(Map edited to show the airfield and runways between 1940-45)
(The red denotes the WWI Landing Ground boundary)
© Crown Copyright/MOD 2010
06/24 & 10/28 5100ft x 150ft - 17/35 6000ft x 150ft
The first airfield on the site was opened in December 1918 by the Royal Flying Corps and called RFCS Harpswell after the village of that name just across the A631. It was initially used by the RFC as a night landing ground and in 1918, No.199 and No.200 Training Squadrons were established at the airfield. Shortly after the end of WWI the site returned to farmland. A new RAF Station, now called Hemswell, was built in the 1930's to a very high standard and was one of a number of permanent bases being built to accommodate the then rapidly expanding RAF. Bomber Command was formed in 1936 and on 31st December 1936, Hemswell was opened as one of the first airfields within No.5 Group of the newly formed Command.
No.144 Squadron arrived on 9th February and No.61 Squadron on 8th March 1937, equipped with Avro Anson and Hawker Audax aircraft. Bristol Blenheim's replaced these by January 1938 and they were completely re-equipped with Handley Page Hampden's by 20th March 1939. Both Squadrons took part in the very earliest operations of the war. No. 144 Squadron suffered an early loss on the 29th of September 1939, when a formation of five Hampden's were all shot down over Heligoland. Five men were saved to spend the rest of the war in prison camps and fifteen were killed, including Ronald Herd whose sister, Mrs Kath Edgson of Horncastle, Lincolnshire, was invited to unveil the RAF Hemswell Memorial in 1995. Hemswell's Hampden's are credited with being the first Bomber Command aircraft to drop bombs on German soil.
From July 1941 to February 1944, Hemswell, now in No.1 Group, and its satellite airfield at RAF Ingham, were home at various times to No.300, No.301 and No.305 Polish Air Force Squadrons, equipped with Wellington's . No.199 RAF Squadron equipped with Wellington's also operated from Ingham from February to June 1943. They all played a very important part in the bomber offensive of that period and suffered heavy losses. The last of the Polish Squadrons moved from Hemswell to Ingham in late 1943 to enable concrete runways to be laid and so bring the airfield up to Class A Standard. Hemswell reopened in January 1944 and No.1 Lancaster Finishing School used the base until, with the arrival of No.150 & No.170 Lancaster Squadrons in November 1944, Hemswell resumed operations against the enemy. The last hostile operation from Hemswell was on 25th April 1945, the target being the SS Barracks at Berchtesgaden. From 29th April final war operations were of a more humane nature, when No.150 and No.170 Squadrons took part in Operation Manna, dropping food to the starving Dutch people prior to final surrender on VE Day, 8th of May 1945. From then until their disbandment in November 1945, No.150 and No.170 Squadrons used their Lancaster's, firstly to transport ex-POWs back to the UK, and then to collect long-serving 8th Army men from Italy to well-earned leave in the UK.
The much longer Cold War brought Mosquitos of No.109 and No.139 Squadrons who stayed until November 1946. In 1950, No.109 and No.139 Squadron Mosquitos returned, converting onto Canberras in 1952 and finally leaving Hemswell in January 1956. Lincolns of No.83, No.100 and No.97 Squadrons arrived in October/November 1946. No.100 Squadron moved away in 1950 but both No.83 and No.97 Squadrons remained at Hemswell until December 1955. No.199 Squadron operated from April 1952 to September 1957 equipped at various times with Lincolns, Mosquitos, Canberras and Valiant's. No.76 and No.542 Squadrons operated from April 1957 to July 1958 equipped with Canberras.
No.97 Squadron returned in 1959 for a further four years, but this time equipped with Douglas Thor Missiles when Hemswell became the lead Station of a group of five missile sites. They were all on full alert, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and at that time, RAF Hemswell had a large contingent of Americans who partnered their RAF counterparts and lived among the personnel on the station. After the Thor missiles were withdrawn in 1963, the Americans left and the missiles were returned to the USA where most of them were used in the US Space Program.
Following on from Thor, Hemswell was earmarked to return to a flying role when it was decided to move the final development stage of the ill-fated TSR.2 project to Hemswell. In the early autumn of 1964 the whole TSR.2 project team was posted from Weybridge to Hemswell where they occupied the old Thor site. The first pilot training course on TSR.2 avionics systems began in November 1964, with the second course under way when the project was suddenly cancelled in the March 1965 Budget. Hemswell's future could have been very different with the return of real aeroplanes, but it was not to be and final RAF use was as No.1 Recruit Training School and the Station ceased all RAF activities in 1967.
RAF Station Hemswell, having started life as a peacetime Station in 1937, quickly settled back into its peacetime role as a permanent part of the local community after WWII. Further married quarters were built and RAF Hemswell School was established to cater for the children of RAF families. Because of its air of permanence and relative comfort, Hemswell became a very popular posting.
In May 1967, the RAF switched off the lights, closed the gates and the base entered a very unhappy period and its handsome buildings were to be sadly neglected for many years. In 1972 the station became the temporary Hemswell Resettlement Camp when it received Ugandan-Asian refugees expelled from Uganda by president Idi Amin. Some years later, a group of entrepreneurs decided to try to rescue the site and turn it into a trading estate. Although not preserved as a museum, the old road layout has been retained and most of the buildings have been restored for various new uses. To the delight of returning veterans in recent years, Hemswell is perhaps the only pre-war RAF Station converted to private use, which has retained its character and still has an unmistakable Royal Air Force feel to it.
In 1995, the RAF Hemswell Memorial was erected on the edge of the old parade ground to commemorate all who served there during its thirty-year life as a Royal Air Force Bomber Command base. The memorial is also an important piece of local history and records the successful transition of a former Bomber Command airfield with its married quarters, into its present more peaceful role as part of the new Parish of Hemswell Cliff. Most appropriately, the children who take such an important part in the annual commemorative service at the memorial on RAF Hemswell Day (third Wednesday in September) are from Hemswell Cliff School, which began life as Royal Air Force Hemswell School.
By mid 2008 the last RAF presence on the site departed and the station is now totally civilian. However, the RAF still own the community centre and have spent considerable money refurbishing it. The old H Block other rank accommodation buildings on the site have now become home to one of Europe's largest antique centre's and there are also various shops, a garden centre, hairdresser, used book shop and several cafes. On Sundays there is a very large Sunday market and car boot sale. Hemswell Cliff Primary School, formally the RAF primary school, still serves the children of the nearby communities. The former station officers mess is now known as Hemswell Court and provides an elegant venue for weddings, banqueting and conference facilities. The Hemswell hangars have been pressed into service as European Union Common Agricultural Policy Intervention Stores on several occasions as a Lincolnshire location for the occasional EU grain mountain excesses. Some very good internal and external views of the Officers Mess can be seen in the film 'The Dam Busters' which was mainly filmed at RAF Hemswell, although the actual raid by No.617 Squadron was from RAF Scampton.
To emphasise the Guy Gibson and No.617 Squadron connection, Hemswell was used as a substitute for RAF Scampton in the ground based filming of the 1954 movie The Dambusters as the wartime layout of both Scampton and Hemswell was almost identical. It remains the best known filmed record of what RAF Hemswell looked like during and just after the war. However there is also a colour film of Avro Lancaster's at Hemswell in preparation for a raid over Germany which shows briefings, loading of bombs and the raid itself and was the only known colour film of Lancaster's at War. Scenes for the Dambusters film were filmed in various offices of the station headquarters, the front entrance, the bedrooms, ante room and dining room of the officers mess, hangars and the NAAFI canteen with the latter used for the squadron briefing theatre scenes, as well as on the roadways within the base. Part of the RAF's fleet of aging Avro Lincolns had been mothballed at RAF Hemswell prior to being broken up and several of these static aircraft appeared in background shots during filming, doubling for additional No.617 Squadron Lancaster's, as the filmmakers only had four airworthy and fully flying Lancaster's available to them.
In August 2009 there was a large fire at one of the former RAF hangars that was being used as a plastics recycling site by AWS Eco-plastics. Several propane gas cylinders exploded and as a result of the intensity of the fire the A631 had to be closed from Harpswell Hill to Caenby Corner.
|1916||Harpswell opens as a night landing ground.|
|December 1916||No.33 Sqn (Det) RFC||Operating the Avro 504. The squadron disbanded at the landing ground in December 1918.|
|June 1918||No.199 Sqn RFC||Operating the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2. The squadron disbanded at the landing ground in December 1919.|
|November 1918||No.200 TS RFC||Operating the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2. The Training Squadron disbanded at the landing ground in December 1919.|
|1935 - 1937||Building program constructed station buildings, hangars and married quarter housing.|
|February 1937||No.144 Sqn||Operating the Avro Anson, Hawker Audax, Bristol Blenheim and Handley Page Hampden. The squadron left the airfield on the 17th July 1941.|
|March 1937||No.61 Sqn||Operating the Avro Anson, Hawker Audax, Bristol Blenheim and Handley Page Hampden. The squadron the station on the 17th July 1941.|
|July 1941||No.300 (Polish) Sqn||Operating the Vickers Wellington. The squadron left the airfield on the 18th May 1942.|
|July 1941||No.301 (Polish) Sqn||Operating the Vickers Wellington. The squadron left Hemswell on the 7th April 1943.|
|July 1942||No.305 (Polish) Sqn||Operating the Vickers Wellington. The squadron left the airfield on the 22nd June 1943.|
|January 1943||No.300 (Polish) Sqn||Operating the Vickers Wellington. The squadron left the station on the 22nd June 1943.|
|July 1943||Concrete runways laid|
|January 1944||No.1 LFS||Operating the Avro Lancaster. The Lancaster Finishing School was disbanded at the station on the 25th November 1944.|
|November 1944||No.170 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lancaster. The squadron disbanded at the station on the 14th November 1945.|
|November 1944||No.150 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lancaster. The squadron disbanded at the station on the 7th November 1945.|
|April 1945||No.1687 BDT Flt||Operating the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and Miles Martinet. The Bomber Defence Training Flight disbanded at the station on the 30th October 1946.|
|November 1945||No.109 Sqn||Operating the de Havilland Mosquito. The squadron left Hemswell on the 4th November 1946.|
|February 1946||No.139 Sqn||Operating the de Havilland Mosquito. The squadron left the airfield on the 4th November 1946.|
|October 1946||No.100 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron left the airfield on the 25th March 1950.|
|November 1946||No.97 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron disbanded at the station on the 1st January 1956.|
|November 1946||No.83 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron disbanded at the station on the 1st January 1956.|
|July 1947||No.61 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron left the airfield in December 1947.|
|July 1947||No.57 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron left the station in December 1947.|
|December 1947||No.50 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron left Hemswell in March 1948.|
|January 1948||No.12 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadron left the airfield on the 14th March 1948.|
|March 1950||No.231 OCU||Operating the de Havilland Mosquito. The Operational Conversion Unit disbanded at Hemswell in early 1952.|
|April 1950||No.139 Sqn||Operating the de Havilland Mosquito and English Electric Canberra. The squadron left the airfield on the 31st January 1956.|
|April 1950||No.109 Sqn||Operating the de Havilland Mosquito and English Electric Canberra. The squadron left the station on the 1st January 1956.|
|April 1952||No.199 Sqn||Operating the Avro Lincoln, de Havilland Mosquito and English Electric Canberra. The squadron was renumbered 1321 LC Flt on the 1st October 1957.|
|January 1956||Antler & Arrow Sqns||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The squadrons was renumbered 1321 LC Flt on the 1st October 1957.|
|April 1957||No.76 Sqn||Operating the English Electric Canberra. The squadron left the station on the 17th July 1958.|
|April 1957||No.542 Sqn||Operating the English Electric Canberra. The squadron left the station on the 17th July 1958.|
|May 1957||No.1439 Flt||Operating the Vickers Varsity. The flight disbanded at the station on the 20th November 1957.|
|October 1957||No.1321 LC Flt||Operating the Avro Lincoln. The Lincoln Conversion Flight left the airfield on the 2nd April 1958.|
|October 1958||No.97 Sqn||Operating as a Thor IRBM unit. The squadron disbanded at the station on the 24th May 1963.|
|1963||Used for follow on training for senior recruits from the Recruit Training School at RAF Swinderby. Closed in March 1967.|
|November 1965||No.643 GS||Operating the T21 Sedbergh and T8 Tutor. The Gliding School left the airfield in April 1974.|
|May 1967||RAF Hemswell disestablished and closed|