On the first working day of the New Year, Flt Lt Simon “Kinno” Kinnersley floated the idea of an RAF 100 Commemorative Cycle Ride. The idea was to cycle, over 100 hrs (roughly 4 ½ days), 100 km per day over a route encompassing 100 points of historical RAF military interest in North Yorkshire. Thus, after much discussion, “Swift Spin” was born – to involve RAF Linton on Ouse personnel on a challenging, but enjoyable, thrash around the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
As the year progressed, it became clear that the summer was destined to be epic and excitement grew, as did the list of names of those wishing to join in the fun. The week of 3-7 Sep 18 was selected with the mind’s eyes of the protagonists wandering to a potential Indian Summer.
However, nearer the time, it became apparent that summer commitments meant that 24-28 Sep 18 was more conducive to the collective working schedule. Some nervousness became more evident as this was perilously close to Oct and the change of the seasons. True to form, a series of Autumn Storms (Ali and Bronagh) blew through the area the week before. Luckily, the forecast for the dates in question became clear as excited faces pointed at various phone apps, giving “thumbs ups” accompanied by approving glances.
And so, on the morning of Mon 24 Sep 18, the Team assembled outside the front of the Officers’ Mess RAF Linton on Ouse to be conveyed, Team Sky-like (in two half-and-half’s) to Newby Hall (below) – the designated start point for the ride.
Newby Hall was one of those residences, designated by The Coats Mission, established for the purpose of evacuating the Royal Family in the event of a German invasion.
The first day was fairly straightforward – around 70 km in total and encompassed RAF Ripon (now the racecourse!), RAF Dishforth, RAF Topcliffe, RAF Catterick, RAF Helperby. RAF Dalton,
RAF (RCAF) Skipton on Swale, RAF Scorton and a number of crash sites involving wartime Hurricane, Halifax, Blenheim, Fortress and Lancaster aircraft as well as post-war types such as the Vickers Varsity. The route terminated near RAF Leeming with Marshy and Pete Crease opting to complete the final 20 km at a pace that almost beat the wagons home!
The Team suffered its only near loss of control incident of the whole event on the first morning with Kinno, whilst warning of the presence of a Royal Mail Van approaching rapidly in the nine o’clock, catching his front wheel on a tarmac bump in the road which ‘pinged’ him sideways (luckily with no approaching traffic) and onto the opposite grass verge. Putting his previous MTB skills to good effect, Kinno managed to stay out of the ditch and safely re-join the peloton with nothing more than a slight rise to an already elevated heartrate.
On another beautiful, but chilly morning, the Team set off from Tockwith (formerly known as
RAF Marston Moor after RAF Tockwith caused confusion with RAF Topcliffe!). A notable former Station Commander was Gp Capt Leonard Cheshire VC OM DSO** DFC who, following the death of Wg Cdr Guy Gibson VC DSO* DFC*, volunteered to command 617 Sqn. The route encompassed RAF Rufforth (below) where No 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) trained Halifax crews from Mar 1943 to May 1945.
On 5 Sep 07 an RAF Linton-on-Ouse Tucano made an emergency landing at Rufforth airfield after suffering an engine malfunction.
Notable airfields around the route included RAF Acaster Malbis, RAF Braham Moor (Tadcaster), the memorial in Kirkby Wharfe, RAF Riccall and, a former Linton Relief Landing Ground and Tucano base, RAF Church Fenton. Two of the greatest WWI aces Major ‘Mick’ Mannock VC DSO** MC* and Maj Billy Bishop VC DSO* MC DFC were former COs of 85 Sqn – the last being one of the cyclists, Sqn Ldr Andy Paul, who commanded the squadron at RAF Church Fenton until its disbandment in Aug 11. A commemorative sign, complete with Spitfire (below), is shown at the roadside near to the entrance to what is now Leeds East Airport!
The final photo stop for the group on Day Two, after precisely 100 km, was the entrance to the Yorkshire Museum and Allied Air Forces’ Memorial at the former RAF Elvington, where the old-and-not-so-bold regaled to anyone who would listen (no-one really) stories of first solo flights flown in the predecessor of the Tucano – the venerable Jet Provost.
Here, the USAF built a new 10 150 ft runway, which was the longest in the north of England, and a 49 acre rectangular hardstanding, as well as a new Control Tower to Elvington into a "Basic Operation Platform" which would have operated as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) dispersal airfield. After spending £4 million the airfield never became operational as a SAC base and was abandoned by the USAF in 1958.
Prior to some gentle cycling through the busy streets of York, for the last 15 km, one final stop at Dunnington Lodge took place. Here on the night of 3-4 Mar 1945, a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju88 made a low-level attack near Elvington before clipping a tree and the corner of Dunnington Lodge before crashing onto the road; all four Luftwaffe crew were killed in the crash. A team of RAF gunners manning a machine gun post at Elvington airfield may have been responsible in damaging this aircraft prior to it crashing. Three occupants of the house were also seriously injured and died over the coming hours. This was the last German aircraft to crash on British soil during WWII. The bodies of the four Luftwaffe crew were initially buried at Fulford Cemetery, York but were later re- interred at Cannock Chase Cemetery, Staffordshire (below).
At this point, burgeoning illness did for both Pinball and Giz meaning that Creasey and Marshy would, for once, *have to do some work on the front and Matt would have to stop kipping in the back of the van and actually drive (* plant tongue firmly in cheek). Using the significant horsepower of the half-and-half to commence the day’s 108 km activity from altitude, the start point was Garrowby Hill on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds where a memorial to the crew of Halifax DK192 had been erected.
On 7 Feb 1944 the crew of this 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit aircraft took off from Rufforth airfield to undertake a training flight. Whilst flying in low cloud the aircraft flew into the top of Garrowby Hill, to the west of Stamford Bridge, crossed a road and caught fire. Sadly, the crew died as a result of the crash. A milk lorry happened to be travelling up the road at the time and the aircraft struck this lorry, killing the driver. One of the crew was able to escape from the burning aircraft and ran for help; he was taken to York Hospital but sadly died soon after. A member of this aircraft's regular crew was in hospital at the time and, as a result of the accident, lost all his fellow crewmembers. However, he would later complete his training and be posted to an operational squadron.
Notable airfields along the day’s route included RAF Full Sutton – which, until 1963, was home to the Thor ICBMs of 102 Sqn – RAF Pocklington, from which Wellington and Halifax bombers launched raids on Germany from 1941 onwards, RAF Melbourne, RNAS Howden and RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor.
On the border of the former RAF Holme-on-Spalding-Moor are two notable memorials. One stone commemorates personnel of 76 Sqn who died in action. Behind this, there’s a memorial tree for members of No 458 (RAAF) Squadron who were killed in action. In addition, there is a memorial and tree to commemorate Gp Capt Leonard Cheshire VC OM DSO** DFC who was the Officer Commanding 76 Sqn 1942-1943. No 76 Sqn was rebadged as 76(R) Sqn on 1 May 07 and has operated Tucano T1 aircraft at both RAF Topcliffe and RAF Linton on Ouse.
Shortly after this Visit, and in the vicinity of IP-Targets East IP1! (South Dalton to most), the group suffered the only “mechanical” of the week – a puncture quickly rectified by the RN contingent – Creasey. In sympathetic fashion, and mindful of his straight-line speed, the remainder pushed on hoping to gain some time – but were distracted by the local pub whereupon they were caught.
Nearing the end of the route was RAF Leconfield. On 3 Sep 1939, the first night of the war, ten Whitley bombers from Leconfield became the first British aircraft to penetrate German airspace, dropping propaganda leaflets over Germany. In Oct 1939 it was taken over by Fighter Command and Mk I Spitfires of 72 Sqn (hurrah!) from RAF Church Fenton (double hurrah!).
By the end of the day, the rolling Wolds and a significant South-Westerly had taken their toll on all but the strongest cyclists (* who still had yet to take their turn on the front….) and the Team was looking forward to spending a relaxing time in the “majesty” of The Grand Hotel Scarborough.
This was to be a longish (120 km) downhill leg (because North-South is always downhill, right?) from the vicinity of RAF Staxton Wold to Withernsea with those wishing to add the last 15 km to Spurn Point being able to do so at the end of the ride. Happily, the band was joined by Sqn Ldr John ‘Harry’ Pilling – OC A Flt 72 Sqn detachment (TIF) at RAF Valley responsible for the introduction into service of the Texan T1. Immediately after arrival at the start point, our illustrious leader, Kinno, “invited” Harry to lead out from the front. On the way, one of the most striking memorials was visited – that being to 158 Bomber Sqn personnel stationed at the former
RAF Lisset. In a perverse irony, the number of those lost was 851.
The designated end point was Withernsea where, after gratefully consuming ice cream kindly bought for the group by Harry, five of the group pressed on to Spurn Point Nature Reserve. Here it became clear of the hidden agenda and cycling history (“friendly” rivalry!) between Harry and Kinno came to the fore. The whole day had been pushed on apace (to some of us) and the ulterior motive was to punish Harry for being fresh – not that he could do anything about that!
After a brief stop, it was a long van journey (2 hrs) through rush-hour traffic back to The Grand where, unfortunately, Archie announced that the Achilles’ issue that had plagued him since Day One meant that he would not be able to complete the final day (or, indeed, stand in the 40 min queue for breakfast…).
The last day was beautifully picturesque – 65 km from Pickering to RAF Linton on Ouse through the Howardian Hills – part of our local training area. Being in such close proximity to many major wartime airfields inevitably means that there were, sadly, a number of crash sites scattered around – the majority of them being Halifaxes in this part of the world with Lincolnshire hosting the mighty Lancaster. Surrounding airfields include Kirkbymoorside, RAF Wombleton and former RAF East Moor.
On 24 Jul 1941, Whitley T4285 took off from RAF Linton-on-Ouse to undertake an operational flight to bomb Emden - but quickly developed engine trouble. The crew jettisoned their bombs and turned for Linton. Fifteen minutes after taking off the aircraft deliberately ditched in the River Ouse near to the Red House, Moor Monkton which was a preparatory school at the time, and the crew paddled to the river bank in the dinghy.
With some reasonable climbs towards the end of the ride, the performance of the better cyclists became clear but, yet again, the weather was superb with just a light autumn chill in evidence. We were met at RAF Linton on Ouse by a contingent at the front of the Mess with some well-earned refreshment (bottles just visible in the background!).
As a post-script, Creasey and Marshy went on to complete some 100 additional kilometres over the weekend just to make a nice round 500 km for the week!
Significant thanks must go to Kinno for organising the whole event and for Matt and Giz for their excellent support and great company throughout the week.