RAF Elsham Wolds - North Lincolnshire Airfield - WW1 & WW2
Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force Home Defence airfield 1916 to 1919 and Royal Air Force Bomber Command airfield 1941 to 1945
Transport Command 1946. Polish Displaced Persons Camp late 1940s to early 1950s.
RAF Elsham Wolds airfield operated in both WW1 and WW2 and will mainly be remembered for its association with both 103 Squadron and 576 Squadron.
However 33 Squadron were stationed there in WW1,
100 Squadron briefly at the end of WW2, and
21 Heavy Glider Conversion Unit briefly in the immediate post war era
The site was situated approximately 7 miles north east of Brigg near Elsham village in North Lincolnshire on the plateau called Elsham Wolds which is the north of the village. The airfield was approximately 260 feet above sea level. The A15 road built since the war runs across the site of the old airfield.
Elsham Wolds was originally one of the airfields used by a Home Defence squadron in the defence of North Lincolnshire and Humberside against air attack in the First World War. The area between the Humber and the Wash was an easily defined entry point for Zeppelins and Lincolnshire received its fair share of bombs although few caused any damage. The first squadrons were mainly equipped with the BE2 and facilities at their airfields and landing strips were primitive.
C Flight of 33 Squadron were based at the Elsham Wolds from December 1916. They were one of the first Home Defence Squadrons formed solely to fight the Zeppelins. Although huge and ungainly these airships proved very difficult to intercept with the very basic aircraft and technology available at this time 33 Squadron flew the aged but reliable BE2C and pusher engined FE2b fighters. Later the Bristol Fighter and Avro 504 to the end of the war and in June 1919 the airfield reverted to agriculture.
OC C Flight 33 Squadron Captain Albert B Fanstone was prominent at the airfield at that time.
Notable personality and WW1 national hero Captain William Leefe Robinson VC spent a short time at Elsham Wolds in the winter of 1916/17 before he was posted to France. Robinson was the first airman to shoot down a Zeppelin over the UK for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross
The demand for bomber airfields in 1939 led to many former airfields being surveyed to assess suitability for development. Elsham Wolds was then chosen as a site for a bomber airfield and construction work began in 1940. An important factor in the choice of the site was the railway communications with a railway station situated nearby at Barnetby.
The new airfield was built on the high plateau immediately north east of the village of Elsham and was built to an early war time pattern with a "J" type hanger on the Eastern side of the airfield and much accommodation and technical and administrative facilities grouped behind. Eventually the airfield had 3 concrete runways, the main one running NW/SE. In addition 2 further large hangers were constructed as the war progressed. It was often a cold, wet and windy site and the accommodation facilities were somewhat primitive so it was not a comfortable place, particularly in the cold weather.
RAF Elsham Wolds opened as a heavy bomber station as part of 1 Group Bomber Command in July 1941 and 103 Squadron RAF moved to their new home soon after and began a long and well known association with the airfield. Throughout the rest of the war the Squadron was based at Elsham Wolds and flew many and varied operations over occupied Europe. 576 Squadron RAF were formed at Elsham Wolds in November 1943 and operated from the airfield until the end of October 1944 when they moved to RAF Fiskerton. On the 1st April 1945 100 Squadron RAF were transferred from RAF Waltham near Grimsby to Elsham Wolds as the Waltham runways were deteriorating and no longer suitable for heavy bomber operations.
In addition the 103 Squadron Heavy Conversion Flight operated from Elsham Wolds flying Handley Page Halifaxes in the summer of 1942 before departing for RAF Lindholme and being redesignated 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit. Also the airfield was home to the Elsham Wolds Station Flight which operated one or two of Miles Magisters and later Airspeed Oxfords.
When RAF Elsham Wolds became the main airfield and Admin centre for 13 Base on the 1st Jan 1944 nearby RAF North Killingholme and RAF Kirmington came under its overall control. This close association continued till the end of WW2.
Among the higher ranking RAF personalities associated with the airfield are
Francis “Ferdy” Swain
103 Squadron was disbanded soon after the war and, in December 1945, 100 Squadron moved to RAF Scampton.
Elsham Wolds was then home to No 21 HGCU of Transport Command who vacated the airfield in November 1946.
During its short history in WW1 and WW2 RAF Elsham Wolds operated a variety of aircraft types.
WW1 - Avro 504, BE2C, Bristol Fighter and FE2b (33 Sqn)
WW2 and beyond - Vickers Wellington IC (103 Sqn), Handley Page Halifax II (103 Sqn), Avro Lancaster I and III (103 and 576 Sqns and for a few weeks in 1945 100 Sqn), Miles Magister and Airspeed Oxford ( RAF Elsham Wolds Station Flight) and finally in 1945/46 Handley Page Halifax III and VII , Armstrong Whitworth AW41 Albermarle and Airspeed AS 51 Horsa I (21 HGCU).
More details of these aircraft can be found under the Aircraft of Elsham Wolds Section.
A brief summary of the Squadrons stationed at RAF Elsham Wolds can be found on the Squadrons of Elsham Wolds Section.
In 1947 the RAF Elsham Wolds airfield finally closed. Some of the old buildings were used to house Polish Displaced Persons up until the early 1950s. This was referred to as Warsaw Hamlet. Most of the site has reverted to agricultural use but one hanger remains as part of a small industrial estate. The main road South from the Humber Bridge runs right through the middle of the airfield.
There were a significant number of crashes within a 20 miles radius of the village of Elsham and I have included a page listing these - see Crashes Page. I have added pages for many of these incidents and will add more in due course. I welcome new info, feedback and any photos regarding this subject and hope to develop this topic in the future.
Written by David Fell