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RAF Syerston


Situated five miles south west of Newark, this was one of a series of additional bomber stations that were built under the second phase of the R.A.F “Expansion Scheme” that occurred in the latter half of the 1930s as a result of the happenings in Nazi Germany. Because time was running short as the Second World War approached the station finished up with a mixture of permanent buildings, married quarters etc., but its two main hangars were the more austere J types.

Being a late starter it was the 1st of December 1940 before the station opened under the control of No.1 Group of Bomber Command. During the following days Nos.304 and 305 Squadrons moved in with their Vickers Wellington bombers, both squadrons being manned by Polish airman who had managed to escape to England . These aircraft were new to them and it took until April to work up before engaging in their first night bombing mission to Rotterdam .

Many more night operations were performed before both of the Polish Squadrons departed to Lindholme on the 20th of July 1941 , to be replaced by No.408 Squadron who came in the opposite direction with its Hampdens. This squadron was manned by Canadians. They wasted no time in conducting bombing operations from Syerston but had to move to the satellite airfield at Balderton on the 8th of December 1941 to allow runways to be constructed.

Over the next five months three concrete runways were laid and two more T2 hangars were erected. During this time certain parts of the airfield were used for 'circuit and bumps' by Oxford training aircraft based at Newton .

On re-opening on the 5th of May 1942 the station became part of No.5 Group, with No.61 Squadron taking up residence. They had come here to convert onto the new Lancaster bomber and for the first few months were kept company by two other Conversion Flights belonging to other No.5 Group squadrons, who were also receiving their new Lancasters .

Mobirise

By August No.61 Squadron was ready for normal night bombing operations and in the following month were joined by No.106 Squadron similarly equipped with Lancasters and commanded by Guy Gibson. Regular bombing operations were thereafter performed two or three times a week, weather permitting. On one particular night in October a fully loaded Lancaster crash landed on the airfield and started to burn. The Station Commander was Gus Walker, who dashed into the blaze to try and rescue the crew but a bomb exploded and severed his arm. He lived to become an Air Chief Marshal in the 1960s, his disability never being allowed to interfere with his ability to pilot an aircraft one handed.

In early 1943, No.61 Squadron operated a flight of radial engined Lancaster Mk2s. It was a 61 Sqn pilot, Flt Lt Bill Reid, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for pressing on with his mission after his aircraft was severely damaged by enemy fighters, which caused injuries to himself and the loss of life of his navigator.

On the 17th of November 1943 the operational squadrons departed when the role of the station changed to bomber crew training. Initially No.1668 Heavy Conversion Unit was present engaged in training new bomber crews on Halifax and Lancasters, but due to the shortage of Lancasters it was retitled No.5 Lancaster Finishing School in January 1944. This was a stop gap measure where crews were trained on Stirlings or Halifaxes at other H.C.Us then came to Syerston for their final week to get used to operating with Lancasters .

From November to July 1944 there was also a Bombing and Gunnery Defence Training Flight in attendance with several Wellingtons , Spitfires, Hurricanes, plus a few Martinet tug aircraft, all employed in brushing up the skills of No.5 Groups air gunners on air to air exercises.

Mobirise

On the 1st of April 1945 the requirement for crew training was coming to a close so No.5 L.F.S disbanded, its place taken by No.49 Squadron who arrived from Fulbeck on the 22nd of April. With the war almost at an end only one bombing operation was performed before the squadron kicked its heels until transferring to Mepal on the 28th of September 1945 .

On the 25th of October 1945 the station became part of Transport Command when No.1333 Conversion Unit arrived from Leicester East with its Dakota and Halifax tugs plus Horsa gliders. However, the glider aspect was slowly running down, after which crews would be trained purely in the air transport aspect. In December 1946 the above unit transferred to North Luffenham but part of it stayed behind and formed into No.1331 Heavy Conversion Unit that was chiefly equipped with Dakotas although it also possessed a few Wellingtons . It remained here until disbanding on the 5th of January 1948 when its few remaining trainees transferred to Dishforth.

Syerston was taken over by Flying Training Command on the 1st of February 1948 when No.22 Flying Training School (FTS) arrived from Ouston. This school specialised in training pilots for the Fleet Air Arm and employed both Tiger Moths and Harvards. By 1950 Prentice aircraft had replaced the Tiger Moths but in November 1953 the new Percival Provost had replaced the other types. Take offs and landings were the main part of the syllabus and to help relieve the pressure on Syerston ciurcuit, first Tollerton, then Newton, and finally Wymswold, were used as Relief Landing Grounds over the period 1948 to 1970.

Mobirise

On the 1st of May 1955 the above school was retitled No.1 F.T.S, but to the outsider nothing had changed as it was still Provosts that were in use for the training of F.A.A student pilots. In early November 1957 this school left for a more acceptable airfield at Linton on Ouse but in its place came No.2 F.T.S on the 18th of the month, so yet again nothing changed other than the fact it was R.A.F and not F.A.A pilots that were under training.

In 1959 the new Jet Provost replaced the piston engined counterpart, and these continued to pound the circuit for another ten years until the requirement for new pilots decreased in 1969, which resulted in this F.T.S disbanding on the 16th of January 1970 .


For the next five years the station lay vacant and began to rapidly deteriorate, but in January 1975 the airfield aspect started to be used by the Central Gliding School and 644 VGS, both of which moving from Spitalgate. To this date Air Cadet Central Gliding School and 644 Volunteer Gliding Schools remain in operation. 643 VGS are temporarily based at Syerston due to changes in role of local air bases.