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A Brief History of the RAF Station at Wymeswold, 1942–78
Wymeswold RAF Station officially opened on 16 May 1942 as a new operational training unit (28OTU), which was part of 93 Group, RAF – although it had been in use since 14 April 1942. The advance party arrived at Castle Donington on 22 May 1942, which was by then selected as a satellite airfield. Initial aircraft for the Group were Vickers Wellingtons MK1C with Westland Lysanders and Miles Martinents under No.7 Group Bomber Command.
The training task continued until mid-October 1944, by which time many hundreds of aircrews had been trained; including Squadron Leader David Penman who was awarded the DSO for his part in the magnificent low-level raid on Augsburg. The senior pupils from the unit represented Wymeswold in the historic 'Thousand Bomber' raids. No. 1521 (Blind Approach training) Flight and its Oxfords was additionally resident in 194344.
In 1944, with the return of the Allied Forces to Europe, the need for bomber crews decreased, but a greater need for transport aircraft evolved, to serve overseas stations. On 15th October 1944, the station was handed over to 44 Group Transport Command when the job became one of training highly qualified bomber crews for the less hazardous, but equally exacting task, of transports.
Instead of the sight of the Wellingtons and Lancasters, Stirlings and Halifaxes, the Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota arrived with a new resident unit, 108 OTU. The 'Dak' found itself flying down the trunk routes opened through the liberated areas of Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. No.108 OTU disbanded in August 1945, and was re-named No. 1382 (Transport Support) Conversation Unit, which remained at Wymeswold, by now in 4 Group, until transferred to North Luffenham in December 1947.
On 3rd May 1949, the station was again transferred, this time to No.12 Group, Fighter Command, becoming the home of No.504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force which had moved in from Hucknall the previous month with its Spitfires. The unit became the third Auxiliary Squadron to receive the Gloster Meteor. It re-equipped with F.Mk.4 aircraft in March 1950, exchanging these for the higher-powered F.Mk.8 just two years later. At the same time, the airfield was host to an unusual civilian aircraft, the Burgoyne-Stirling Dicer which wore the unofficial registration G-AECN, more properly belonging to a defunct Pou de Ciel. The Dicer was kept in a hangar on the airfield until moved to Burton on the Wolds in 1950.
In July 1954, 1969 (Air Observation Post) Flight, a part of No.664 Squadron arrived with Auster AOP.6 and T.7 aircraft from its previous base at Desford. The flight remained at Wymeswold until disbanded on 10th March 1956.
The airfield took up another role in August 1955 with the arrival of No.56 (Phoenix) Squadron from Waterbeach. Following an unsuccessful year with the Swift F.Mk.1 and F.Mk.2, the squadron re-equipped with the Hunter G.Mk.5 in May 1955, and retired to Wymeswold to work-up to operational standard on its new mounts. With the Hunter firmly established, No.56 Squadron returned home to be replaced by No.257 and No.263 Squadrons, who were in the process of converting from the Hunter F.Mk.2 to the F.Mk.5, and in need of a temporary base while the runways at their Wittisham base were being resurfaced.
Air displays in the 1950s saw many types of aircraft – among them No.92 Squadron Sabres; Chipmunks of Nottingham University Air Squadron; No.211 AFS (later re-named 4FTS) Meteors; Dart Kitten G-AMJP of the Grimsby Flying School; United States Air Force F-84s and B.45s and the Royal Canadian Air Force Bristol Freighters.
The increasing cost of maintaining jet aircraft was responsible for the disbandment of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in 1957, and after almost three decades of service, No.504 Squadron disbanded on 12th February. After this the airfield continued for a time as a satellite station for RAF Syerston (from where in 1946, 504 Squadron had flown Mosquito aircraft). Syerston's aircraft were Hunting Provost trainers, later replaced by the Jet Provost and operated by the resident 2 Flying Training School. In the late '50s and early '60, these could be seen carrying out touch and goes (or '?circuits and bumps') as part of the training procedure for fledgling pilots.
Runway resurfacing work at the nearby airfield at Hucknall resulted in Wymeswold being host to part of the Rolls Royce aircraft test-bed fleet between January 1955 and February 1956. Particularly significant among the Hunter F.1s and Canberras on Avon development flying were two Avro Ashtons – the first (WE670) had been modified with spray gear for icing trials by Napiers at Luton, made its first flight from Hucknall with an Avon RA14 under its belly, and duly landed at Wymeswold, from, where it was operated until February 1956. The 'Conway' Ashton (WB491), which had also been kitted out at Napiers, arrived in November 1955.
In the late '50s, Field Aircraft Services obtained a number of overhaul contracts that were soon to bring a wide variety of exotically marked aircraft to Wymeswold. There began the overhaul of large numbers of European-based RCAF Sabres and T-33ANs (also the odd CF-100 Mk4.B Canuck) between early 1958 and late 1962. Another, brought a number of USAF and USN SC-54D Searchmasters and R5D-1s to be worked on in the lone 'black' hangar in the middle of the airfield. They were supplemented by numerous diverse civil contracts, involving Viking, C-47, Prince, President, Viscount, DC-4, DC-6, DC-7 and Marathon aircraft, as well as a lone Hudson CF-CRJ, which seemed to linger between March 1963 and May 1964.
A decision by Field Aircraft Services to move their operation to the newly constructed regional 'East Midlands Airport' at Castle Donington was to prove the beginning of the end for Wymeswold as an active airfield, and by the end of April 1969, only three aircraft remained; a DC-3 (G-AMYJ), a 'Conair' DC-7 (OY-DFR) and a 'Bahamas Air' Viscount (VP-BCD), of which the latter had been in evidence since early 1967.
Use of the airfield by 2 FTS was also wound up and, apart from a noisy three day field deployment exercise by six 1 Squadron Harriers from Wittering on 18-20 May 1970, the airfield has been very quiet ever since – punctuated only occasionally by the odd visiting executive aeroplane or agricultural aircraft, for example, the Cessna A.188B Agwagon G-AZYC of Mindacre, Norwich on 20th February 1976.
In the early seventies, rumours circulated regarding the possible use of the airfield as an Army depot/airfield, but these did not materialise and it has been left to a small number of companies, including 'Brush' to keep the site alive.
The outbuildings of the former RAF station formed a complex known locally as the 'Cliff' on the Melton Mowbray side of Burton on the Wolds. Although a number of the buildings had been demolished, some remained intact; the former bomb trainer, a two-storey building used to train bomb aimers remained in use as a boiler house, the old gun crew establishment was shared between Petters Limited and Brush Fusegear Ltd., who used it as a press shop.
One of the five officer and crew rooms was used as Brush Fusegear's engineering department and one of the five rest and locker rooms used as the works canteen. The building used for turret instruction on heavy bombers was also utilised by a commercial firm. Some buildings were demolished to make room for new development, the most important were two link trainers, also the former guardroom, the officers' car shed and the former W/T Centre.
In recent years the airfield has been expanded to form a large industrial complex, housing many and varied companies, although the main area of the former wartime runway still remains largely intact. The former control tower still remains visible.
Originally published in Brush Aircraft: Production in Loughborough by Tony Jarrom (Midland Counties 1978).
Text copyright Tony Jarrom. Photographs copyright Bob Trubshaw.