RAF Waddington

One of the oldest military airfields in Lincolnshire, Waddington came into use for flying units of the Royal Flying Corps back in 1916. In that year a grazing area some five miles due south of Lincoln, and to the east of Waddington village and south of the road to Potter Hanworth, was prepared for use by training squadrons under No. 27 Training Wing which was succeeded by No. 48 Training Depot Station in July 1918. A variety of aircraft types were used until the Armistice reduced activity. There were two camp areas with a number of wooden buildings including Belfast truss aeroplane sheds, seven on the main site and three on the second site.

Closed in 1919, the station was in use again for flying from October 1926 when an RAF reserve unit, No. 503 Squadron, was formed to fly Fairey Fawn light bombers, later changing to Hyderabads.

Expansion of the RAF saw extensive building with permanent barracks and substantial administrative and technical site development, including five Type C hangars. The airfield was then bounded by Ermine Street in the west, the B1178 to the south and the A15 to the east. Three of the First World War hangars still remained on the west side of the airfield but were not used for aircraft.

On completion of this work Waddington came under Bomber Command and two squadrons were re-formed there in 1937. In May Nos. 50 and 110 Squadrons were brought into existence equipped with Hinds and the following month part of No. 110's complement were used to re-form No. 88 Squadron, also to fly Hinds. That same month a fourth Hind-equipped squadron arrived from Wyton: No. 44. At the time, No. 503 Squadron was an Auxiliary Air Force unit with part-time personnel flying Harts; thus for a few weeks five squadrons occupied Waddington although Nos. 50 and 88 still had some way to go to reach full strength. No. 88, however, was moved out to Boscombe Down in July.

In December 1937 No. 44 received Bristol Blenheims and No. 110 likewise the following month. No. 503 received some of the cast-off Hinds but in October 1938 it was moved to Doncaster to be reincarnated as a fighter squadron under a different designation. No. 5 Group was destined to be an all Hampden formation and in December 1938 No. 50 Squadron traded its Hawker Hinds for the Oddly shaped Handley Page Hampdens

The Handley Page Hampden can best be described as a curious aircraft, as it bore little resemblance to any other from Bomber Command in the RAF. Its most unusual characteristic being its fuselage which was only three feet wide. Viewing the aircraft from the front with the DF loop deployed the profile of the fuselage gave rise to the nickname of the Hampden 'The Flying Suitcase'. The Hampden had a crew of three (pilot, navigator and gunner) each of whom sat in his own section of the fuselage. This could be a fatal flaw in aircraft because if the pilot was hit and unable to fly the aircraft it was virtually impossible for another crew member to take his position.

No. 44  Squadron gave up the Blenheims for the Handley Page Hampden bomber two months later. No.110 Squadron was to retain its Blenheims and, when Wattisham was ready to receive it in May 1939, the squadron moved south to No.2 Group.

Waddington's  Hampdens were in action from the first day of the war, nine setting out to reconnoitre the Heligoland area for enemy naval activity, sea searches being the main occupation in the months that followed. After the fall of France, the remnants of No. 142 Squadron were given sanctuary at Waddington for a few weeks before moving to the No. 1 Group station at Binbrook in July. The same month No. 50 Squadron was moved to the recently opened Hatfield Woodhouse (later re-named Lindholme), but No. 44 Squadron's association with Waddington was to continue until May 1943 when the airfield was closed to permit the construction of runways.

Waddington - the premier No. 5 Group station - was to receive the first Avro Manchester heavy bombers and to take them into battle, No. 207 Squadron being re-formed at Waddington specially for the task in November 1940. The first operational use of the Manchester took place on the night of February 24125, 1941 when six aircraft were detailed to attack the docks at Brest. The following day a nucleus from No. 207 Squadron became the third reformation of No. 97 Squadron. The fledgling unit took a few Avro Manchesters to Coningsby to expand in March 1941 while No. 207 struggled on with the type. Waddington received attention from the Luftwaffe on a number of occasions, usually with little harm, but on May 9, 1941 bombing took the lives of 11 station personnel.

In November 1941, No. 207 moved to the new station at Bottesford and in December No. 420 Squadron, an RCAF unit, was formed at Waddington to fly Hampdens. Later the same month No. 44 Squadron became the first to receive the new Lancaster, which was taken into action for the first time on March 10/11, 1942 when two No. 44 Squadron aircraft attacked Essen. In April the Lancaster made its grand entry into the bombing war when No. 44 was one of elements from two squadrons attempting to destroy the MAN diesel works at Augsburg in a rare daylight raid. Squadron Leader John Nettleton, who led the formation of six, received the Victoria Cross for his conduct that day.

The other Waddington squadron, No. 420, flying its first raid on the night of January 21/22 1942, continued to operate Hampdens, one of the last units in Bomber Command to do so. In August the same year it was transferred to No. 4 Group at Skipton-on Swale preparatory to joining the planned all-Canadian group. No. 420 was replaced by No. 9 Squadron from No. 3 Group at Honington, a station which was to be taken over by the USAAF. On its arrival in August, conversion to Avro Lancasters commenced. Nos. 9 and 44 Squadrons continued to mount raids from Waddington until May 1943 when hard runways were due to be laid by George Wimpey & Co. Ltd. In April No. 9 Squadron moved to Bardney and No. 44 to Dunholme Lodge in May.

The three concrete runway lengths were main 03-21 at 2,000 yards and the subsidiaries, 07-25 and 17-35, both 1,400 yards. The main runway crossed the B 1178 and was closed between Waddington and the A15 (see Ordnance Survey map overleaf). At least 33 pan hardstandings had been laid round the airfield and linked to a perimeter track during 1940-41 (one was lost during runway work) and new pans were added to bring the total to 36. An improved bomb store was located east of runway head 21. More domestic accommodation raised the total available to cater for 2,085 males and 390 females. A.T. Rowley Ltd and Public Works Construction Ltd were involved in this work, which was completed in October 1943.

Waddington's new occupants were Australian. No. 463 brought its 30 Lancasters from Bottesford in November 1943 as that station was to be taken over by the USAAF and, soon after its arrival, the squadron's `C' Flight was transformed into the new No. 467 Squadron. The squadron's strength of ten aircraft enabled it to become operational immediately and it participated in the raid on Berlin on November 23/24, just a few hours after it was formed. Both Nos. 463 and 467 Squadrons were based at Waddington until after VE-Day. In June 1945, No. 467 was moved to Metheringham and the following month No. 463 went to Skellingthorpe. One of the Waddington hangars was used by A. V. Roe during the last three years of the war to rebuild Lancasters with components received from their Bracebridge Heath reclamation works. Altogether, Waddington lost more bombers on operations than any other Bomber Command station, a total of 345. Of these 103 were Hampdens, 15 were Avro Manchesters and 227 Lancasters.

In the immediate post-war period, No. 5 Group moved its prestigious No. 617 Squadron into Waddington and, when that unit was sent out to India in January 1946, No. 61 Squadron was brought in from Sturgate to replace it. During the same year Waddington collected Nos. 12 and 57 Squadrons, all three units eventually being equipped with Lincolns. Other squadrons with Lincolns were also based at Waddington during the next eight years, until the high summer of 1953 when all removed to Wittering. During the next two years the flying field was revamped to the standard required for very heavy aircraft. This entailed reconstructing the main runway to 3,000 by 67 yards with the additional length at the southern end. Taxiways, parking apron and other standings also had to be rebuilt to specifications calling for stronger construction.

Having been brought up to the Class 1 standard required Nos. 21 and 27 Squadrons arrived with English Electric Canberras, both to be disbanded in 1957 when Waddington became an Avro Vulcan base. Still a premier Bomber Command base, Waddington hosted the first Vulcan squadron formed, the re-born No. 83; later another friend, a re-formed No. 44 Squadron arrived. No. 83 Squadron eventually moved elsewhere but over the next 15 years Waddington gathered three other Vulcan squadrons. In the 1980/90s, Nimrods and Sentry airborne early-warning aircraft were on station, which is also used as a NATO base for the North Sea training areas.