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Drive through Breighton village and you can't help but notice some pretty old looking buildings scattered around. These are what remains of RAF Breighton's technical site, part of the bomber base that was situated on this very spot during the Second World War. To the north of our main grass runway (runway 11/29) you can still see an original 'T2' specification hangar (pictured left - the same hangar is visible top centre of the picture above). This was once used to accomodate the big Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster bombers whilst the engineers and fitters repaired and serviced them. There were originally three of these huge buildings at Breighton but only one now remains and that is used for storage rather than fixing aeroplanes. Take a flight over our airfield and you will still see the original runways as well as some of the post war infrastructure which was built to house Britain's then nuclear deterrent.

Construction work began on the original air base back in 1941 and it was officially opened in January 1942 as part of No. 1 Group, Bomber Command. The first occupants were an Australian Bomber Squadron, Number 460 Sqd RAAF, flying Vickers Wellington bombers. Later that year, they re-equipped with the mighty Avro Lancaster and its pre-cursor, the Avro Manchester. The Squadron fought bravely and with distinction from Breighton until May 1943 when they moved south to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire. We often receive Australian visitors who either flew from, or have connections with, 460 Squadron RAAF.

460 Squadron Memories

Every now and then we are very fortunate to meet former RAF Breighton personnel retracing their wartime haunts at Breighton and the surrounding area. Two gentlemen who we were very pleased to have as guests of honour at out last Summer Bash were former 460 Squadron members Cal Younger and Peter Gibby. Peter kindly put us in contact with a former colleague of their's, Frank 'Johnnie' Walker, who had been fortunate enough to have had access to a camera. Frank has very kindly sent a few of those pictures to us and they make fascinating viewing.

(BELOW) The view from the Horsa glider in which Frank was taken to RAF Binbrook when the Squadron relocated. The 'tug' is an Albemarle which is being flown with 15 degrees of flap (just about evident in the photo).

(ABOVE) Another view from the Horsa - looking at the port wing note the tow rope, this was a 'Y' shaped tow rope which fastened onto brackets situated on each wing.

(BELOW) A Vickers Wellington, also known as a 'Wimpy' - Frank: 'Instrument bashers' Eric Mugeridge in cockpit and Jim Petersen outside. Jim volunteered for aircrew and became a gunner, lucky blighter survived the war and was last known living in Brisbane.

(BOTTOM) A bent 'Wimpy' - partial undercarriage collapse.

(BELOW) Halifax Bomber - 'before'.

(ABOVE) And 'after' - 460 used the Halifax for 4-engine training and sights such as these were not uncommon. Frank commented that the Squadron were relieved to get rid of the Halifax and pleased to receive the Lancaster.

(ABOVE) The entire Squadron lined-up with one of their Lancaster's - March 1943. Frank is second in from beneath the tip of the starboard outer wing.

Thanks to Frank for the brilliant pictures.

(ABOVE) Preserved Lancaster bomber similar to that which once flew from RAF Breighton. PA474 is preserved by the RAF and operated as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). The Lancaster, accompanied by a Spitfire and a Hurricane, visited Breighton in 2004 which is when this picture was taken.

Vickers Wellington IV Z 1394

Vickers Wellington IV Z 1394 of 460 Sqn RAAF took off from RAF Breighton at 2326 hours on 2nd June 1942 detailed to carry out a raid on Essen, Germany. Bomb load 720 x 4lb incendiaries. Ten aircraft of the squadron participated in the raid. Nothing was heard from Z 1394 after take off and it did not return to base. It is believed that the aircraft crashed while making its low level exit from enemy territory on the return leg.

RAAF 402742 FO Keene, J W Captain (Pilot)
RAAF 400894 Flt Sgt Waldon, R F (Observer)
RAF Sgt Kendall, W (Wireless Operator Air Gunner)
RAAF 404471 Sgt Butterworth, D (Front Gunner)
RAAF 407282 Flt Sgt Biglands, R J (Rear Gunner)

Stuart Waldon (nephew of Flt Sgt R F Waldon): William Kendall took the place of Flt Sgt Graham Berry who was ill that night. The aircraft crashed into the sea just off the Dutch coast. Jack Keene, Doug Butterworth and Ron Waldon were able to escape from the aircraft, but only Doug survived. The 3 crew became separated over the next few hours and Doug was rescued by a German launch. John, Ron and later William's bodies were found washed up on a beach and are buried at Vlissengen in Holland. Doug became a prisoner of war and subsequently took part in the "Long March to Freedom" which has been the subject of a recent documentary detailed the forced march of the prisoners from Poland across Germany in the winter of 1945 as the Russians advanced. Finally they were freed when the came across the advancing allied forces from the west and he returned to Queensland at the end of the war. Graham Berry joined another crew and later in 1942 converted from the Wellington to the Lancaster. In November 1942 he was in the first 460 Lancaster crew shot down over Germany and he also became a PoW. Like Doug he returned to Adelaide at the end of the war."

Postscript: Doug Butterworth sadly passed away on Monday 21 June 2010.

Thanks to Stuart Waldon. Stuart commissioned the illustration at the top of this item - the crew depicted are, L-R: Berry, Butterworth, Biglands, Waldon & Keene. Stuart has kindly provided photos, we'll add these to our history section in due course.

78 Squadron RAF

In June 1943 the airfield was transferred to 4 Group Bomber Command and became home to No 78 Squadron RAF equipped with Handley Page Halifax Bombers. Operations began almost immediately, the Squadron taking part in many of the major bombing raids including the attack on the top secret rocket base at Peenemünder. The Squadron also bombed gun emplacements on the French coast in support of the Allied landings on the eve of D-day in June 1944.

The remarkable picture at the top of this page was sent to us by Rod Coates. It was taken by his father, F/Sgt. Wilbur Lawrence Coates, a gunner with 78 Squadron, from 10,000 feet aboard a Handley Page Halifax bomber. The clarity of the photograph is truly amazing, clearly showing the unusual runway pattern with its common intersection, 'frying pan' dispersal's with a number of aircraft in situ, the bomb dump and three T2 hangars.

F/Sgt. Wilbur Lawrence Coates enlisted with the RCAF on December 15th 1942 and completed his operational tour of 34 sorties with 78 Squadron on January 2nd 1945. Most of those sorties were flown in Halifax MK III, MZ415, "S" for Sugar with Pilot F/Lt. William Rodney. F/Sgt. W.L. Coates stands on the left of the crew picture (BELOW) with pilot, W. Rodney, in the center, taken at Breighton aerodrome beside "S" for Sugar.

It was early June 1944, 78 Squadron flew numerous operations in support of the Allied D-Day assault, including gun emplacements at Le Harvre. On the 7th June, Flying Officer William Rodney's crew, including F/Sgt. Wilbur Lawrence Coates, climbed aboard 'S for Sugar' at RAF Breighton, for what would turn out to be their most dramatic and tragic mission of the war. At 22.55 hours their engines burst into life and they set on their way to occupied France. Flak was heavy over the target and the Squadron lost three aircraft, however, it was not flak that was to cripple 'S for Sugar'. A Messerschmitt BF110 Night Fighter had shadowed the bomber stream under cover of darkness, unleashing its cannon and .303 machine guns into the lumbering bomber, fatally injuring the Navigator and seriously wounding Bomb Aimer F/O Harold Frederick Grimble. Almost immediately 'S for Sugar' was caught in 'enemy' searchlights and subjected to a considerable barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it called for drastic evasive action, F/O Rodney took the Halifax down to tree top height. The manoeuvre worked but hydraulic failure meant that they had to fly from Paris to the coast with undercarriage lowered and bomb doors open, making any progress very difficult. Despite his injuries, Grimble insisted on helping his captain ease the stricken bomber back to England, whereupon they crash landed at RAF West Malling, Kent. 'S for Sugar' burst into flames and was destroyed.

F/O William Rodney and F/O Harold Frederick Grimble were both awarded DFC's for returning the bomber and crew to England, which in turn means that we have this first hand account of a mission flown from RAF Breighton, courtesy of F/Sgt Wilbur Lawrence Coates, mid-upper gunner on that fateful night. Thanks to Rod Coates.

Canadian Bill Robertson has provided this photograph of his father's, Leo P. Robertson's, crew. On the back of this photograph, the men are identified (from left to right in L.P. Robertson's handwriting) as: "Scotty" John Moses, Tom Parsons, Taffy Mayers, P/O B.L.Leader, F/LT Ken Moore, "Nick" Norman Nicholl and F/O Leo P. Robertson J39367.

The picture is captioned 1944 - 78 Squadron R.A.F. Breighton, Yorkshire, England. The road down which the men are walking looks almost identical to the old airfield access road (minus the pot-holes!).

Leo Petrie Robertson enlisted in 1942 as Aircraftsman (2) trade aircrew before a change of trade to Navigator. He was promoted to temporary Flying Officer 10 June 1944. Served Overseas in European Theatre of War from 30 March 1944 to 14 May 1945. Performed 26 Operational Tours. Total Overseas Flying Time 329:30. Specialty: Bomber Types of Aircraft: Anson, Whitley, Halifax III, Halifax VI. Last Bomber Squadron: Number 78. Discharge from Active Service: 8 September 1945. Transferred to RCAF Supplementary Reserve. Released RCAF Supplementary Reserve 1 June 1957. Decoration /Awards/Medals 1939-1945 Star France and Germany Star Defense Medal General Service Medal Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp. Many thanks to Bill Robertson.

Breighton Revisited

Imagine our delight when Beverley Parsons, the daughter of Tom Parsons (second from the left in the picture above) emailed to ask if she could bring her father back to the airfield for a look around!

Happily this took place on September 5th, Beverley writes: "Dad enjoyed the weekend very much. We came to the airfield on the Saturday morning in wonderful sunshine and met a very nice gentleman in the crew room who made us most welcome. Dad had a look around the hangar and the planes within and he was pleased that so much of the base was still recognisable.

We believe that the picture on your website was taken on the road that would have been the main entrance to the base, signposted Breighton Airfield, we drove there but couldn't get close to the actual buildings in the background of the original picture as workmen were moving industrial pipes with a crane, but we took the attached picture of Dad and my sister, Carol, there.

"We also visited the church in Bubwith to see the 78 Squadron Memorial, and then drove into Wressle to the rail station where the flight crews used to walk into to get the train home when on leave - Dad tells us it is largely unchanged, but sadly the often used 'Railway Arms Pub' opposite is now gone.

"It really was a memorable, and moving, day for Dad - all his wartime memories came flooding back as if it were yesterday."

With many thanks to Beverley Parsons.

As the war came to a close, 78 Squadron had dropped approximately 17,000 tons of bombs and destroyed 31 enemy aircraft. They lost 182 aircraft during the 6,017 bombing and 320 mine laying sorties flown, there is a memorial dedicated to the Squadron in the graveyard just down the road at Bubwith.

A comprehensive record of all RAF Breighton's wartime losses, from both 460 Squadron RAAF and 78 Squadron RAF, is on display in the Real Aeroplane Club crewroom.

Cold War Breighton

In 1959 RAF Breighton became a Thor Intercontinental Missile Base with the formation of 240 Squadron. Assigned to defend and protect these weapons was 112 Squadron armed with 32 Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles. Breighton was one of a cluster of sites in Yorkshire to house this most deadly nuclear deterrent, the others being RAF Driffield, RAF Carnaby, RAF Catfoss and RAF Full Sutton.

Alan Kershaw (ex-Chief Technician, RAF) remembers his days at Breighton with 112 Squadron:

"I was a member of 112 (SAM) Sqn from about 1961 until it closed and to prove it here's a Sqn photo taken around 1962-3. I'm 11th from the right on the back row. If you look carefully you'll see the Bloodhounds behind us (chef on left)."

"The local people were very interested in what we were up to and it didn't take them long to work out which of our Bloodhounds had nuclear warheads... they reckoned that they were the ones with the scarlet nosecones! We didn't disillusion them - we weren't allowed to talk about it. In fact the scarlet nosecones (which we called 'Noddy Caps') were simply electromagnetic radiation covers that we used to protect the electronics when the missiles were disconnected from the electronic protection circuits during removal, transportation and reloading!

We were billetted some at RAF Church Fenton (mostly singlies) and at the RAF Married Quarters at Acomb, in the Ainsty of York. The only time we ever stayed overnight at Breighton was when there was a flap on and then a crew slept there ready to launch if necessary - but it never happened.

We never had any contact with the Sqn next door although our task was to defend them. They were Bomber Command and we were Fighter and anyway, their missiles were American, ours were British! The runways were never used by planes, only as a road from one end of the Sqn to the other.

It was an interesting time and we were sorry when we had to disband when the Thors returned to USA.
112 Sqn reformed later (with Bloodhound Mk IIs) at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire and went on to Episcopi in Cyprus, where the Sqn finally disbanded in 1975".

(Above) Mk 1 Bloodhound missiles similar to those based at Breighton.

(Left) Thor ICBM's.

(Both pictures via Alan Kershaw)

Thanks to Alan Kershaw for this rare insight into RAF Breighton's past. Alan hopes to document his experiences in the RAF and inparticular, the SAM missile units of the 'sixties.

Once vacated by the RAF the airfield was returned to agriculture. Some of the airfield buildings were utilised as industrial units, many timber storage sheds were built on the old runways and a council tip was established on the site. A small corner of the airfield was used by a crop dusting firm and in 1989, the Real Aeroplane Company moved in and so began the regeneration of the airfield that we know today.

© The Real Aeroplane Company, The Aerodrome, Breighton, SELBY YO8 6DS • Tel: 01757 289065

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