Unit History: RAF Topcliffe

RAF Topcliffe
RAF Topcliffe.
A late expansion scheme airfield, Topcliffe opened in September 1940 as a bomber station in RAF Bomber Command and was home to 77 and 102 Squadrons flying the Whitley heavy bomber.  Some 21.5 miles south-west of Thirsk and 11.5 miles from Topcliffe village, the station had a bombing circle in some 200 acres of seeded grass, fronted on the west side by three of the later Type C hangars with two more behind and the permanent camp to the rear.
During the next two decades there was a considerable amount of new building and improvements to the flying field, the airfield being taken over by Coastal Command in 1952 with Lancaster’s and Neptune’s. It was back to Training Command in 1957 and No. 1 Air Navigation School but this moved south in 1962. Ten years later the base as an RAF station closed when it was transferred to the Army. Re-named Alanbrooke Barracks, the whole complex is currently well maintained with little demolition and the flying field retained in serviceable condition.
The station is now home to 645 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, who teach Air Cadets to fly The Grob 109B 'Vigilant' Motor Glider and is currently joined by 635 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, who have been temporarily re-located from their former airfield.  As of March 2012, RAF Topcliffe is the permanent base of one of the two Yorkshire Air Ambulances.

RAF Topcliffe during WW2

In September 1940, No. 77 Squadron's Whitleys were moved in from Linton-on-Ouse with No. 102's following a few weeks later. The first operation from Topcliffe was carried out on the night of October 8/9, 1940. A year later No. 77 Squadron departed for Leeming and No. 102 Squadron moved the two miles to Dalton when Topcliffe was scheduled to receive hard runways. Also Bomb stores were added on the north side of the airfield. Additional domestic sites were dispersed in fields to the west and maximum accommodation was given as for 2,039 males and 420 females.

In June 1943 No: 102 Squadron returned with the Halifaxes, although this was brief for Topcliffe as one of the airfields that No. 4 Group would bequeath to the Canadian No. 6 Group.

To this end, in early August No. 405 Squadron arrived at Topcliffe from Pocklington in an exchange of stations with No. 102. To further the concentration of Canadian-manned units in the area, No. 419 Squadron brought its Wellingtons over from Leeming during the same month but was moved on to Croft six weeks later. However, a critical situation in the Battle of the Atlantic saw No. 405 Squadron take its Halifaxes south on detachment to Coastal Command in early October 1942. In its absence, No. 424 Squadron was formed at Topcliffe to fly Wellingtons in mid-October, going operational for its first raid on January 15/16, 1943.

No. 405 Squadron returned in March but was almost immediately moved on to Leeming. No. 424 Squadron's Wellingtons were to follow in April, the reason being a decision to concentrate the operational training activities in No. 6 Group on the Topcliffe clutch of stations, the first move being to transfer No. 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit from Leeming to Topcliffe after the operational squadrons had left. In November 1944, the OTU establishments passed from No. 6 Group to No. 7 (Training) Group and No. 1659 HCU began to dispose of its Halifaxes in exchange for Lancaster’s. A total of 123 bombers were lost while flying from Topcliffe on operations, 83 Whitleys, 9 Wellingtons and 31 Halifaxes.

With the disbandment of No. 1659 HCU in September 1945, there was a short period of care and maintenance after which No. 5 later redesignated No. 1 Air Navigation School - was installed at Topcliffe. This formation remained until 1949 after which Transport Command held sway with Hastings aircraft.

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