Binbrook Airfield History

RAF Binbrook Airfield
(Map edited to show the airfield and runways between 1940-45)
RAF Binbrook Crest
© Crown Copyright/MOD 2010
Airfield Code: EGXB/GSYGoogle Earth Co-ordinates:
53°26'46.56"N 0°12'35.74"W
09/27 & 15/33 4200ft x 150 ft & 04/22 6000ft x 150 ft
Station History

The first known aircraft to land at what was to become RAF Binbrook, landed in 1918 in Orford Field. It wasn't for another 19 years that another aircraft would land here, in 1937. Built on Ash Hill on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Binbrook was one of the last airfields built as part of the pre-war expansion scheme. Work began in spring 1938 on the airfield, and before completion, the base had been allocated to 1 Group Bomber Command who had recently been reformed in June 1940. Five C-Type hangers were constructed facing the bombing circle and backed by the administration, technical and barrack blocks. The airfield was not fully complete when it was formally opened in June 1940 and received its first residents.


Nos.12 & 142 Squadrons were to be the first residents at the airfield, arriving on 3rd July 1940, bringing with them their Fairey Battle’s. Both Squadrons were bombed up and placed on standby almost at once due to the war with Germany. But due to the airfield not being fully completed, both Squadrons were moved out the following month. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise due to the airfield being bombed and the NAFFI strafed the same month. September 1940 brought the return of both Nos.12 and 142 Squadrons back to the barely completed airfield.

Although built on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the station actually lays in a natural saucer, and even after the extremely warm summer of 1940, the runways became unstable after only a small amount of rain. The problems were only increased with their haste to finish the airfield, and the winter of 1940 caused major problems with the landing area continually being waterlogged thanks to the rain and snow. The condition became so bad at the airfield, that in March 1941, a Wellington bomber sank several feet in to the mud.

During late 1941, Binbrook took over the control of the new aerodrome at Grimsby, and subsequently sent two flights from No.142 Sqn to the airfield. But by November the same year, No.142 Sqn was flying its operational flights from Grimsby, due to Grimsby having paved runways which could cope with heavily laden bombers in almost any conditions.

Also during 1941, No.12 Sqn became the first Wellington squadron to drop the 4000lb blast bomb, known as a “cookie”, during an attack on Hamburg. A total of six aircraft were modified to carry the bomb, and it is said that the bomb aimer would actually sit on the bomb during take-off. Due to the success of the “cookie” it wasn’t long before it became a standard payload for all heavy bombers in most of Bomber Command’s aircraft, if they were doing area attacks on German cities. The squadron also had the honour of testing another new weapon, the “Razzle”. Although this weapon proved to be less successful than the “cookie”, and was not added to the standard payload of any aircraft.

Royal Visit 27th May 1943
© AC/W Humphrey - Royal Visit 27th May 1943

The 30th May 1942, saw the first mass operation during WWII, by Bomber Command containing over 1000 aircraft. Of the 1000 aircraft that took to the skies, 31 of these came from two squadrons at Binbrook, No.142 Sqn and 1481 (Bomber) Gunnery Flight.

September 1942 saw the temporary closure of the airfield for the installation of hard runways. In order to get the required lengths, it was found that some parts of the airfield boundaries needed to be extended. This resulted in the main runway sloping towards the valley at the 27 end. In addition to the runway, a new perimeter track was also laid including nineteen loop hard standings, to add to the already existing eighteen pan areas. During this period of closure the RAF base at Binbrook was actually formed (25th March 1943), although the runways were still not completed. Bad weather delayed the returning units to the airfield, but by the end of May 1943, all had returned. During the same month, the airfield also hosted a visit by both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the 27th May.

May 1943, also saw the arrival of the airfields first foreign contingent, No.460 Sqn Royal Australian Air Force, bringing with them the Avro Lancaster. No.460 Sqn remained the only operational unit at the airfield for the rest of WWII. During this time they were credited with having delivered the highest bomb tonnage of any squadron within Bomber Command, a total of 24,000 imperial tons. In their move to Binbrook, all the ground crew were given the option to relocate by either train or Horsa Glider. Amazingly 868 ground personnel took the option of the Glider.

The squadron was to lose more than 800 aircrew over the following two years, which gave them the highest casualty rate in Bomber Command.

No.460 Sqn December 1944
© Australian War Memorial - No.460 Sqn December 1944

Later that year on 3rd July 1943, a major incident was to take place at the station when incendiary bombs on a No.12 Sqn Lancaster were accidently released and ignited. Despite the swift action of the ground crew, the aircraft and the one next to it were totally destroyed beyond repair, along with causing damage the seven others. But despite this major accident, operations soon followed on the same day, with seventeen aircraft leaving on operational sorties.

The 18th April 1944, saw further Lancasters arrive at the airfield with the formation of 1 Group Special Duties Flight, although their stay was short lived, and they were disbanded only 4 months later on the 11th August.

No.460 Sqn were to take part in the final raid of WWII, when they were tasked with taking part in the daylight attack on Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s Bavarian headquarters. A total of 359 aircraft were to take part in the attack, with only two Lincolnshire based Lancasters destroyed. One of these was flown by P/O Payne of No.460 Sqn, and both he and the other six members of his crew were to be the last casualties in what had been a long and very costly war for the station.

Post War

By mid 1945, with the war drawing to a close, it was all change at Binbrook, with No.460 Sqn departing to help form part of the “Tiger Force” at RAF East Kirkby. In return the airfield received No.12 Sqn on the 24th September and No.101 Sqn in the October. The following year would also see more arrivals with both Nos.9 and 617 Sqn’s moving in on their return from India. During this time both Nos.9 and 12 Sqn’s re-equipped with the Avro Lincoln after previously flying the Avro Lancaster.

Lightning F.6 XS932
© Terry Senior - Lightning F.6 XS932

It wasn’t until the 25th May 1951 that the airfield would see any major change. The arrival of English Electric Canberra WD936 (the RAF’s first Canberra) at Binbrook signalled the jet age arriving at the station. WD936 was assigned to No.101 Sqn, and by the end of the same year, the entire squadron had completed it’s conversion to the type. With this, No.101 Sqn became the first bomber squadron to be equipped with the type in the RAF. January 1952 saw No.617 Sqn starting conversion from the Lancaster to the Canberra, closely followed by No.12 Sqn in March and No.9 Sqn in May. Plus with the re-formation of No.50 Sqn at the station in August the same year and also being equipped with the Canberra, the jet age had well and truly arrived at the airfield. But by the end of December 1959, No’s 9, 12, 101, 139 and 617 Sqn’s had all either disbanded or moved on and the airfield was placed on Care and Maintenance, but only for temporary period.

April 1960 saw the re-opening of the airfield with an extended main runway (500 yards), but this time under Fighter Command, and by June the same year No.64 Sqn had taken up residence, bringing with them the Gloster Javelin. They were soon followed by the Air Fighting Development Squadron in October. The AFDS was tasked with the development of fighter techniques and evaluating/advising on new fighter aircraft. In this role, the AFDS played a major part in the development of the aircraft best associated with the station, the English Electric Lightning. Culminating in a trial to determine the effectiveness of a modern day supersonic jet fighter (Lightning) and a piston-engine fighter (Spitfire) in 1963.

By 1963 the jet age was in full swing at the station with No.85 Sqn taking up residence in May. The squadron had the privilege of being the first squadron in Fighter Command to operate the Canberra before moving to Binbrook. A few years later saw No.5 Sqn re-formed at the station in October 1965. The arrival of the squadron signalled the beginning of a new era at Binbrook with the first English Electric Lightnings arriving at the station. The arrival of the first Lightnings brought about further changes, with the CFE being disbanded in February 1966 and the AFDS being re-named the Fighter Command Trials Unit. The FCTU operated a number of Lightning F.1’s in their role of providing high speed target facilities for No.5 Sqn. The unit’s life was short, and in June 1967, they were disbanded, but only to be immediately re-formed as the Binbrook Target Facilities Flight.

Lightning F.3 XP764
© Richard Hall - Lightning F.3 XP764

By now the Gloster Meteors of No.85 were slowly being phased out, and by 1970 the Meteor flight had been disbanded. This signalled the end for No.85 Sqn and on 28th January 1972, the squadron finally left the airfield. The gap left by No.85 Sqn was soon filled, and in the March No.11 Sqn arrived bringing with them even more Lightnings.

But by 1973 the days of the Lightning were numbered with the arrival of the SEPECAT Jaguar being brought in to service in the ground attack role. The arrival of the Jaguar meant that the McDonnell Douglas Phantoms would be moved in to the air defence role, taking over from the Lightnings. Despite the ageing Lightning slowly being phased, a new pilot training unit was formed at the station in October 1974, the Lightning Training Flight.

By the late 1970’s, RAF Binbrook had become the only active station with Lightnings. But despite this new plans were announced in 1979 that a third squadron would be formed at the station operating Lightnings. But by 1981 no new squadron had appeared and the Government announced that the planned squadron had been cancelled. This change of heart signalled the start of the end for the airfield, and the aircraft slowly began to disappear. The first squadron to leave was No.5 Sqn in December 1987 having been disbanded. They were joined shortly after by No.11 Sqn in April 1988, and the last of the Lightnings had finally gone.

Shortly after the last lightning left the airfield, RAF Binbrook was closed in the June, and the sound of the iconic fighter would not be heard again over the Lincolnshire Wolds again, or at least that’s what everyone thought.

Binbrook Airfield

The sound of engines would once again be heard over the airfield once again only a year later in 1989, when the airfield was chosen as the setting for the aviation classic film “Memphis Belle”. Filming began in July and five B-17 Fortress’s were drafted in from the United States and France. But only four of the aircraft would see out the filming, after one crashed on take-off and was totally burnt out. A new control tower was built for the film just 100 yards away from the original, but was demolished when filming was finished. The pan hard standings on the west side of the airfield were used for the parking of the B-17’s. Beyond which a fake church tower was erected in a farmer’s field, as to simulate the opening sequence in William Wyler’s original film. Soon after filming was finished in October 1989, part of the airfield was put up for tender.

Lightning F.6, XR724
© Richard E Flagg - Lightning F.6, XR724

All was quiet in the following years, until one day in July 1992, the distinctive sound of two Rolls-Royce Avon’s were heard again over the airfield for one last time. This sound signalled the arrival of a Lightning F.6, XR724. The aircraft had been purchased by the Lightning Association with the intention of keeping her in running order at the airfield most associated with aircraft type.

November 1998 saw the remainder of the airfield put up for tender. Today, with the exception of the runways, Binbrook is pretty much still intact. All five hangers are still standing and being used by commercial companies, along with most of the building’s on the tech site, which is now a trading estate. With so much of the airfield’s building still standing, walking around the old station can still bring evoke emotional memories of it’s history.

The sound of Lightning engines can still be heard today at the airfield. As the volunteers of the Lightning Association continue their hard work on XR724 to keep her in running order.

Station Timeline
July 1940Station opened.
July 1940No.12 SqnOperating the Fairey Battle and Vickers Wellington. Left Binbrook on the 25th September 1942.
July 1940No.142 SqnOperating the Fairey Battle and Vickers Wellington. Left the station on 26th November 1941
November 19411 Group TT FlightThe Target Tow Flight operated the Fairey Battle, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Westland Lysaner and a single Vickers Wellington. The TT Flight renumbered four days after standing up, to 1481 TT Flight. Then was changed again a few months later to 1481 (Bomber) Gunnery Flight. The flight finally left the airfield on 25th September 1942.
September 1942Station closed for construction off hard runways.
March 1943Station re-opened.
May 1943No.460 Sqn
Operating the Avro Lancaster. Left the airfield on 27th July 1945.
April 19441 Group SD FlightThe Special Duty Flight operated the Avro Lancaster. The SD Flight left Binbrook on 11th August 1944.
September 1945No.12 SqnOperating the Avro Lancaster. Left Binbrook on 26th July 1946.
October 1945No.101 SqnOperating the Avro Lancaster, Avro Lincoln and later the English Electric Canberra. The Squadron disbanded at the station on 1st February 1957.
April 1946No.9 SqnOperating the Avro Lancaster and later the English Electric Canberra. The Sqn temporarily left the station in July 1946, and returned in the September. They finally left the station on 2nd June 1959.
May 1946No.617 SqnOperating the Avro Lancaster, Avro Lincoln and later the English Electric Canberra. The squadron disbanded at Binbrook on 5th December 1955.
September 1946No.12 SqnOperating the Avro Lincoln and later English Electric Canberra. The squadron left the station on 2nd July 1959.
August 1952No.50 SqnOperating the English Electric Canberra. Left the airfield on 1st January 1956.
December 1955No.139 SqnOperating the English Electric Canberra. The squadron disbanded at the station on 31st December 1959.
January 1956No.109 SqnOperating the English Electric Canberra. Sqn disbanded in February 1957.
December 1959 Station closed for Care and Maintenance, plus a 500 yard runway extension.
June 1962Station re-opened under the control of Fighter Command
June 1962No.64 SqnOperating the Gloster Javelin. Left the airfield on 1st April 1965.
October 1962CFE / AFDSThe Central Flying Establishment and Air Fighting Development Squadron jointly operated the Hawker Hunter and English Electric Lightning. The CFE / AFDS disbanded on 31st January 1966, only to be reformed the following day as the FCTU.
April 1963No.85 SqnOperating the Gloster Meteor and English Electric Canberra. Left the station on 28th January 1972.
October 1965No.5 SqnOperating the English Electric Lightning. Left squadron disbanded at the station in December 1987.
February 1966FCTUThe Fighter Command Trials Unit operated the English Electric Lightning. The FCTU disbanded on 30th June 1967 in order to form the TFF later the same year.
June 1967TFFThe Target Facilities Flight operated the English Electric Lightning. The TFF disbanded at the station on 31st December 1973.
March 1972No.11 SqnOperating the English Electric Lightning. The squadron disbanded at the station in April 1988.
October 1974LTFThe Lightning Training Flight operated the English Electric Lightning. The LTF disbanded at the airfield in April 1987.
June 1988RAF Binbrook disestablished and closed.