Unit History: RAF North Coates

RAF North Coates
North Coates Fitties opened in 1914 as an army camp although its association with military flying followed shortly after. A BE2c landed here on 4 Aug 1914, the first recorded landing.
North Coates airfield did not formally open, possible until mid-1918, as one of 14 RFC landing grounds in Lincolnshire. In May 1915 the successful attacks by raiding German Zeppelins against Humberside and Teeside led to some land being requisitioned at North Cotes village. Whilst the village name has varied in spelling the airfield has retained the "a" in Coates. Fitties is a Lincolnshire word which means foreshore saltings. The requirement for local air defence was reinforced by the Mar 1916 Zeppelin attack which killed 29 soldiers of the 3rd Bn Manchester Regt at nearby Cleethorpes. The airfield’s purpose was to save BE12 aircraft wasting time returning to their flight stations to refuel after conducting Zeppelin intercepts. North Coates was the most easterly airfield occupying an important refuelling position.
RAF North Coates Fitties was used to concentrate some coastal land plane units of 18 Group, Coastal Command, prior to their disbandment in Jun 1919. With the aircraft gone there was no requirement for the 88 acre landing ground next to the army camp and it reverted to agricultural use by the end of 1919.
The ’North Coates Fitties’ airfield was established in 1926 to accompany the formation of an Armament Practice Camp (APC) but not ready for aircraft use until Feb 1927. Initial tented accommodation and the four wooden huts inherited from the army were used as messes, HQ and armoury. They were gradually replaced in the 1930s by Bessoneau and then permanent hangars, admin buildings and also hosted an air observers’ school. From 1927, two bomber sqns would deploy to the airfield for 4 weeks at a time for range practice on nearby Theddlethorpe Range and Donna Nook Range.
The Station Flt was equipped with 3 Gordon and a Moth used for towing flags or drogue targets for air to air gunnery.
On 1 Jan 1932 RAF North Coates Fitties became No 2 Armament Training Camp (ATC). No 1 was at Catfoss and No 3 at Sutton Bridge. A Station HQ was stood up on 1 Oct 1935 to command the increasing activity on Station and its now subordinate units at Theddlethorpe and Donna Nook. By now many RAuxAF and Fleet Air Arm units were among the many visitors as the prospect of war in Europe loomed. The Air Observers’ School set up in Jan 1936 began to train sqn personnel selected for part-time observer duties in the disciplines of bomb aiming and gunnery.
On the outbreak of World War II all flying units were evacuated from RAF North Coates as part of the general invasion scare. In Feb 1940 Coastal Command reoccupied the station, dropping the Fitties part of the name, with three Blenheim-equipped squadrons (248 Sqn, 235 Sqn and 236 Sqn) conducting long range North Sea patrolling and low-altitude shipping attacks. These departed in May 1940 and RAF North Coates assumed the anti surface unit / shipping warfare role which it maintained until the end of the war. Strike power was originally provided by the Fleet Air Arm from May 1940 with ageing Swordfish while a Hudson-equipped Canadian formation arrived in 1941 for anti-submarine and anti-surface unit warfare. Coastal Command sqns 42 Sqn, 53 Sqn, 224 Sqn, 233 Sqn and 248 Sqn also formed here, passed through here or sent detachments.
Preparations for D-Day in 1944 and the requirements of OVERLORD led to many detachments for anti-shipping operations in the south and this was perhaps the start of the reduction in the North Coates Strike Wing. 236 and 256 Sqns flew their Beaufighter in the anti-shpping role under 16 Group as part of the Coastal Command effort in Op NEPTUNE (supporting the D Day landings). By Oct 1944 the North Coates Wg was the only still at its original home and had been reduced to 2 Sqns (236 and 254 Sqns). The Wg flew its last combat sortie into the Kattegat on 3 May 1945.
After the cessation of hostilities North Coates was placed on Care and Maintenance, transfered to Maintenance Command as a sub-site for 25 MU. 25 MU was succeded by 61 MU in Oct 1945. This was not to last and in Dec 1946 Flying Training Command took over the site in preparation for the establishment of No 1 Initial Training School on 1 Jan 1947. This too did not stay long and departed for South Cerney in Oct 1947. A few months later the Stn had another phase of life as a technical training centre; this ended abruptly following the 1953 January floods.
Between 1945 and RAF withdrawal in 1990 it hosted maintenance units, a Sycamore helicopter sqn and Britain’s first Bloodhound surface-to-air missile site.
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