RAF Waddington through the Ages: Part 2 The Outbreak of World War 2

Following the pre-war expansion period; by the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, 44 & 50 Squadron were the only flying units left at RAF Waddington. By that point, both squadrons were operating the Hampden bomber tasked with “Armed Reconnaissance”: Anti-Shipping Patrols designed to find and attack German ships in the North Sea.  The first mission of the War was tasked for the evening of 3rd September – the 9 crews failed to find any targets in poor weather.  Crew training had been haphazard: some of the pilots had never flown with a full bomb load before this mission; one of the pilots had logged less than 4 hours total night flying experience.

Below: Hampdens of 44 Squadron being prepared on 3rd of Sept 1939

The war hotted up for Waddington following the German invasion of Norway in April 1940.  On the 12th April, a mixed formation of twelve Hampdens from 44 and 50 Sqns attacked a German warship in Kristansand harbour in daylight.  German fighters engaged during the run-in: five Hampdens were shot down over the target and a further aircraft ditched during the return.

Right below:

The technical problems of the Manchester were solved with the Mk 3 variant; the wing was extended and 4 Merlin engines added. This much improved aircraft was renamed the “Lancaster” and as 44 Sqn soon discovered, proved to be the outstanding bomber of WW2.

The Battle of the Barges 1940:

Following the departure of 50 Sqn in 1940, 44 Sqn remained as the only squadron until the Manchesters of 207 Squadron arrived at the end of the year. The squadron’s primary role continued to be shipping attack, and the newly captured French ports being used by the German Navy provided plenty of targets. While the Battle of Britain raged during the summer of 1940 at night, Bomber Command carried the fight to the German invasion forces at the Channel ports in a “forgotten” campaign known as “The Battle of the Barges”.



The Avro Manchester: 207 Sqn, Nov 40 – Nov 41

Waddington regained its 2nd squadron in November 1940:

No 207 Sqn was formed to operate the AVRO Manchester medium bomber – the first Sqn to operate the type in RAF service.  Although a sound concept, the Manchester suffered from many technical problems. 207 Sqn soldiered on with the Manchester, but lost almost as many aircraft due to accidents as to enemy action: the unreliable and underpowered Rolls Royce Vulture engines could not cope with the demands of carrying ever increasing fuel and bomb loads – the loss of an engine due to either technical reasons or enemy action usually led to the loss of the entire aircraft.

Left: Waddington NAAFI – destroyed on 9th May 1941

The only significant attack on Waddington was made during major Luftwaffe attacks on Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby on 9th May 1941. A direct hit by an aerial mine destroyed Waddington church and seven houses, and damaged several others, killing a civilian.  Two hours later, a string of five bombs fell across RAF Waddington: the bombs seriously damaged the NAAFI club on the airfield – unfortunately an air-raid shelter on Station received a direct hit, killing 7 NAAFI girls and 3 airmen.  One of the casualties was the manageress of the club, Mrs Constance Raven.  (The Airmen’s Club at RAF Waddington, which also houses the Heritage Centre, was quickly rebuilt and is still called the “Raven’s Club” in her memory).

Squadron Leader John D Nettleton VC

The first major event for 44 Sqn’s Lancasters took place on 17th April with the infamous daylight low-level raid on the marine diesel engine factory in Augsburg. Of the six aircraft that took part in the raid, none returned to Waddington; the only 44 Sqn Lancaster to make it back to England badly damaged was flown by the formation leader, Sqn Ldr John Nettleton. For his part in the raid, he was awarded the Victoria Cross – the only such medal to be awarded to Waddington personnel during the war. The main briefing and conference facility at Waddington is named The Nettleton Room in his honour.

Right: Squadron Leader John D Nettleton VC

By 1943, the grass runway was showing signs of wear and tear, under the increased weight and payload of the 4-engine bombers. And so, in May 1943, 44 and IX Sqn (who had arrived in late 1942) moved out and the airfield was redeveloped with a concrete runway and improved dispersals.

Left: 1943 RAF Waddington with its new concrete runway.



Towards the end of the war, Waddington received 2 “Australian” squadrons, although this was something of a misnomer as the crews were often made up of Canadians and New Zealanders as well. 463 and 467 Sqn remained until the end of the war, taking part in what was probably the most intense bomber command battle, “The Battle of Berlin”.

The winter of 1944/45 was exceptionally hard, and most of the Australians were introduced to snow for the first time in their lives.  The bad weather slowed down the pace of operations for a while, allowing an introduction to snowball fights and sledging.

Below: Waddington Aircraft on a daylight raid.

The final operational mission of the war was on 25/26th April when RAF Waddington dispatched 28 Lancasters to attack the oil storage depot in Tonsberg, Norway.  One Lancaster from 463 Sqn was involved in a running battle with a night-fighter: although the Lancaster crash-landed in Sweden, all the crew were safe.  The night fighter was shot down.

The final tasking for WW2 was “Operation Exodus” – the repatriation of Allied POWs back to England.  Each Lancaster carried up to 24 POWs in one trip.

By the end of the War, Waddington had lost more aircraft than any other base in Bomber Command.  Not including accidents to visiting aircraft, the totals are: 224 Lancaster; 122 Hampdens; and 21 Manchesters.   A total of 1,639 aircrew were killed in action and 309 became Prisoners of War.

In the next edition of Insight; RAF Waddington through the Ages Part 3 – Into the Jet Age