RAF Finningley

RAF Finningley's participation in Bomber Command's offensive may have been short but the station played a vital part in finishing crews with operational training for the bombing role.

An early pre-war expansion scheme airfield the site, farmland in a well wooded locality four miles southeast of Doncaster was acquired in the summer of 1935. The Gainsborough-Doncaster LNER line ran a quarter mile to the north and Finningley village lay a similar distance to the east.

The flying field covered around 250 acres with the camp area situated to the northwest between Mare Flats Plantation and the A638 road. Four Type C hangars were erected in the usual crescent layout facing the bombing circle, with a fifth directly behind the southernmost of the line. Administration and technical site buildings were immediately to the rear of the hangars.

Nos. 7 and 102 Squadrons moved in during August 1936 from Worthy Down with Handley Page Heyfords, this being prior to the official opening date given in station records of September 3.

In the following year, No. 7 Squadron begat No. 76 and No. 102 similarly divided to produce No. 77 the latter two soon being moved south to Honington. No. 7 Squadron converted to Whitley's in March and April 1938 while No. 76 continued to operate Wellesleys, the type it had been formed to fly. By the end of that year No. 5 Group completed its acquisition of No. 3 Group stations north of the Wash and, under its control, Finningley squadrons started conversion to the Handley Page Hampden, with Ansons to fill out strength until more of this new type were available from production.

The need to establish units devoted to training crews on the new bomber types resulted in the setting up of so-called pool squadrons during the summer of 1939. A revision of this arrangement brought the designated pool squadrons into operational training units and, shortly after war was declared, both the Finningley squadrons moved to Upper Heyford to form one of these organisations.

Finningley was to continue in a training role for No.106 Squadron, which brought its Hampdens in from Cottesmore in October. Also classed as a reserve squadron, No. 106 continued the operational training role for No. 5 Group that the previous occupants had started to provide. By August 1940 the critical war situation caused No.106 to be placed on operational call. Most of its early sorties were to drop mines in the approaches to French Channel ports thought to be harbouring invasion barges. There was still need for a final polish for new Hampden crews and in February 1941 No. 106 left its `C' Flight at Finningley to continue with this task while the rest of the squadron moved to Coningsby for full offensive operations. While flying from Finningley, six Hampdens had failed to return. In March the former No. 106 C Flight metamorphosised into No.25 OTU, initially continuing to train with Hampdens and Ansons. A few Manchesters arrived in the spring of 1941, and the unit was later bolstered with Vickers Wellingtons.

Early in 1942 Finningley passed to No. 1 Group and with no further need for Hampdens or Manchesters No. 25 OTU concentrated on Wellingtons, nine of which were lost when the station was called upon to participate in Bomber Command operations. No.25 OTU was disbanded in February 1943 and in March No.18 OTU moved in from Bramcote and began using Bircotes and Worksop as satellites. In November the Wellingtons were moved to these satellites as hard runways were to be laid at Finningley. These were put down during the winter of 1943-44, the main 03-21 being 2,000 yards, 07-25 1,400 yards and 12-30 1,400 yards. A concrete perimeter track had been laid in The 1942 and asphalt pan-type hardstandings constructed in 1940-41 linked to it, two of the original clusters crossing the A614 road between Finningley village and Bawtry. A single loop-type standing was added to bring the total to 36. Some additional domestic accommodation was provided to cater for a maximum 1,592 males and 459 females. The bomb store was in Finningley Big Wood.

The station re-opened for flying in May 1944 when No.18 OTU returned from Bramcote. By the end of the year requirements for operational training had reduced and in January 1945 the OTU was disbanded and the Wellingtons removed.

The Bomber Command Instructors School had been established at Finningley in December 1944 and this organisation, with a variety of bomber types, saw out the remaining months of the war at this station and did not depart until the spring of 1947. From 1946 to 1954 a number of different training units were stationed at Finningley with a variety of aircraft types. The last of these units withdrew in 1954 leaving only the Meteors of No. 616 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, manned largely by part-time personnel, but their days at Finningley were numbered for in May 1955 the squadron moved to Worksop.

The reason was that Finningley was about to be given a new lease of life as a V-bomber station and during the next two years work was carried out to re-lay and extend the main runway to approximately 3,000 yards. Unit stores for atomic weapons were also constructed.

Re-opened in the spring of 1957, No. 101 Squadron was re-formed in October that year to operate Vulcan's. A year later No.18 Squadron with ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) Valiant's was also established at Finningley.

In 1961, No. 101 Squadron took its Vulcan's to Waddington changing places with the Vulcan training organisation, No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit. Two years later, with the Valiant having seen its day, No. 18 Squadron was disbanded.

Victors were added to the Finningley scene in later years before Strike Command (the amalgamation of Bomber and Fighter Commands on April 30, 1968) moved its units out.

Training Command took over the station in May 1970. Navigational training was the main objective of No. 6 Flying Training School, first using Varsity and later Dominie aircraft. Although Finningley passed to Support Command in 1977, its training role continued throughout in the next decade before RAF activity was terminated.

The station remained intact and well kept and in 1998 Peel Holdings Plc announced that they were planning to develop the airfield as a civilian airport. It is now  Doncaster (Robin Hood) airport.

It is still home to Vulcan XH588 which was restored to fly again but finally grounded in November 2015 due to concerns about the cost of obtaining its annual permit to fly and no Company able to act as the Inspection Authority.