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[RAF Elsham Wolds] [Other Local Airfields] [RAF Digby Part 2]

RAF Digby, Lincolnshire - Part Two - WW2 onwards

The WW2 account of RAF Digby is very complicated due to the numbers of Fighter Squadrons that were based at the airfield most being only there for a few weeks. I have covered the main ones but there may be others. In addition the sources can differ regarding dates so allowances will have to be made for that.

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Immediately prior to WW2 RAF Digby had 2 operational fighter squadrons on strength – 73 Squadron and 46 Squadron with their Hawker Hurricanes These were reinforced by the arrival 504 Squadron also with Hurricanes.

Hawker Hurricane 504 Squadron

Hawker Hurricane 504 Squadron

The first operational war sortie scrambled on 3rd September 1939 only minutes after Digby was ordered by 12 Group Fighter Command to take on the responsibility for defending its sector area. This proved to be a false alarm and they found nothing. The Digby Fighter Sector stretched from the Midlands to the coast and beyond and operations were generally mounted by 2 day fighter squadrons and a night fighter squadron coordinated by a fighter controller.

Later Digby day and night fighters also operated from nearby satellite airfields at RAF Wellingore and RAF Coleby Grange.

On 10 September 1939 611 (County of Lancaster) Squadron arrived with Supermarine Spitfires and remained until July 1940. In October No 229 Squadron arrived with their Bristol Blenheims 1Fs flying patrols over the North Sea from December and from January 1940 on night training and RDF co-operation duties, remaining at Digby until June 1940.

During 1940 there was a great deal of movement of squadrons, several being posted in for rest on a rotational basis during the Battle of Britain. January 1940 saw the return of No 46 Squadron with Hurricanes and this unit remained until May. That same month No 111 Squadron with Hurricanes, No 222 Squadron with Spitfires and No 56 and No 79 Squadrons, both flying Hurricanes, arrived.

During June No 29 Squadron arrived, shortly to be equipped with the Bristol Beaufighter. This squadron remained until April 1941.

From September to November Digby housed No 151 Squadron and in December the Hurricanes of No 46 Squadron returned. With so much fighter movement and build up it was decided to give Digby a decoy airfield the site chosen being at Ruskington 5 miles south of Digby.

On December 11 1940 the arrival of a group of Canadian officers marked the beginning of Digby's association with the RCAF with the establishment of No 401 Squadron and No 402 Squadron.

The Canadians soon settled in and the first draft of pilots from the Joint Air Training Plan in Canada arrived. A small Operational Training Unit was set up at Digby to train these pilots on Hurricanes, and later Spitfires. The crash rate was high at first but this improved with experience and the weeding out of the poor pilots.

….......

With a build up of men and aircraft more RCAF squadrons followed, Nos 409, 411 and 412 in June 1941. No 409 exchanged their Boulton Paul Defiant night fighters for Bristol Beaufighters and operated from the satellite airfield of Coleby Grange.

The airfield was attacked several times by German bombers in 1941 and it was decided to relocate the 12 Group Sector Operations Centre to Blankney Hall 3 miles to the north where it remained for the rest of the war. Blankney Hall was badly damaged by fire in 1945 and demolished in the mid 60s. I believe the stable block is all that has survived

On 16 September 1942 the station became officially Canadian and was re-named RCAF Digby with Group Captain A.E. McNab DFC RCAF as the Commanding Officer. Over the next two years, numerous fighter squadrons were to pass through Digby and, although it was an RCAF airfield, some RAF squadrons used it, as did the Belgians with No 609 Squadron and again in 1943 with the two Spitfire squadrons Nos 349 and 350 from August to October.

RAF Digby McNab

Group Captain A.E. McNab DFC RCAF

As the tide of the air war turned so did the pressure on the home defence fighters and Digby and the operational requirements were gradually run down and with Digby becoming more of a training station. During the latter part of 1943 and early part of 1944 the squadrons, which included many Canadians, were No 438 from November 20 to December 18 1943, No 416 from October 2 1943 to February 11 1944, No 402 from September 19 1943 to February 11944 and a complete Canadian Spitfire Wing of three squadrons, Nos 441, 442 and 443, that formed on February 8 and departed on March 17 1944. They all moved to southern bases nearer to the invasion beaches in time to take part in the pre-D-Day operations.

This left at Digby No 116 Squadron with Airspeed Oxfords and Nos 527/528 with Bristol Blenheims engaged on air-sea rescue and radar calibration duties.

No 310 (Czech) Squadron flew in with their Spitfires in July in order to rest and after they left in August 1944, Digby's role became non-operational. In May 1945 the station reverted to RAF Digby and the remaining Canadians were posted out.

Main Digby Operational Fighter Squadrons

73 Squadron

46 Squadron

504 Squadron

611 Squadron

229 Squadron

29 Squadron

401 Squadron

402 Squadron

411 Squadron

412 Squadron

409 Squadron

….......

Post war

Finally on July 22 1945 Digby was transferred from Fighter Command to Technical Training Command. No 1 Officers' Advanced Training School moved in from RAF Cranwell that same month and remained until April 1947 when it then moved out to RAF Hornchurch. Flying resumed in January 1946 when the De Havilland Tiger Moths of No 19 Flying Training School were based at Digby until February 1948. For several years a number of training units were housed at Digby, including No 1 Initial Training School from 1948 to 1950 and No 2 Initial Training School from 1950 to September 1951. In 1951 the firm of Airwork Ltd set up No 2 Air Grading School to give flying training to novice pilots, but not on the hard wartime lines. In February 1953 this unit moved out and in September  and all flying ceased with Digby on a care and maintenance basis until October 1 1954 when work started in order to receive No 399 Signals Unit, in No 90 Group, and more buildings both domestic and technical were erected. No 399 SU arrived in January 1955 followed in July by No 591 Signals Unit. In September 1959 the Aerial Erectors School arrived and, in February 1969, No 54 Signals Unit.

British Army elements arrived in 1994 and were later joined by the Royal Navy. The addition of US detachments signalled the start of yet another era in the history of Digby. On 1 September 1998 399 Signals Unit merged with the newly arrived Special Signals Support Unit from Loughborough to form the Joint Service Signal Unit (Digby).

No. 54 Signals Unit was established in 2014 and provides processing, exploitation, and dissemination of all UK air-derived electronic surveillance data. The unit forms part of No. 1 Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing which has its headquarters at RAF Waddington

According to wiki the RAF units based at Digby at the time of writing are as follows :-.

No. 1 Group (Air Combat) RAF

No. 1 Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing

No. 54 Signals Unit

No. 22 Group (Training) RAF

The Defence College of Technical Training (DCTT)

The Defence School of Communications and Information Systems (DSCIS)

No. 1 Radio School

The Aerial Erector School

Air Training Corps - Central & East Region - Headquarters Trent Wing

RAF Air Warfare Centre

Information Operations Group

No. 591 Signals Unit

….......

There is a small museum on site which is open to the public for guided tours on Sundays from May to October. Tours must be confirmed through the linked website or telephone 01526 327272 (ask for museum tours). The tour starts at 11am and includes some of the old station buildings, a Spitfire, and the 12 Group Lima Sector operations room

Item compiled by David Fell. Photos from my archive and WWP

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