Whitley bomber

Station History

Royal Air Force Linton on Ouse

RAF Linton-on-Ouse was one of some fifty RAF stations constructed between 1934 and 1937 as part of the rapid expansion of the RAF in response to German rearmament. Intended to accommodate two bomber squadrons, construction started in 1936 and Station Headquarters opened on 13 May 1937, although Nos 51 and 58 Squadrons did not move in until April 1938. From June 1937 until April 1940, the Station was also home to Headquarters No 4 (Bomber) Group, which controlled the bomber stations in Yorkshire. The Air Officer Commanding No 4 Group in 1937/8 was the then Air Commodore A T Harris, later Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command from February 1942 to the end of the war in Europe.

On the night of 3/4 September 1939, ten Whitley aircraft of Nos 51 and 58 Squadrons were dispatched to drop propaganda leaflets over Germany, becoming the first RAF aircraft to operate over Germany at night during the Second World War. The first attempted bombing raid by aircraft from Linton-on-Ouse took place on 17/18 April 1940, when two Whitleys were dispatched to bomb the aerodrome at Oslo. In the event, both sorties were unsuccessful owing to poor weather around the target, as were similar raids flown on two subsequent nights. The first successful bombing raid by aircraft from Linton-on-Ouse was on Aalborg aerodrome in Denmark, which was bombed by two aircraft on 23/24 April 1940, while the first bombing raid by Linton aircraft on a target in Germany took place on 11/12 May 1940, when three aircraft were sent to M√ľnchen-Gladbach. From December 1940 until August 1942, Linton-on-Ouse was home to No 35 Squadron, the first RAF squadron to be equipped with the Halifax heavy bomber. As the war progressed, aircraft based at Linton-on-Ouse took part in many of the notable bombing raids mounted by Bomber Command, including the three Thousand Bomber raids in May/June 1942, as well as attacks on German capital ships and on industrial targets in Germany, Italy, and occupied Europe. During this time, two notable RAF bomber pilots served at Linton-on-Ouse: Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC DSO DFC served as a captain on both Nos 102 and 35 Squadrons and later commanded No 76 Squadron, while Group Captain ‘Willie’ Tait DSO DFC served on No 35 Squadron and later commanded No 78 Squadron. In June 1943, Linton-on-Ouse was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of No 6 Group of Bomber Command and became the home of Nos 408 and 426 Squadrons, Royal Canadian Air Force, equipped initially with Lancasters and later Halifaxes. The last raid flown from Linton-on-Ouse during the Second World War was an attack on the coastal artillery batteries on Wangerooge, one of the Frisian Islands, on 25 April 1945.

By the middle of June 1945 the Canadian squadrons had departed, and in October 1945 Linton was handed back to the RAF and transferred to Transport Command as a heavy transport conversion unit equipped with Stirlings and Halifaxes. However, in June 1946, Linton was transferred to Fighter Command and over the next ten years became the home to several fighter squadrons, equipped initially with the Hornet and Mosquito, and later Meteor, Sabre, and Hunter. For 20 months from March 1953, Linton was also home to the RAF’s first air/sea rescue helicopter squadron, No 275 Squadron, equipped with Sycamore helicopters. As a result of the dramatic reduction of Fighter Command in the late 1950s, Linton was declared surplus to Fighter Command requirements and the Station was placed on Care & Maintenance on 1 March 1957. On 1 September of that year, the Station was transferred to Flying Training Command in preparation for the arrival of No 1 Flying Training School (FTS) in late October.

No 1 FTS was originally formed on 29 July 1919 at Netheravon in Wiltshire, establishing it as the oldest military flying training school in the world. At Linton-on-Ouse the role of the Unit was ‘all-through’ training of Naval pilots to ‘wings’ standard, comprising basic training on the Provost and advanced training on the Vampire. The Jet Provost replaced the Provost as the basic trainer starting in October 1960, while the Chipmunk was introduced from early 1961 to provide elementary training for Naval helicopter pilots. From late 1962, advanced training for Naval pilots was progressively transferred to RNAS Brawdy, and from late 1963 the No 1 FTS Vampires were used to provide advanced training for RAF and Foreign & Commonwealth student pilots, until the aircraft were transferred to No 7 FTS at Church Fenton in January 1966. Following the cancellation in 1966 of the replacement aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, the ab-initio training of Naval fixed-wing pilots came to an end with the graduation of the last Naval fixed-wing course in June 1969. At Linton-on-Ouse, their place was taken by RAF student pilots with small numbers of Foreign & Commonwealth students, while the training of Naval helicopter pilots was transferred to Church Fenton. The ab-initio training of Naval fixed-wing pilots did not recommence until 1976, when three Royal Navy students completed the Jet Provost course at No 1 FTS and received their ‘wings’. The Naval link was also maintained by the Royal Navy Elementary Training Squadron at Topcliffe, which came under the control of No 1 FTS from 1984 until this training was contractorised in 1993. In 1985, Messrs Airwork Ltd took over responsibility for engineering and supply functions at Linton-on-Ouse in place of RAF personnel; this contract is currently held by Babcock. Meanwhile, the first female student pilots commenced training at No 1 FTS during 1990.

After more than thirty years in service, the Jet Provost was retired during 1993, being replaced by the turbo-prop tandem-seat Tucano. From 1995, following the Government’s Defence Cost Study ‘Front Line First’, all RAF Tucano training was concentrated at Linton-on-Ouse, with the Central Flying School Tucano Squadron and Tucano Air Navigation Squadron operating from the relief landing ground at Topcliffe. These two Squadrons were subsequently relocated to the main airfield at Linton-on-Ouse. In 2002, the two basic pilot training squadrons at Linton-on-Ouse were allocated reserve squadron numbers as No 72 (Reserve) Squadron and No 207 (Reserve) Squadron. In 2007, the Tucano Air Navigation Squadron followed suit to become No 76 (Reserve) Squadron. In the early part of 2008, No 1 FTS played host to HRH Prince William, who undertook a period of flying on the Tucano with 227 Course as part of a tailored course leading to the award of his ‘wings’. The conclusions of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, which were announced by the Prime Minister in October 2010, had a major impact on the training of pilots and weapons system operators, with the decisions to withdraw the RAF and Royal Navy Harrier fleet, cancel the procurement of the Nimrod MRA4, and reduce the RAF Tornado GR4 fleet by two squadrons This led to the ending of weapons system operator training and disbanding of No 76 (Reserve) Squadron in May 2011, and a considerable reduction in the number of student pilots undertaking basic fast-jet training on the Tucano, leading to the disbanding of No 207 (Reserve) Squadron in January 2012.

Today the role of RAF Linton-on-Ouse is to provide basic fast-jet pilot training for Royal Navy, RAF and Foreign & Commonwealth students in preparation for advanced training on the Hawk at RAF Valley, and refresher and instructor training for qualified RAF and Royal Navy pilots. In addition to the airfield at Linton-on-Ouse, No 1 FTS operates relief landing grounds at Dishforth and Topcliffe.

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