Unit History: RAF Skellingthorpe
Of the many bomber airfields that ringed the city of Lincoln, the nearest was Skellingthorpe being only two miles south-west of the outskirts, its original purpose being the need to provide a satellite airfield for Waddington. The site was an area of pasture known as Black Moor, 21/z miles south of the village of Skellingthorpe amongst several large woods and bordering the B1190. Hard runways were laid during 1941, the main 0725 at 1,650 yards long and the subsidiaries 0220 and 11-29 both 1,400 yards. Hardstandings were all pan type and 36 in number. The main technical site with a T2 hangar was near Stone’s Place fishpond on the north side of the field to the west side of runway head 25. A second `r2 with a technical sub-site was south-east between runway heads 02 and 29, and later a B1 was erected further south, not far from runway head 02.
In November 1941, No. 50 Squadron’s Hampdens transferred from Swinderby to `Skelly’, its popular abbreviation among RAF personnel. No. 455 RAAF Squadron also removed its Hampdens from Swinderby to Skellingthorpe so that hard runways could be put down, although most of its personnel remained billeted at Swinderby owing to insufficient accommodation at the new station. No. 455 moved out to Wigsley in February 1942.
In April 1942, No. 50 commenced conversion to the Manchester but then its troubles began. During two months only some 120 sorties were flown with the type and seven lost before it was replaced by Lancasters. Nevertheless, the only Victoria Cross gained by a Manchester crewman went to a No. 50 Squadron pilot flying from Skellingthorpe. On the night of May 30/31, 1942, during the famous 1000 bomber raid on Cologne, Flying Officer Leslie Manser’s aircraft was repeatedly damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Despite a critical situation, Manser was determined to bring the Manchester and crew home but having regained friendly airspace the aircraft became untenable. After having given his crew time to parachute to safety, Manser gave his life in the crash, which followed.
To convert to Lancasters and allow the main runway to be extended, the squadron returned to Swinderby in June 1942. Some 350 yards were added to the north-east end of 07-25, the work being completed by September. The station was developed in two areas: two communal, two WAAF, five domestic and sick quarters along the Boultham road to the north, while on the south side along the B1190 were a communal, two domestic and a second sick quarters site dispersed in fields and woodland. Maximum accommodation was given as 1,803 males and 295 females. Bomb stores lay to the north-west, between runway heads 11 and 20, in woodland on Skellingthorpe Moor.
No. 50 Squadron returned in October 1942 and for a year was the sole operational unit at the station. With sufficient accommodation and facilities to take a second squadron, in November 1943 No. 61 arrived from Syerston, which was to be used for operational training. There were then 30 to 36 Lancasters regularly based at Skellingthorpe but, as airspace in the Lincoln area was becoming heavily congested, to lessen the risk of collisions and ease control, No. 61 was moved to Coningsby at the beginning of February 1944. It returned in April when Coningsby became the headquarters of No. 5 Group’s special duties operations.
On May 19, 1944, the deaths of two airmen and substantial damage to a hangar resulted from the detonation of three l,OOO lb bombs dislodged from a tractor-towed bomb trolley train. A total of 208 bombers failed to return or were lost in UK crashes during the operations flown from Skellingthorpe: 15 Hampdens, six Manchesters and 187 Lancasters.
Post-war, Nos. 50 and 61 Squadrons moved to Sturgate in June 1945 and No. 619 Squadron arrived at `Skelly’ the same month only to be disbanded in July. Then came No. 463 Squadron and this too was disbanded late in September marking the end of resident flying units although the runways continued to have occasional use by aircraft from other stations, notably Swinderby.
A proposal in 1948 to convert the airfield into a civil airport came to nothing and the main occupant until the early `fifties was No. 58 Maintenance Unit using hangars for storage. During the following decade the runways and other concrete was broken up for hard core and the land mostly used for farming. In the 1970s-80s, close proximity to Lincoln brought the site to the attention of developers resulting in the gradual encroachment of housing estates on the north-eastern side so that few visible traces of the airfield remain at the end of the century. There is a memorial to Nos. 50 and 61 Squadrons in the nearby Birchwood Community Centre.