was opened in September 1943 as part of 5 Group.
The first unit to take up residence was 207 Squadron whose Lancasters arrived from Langar, its former home, on 11 October 1943. The first operation flown from Spilsby was to Hanover on the night of 18/19 October, which resulted in the Squadron's first losses when two Lancasters failed to return.
The Airfield remained busy throughout the winter of 1943-44 as Bomber Command intensified its operations against Germany's major cities and industrial areas. This same period saw the German night fighter force enjoy a high degree of success towards the heavy bombers. Spilsby crews were not exempt from this destruction with 28 aircraft lost.
With the invasion of Europe (D-Day) less than ten weeks away, April 1944 saw Bomber Command transfer its attention to the bombing of the German Army's supply system in Northern France and Belgium. As D-Day drew ever closer, 207 Squadron's Lancasters continued in the thick of the action with continuous operations against military and munitions targets.
In April 1944 three geographically linked bomber stations - Spilsby, Strubby and East Kirkby - joined to become the newly formed 55 Base, the headquarters being located at East Kirkby.
After D-Day, 6 June 1944, 207 Squadron's efforts were in support of the Allied ground forces in Normandy as well as operations against the German synthetic oil industry in the Ruhr. At the same time the Germans had launched the first of their secret weapons, the V1 Flying Bomb, against London. Once again, Spilsby crews were called upon to join the main bomber force in the destruction of the V1 launch sites and storage facilities in the Calais region.
At the end of September Spilsby became a two-squadron station when 44 (Rhodesian) Squadron moved from Dunholme Lodge after the reorganisation of 1 and 5 Groups. Throughout the remaining months of the War both Squadrons flew in support of the Allied advance and, once again, resumed operations against Germany itself.
The last crew lost from Spilsby was on 10 April 1945 when they were bombing railway yards in Leipzig - and the final operation flown by both Squadrons was to Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain refuge, on 25 April 1945.
At the end of hostilities, Spilsby's Lancasters took part in Operation Exodus when recently released prisoners-of-war were flown back to the United Kingdom. Also, ground crew members who had contributed so much by keeping the aircraft serviceable were taken on a 'Cook's Tour' of Germany to show them the results of the bombing campaign.
A former WAAF Intelligence Officer wrote that: 'Life on a Bomber Station was made of moments of feverish activity and breathless excitement, followed by suspense and, all too often, heartbreak.'
On Easter Monday 10 April 1944, during the preparation for an operation, a major accident occurred on the Spilsby bomb dump. It happened in a fusing shed while a 1000lb bomb was being disarmed. It exploded causing the death of 10 Squadron armourers, three of whom were never found and have no known grave. The force of the explosion caused damage to some of the Airfield's buildings and even some slight damage in the nearby community.
The second accident happened on 1 November 1944. During 207 Squadron's daylight departure on an operation, one of its Lancasters swung violently on take-off. It careered across the Airfield, demolishing a Nissen hut before coming to rest among four Halifaxes belonging to 429 'Bison' Squadron (RCAF) which had been diverted to Spilsby from the previous night's operation. The result was the loss of the Lancaster and three of the Halifaxes by explosion and fire. The fourth Halifax was severely damaged and it was in this one that the only fatality occurred when the Flight Engineer started up the engines with the intention of getting clear of the inferno.
Once again a number of the Airfield's buildings were damaged with the control tower having a narrow escape.
Eleven days later, another tragedy befell Spilsby aircrew when returning home from an operation. In a confusion as the aircraft were joining the circuit, two Lancasters - one from 44 Squadron and one from 207 Squadron - somehow managed to receive the same landing instructions from the control tower. Both aircraft turned into the 'Funnels' together and collided over the village of Bratoft, situated to the east of the Airfield. Both crews were killed and debris scattered over a large area. After the accident a system was introduced which allocated a time of return for each aircraft to prevent crowding in the circuit.
Previously, on 20 January 1944, another Lancaster had crashed on its second attempt to get airborne when the undercarriage collapsed. The aircraft had been laden with fuel and carried a full bomb load. Although a total write-off, no explosion or fire occurred and all the crew survived without injury. By contrast this was a fine example of the luck all crews hoped for in their bid to survive the bomber war.
On the night of 3 March 1945 German Intruder aircraft mingled with the returning force. Many airfields in the 5 Group area were attacked as the squadrons were landing. Spilsby received two bombs close to a runway and a number of cannon shells. One shell struck the flagpole near the control tower and drilled a hole through it. Later, on the closure of Spilsby, the pole became and still is an exhibit at the 'Aviation Heritage Centre', at East Kirkby. Fortunately, the flagpole was the only casualty on this occasion.
In conjunction with the formation of 'Tiger Force' - which was to be used in operations against Japan in the Far East - July 1945 saw the arrival of 75 (New Zealand) Squadron at Spilsby. Subsequently, 44 Squadron moved to Mepal, Cambridgeshire, although some of its crews transferred to 207 Squadron who were to be a part of 'Tiger Force'.
During 44 Squadron's stay at Spilsby, 14 Lancasters were lost with the deaths of 59 aircrew.
The war against Japan came to a sudden end with the use of the atomic bomb. 'Tiger Force' was disbanded and in October 1945, 75 Squadron also disbanded. That same month 207 Squadron moved to Methwold, Suffolk.
During its two years at Spilsby, 207 Squadron suffered its heaviest losses. 154 Lancasters were lost with 511 aircrew killed.
With the departure of the last flying unit, the station was taken over by No. 2 Armament Practice School which remained until November 1946. By the end of that year the station had closed down and was put on care and maintenance. Spilsby was surplus to requirements until June 1955 when it re-opened and was used by non-flying units of the USAF. For some unknown reason, the east/west runway was extended by another 1590ft. However, with the end of the Korean War, the Americans moved out in March 1958. The station closed immediately and today very little remains.
Two of the three hangars were dismantled in the 1960s and the runways torn up a decade later with most of the aggregate being used in the construction of the Humber Bridge.
Spilsby Airfield Memorial
This Airfield Memorial has been erected on the base of the station Fire Tender House in an area that was commonly known as 'Guard Room Corner' during its operational days. To the left of where you are standing is the base of the camp Post Office and still further left is what remains of the Guard Room. This would have been the official entrance to RAF Spiisby.
What is probably the last chapter in the history of RAF Spiisby took place on Saturday 25 August 2001 when the Airfield Memorial, commemorating the memory of all the men and women of the Royal Air Force who served here, was unveiled by three members of 207 Squadron RAF Association. One member represented the Aircrew, another the WAAF and a third the Ground Crew and all other personnel who served on this Airfield.
207 Squadron RAF Association would like to thank all those contributors who made this Memorial possible.