Phantom Gate Guardian

WWII to Phantoms

Part 1: World War II to Phantoms

Lancaster bomber It was in 1937 that work on building an aerodrome at Coningsby was started. At the outbreak of war it was still under construction and did not become a Royal Air Force Station until 4 November 1940, as a bomber airfield in No 5 Group. The first squadron, No 106, arrived in February 1941 and operations began the following month when 4 Hampdens bombed Cologne.
No 97 Squadron, equipped with Manchester, followed in April and took part in bombing and mining operations, which were the Station's main tasks at that time. Coningsby aircraft flew in the famous Thousand Bomber' raid on Cologne in May 1942, but from September 1942 to August 1943, whilst hard runways were laid, offensive activities ceased.

No 617 Squadron - The Dambusters' - flew Lancasters from here from August 1943 until January 1944, when they moved to the nearby airfield of Woodhall Spa. The Squadron's Mess is now the popular Petwood Hotel. Early in 1944 a special Marker Force was formed within No 5 Group and this Force operated from Coningsby and its satellite airfields at Woodhall Spa and Metheringham. The Marker Force achieved outstanding results and the skill of its crews was largely responsible for the night bombing successes of the last 15 months of the war.

The Station operated Lincolns for a short period after the war, before Mosquitos replaced these, in 1946. In March 1950 these too left and for 6 months the Station was inactive until the squadrons re-equipped with Washington aircraft. These remained until 1953 when the squadrons entered the jet age, re-equipping with Canberras, the RAF's first jet heavy bomber. In 1954 a tremendous expansion of the Station began, including extension of the runways, and it was closed for flying that year with the work not being finally completed until late 1956.

Vulcan Bomber at take off The Canberras left in 1961 and from 1962 to November 1964, 3 squadrons of Vulcans, Nos 9,12 and 35, were based at Coningsby. During this period, in May 1963, the Station received the Freedom of the Borough of Boston.

In 1964 the Station was selected as the prospective base for the ill-fated TSR2 and, at the end of the year, the Station was placed under Care and Maintenance following the cancellation of the project.

In 1966 Coningsby was selected as the first base for the RAF fighter-bomber version of the Phantom in flight Phantom and it transferred from Bomber Command to Fighter Command. Another period of tremendous building activity, costing some £4.5 million, commenced. In December 1967, because of the initial roles the Phantom was to perform, the Station was transferred from Fighter Command to Air Support Command. At the same time, the first ground training course for airmen on the Phantom's systems was started at the No 5 School of Technical training which, in August 1968, became
No 3 Squadron of No 228 Operational Conversion Unit. In August 1968 the Phantom FGR 2 arrived at Coningsby, and, in October, the first aircrew course on the OCU was started in preparation for the formation at Coningsby of the first Phantom squadrons. In October 1974 the Station transferred from No 38 Group to No 11 Group, within the now renamed Strike Command, as its primary role changed from ground attack to air defence.

In March 1976 the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which maintains and flies the last of the Royal Air Force's Spitfires and Hurricanes, a Lancaster Bomber and a Dakota, moved to Coningsby from Coltishall.

In 1977 Her Royal Highness, the Princess Margaret, became Honorary Air Commodore of Royal Air Force Coningsby and visited the Station on a bi-annual basis, until her death on 15 February 2002.

In June 1981 the airfield hardening programme, designed to offer greater protection to aircraft and personnel, began and was finally completed in October 1984. The runway was resurfaced from 1 March until
31 October 1984 during which period operations were carried out from Waddington.

The arrival of the first Tornado F2 aircraft in November 1984 heralded the next phase in Coningsby's long and varied history. No 229 Operational Conversion Unit was re-formed on 1 November 1984 and quickly began providing crews for the front-line squadrons. The unit was renamed
56 (Reserve) Squadron in July 1992. During 1987, No 29(F) Squadron gradually phased out its Phantoms and became the first squadron to re-equip with the Tornado F3.

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