Early Use of the Airfield Site
RAF Dunholme Lodge owes its existence as a heavy bomber airfield to the gathering pace and scale of the strategic air offensive against Germany and its allies. However, before hard surfaces and solid structures were built, RAF Scampton used the fields close to the villages of Welton and Dunholme as dispersal areas for its Hampden bombers during the early years of the War. A large house, known as Dunholme Lodge, overlooked these fields. Gradually, primitive buildings were built and a few accommodation sites were developed in Welton village. A few circular concrete hardstandings were constructed for the aircraft. By the summer of 1942, the fields had become an official satellite of RAF Scampton and Dunholme Lodge was used as airmen’s accommodation. As there were no dining facilities, airmen had to be transported to the messes at RAF Scampton.
Facilities at the dispersed site slowly improved and, in August 1942, the crews of No 1485 Target Towing and Gunnery Flight moved in from RAF Scampton with their varied collection of aircraft, which included a number of Avro Manchesters, a Fairey Battle, Westland Lysander and a Vickers Wellington. In October, the Flight moved away to RAF Fulbeck, and major construction work began.
Construction as a Heavy Bomber Airfield
The building of airfields was the priority construction programme of 1942, with 60,000 construction workers employed in it. To maintain this level of manpower, the conscription of many building workers into the military was postponed until October of that year, and all repairs to bomb-damaged buildings was put on hold until 1943.
RAF Dunholme Lodge was to be constructed as a Class A bomber airfield, with George Wimpey Ltd as its primary building contractor. Class A bomber airfields had the following features:
· 1 x 2000-yard (1828 m) main runway, aligned along the direction of the prevailing wind. Strips 175 yards (160m) of levelled, mown grass, were provided on either side of the main runway. A further 100 yards (91m) of ground on either side of the prepared ground was levelled and all obstructions removed, except for light hedges less than 3 feet (0.9m) high. Runway 04-22 was RAF Dunholme Lodge’s main runway (the numbers reflected the first two digits of the runway’s magnetic bearing from the direction of approach).
· 2 x 1400-yard (1280m) subsidiary runways. Each runway was 50 yards (45m) wide, with overshoots at each end comprising 100 yards (90m) of cleared and prepared grass. Strips 75 yards wide (69m) of levelled, mown grass, were provided on either side of the subsidiary runways. At RAF Dunholme Lodge, runway 16-34 was 1400 yards long but runway 10-28 was initially only 1300 yards long, although it was extended to 1700 yards during February – April 1944 by the RAF’s No 5002 Airfield Construction Unit.
· All runway depths were 9-12 inches (23-30cm).
· Hard-surface perimeter tracks were provided around the entire flying site, so that heavily laden aircraft could manoeuvre easily in all weather conditions. These tracks were 50 feet (15m) wide, with 10 yards (9m) of levelled and cleared ground on both sides; their average length amounted to 3 miles (4.8km).
· Aircraft were provided with hardstandings, so that they could be parked, maintained, refuelled and rearmed without the risk of the aircraft sinking into ground softened by rain or thawing snow and ice. Initially, circular concrete hardstandings, were constructed. Known as ‘frying-pan’ hardstandings because of their shape, they required aircraft to enter the hardstanding and make a difficult complete circular turn in order to leave it. Some of these had been laid down at RAF Dunholme Lodge during its earlier period as a grass airfield. An improved design of hardstanding was devised using concrete loops, which aircraft could enter from one end and exit via the other end, without needing to make a circular turn. This design was known as a ‘spectacle’ hardstanding because of its shape. RAF Dunholme Lodge was completed with 25 ‘frying pan’ and 14 ‘spectacle’ hardstandings alongside the perimeter track, with 3 of the original pans being isolated and not connected to the perimeter track.
· By 1943, Class A airfields were provided with two prefabricated metal hangars, each having a clear height of 25 feet (7.6m), span of 117 feet 6 inches (35.8m) and clear length of 239 feet 7 inches (73m). This design was known as a ‘T2’ hangar. An additional hangar of ‘B1’ design, with lower eves and a higher apex, was provided for use by civilian mechanics of the Ministry of Aircraft Production repair organizations. RAF Dunholme Lodge was completed with one T2 hangar next to the airfield’s technical site, one on the southern side of the airfield, and one B1 hangar in the south-western corner of the airfield.
· An airfield’s main Technical Site was normally located behind one of the hangars and comprised workshops, stores and specialized training buildings.
· A Control Tower, from which all flying was monitored and controlled, was built between the perimeter track and the main runway, usually in front of the main Technical Site. Control Towers varied in design but were usually flat-roofed buildings constructed from brick and concrete, with large windows providing a clear view over the entire flying area.
· Domestic Sites, comprising 10-25 small prefabricated buildings (such as Nissen huts) for sleeping accommodation, latrines and ablutions, were dispersed in the local countryside away from the flying site, so as to minimize the risk of casualties from enemy air attack. There were separate Domestic Sites for male and female personnel. RAF Dunholme Lodge had 7 domestic sites, built to accommodate 1637 male and 468 female personnel.
· One or two Communal Sites provided mess (dining) halls and recreational facilities for all personnel stationed at the airfield. William Farr School was built on RAF Dunholme Lodge’s former Communal Site No 1; the foundations of Communal Site No 2 still remain within the School’s woodland.
· A Station Sick Quarters (SSQ) was established to meet the demands of routine illness and minor accidents, but casualties would be transported to local civilian hospitals whenever necessary. The SSQ at RAF Dunholme Lodge was located on the local road between the flying site and the village of Welton.
· Power-generating equipment and on-site water storage was provided at each airfield, so that operations could continue despite any disruption to local utilities. In addition, each airfield also had its own sewage treatment plant because existing local facilities could not cope with the influx of large numbers of Service personnel.
· Bomb and ammunition storage facilities consisted of a series of concrete bays between soil blast mounds. In the case of RAF Dunholme Lodge, the bomb and ammunition storage facilities were located on the south side of the flying site.
· Underground bulk aviation fuel storage installations were constructed, with a total airfield capacity of 72000 imperial gallons (327318 litres).
Heavy Bomber Operations
On 10 May 1943, RAF Dunholme Lodge formally opened as a Sub-Station to RAF Scampton and, on 31 May, No 44 Squadron moved in with its Avro Lancaster aircraft from RAF Waddington. At this time, Bomber Command was engaged in the so-called ‘Battle of the Ruhr’, attacking targets in Germany’s primary industrial area of the Ruhr and Wupper Valleys in the west of the country. The region stretched some 40 miles (64 km) from east to west, and 25 miles (40 km) from north to south, encompassing approximately 1000 square miles (2590 sq km). This area contained 14 principal towns and was the most industrialized part of Germany, producing over 61% of the country’s wartime peak pig iron and steel output. On 11 June 1943, Lancasters of 44 Squadron took off to attack Düsseldorf on their first operation from RAF Dunholme Lodge. This city was Germany’s third largest inland port, was a major producer of armaments and also housed the administrative headquarters of nearly all of the heavy industries in the Ruhr region. Weather conditions over the city were good and Bomber Command aircraft dropped 2000 tons of bombs on the targets, causing considerable damage. Of the 655 aircraft that attacked the target, 38 failed to return; fortunately for 44 Squadron, none of their aircraft were lost that night.
During its time as a Bomber Command station, RAF Dunholme Lodge not only accommodated squadrons permanently based at the airfield, it also temporarily hosted Lancasters of No 49 Squadron from nearby RAF Fiskerton. The first period that these aircraft ‘lodged’ at Dunholme Lodge was in September 1943, while repairs were made to the runway surfaces at Fiskerton. The crews of 49 Squadron continued to live and prepare for operations at RAF Fiskerton but were taken by vehicle to Dunholme Lodge to fly the operations. In October 1943, their Lancasters returned to Fiskerton, leaving 44 Squadron again as the sole operational unit at Dunholme Lodge. However, Lancasters of 49 Squadron were to lodge again at Dunholme Lodge in February 1944 because of an accident at their home base. On the night of 20 February 1944, Lancaster ND498 of 49 Squadron began to swing off the runway at Fiskerton in the awful sleety conditions, and its undercarriage collapsed. It slid along the runway on its belly in a shower of sparks. The crew escaped unhurt but fire soon took hold and the bomb load (which included a high-capacity 4000lb bomb) exploded spectacularly; parts of the aircraft were later discovered over one mile away. The explosion so seriously damaged the runway that the Lancasters returning from Stuttgart had to be diverted to Dunholme Lodge. Here they remained until the Squadron’s next operation, which was to be against ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt on the night of 24/25 February 1944. Sixteen Lancasters of 49 Squadron departed Dunholme Lodge for Schweinfurt and all landed safely at Fiskerton on their return; unfortunately, No 44 Squadron lost one of the 17 Lancasters that it despatched from Dunholme Lodge on the same operation.
On 18/19 November 1943, Bomber Command began its assault on the Reich’s capital, in what became known as ‘The Battle of Berlin’. The city would be attacked repeatedly until March 1944. The winter weather alone was a brutal opponent but the bombers also faced increased threats from the German night fighter force, which was reorganizing itself and introducing improved radar sets and new tactics. Aside from the air and ground defences, which made the long approach flight particularly hazardous, the mix of woods, lakes and small towns around Berlin returned confusing signals to the radar displays in Bomber Command’s target-marking aircraft. Bombing was often scattered throughout Berlin and beyond, with some areas being repeatedly bombed and others escaping the onslaught. The wide roads and canals in Berlin also acted as firebreaks and prevented Berlin from suffering the same levels of destruction as had been inflicted on Hamburg in July 1943. Bomber Command simply did not possess the technical ability to concentrate a sufficient weight of bombs on Berlin to win the war for the Allies at this point. By March 1944, planning was already under way for the invasion of Europe and the Battle of Berlin petered out, with its final attack on the night of 24/25 March 1944. During the Battle of Berlin, 44 Squadron despatched 246 Lancasters on 20 raids, and lost 16 aircraft, with 103 members of aircrew killed and 11 captured.
In April 1944, after runway 10-28 had been extended, 619 Squadron arrived from RAF Coningsby. Now with two Lancaster squadrons, Dunholme Lodge’s operational tempo increased in preparation for the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On the morning of 6 June itself, both Squadrons launched 16 Lancasters to attack the coastal gun emplacements at La Pernelle on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy, which were perceived as a threat to the US landings on UTAH Beach; all aircraft returned safely to Dunholme Lodge. Over the following weeks, both Squadrons played their part in Bomber Command’s efforts to impede German mobility by attacking transport and other targets in the region.
In the early autumn of 1944, Bomber Command underwent a reorganization, which included transferring Dunholme Lodge from No 5 Group to No 1 Group. Both 44 and 619 Squadrons remained with No 5 Group and were transferred at the end of September 1944 to the airfields of Spilsby and Strubby respectively. On 22 October 1944, the newly formed 170 Squadron brought its Lancasters to Dunholme Lodge from RAF Kelstern.
Now the location of RAF Dunholme Lodge was proving to be a problem, as it lay very close to the operational bomber airfields of Scampton, Faldingworth, Wickenby and Fiskerton. The flying circuits around these airfields often overlapped, creating particularly hazardous conditions for their aircrew. In an effort to reduce circuit congestion, a shared circuit was set up between RAF Scampton and RAF Dunholme Lodge in autumn 1944. However, as this did not reduce congestion but merely increased aircraft waiting times at both airfields, a decision was made to close RAF Dunholme Lodge for operational flying. Consequently, 170 Squadron’s Lancasters departed for RAF Hemswell on 29 November 1944, bringing to an end the airfield’s association with RAF Bomber Command. During offensive operations from RAF Dunholme Lodge in 1943-1944, 120 Lancaster aircraft either failed to return or were destroyed in crashes.
Glider Modification Activities
Although operational flying now ceased at Dunholme Lodge, the airfield continued to play a role in the war effort. Shortly after 170 Squadron’s departure, the Ministry of Aircraft Production Glider Modification Detachment moved in to the airfield, staffed by 17 men from General Aircraft Ltd. This manufacturer had produced the giant Hamilcar glider, which was capable of carrying a Tetrarch light tank, and had been used operationally in the British airborne landings on D-Day. The Detachment was allocated two hangars and some workshops on the airfield, where it could work on modifications to Hamilcar gliders. One innovation tested at Dunholme Lodge was the Hamilcar X, a version fitted with two engines so that airborne forces could be carried over the longer distances required in the Pacific Theatre of operations. However, the need for such airborne operations ceased when the Japanese government surrendered in August 1945 following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Ministry of Aircraft Production Glider Modification Detachment left RAF Dunholme Lodge on 28 June 1945 and all flying at the Station ceased.
Polish Forces’ Resettlement Station
Soon afterwards, RAF Dunholme Lodge became a support station for members of the Polish Air Force in the RAF. On 25 July 1945, the RAF (Polish) Record Office moved into RAF Dunholme Lodge from Blackpool and stayed until late 1946, when it moved to Gloucester.
The immediate post-war period was particularly difficult for many of the Polish men and women who had escaped from Poland after the German invasion in 1939, and had eventually joined the British forces to help fight for the liberation of Europe. When the Soviet forces advanced towards Germany in 1944-45, they ensured that communist regimes were installed in the countries that they had liberated from German occupation, including Poland. Many of the Polish personnel in Britain did not want to return to a Poland that was under communist domination. However, in July 1945, the British Government formally recognized the communist-dominated Provisional Government of National Unity in Poland, and withdrew its recognition of the Polish Government in Exile in London. Although this action was in accordance with undertakings given at the Yalta Conference of February 1945, removal of official recognition of the exiled Polish Government in London also removed the official military status of the Polish forces in the UK and turned them into stateless mercenaries.
The British Government, in recognition of the debt it owed to the Polish men and women who had helped in the fight against Hitler, introduced legislation to provide assistance to those Poles who could not, or did not want to, return to their homeland. In May 1946, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the formation of the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC), which began recruiting in September 1946. About 160,000 Polish Servicemen and women were eligible to join, including approximately 110,000 veterans of the Middle East campaigns, 4,000 members of the Polish Navy, 12,000 members of the Polish Air Force, and 1,000 Polish women in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
Entry into the PRC was purely voluntary. Members signed up for two years’ service but, if they found civilian employment outside the PRC during that period, they were transferred to the Corps Reserve but could be recalled to the PRC if necessary, e.g. if they were found to be unsuitable for the civilian job they had taken. Membership of the Corps was not a pre-requisite for employment in the UK and some personnel found employment in the UK without ever having been a member of these organizations. The PRC basically acted as a safety net to provide gainful employment for Polish personnel preparing to re-join civilian society. While members of the Corps, Polish military personnel were accommodated in military camps, paid at the normal British Armed Forces rate for their rank, and were subject to British military discipline and military law. They were given tuition in English and either given training in trades or employed in useful projects, often on loan to private contractors, which it was hoped would increase their chances of gaining employment in civilian life. Dependants were also brought to the UK if possible.
In November 1946, the Polish Air Force in the UK was formally disbanded. Some personnel decided to return to Poland but large numbers joined the Polish Resettlement Corps RAF (Polski Lotniczy Korpus Przysposobienia i Rozmieszczenia), which had been formed specifically to support former Polish Air Force personnel. The Polish Air Force Command was reorganized into the Inspectorate General of the PRC RAF, and personnel were transferred to eight Stations, either to begin preparations for a return to Poland, or to undertake resettlement training. RAF Dunholme Lodge was one of these stations and was renamed ‘No 3 Polish Resettlement Corps (RAF) Station’ on 1 December 1946, and it would house No 3 Polish Resettlement Unit. On 3 December 1946, work began here on attesting Polish personnel into the PRC. In addition to the eight PRC Stations, the British government founded training schools for Polish personnel and provided higher education scholarships for many of the personnel.
In late 1948, No 3 Polish Resettlement Corps (RAF) Station was closed. However, the PRC RAF continued in existence until 1949, when it was officially disbanded. Of its approximately 11,000 members, fewer than 3,000 returned to Poland, 2,800 emigrated from the UK to other countries of residence, and 500 (mainly flying personnel) joined the RAF.
Although the former airfield at RAF Dunholme Lodge was no longer needed for flying, its runways and perimeter tracks were identified as a perfect place for holding motor racing events. The defunct airfield now began a new but short career as a racetrack. Advertised as ‘The Successor to Brooklands’ - referring to the famous motor racing circuit located at Brooklands in Surrey between 1907 and 1939 - a circuit of 3.7 miles was laid out for use by motorcycles and 500cc racing cars. The track was approximately 50 feet (15.2 m) wide, with 11 right-hand and 3 left-hand bends of varying angles. The flat airfield terrain made it difficult for competitors to judge the degree of turn required at each corner, and this made the races more challenging. Despite a lack of long, straight stretches in the circuit, high average speeds were possible. The British Motor Cycle Racing Club (BMCRC) organized the first race meeting in October 1947, when Ted Frend won the 100-mile race on a 500cc AJS Porcupine. The BMCRC’s second meeting was held on 9 October 1948. Three separate 100-mile motorcycle races were held for 250cc, 350cc and 1000cc classes, with 100 entries for the 350cc class alone. In addition to the motorcycle races, there was also an 8-lap event for 500cc cars, which was won by Stirling Moss, with an average speed of 78.56mph. However, this was to be the last racing event at Dunholme Lodge, as the BMCRC decided to hold its future race meetings at Silverstone in Northamptonshire: this was also a former airfield but was considered more suited to development as an international racing circuit because of its more central location.
Cold War Defence
Disappointingly, the end of the Second World War did not bring stable peace to the world: the global open conflict was replaced by the Cold War, in which hostile activities were undertaken by groupings of countries separated by differing political ideologies. Sometimes these activities included open warfare on a small-scale; on other occasions, they consisted of propaganda, subversion and espionage. Deep anxieties about future peace forced the British to retain military land and facilities that it might otherwise have disposed of, as a contingency for emergency military use if necessary. Such a perceived emergency arose during the late 1950s, as tensions between the Soviet Bloc and the Western Powers increased, and open warfare was assessed to be possible. At this time, the primary British nuclear deterrent was the ‘V-Force’ of Vulcan, Valiant and Victor strategic bombers of the RAF. Close to the former airfield at Dunholme Lodge were the airfields of RAF Scampton and RAF Waddington, both home to Vulcan squadrons of the V-Force. As there was a need to provide local defence for these critical bases against hostile air attack, part of the former RAF Dunholme Lodge airfield was re-activated on 1 April 1959 as a base for Bloodhound 1 air-defence missiles, operated by No 141 Squadron of RAF Fighter Command. Fortunately for the world, a gradual de-escalation of international tensions in the mid-1960s led the British government to perceive that there was no longer a need for such a level of armed readiness. Consequently, No 141 Squadron was disbanded on 31 March 1964, and RAF Dunholme Lodge was finally closed.
In late 1965, the airfield site was auctioned off as parcels of land, and these returned primarily to agricultural use, almost literally turning swords into ploughshares.