North Coates Airfield History

RAF North Coates Airfield
(Map edited to show the airfield and runways between 1940-45)
RAF North Coates Crest
© Crown Copyright/MOD 2010
Airfield Code: NCGoogle Earth Co-ordinates:
53°29'59.29"N  0°3'57.70"E
Wartime Runways:
07/25 4260ft x 150ft & NW/SE 4380ft x 150ft (grass)
Current Runways:
05/23 660m x 22m (grass)
North Coates Fitties

By the early 1900s it became evident that the east coast would bear the brunt of war with a European country should it have to defend itself from invaders. To that end the Army was drafted in to build roads and gun emplacement along the coast. Elements of the Lincolnshire Regiment were the first occupants at North Coates Fitties. The word ‘Fitties’ is derived from an Anglo Saxon term meaning salt marsh which is a good indication of the sort of terrain that the airfield is situated in. North Coates Fitties is an area of land three miles south of Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire coast and standing virtually on the foreshore at the mouth of the River Humber.

The Royal Naval Air Service had established an aerodrome at Skegness early in August 1914 and started to operate coastal patrols along the coast as far as Cleethorpes using a diversity of types such as the Sopwith Tractor, Bristol TB8 and the BleriotX1. They were aware of the Army camp at North Coates and the fact that on the 4th of that month a Royal Air Corp Be2 had even landed there. There is a some conjecture on the reason for the aircraft landing at North Coates. One being that the pilot, had in fact dropped in for tea with the farmers family. The other being that the landing could have had some connection to England declaring war on Germany on the same date.

By 1916 the Zeppelins were flying further inland, attacking Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham using the Humber and Wash as natural gateways into the Midlands and the industry that lay before them. They also took the opportunity to attack towns in Lincolnshire and Lincoln, Grimsby and Cleethorpes found themselves under attack also. In March 1916 Zeppelin L22 dropped a single bomb on the Methodist chapel in Cleethorpes killing and wounding fifty three men of the 3rd Lancashire Regiment who were billeted there. In an attempt to stem the tide of destruction it was decided that the Royal Flying Corp Home Defence Squadrons would take over responsibility for coastal patrols from the RNAS allowing them to concentrate the hunt for the Zeppelins further out to sea, as a result a number of fighter squadrons were drafted into Lincolnshire. No 33 Sqdn RFC was responsible for North Lincolnshire and had its Headquarters at Brattleby (now Scampton).

In 1918 it was decided to use North Coates Fitties as a forward landing ground for the Be2c aircraft that had been allocated to patrol the area of sea between the Humber and Skegness, this necessitated flying out 12 miles or more out to sea. In September North Coates Fitties flying field as the locals described it, was handed over to 79 Wing which had its HQ at Hornsea, this unit was part of 18 (Operations Group). By this time No.33 Sqdn had ceased coastal patrol flights and had moved out, these were taken over by 404 Flight No.248 Sqn Royal Naval Air Service flying the De Havilland DH6. Half a dozen of these aircraft were flown in from the landing ground at Killingholme and quickly took on the task. These were joined by three Sopwith Babies which were in use only as a training aid.

With the birth of the Royal Air Force, No.248 Sqdn became officially the first based RAF unit at North Coates Fitties aerodrome. Towards the end of the year more DH6 aircraft and a small number of Sopwith Tabloids were ferried over from Killingholme as that station was gradually run down. Their stay was very brief and with the cessation of hostilities they were quickly moved on leaving only the original DH6s that, by then had been reduced to training duties, these would involve regular coastal and cross country flights.

By March 1919 the remainder of the aircraft departed, and the decision had been made to abandon the aerodrome. By the middle of the summer it had been handed back to the land owner who fortunately did not plough it up, instead leaving it in pasture for sheep grazing, a decision that as history relates secured its future as an airfield in waiting.

Between The Wars

In the early 1920s the RAF began searching for suitable areas on the east coast to set up a series of bombing ranges. A number of sites in Lincolnshire were looked at before they finally settled for the beach off Donna Nook. It was deemed impractical for the aircraft using the range to have to fly back to their respective airfield’s, it was decided therefore to establish an aerodrome near to the range to facilitate these aircraft. The abandoned landing ground at North Coates Fitties which lay adjacent to Donna Nook became the obvious favourite. They were pleasantly surprised to find that the site was more or less intact, consequently the decision was taken to again approach Mr Ranyard, the landowner and by 1926 a lease agreement had been reached that allowed them the option to purchase at a later date.

HRH Prince of Wales flys in piloting F2A J8430 on July 18th 1927
© No.99 Sqn Records
HRH Prince of Wales flys in piloting F2A J8430 on July 18th 1927

The option to purchase more land was taken up in 1927 and the airfield was designated an Armament Practice Camp. Its role was to cater for the bomber squadrons using the range; this entailed a range of tasks including collating the data from the bombing results to providing maintenance, mess and technical assistance. In addition the staff of instructors ran courses in air gunnery and bomb aiming. Because there was no based aircraft on the airfield air training had to be accomplished using squadron aircraft. One of the first squadrons to make use of this facility was No.39 Sqdn flying the De Havilland DH9. On July 18th 1927 the airfield welcomed its first Royal visitor when HRH the Prince of Wales piloted himself in J8340, a No.24 Sqdn (Royal Flight) Bristol F2b Brisfit. The aircraft was accompanied by another Brisfit from the same squadron. The Prince was on an official visit to Grimsby.

August 6th saw the first recorded incident take place when a Handley Page Hyderabad suffered an engine failure and had to force land on the beach at Stone Bank, North Somercoates. The aircraft, J8807 of No.99 Sqdn was repaired and was able to fly back to North Coates later.

Many squadrons took advantage of the facilities at North Coates Fitties and the aerodrome became quiet a spectators paradise, especially for young boys who would spend many hours watching the aircraft. Examples of squadrons noted using the aerodrome during the late 1920s and early 30s were No.12 with the Fairey Fox, No.58 with the Vickers Virginia, No.2 flying the Bristol F2b and No.33 Sqdn flying the Hawker Hart.

In 1930 No.10 Sqdn who flew the Handley page Hyderabad at the time took part in the Air Defence Exercise of Great Britain. They were tasked to carry out mock night bombing raids on airfields in the Midlands. The exercise was designed to iron out any deficiencies is procedures and highlight any problems that had previously been unforeseen.

On January 1st 1932 the aerodromes name changed to No.2 Armament Training Camp. This was to reflect the changing role of the RAF. With the change came an expansion of the airfield, land to the north was acquired stretching right up to Tetney marshes. The first based aircraft arrived, these were Fairey Gordon’s and Fairey 111fs which were employed as target tugs. A De Havilland Moth was also used for communication work. Later Hawker Harts, Hinds and Westland Wallace’s were used; the latter to supplement the target tugs. In addition to the routine practice sessions competitions were organized with No 1 Armament Practice Camp at Catfoss on the Yorkshire coast. These would entail squadrons from Catfoss attacking an illuminated target at night at Donna Nook with the squadrons at North Coates Fitties reciprocating at Catfoss. This continued into the mid 1930s with a vast variety of aircraft arriving through the summer months.

By now the RAF were reorganising and modernising the structure of the service and as a result North Coates Fitties came under the jurisdiction of a new Training Command which was formed on May 1st 1936, however prior to that, on October 1st 1935 a station Headquarters was formed at North Coates to control the range at Donna Nook and a new range at Theddlethorpe near Mablethorpe as well as the airfields resident units.

The number of squadrons using North Coates had, by this time grown considerably, and the training method employed the RAF was becoming outdated. It had been tradition to fill most of the crew positions on Bomber aircraft with squadron tradesmen. A radical rethink on how best this could change resulted in No 2 Air Observers School opening on the airfield on January 1st 1936. Squadron tradesmen were selected for part time observer’s duties and were attached for two month gunnery and bombing course. Later this was extended to three months. It would also be necessary for the Observer to assist the Pilot in navigational duties as new and more modern machines came into service.

It was around this time that two 50 foot wide concrete runways were constructed each approximately 1000 foot long. One facing north and the other south east. Both originated from the direction of the hangars, there is no indication whether they were ever used as runways as the width even in those days would have been considered far too small and they were mainly used as taxi tracks.

RAF North Coates (Fitties) 1937
© Wing Commander Threapelton - RAF North Coates (Fitties) 1937

More changes occurred on October 6th 1936 when No 2 Air Training Camp was redesignated a temporary Air Training Camp. This move allowed No 2 AOS and the temporary Air Training Camp to operate in conjunction with each other. By now No.101 Sqdn had relinquished their Overstrands in favour of the Sidestrand. Political unrest and the upsurge of Nazism in Europe was a cause of concern and it was deemed necessary to retain some form of camouflage. Despite their age one of these aircraft actually survived until 1940. The airfield itself was in the throws of major modernization. The tented accommodation had been gradually giving way to wooden accommodation blocks since the late 1920s and by 1936 this was nearly completed. Four double gable Hangars were under construction, these were a design based on the Admiralty type ‘F’ hangar which had side opening doors as opposed to end opening. The similarity ended there though and the design was unique to North Coates. The first was completed at the end of 1933 with another following a 12 months later, and the final two were completed by 1936. A new wooden Air Traffic Control hut was constructed near to the hangars and was very much a one off, being designed and built by local joiner Mr. Capp. The redundant farm buildings were demolished in 1930 although the farm house owned by the Brooks remained and was still occupied by the family who still farmed land in the locality. In early 1936 the grass runway was extended to 1000 yards and a 1240 yard cross runway was also constructed on a north south heading, this was twice the normal width being 100 yards wide.

On May 23rd 1936 the airfield played host to the public when it opened its gates for the first Empire Air Day where aircraft were displayed for the public to inspect. Buses were laid on from Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Louth and a shuttle service was operated from North Thoresby railway station to the airfield. The following year, the same event which took place on May 29th attracted 6,900 with aircraft such as the Avro Cadet, Saro Cloud, Boulton & Paul Overstrand and the new Avro Anson displaying in addition to the schools many and varied aircraft.

On March 1st 1938 more changes took place when No 2 Air Armaments School was redesignated No1 Air Observers School, a month later on April 1st the temporary Armaments training Camp was redesignated the Temporary Armaments Training Section. The schools compliment of aircraft grew further to include six Avro Anson’s, Fairey Battles and a Hawker Henley. A Miles Magister was also in use for communications duties having superseded the De Havilland Moth that had previously been used for this purpose. The Station Flight was also increased and in addition to the Wallace’s a Bristol Bulldog and Avro Tutor were added.

On April 9th No.144 Sqdn Bomber Command took up temporary residence. They had arrived with their Mk1 Blenheims from RAF Hemswell which was not quiet ready for use. The Blenheim’s had gone by the time the next and final Empire Air Day was staged on May 28th.


Despite all the peace efforts war was finally declared on September 3rd 1939. Within days most of the based units at North Coates were transferred to the west of the country and on September 10th. No 2 Recruit Training Pool was formed on the airfield. This unit was formed to give preliminary training to new recruits and by the end of November they were joined by the Ground Defence Gunnery School who employed a host of Westland Wallace’s and Hawker Harts which had been transferred over from The Air Observers School. These aircraft were employed to give gunnery training to new recruit gunners.

Donna Nook relief landing grounds role in the conflict to come had yet to be officially announced. However at North Coates its location directly facing mainland Europe ensured it would play a leading part in the fight against the enemy and this seemed to be underlined when truck loads of supplies, bedding and all the equipment to support a large intake of airmen started to arrive. The range however continued to be used by a variety of locally based units.

No.22 Sqdn Beauforts (1940)
© Imperial War Museum - No.22 Sqdn Beauforts (1940)

On February 22nd 1940 the announcement came that North Coates Fitties was to come under the jurisdiction of No.16 Group Coastal Command. The station adopted the badge and title. Two days later the first squadron flew in. No.248 Sqdn who operated the Bristol Blenheim Mk 1V, arrived from Hendon on the outskirts of London. No.235 Sqdn, another Blenheim unit arrived on the 27th followed by No. 236 Sqdn on the 29th. These two squadrons operated a mixture of the Mk 1 and 1Vf Blenheim. The three squadrons had been transferred over from Fighter Command and had operated the early Mk 1 Blenheim in the fighter role.

In 1942 North Coates was chosen as the base for the first Strike Wing and on August 27th eight Blenheim Mk 1V and one Beaufighter Mk V1 of No.143 Sqdn arrived. The squadron was in the process of converting to the Beaufighter but only one machine was currently on squadron strength. Coastal Command needed to continue shipping reconnaissance and as an interim measure deployed a detachment of thirteen Hudson’s of No.608 Sqdn to North Coates. These started to arrive between the 15th and 18th of September. No.263 Sqdn arrived on September 18th with fifteen Beaufighters which were a mixture of Mk 1c and Mk V1 machines. In addition to the large influx of Beaufighters the ground staff also had to contend with individual visiting aircraft and in some instances squadron detachments. For instance No.812 Sqdn Fleet Air Arm made a brief return visit on October 16th when five of their Swordfish aircraft flew in to pick up spare Torpedoes. In the evening of the following day five Hampdens of No.415 Sqdn RCAF arrived on transit to St Eval, they remained until the following morning.

Wimpey construction were awarded the contract to build the hard runway and taxiways at a cost of £124,000 (1943 money) early in November and contractors moved in during the month to start work extending and paving the east west runway, they had the massive job of removing thousands of tons of grass and earth to a depth of 6 feet. Because of the onset of winter the work was held up on many occasions and it wasn’t until the early spring of 1943 that work was completed. On November 16th No.254 Sqdn flew in to form the third squadron that would make up the North Coates Strike Wing.


After the end of hostilities North Coates saw very little activity with only the Station Flights Oxfords conveying senior officers to various locations around the UK. There was the odd visiting aircraft though, a typical example being Sea Otter JM905 of No.279 Sqdn which dropped in for fuel en route from Hatfield to Thornaby. Personnel registered on August 1st were now only 370 men and woman of all ranks, strangely though that month was quiet busy with Thirty movements. The final recorded flight before the airfield closed to air traffic on August 31st were two Spitfire Mk Vs, AR511 and AR988 from Chivenor attached to Gosport’s Station Flight. The airfield was then transferred over to Maintenance Command and within a few weeks became a storage sub site for No 25MU. This was again transferred over to 61MU in October.

In December 1946 the station was transferred over to Flying Training Command, the title suggests that flying was about to commence, this was not the case though. It was to be used as an Officer Cadet training establishment. On the 16th thirty four former German prisoners of war waiting to be repatriated were brought over from their camp at Donna Nook to prepare the barrack blocks for habitation. Permanent staff started to arrive from North Luffenham and Bridgenorth in readiness for the opening of the facility and on January 1st 1947 No1 Initial Training School was formed.

It wasn’t long before the problems of living in an isolated position came to the fore. Snow started to fall later in the month and by February 4th the Station was cut off. Nothing was guaranteed with ten foot drifts and snow laying five foot deep. There was no let up in the weather, this proving to be the severest winter on record and by the 18th the decision had been taken to indefinitely close the school. By early March there was still no so sign of the weather improving, it had been snowing incessantly for a month; however by March 11th the permanent staff had returned but by then 100 Officer Cadets had been posted to Southern Rhodesia to complete their training. Alternative sites for the School were being considered as it was evident that the decision to base it at North Coates was wrong because of its remote location.

Meanwhile the 23 Group Ground Combat course was conducted, this ended in July. During that summer the decision to permanently relocate the school had been made. On October 15th the station reverted to Care and Maintenance and remained so until May 1948 when it came under the control of 24 Group Technical Training Command and became the home of The School of Explosives Inspection. The purpose of the school was to train Officers and airmen in bomb disposal. During that summer No.5131 Bomb Disposal Wing and School took up residence. Their task was to undertake the disposal of bombs and ammunition that had been used on the ranges. Although there were no flying units based on the airfield there was the occasional visitor, for example on April 13th 1952 a Percival Prentice landed from Doncaster to participate in Army co-operation work.

On January 31st 1953 the airfield became a victim of what is now described as the east coast floods. A combination of northerly gales and a higher than usual tide caused a tidal surge that swept down the North Sea causing sea defences all along the east coast to breach, Lincolnshire was particularly badly hit. The airfield was put on high alert with guards posted along the sea wall to observe the conditions. At 18.45 one of the guards reported the sea wall had given way in four places near to the Tetney Marshes. Within half an hour most of the airfield was under a foot of water and it was rising fast, within an hour it was three feet deep. The Guardroom which stood on slightly higher ground than the rest of the camp was used as a temporary Station Headquarters until it became threatened by the rising water. At 20.30 hours the Station Commander ordered the remainder of the personnel and their families to abandon the site.

Sycamore XF265 B Flight No.275 Sqdn
© North Coates Records - Sycamore XF265 B Flight No.275 Sqdn

On August 27th 1953 the Air Ministry announced that the airfield would revert to Care & Maintenance but with elements of No.54 Maintenance Unit taking up residency. Their task was to recover redundant and crashed aircraft to North Coates for the redemption of spare parts, thus achieved the remainder of these aircraft would usually be scrapped on site. For the next two years No.54 MU recovered many aircraft to North Coates including examples of the early jets including Vampires, Meteors and Canberra’s, additionally Oxfords, Provosts and at least one Tiger Moth ended up on the scrap heap. In December 1954 North Coates came under the jurisdiction of 43 Group Maintenance Command, this meant very little to the airmen stationed there; nevertheless changes were on the horizon.

In February 1955, XE317 the first Sycamore arrived to take up its duties. This all yellow machine was destined to become a familiar sight in the area. ‘B’ Flight was available to respond to incidents from an area stretching from Lincolnshire west to the Yorkshire Moors and the Pennines and north up to Scarborough. The Wash was their most southerly outpost, although they often overlapped on to the Norfolk coast.

The severe winter of 1955/56 brought Lincolnshire to a standstill and the RAF responded to calls for assistance from the Emergency services. Many of the outlying villages were cut off and the only way to get to them was by Helicopter. By January demand had become so great that a second Sycamore was brought in to assist; this was XG514 that was transferred down from ‘A’ Flight at RAF Ouston in Cumberland. The helicopters took at least one pregnant woman to Grimsby Hospital as well as lifting a beleaguered postman and the mail from RAF Binbrook to Cleethorpes where they landed on the beach.

On April 25th 1956 the airfield came off Care & Maintenance and the Government announced that North Coates was to become the RAF’s first Surface to Air Guided Weapons base. Representatives from the Government, Ferranti and the Bristol Aircraft Co had been regular visitors since February to plan the improvement works and the site of the missile installations. The Bloodhound Missile was to be the chosen weapon and forty eight of these ballistic missiles were scheduled to be housed on the airfield.

In July No.54 MU were transferred out, removal of the remaining airframes had been going on for some time. The Lancaster that had used as an Instructional airframe was scrapped as was Churchill’s Avro York which was set on fire. The removal of all this scrap material allowed the planners to get on with surveying the base for the installation of the hard standings for the rockets and the massive reconstruction programme; it was very evident that North Coates would have to be virtually rebuilt.

The Missile Era

On July 1st Command of the base was given to Group Captain Leathart DSO who set about organising the construction of the missile facility Forty eight missile pads were to be built along with hundreds of miles of electric cables and telephone lines that fed Radar installations and hard points for mobile missile units. An ultra modern missile control room was built that was fed by an underground service tunnel running from Hangar 3 which also served as the Bloodhound Tactical Control Centre. Another tunnel carrying essential radio, telecommunications, fax and telephone lines stretched from the same Hangar right across the airfield to a blast proof radar station near to Sheepmarsh Lane. This went under the runway.

Work to convert the interior of the Hangar was a masterpiece; to the casual onlooker it was just another old Hangar in need of some care or even demolition. Inside it carried all the modern equipment necessary to carry out the Bloodhounds task. The interior had been completely refitted with a tiered flooring system all carrying radar panels. Air conditioning and was installed. It was in fact a building within a building. Although the hangar doors were retained to give the impression it was nothing more than a disused hangar, they were in fact sealed. This was a very impressive act of deceit and worthy of any spy movie.

Much of the equipment that was installed was in the prototype stage and untried and early trials found one or two snags with plenty of room for improvement. These tests were carried out with the co-operation of the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham that also developed a system where the TCC staff could control interceptions by missile and aircraft. Hangar 4 housed the Station Communications Flight whilst Hangar 2, both double gabled Hangars was similarly disguised to take three massive standby generators. A link was established with the nearest UK Radar station at Patrington across the River Humber. Hangar 1, the other Double Gable hangar was converted to house the TIR section and Hangar 8; the last Bellman which was built at right angles to the others was refurbished and became the Missile component storage section. Hangar 5 the Bellman next to the Double gabled types was refurbished to become the Missile Repair Section. Hangar 6, the other Bellman was completely refurbished and modernised and had new sets of doors at either end to facilitate ease of access for the missiles. This was to be the Bloodhound Servicing Hangar. Finally a missile refuelling and de fuelling building was built on the site of the demolished Hangar 7. Other obvious changes was the construction of a microwave mast near Hangar 5 and a Type 82 surveillance radar positioned on one of the ‘spectacle’ hardstandings on the southern boundary.

Bloodhound Mk1 missile
© North Coates Records - Bloodhound Mk I missile

A brand new Radar system was installed, named ‘Orange Yeoman’. There were many teething problems with the new Radar and to assist with the calibration a Westland Dragonfly Helicopter was brought in by The Ministry of Supply. The aircraft, WP503 was an ex Royal Navy aircraft and curiously still sported the colours of its last unit HMS Eagle. It was housed in Hangar Four and was used as a passive target. These tests found that the radar system was vulnerable to jamming and development of the Type 80 radar at Patrington virtually eliminated the need for the Type 82 which was now more or less redundant.

Early trials with mobile units were having problems, one in particular on trial at Spurn point was showing radar traces of moving objects across the River in the Immingham area. It was only after investigation that it was discovered the traces were in actual fact moving crane jibs on the coal hoists on the docks. The Type 83 ‘Yellow River radar was being developed in conjunction with the improved Bloodhound Mk 2 which was still in the testing stage, this was also found to be more suitable for the Bloodhound Mk 1. The most important role for North Coates though was the defence of the ‘V’ Bomber force and the Thor ballistic missile system. For the first time in many years conventional aircraft started to arrive. In October 1957 the Station Flight took delivery of Avro Anson C19 VL349, this was joined a little later by VM322 another C19 that was allocated to the Fighter Command Communications Flight. Both aircraft were kept busy ferrying high ranking officers and technicians to and from the airfield. The most obvious difference though was the missile pads.

The first loading trials also took place in May and on the 11th Beverley XL148 of No.242 OCU flew over from Dishforth to take a Bloodhound to Upsala in Sweden for a series of demonstrations with the Royal Swedish Air Force. It returned on the 13th via Waddington after being escorted out of Swedish air space by a squadron of Saab J29 fighters. Another demonstration took place on the 16th when XL149 also of No.242 OCU took one of the missiles to West Malling in Kent.

In October No.17 JSTU (Joint Services Trials Unit) was formed to carry out operational trials on the new Bloodhound Mk 2, a small number of which were transported in. Many trials were being conducted at this time in relation to the Bloodhound Mk 1 and its radar units in a continuing process of upgrading and modernisation.

It was on November 30th 1962 that No.264 Sqdn disbanded. At the same time the Tactical Control Centre that was housed inside Hangar three was closed and the Type 82 radar withdrawn. In the meantime the Bloodhounds stood serene and alarmingly sinister pointing towards the sea. The winter of 1963/63 though proved very difficult with severe blizzards regularly enveloping the airfield. The Bloodhound MK1 s equipment was eventually withdrawn and the missile taken out of service as preparations were made to install a new and much improved replacement Mk 2. More operational changes occurred on February 1st 1963 with the disbandment of HQ148 Wing to make way for No.148 (SAM) Servicing Wing which was formed to service the remaining MK1s.

Work was always going on to constantly upgrade the airfield and its facilities including painting and decorating and gradually upgrading the airmen’s living quarters. In April 1964 the resurfacing of the Hangar aprons took place. On September 14th 1964 one of the last Beverly flights took place with XB267 of No.47 Sqdn. By December 1966 No.17 JSTU had disbanded, their work completed.

By 1967 No.25 Sqdn were to transfer to Germany to provide a SAM defence for NATO airfields over there. In April 1970 elements of ‘C’ Flight No.25 Sqdn began to transfer to RAF Laarbruch the move was completed on May 31st, by June 15th they were fully operational. At North Coates the remainder of the squadron was preparing to move, it seemed that the various Flights were to be split up to different locations. The Operations Flight began moving to West Raynham on July 20th in an operation that took a week to complete while the Squadron Headquarters was formed at Bruggen in August.

No.17 JSTU Bloodhound Mk 2 missile 1966
© North Coates Records - No.17 JSTU Bloodhound Mk 2 missile 1966

The situation at North Coates was not looking good and rumours of its impending closure gathered momentum as more and more equipment was dismantled and taken to Germany. In addition some of the old Mk 1 missiles were auctioned off for scrap and a number of locally based dealers were involved in their removal after the warheads and the sensitive electrical equipment had been removed. By 1971 the move was nearly completed and by the 31st January the squadron was fully operational. The rumours proved to have foundation and with the removal of the Bloodhounds the airfield was once again put on a Care and Maintenance basis. With the buildings not being used they soon started to succumb to the vagaries of the east coast weather.

In January 1976 contractors moved in to clean and restore the buildings that had been ‘mothballed’ in preparation for the airfield reopening. Early in February service personnel started to return as the advance party to prepare the facilities and ensure every thing would be in order for a reopening. A month later on March 1st North Coates reopened as the home of No.85 Sqdn ‘B’ Flight who were about to be equipped with the Bloodhound Mk 2. Recently reformed at West Raynham the Flight was awaiting the arrival of the Mk 2 and the huge Type 87 radar units from Singapore and Cyprus.

Twenty Four Bloodhounds were destined to come to North Coates with their launchers. Each bank of eight missiles would have its own integrated blast proof radar station. The Flight was under the control of the squadrons Headquarters at West Raynham where Bloodhound maintenance facilities were available, however because of the distance involved it was felt prudent to provide a maintenance facility at North Coates. RAF Binbrook became the parent station and came under their immediate control.

With the exception of the new Hangar 6 the rest still wore their original cladding and were looking somewhat dilapidated, additionally only Hangars 4,and 8 were in use, the rest were empty. A clear up was ordered in 1982 resulting in some of the Hangars being demolished. The result of this was a wholesale demolition of three of the rare Double gabled hangars as well as two of the remaining Bellman’s. This left only No 8 Hangar which was renumbered No 1 and the revamped No 6 which became No 2. The sole remaining doubled gable hangar curiously retained its title as No 4, possibly because it displayed that number on the door, however this was a symbol of a particular hazard level, nevertheless it retained that number. It was totally re-clad apart from the roof. Another casualty was the derelict Brookes farmhouse, the oldest building on the airfield that had been there when the airfield was just arable land, this was demolished.

During the 1980s the airfield took part in many security exercises when soldiers from some of the elite army units would attempt to invade the airfield. They were not always successful though, they hadn’t taken into account the airmen’s families living in the married quarters bordering the perimeter fence who had set up a very effective early warning system. In the autumn of 1986 the Airmen’s Mess was completely refurbished to convert it into specialist technical training school. At the same time an annexe was built in the Officers Mess to accommodate the other ranks. In April 1987 the Bloodhound Missile System Maintenance School was transferred in from RAF Newton recommencing courses from April 1987.

On June 25th 1988 the station housed an air display when local flying clubs and private owners flew in on invitation to provide a static display as the planned Military display was confined to flypasts and displays by the Vulcan, Tornado and Lightning. In the weeks before the open day serious consideration was given into the possibility of landing a Tornado on the runway. The idea was eventually dropped due to the overall condition of the runway’s surface, and in particular the fact the tarmac had been removed some years earlier. It was considered that there was a real chance of debris being ingested in the aircrafts engines.

Meanwhile North Coates parent station, RAF Binbrook was closing down and by a strange quirk of fate a role reversal took place when North Coates became the parent station overseeing the closure. During this period hundreds of Lightning over wing fuel tanks arrived for storage.

On February 28th 1990 the Ministry of Defence announced that the Bloodhound force at North Coates would contract out of NATO and that the site would close. Final closure came on December 18th 1990 ending 65 years of continuous military ownership. North Coates had finally given up its title of Lincolnshire’s oldest military airfield, four years later though it was to re-emerge as Lincolnshire’s newest privately owned airfield, thus opening a new chapter in its history.

North Coates Airfield

The site was handed over to the Defence Land Agency for disposal and rumours immediately started about its possible use a prison. However the Home Office denied any interest and in January 1992 the remaining 70 married quarters were sold by public tender. The roar of heavy powerful aero engines returned briefly in December 1992 when three Harvard wartime trainers and a Beech 18 arrived. They were owned by a Warbird operator who had been allowed winter storage.

They were placed in Hangar 4 and remained until the spring of the following year when they were all flown out to their base in Essex. The derelict Hangar 1 was offered free of charge to an aircraft museum however a survey of its structure showed severe corrosion rendering it too expensive to be stripped down. The cost of replacement cladding alone was prohibitive and the offer had to be declined.

As you look around the airfield today very little exists to indicate its historic past. No 1 Hangar has been completely re-clad and is in use by the farmer as a grain dryer. hangar 2 and its associated compound is still in private hands whilst the pre war historic Doubled Gable Hangar is still used for its original purposes and remains the home of North Coates Flying Club, it continues to dominate the skyline for miles around, behind it stands the wartime air raid bunker now sealed up for safety purposes. Further back the pre war MT section was finally demolished in 1998 as was the water tower. Most of the pre war buildings that were built to accommodate the Bloodhound missile programme survive in a different guise under the ownership of the New Tribes Mission.

The airfield itself bears no resemblance to its former use. The concrete runway, the hard standings and the taxiways apart from the one running the length of the hangar line have been taken up. The Armoury buildings on the southern perimeter survive in their own dedicated compound area, these are in use as a storage facility for a variety of contractors. The old torpedo storage bunkers that stood nearby have been demolished as have all the buildings on the old missile compound. Even the chain link perimeter fencing and the compound security lights have gone, mostly scrapped or sold on. A massive water drain was dredged running the full length of the old runway, this was deemed necessary to drain the land into the ditches at both ends of the perimeter. The Flying club laid a grass runway and taxiway alongside the line of the old runway on land that was used during the 1920s and 30s bringing back to life the area of the airfield that has survived for eight decades for its original use.

Today there are many artefacts surviving in various locations in the area. In the 1970s the old church was demolished. There were a set of memorial boards and squadron badges displayed there these depicted the names of the airmen killed on active service whilst based on the airfield. These were given into the temporary custodianship of the Parish Church pending an offer from Cleethorpes Borough Council to display them in the foyer of the Town Hall.

When the airfield finally closed the Station Commanders display name boards and the ornamental wrought iron main gates were donated to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby.

Today flying resumes in the hands of North Coates Flying Club whose members have not only performed a magnificent job in returning the airfield to a very active flying site, taking its rightful place amongst the General Aviation community in the UK but have also made available for public display the history of the airfield through the opening of the North Coates Heritage Collection.

For more information on the North Coates Flying Club / Heritage Collection please click here.

Station Summary
1914Station opens as an Army Camp.
1916No.33 Sqn RFC Operating the Royal Aircraft Factory Be2. Left in September 1918.
October 1918404 Flt, No.248 Sqn RNASOperating the de Haviland DH.6, Sopwith Baby & Tabloid. Left in March 1919.
Mid 1919Station closed.
1926Station re-opened.
February 1927No.2 APCThe Armament Training Camp operated the Fairey Gordon, Westland Wallace and a single Hawker Hind. No.2 APC later became No.2 ATC (Armament Training Camp) in December 1932, and left North Coates in October 1936.
January 1936A.O.S.The Air Observers School later became No.2 Air Armaments School on 1st November 1937 and changed again on 1st March 1938 to the No.1 Air Observers School. They left North Coates on 2nd September 1939. Combined they operated the Fairey Gordon & Battle, Westland Wallace, Hawker Hart Special, Hawker Henley, Avro Anson Mk I and a single Saro Cloud and a single Hawker Osprey.
1934North Coates Station Flight The Station Flight operated the Fairey Gordon, Westland Wallace, a single Fairey 111f, a single Miles MA14a Magister, a single Avro Tutor and a single de Haviland DH60 Gypsy Moth. The SF left in 1939, but returned shortly after. Finally left the station in July 1945.
9th April 1938No.144 SqnStayed for one month while waiting for RAF Hemswell to be completed. Operating the Bristol Blenheim Mk I. Left North Coates on 7th May 1938.
December 1939Ground Defence Gunnery SchoolOperating the Westland Wallace, Hawker Hart and Gloster Gauntlet. The GDGS left the station in June 1940.
January 1940No.611 Sqn (Detachment)Operating the Supermarine Spitfire Mk I. Left North Coates in August 1940.
February 1940No.248 SqnOperating the Bristol Blenheim 1Vf. Left in April 1940
February 1940No.235 SqnOperating the Bristol Blenheim Mk 1a & 1Vf. Left the station in April 1940.
February 1940No.236 SqnOperating the Bristol Blenheim Mk 1a & 1Vf. Left the station in April 1940.
April 1940No.22 SqnOperating the Bristol Beaufort Mk I, Avro Anson Mk I and Martin Maryland. Left North Coates in June 1941.

For more information on No.22 Squadron please click here
May 1940No.812 Sqn Royal NavyOperating the Fairey Swordfish. Left the station in March 1941.
August 1940No.616 Sqn (Detachment)Operating the Supermarine Spitfire Mk I. Left in February 1941.
March 1941No.816 Sqn Royal NavyOperating the Fairey Swordfish. Left the station in May 1941.
May 1941No.86 SqnOperating the Bristol Beaufort Mk I. Left in December 1941.
June 1941No.6 Anti Aircraft Co-operation UnitOperating the de Haviland DH87 Leopard Moth and Westland Lysander.. Left the station in June 1941.
July 1941No.407 Sqn Royal Canadian Air Force Operating the Lockheed Hudson Mk V. Left in February 1942.
November 1941No.278 Sqn (D Flight)Operating the Westland Lysander and Boulton & Paul Defiant ASR 1. Left the station in January 1943.
January 1942No.59 SqnOperating the Lockheed Hudson Mk V and two Consolidated Liberator Mk III. Left in August 1942.
January 1942No.53 SqnOperating the Lockheed Hudson Mk I & V. Left the station in May 1942.
February 1942No.776 Sqn Royal NavyOperating the Blackburn Roc. Left the station the following month.
February 1942No.7 Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit Operating the Westland Lysander, Miles Master, de Haviland DH86 Leopard Moth and a single Airspeed Oxford. The AACU left in November 1943.
April 1942No.42 SqnOperating the Bristol Beaufort Mk I. Left North Coates in the following month.
June 1942No.415 Sqn Royal Canadian Air ForceOperating the Handley Page Hampden TB1. Left the station in August 1942.
August 1942No.143 SqnOperating the Bristol Blenheim Mk IV and Bristol Beaufighter Mk IIf. Left North Coates in August 1943.
September 1942No.608 Sqn (Detachment)Operating the Lockheed Hudson Mk V. Left in October 1942.
September 1942No.236 SqnOperating various Mk's of the Bristol Beaufighter. Left the station in May 1945.
November 1942No.254 SqnOperating various Mk's of the Bristol Beaufighter, de Haviland Mosquito Mk XVIII, a single Bristol Beaufort and a single Avro Anson. Left North Coates in June 1945.
January 1944No.415 Sqn Royal Canadian Air ForceOperating the Vickers Wellington XIII. Left in March 1944.
February 1944No.143 Sqn Operating the various Mk's of the Bristol Beaufighter, a single Bristol Blenheim and a single de Haviland Mosquito. Left the station in May 1944, but returned in September the same year for a further month's stay.
Mid 1954RAF North Coates Station FlightOperating various Mk's of the Avro Anson. Left the station in June 1990.
November 1954 No.278 Air Sea Rescue Sqn (B Flight)Operating the Bristol Sycamore HR.14 helicopter. Left North Coates in October 1957.
December 1958No.264 SqnOperating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk I Missile. Squadron disbanded in November 1962.

For more information on No.264 Squadron please click here
October 1960No.17 JSTUThe Joint Services Trials Unit operated the Bristol Bloodhound Mk II. Left North Coates in December 1966.
February 1963No.148 (SAM) Sqn Service WingOperating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk I Missile. Left the station in April 1964.
October 1963No.25 SqnOperating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk II Missile. Left the station in August 1964.

For more information on No.25 Squadron please click here
October 1963SAMOTSOperating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk II Missile. The Surface to Air Missile Operational Training School was absorbed in to No.25 Sqn in August 1964.
March 1976No.85 Sqn (B Flight)Operating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk II Missile. Left the station in April 1990.

For more information on No.85 Squadron please click here
April 1987BMSMSOperating the Bristol Bloodhound Mk II Missile. The Bloodhound Missile System Maintenance School left the station in June 1990.
December 1990Station closed.