Historic Airfields

RAF Airfields WW2 Part 2

June 13, 2019

This is the second post in which we’ll tell you more about RAF airfields used in World War 2. This post is RAF Airfields WW2 Part 2 in which we’ll take a closer look at RAF Thorney Island, RAF Church Fenton, RAF Kinloss, RAF Valley, and RAF Finningley.

RAF Thorney Island

RAF Thorney Island is a former Royal Air Force base located just over seven miles east of the City of Portsmouth, Hampshire, on England’s southern coast.

When the RAF entered into the “Expansion Scheme” in 1935 because of events developing in  Germany, numerous permanent aerodromes were built in the U.K, one of which was on Thorney Island. It was intended primarily for housing Coastal Command squadrons defending our southern approaches and the English Channel.

The station was built during 1936/37 and a huge grass airfield was prepared with a brick built campsite and its six ‘C’ type concrete hangars located on the western side. Its official opening day was the 3rd of February 1938 when it became part of No.16 Group of Coastal Command.

The aircraft used by Coastal Command at Thorney Island started off with Ansons in 1939/40, Blenheims and Beauforts in 1940/41, Hudsons and Hampdens and Whitleys and Wellingtons in 1942/43, and the large Liberators in 1943.

The airfield had been provided with three concrete runways and encircling taxi track during early 1942, and the village of West Thorney had to be evacuated because it became isolated.

From the start of the Second World War to March 1944, the station served chiefly as a base for Coastal Command squadrons engaged in anti-submarine and anti-shipping duties.

After the war years, the station passed through coastal command, fighter command housing some of the early jets, and later to Training Command. After lying unused for some years, it is now home to a British Army artillery unit.

RAF Church Fenton

RAF Church Fenton is situated in the county of Yorkshire, 4 miles SE of Tadcaster and 20 miles east of the City of Leeds. The station opened in 1937 as a fighter airfield and flew a variety of aircraft, including the Hornet.

During WW2, the airfield housed several squadrons and types of aircraft types, such as Hurricanes, Spitfires, Mosquitoes, Beaufighters, Typhoons, Blenheims, and Mustangs. At the beginning of WW2, Church Fenton was home to both offensive and defensive squadrons and due to its remote location, far away from London and surroundings, it played a limited part in the Battle of Britain. See also this review of North Weald Airfield Museum.

Church Fenton’s main task was, as part of a network of defending fighter airfields, to protect the important industrial cities in northern England from German bombers attacks. The airfield was fitted with concrete runways by late 1939.

When airborne radar was developed, which made nightly intercepts more successfully, there also was an increased need for specialized aircrew so in August 1940 Church Fenton was handed over to RAF 12 Group. Now, the role of Church Fenton changed being a training center for night-fighter aircrew. The 54 OTU (actually the first Operation Training Unit for night-fighters) was established at Church Fenton and this Unit stayed here until May 1942 when it was relocated to RAF Charter Hall. During the 1960s, the station transferred to training duties and had a long association with the Jet Provost until the Tucano came along.

RAF Kinloss

RAF Kinloss opened on1st April 1939 as a flying training school and has seen continuous service ever since. Situated in the county of Morayshire, just 9 miles west of Elgin, and a few miles to the East of Inverness, the station has become more known for its operations within Coastal Command, and its maritime duties with Shackleton aircraft and more recently, the Nimrod.

Currently, there are some 800 service personnel of the 39 Engineer Regiment.stationed at Kinloss and the military has chosen Kinloss as the best option to temporarily move RAF Lossiemouth operations due to the fact that personnel doesn’t need to be relocated and from here, the technical facilities at Lossiemouth can still be used.

Over the past years, the Kinloss military base staved off several threats to its existence. In 2010, over 10,000 people took part in a huge campaign when both bases in Moray were facing the ax and the bases play such a crucial and vital role within the communities.

Initially, it was feared that Kinloss would be gone completely as no future occupants were identified. Sometime later, however, the UK’s Ministry of Defence stated that the 39 Engineer Regiment was to Kinloss the base to be known as “Kinloss Barracks”.

The RAF continued to carry out test flights at Kinloss with Tornado aircraft because the runway at the airfield must be kept up-to-date for emergency landings. When the aircraft was leaving RAF Lossiemouth, however, last year, it was deemed that the Kinloss runway needed quite some attention as well.

RAF Valley

RAF Valley is a station of the Royal Air Force on the island of Anglesey, Northwest Wales. The airfield is also in use Anglesey Airport. Valley is a fast-jet training center for BAE Systems Hawk aircraft and for aircrew operating search and rescue missions.

Valley first opened in 1941 as a fighter base. It was also a vital staging post for USAAF flights
during WW2. After the war, Valley lay disused until 1951 when it then started operations under training command. Valley has remained in this role ever since and has flown various types such as Vampires, Gnats, Hunters, and now Hawks.

Since its opening in February 1941, RAF Valley has seen quite a number of different aircraft in quite a number of roles. During WW2, Valley operated mainly as a station for fighter aircraft defend the greater Merseyside region including the Irish Sea from hostile sea, land, and air activities In 1943, RAF Valley became an important station for USAAF aircraft that flew in from the U.S. to help with the war efforts.

After the hostilities had come to an end, RAF Valley a flying training center for both the RAF and the Royal Navy. Today, Valley is home to No. 4 Flying Training School and operates BAE Hawk TMk2 aircraft. This highly advanced jet training aircraft comes with ultra-modern avionics and cockpit design that’s ideal for pilots working to move on to front line combat aircraft like the F-35 or the Typhoon. RAF Valley’s Flying Training School and is responsible for educating and training the next generation of top-notch fighter pilots in the UK. RAF Valley additionally trains aircrew for maritime and mountain operations across the world.

RAF Finningley

RAF Finningley is situated in the county of South Yorkshire, close to the City of Doncaster. The station was first planned during the expansion period of the Royal Air Force in the mid-1930s. The main airfield buildings consist of 5 C type hangars.

Finningley spent most of its service life as a bomber base flying most types from Handley Page Heyfords to Avro Vulcans, until May 1970, when it was transferred from Strike command to Training Command, and equipped with Vickers Varsities.

RAF Finningley was set up in 1936 and the first aircraft that landed on the airfield were 3 Vickers Vimy planes, heavy bomber aircraft developed during the last stages of WW1 for Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. During WW2 and the days of the Cold War, Finningley was known as Britain’s bomber front line command base. The station was was also a center for pilot and aircrew training.

Probably, the aircraft that’s most memorable flying from RAF Finningley was the Vulcan bomber. The Vulcans bomber was also referred to as the “Tin Triangle” because of the plane’s imposing and massive delta wing shape.

During January 1976, the Whirlwind HAR Mk10 helicopters flight of 22 Sqn arrived from Thorney Island to be joined in September by the Headquarters Flight of 202 Sqn from Coltishall. Together these two formed the HQ of the UK Search and Rescue Wing part of No. 18 Group.

After nearly 25 years in the training of navigators, the faithful Varsities were retired in April 1976 and replaced by the Dominie. The Dominies were later joined by the Scottish Aviation Jetstream 31s in the role of multi-engine pilot training and air engineer training. In the 1990s, Finningley was closed and later was developed into Robin Hood/Doncaster International airport. See also Part One of our series RAF WW2 Airfields and in a few weeks, part three and four will be published!