RAF Elvington – A Brief History

Originally a grass airfield, RAF Elvington was completely rebuilt with three hardened runways in 1942, as a sub-station of RAF Pocklington. Grouped with RAF Melbourne, the three airfields became known as ’42 Base’, within 4 Group.

The operational aircraft were Handley Page Halifax four-engined bombers operated by 77 Squadron RAF.  The squadron took part in the Battle of the Ruhr and in many other operations aimed at the destruction of the German war industry. In early 1944, 77 Squadron moved to the newly opened airfield at Full Sutton and Elvington became host to two French Squadrons operating within No.4 Group: No. 346 (Guyenne) and No.347 (Tunisie). Both squadrons played a major part in the bomber offensive against Germany. Whilst at Elvington, 77 Squadron lost 82 aircraft and 450 aircrew (comprising of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders as well as British) and this comprised more than half their fatalities during the whole war. 77 Squadron lost a total of 883 airman.

On the night of 3rd March 1945, German night-fighters launched Operation Gisela against the 450 heavy bombers of 4, 5 & 6 Groups RAF Bomber Command returning from a raid on the synthetic oil plants at Kamen, in the Ruhr and the Dortmund Canal. At around midnight 100 Junkers 88’s crossed the English coast from the Thames to Yorkshire and infiltrated the returning bomber streams. Two hours later at least 24 bombers had been shot down and a further 20 damaged.

Having shot down two Halifax bombers of 158 Squadron returning to RAF Lissett near Bridlington, Hauptman Johann Dreher of 13 Nachtjagdeschwader Gruppen (Night fighter destroyer group), in his Junkers 88G turned to attack the French Air Force Halifax’s landing at Elvington. The runway lights were switched off and all aircraft ordered (in French) to divert to other airfields. It was 1:50am and as the alarms sounded, Capitaine Notelle’s Halifax pulled sharply up and, narrowly escaping, headed north towards RAF Croft. He was stalked by another German night fighter and was hit 3 times before crash landing near Darlington. All the crew survived. Meanwhile, Dreher’s Junkers 88 continued to attack RAF Elvington, strafing the road and a passing taxi. Circling round for another attack, it clipped a tree and crashed into Dunnington Lodge farmhouse, killing all 5 crew; the farmer, Richard Moll; his wife and mother. A black cross can be seen by the roadside in front of the farmhouse near the Museum on the road back to York. The war ended just 9 weeks later and this is probably the scene of the very last Luftwaffe aircraft crash on British soil.

In October 1945, the French Squadrons left for Bordeaux and Elvington became part of 40 Group Maintenance Command until 1952 when it became part of the expansion programme for US Strategic Air Command who planned to use B36 bombers to deliver their nuclear deterent. The runway was lengthened to 1.92 miles, one of the longest in Britain, but with the advent of submarine launched “Polaris” nuclear missiles the base never became operational and it was vacated in 1958.

In the early 1960s, the Blackburn Aircraft Company at Brough, near Hull, used the runway for test flying the prototype Buccaneer aircraft. Afterwards, the RAF flying training schools at Church Fenton and Linton-on-Ouse used the runway to practise circuits and landings. RAF Elvington finally closed in March 1992 and was sold by the Ministry of Defence in January 1999.