RAF North Coates station Crest
runway: 07/25 - 4260x150ft - tarmac (CLOSED)
runway: NW/SE - 4380x150ft - grass (CLOSED)
runway: 05/23 - 660x22m - grass
North Coates air field (RAF North Coates, also known as North Cotes, ICAO: EGYO) name was an airfield 220 kilometers north of London.
On 4 August 1914 a Royal Air Corps Be2 was the first to land at the Army Camp in North Coates. In 1918 it was decided to use the North Coates Fitties (derived from an Anglo Saxon term meaning salt marsh) as a forward landing ground for a Be2c aircraft. The Be2c had been allocated to patrol the area of sea between the Humber and Skegness in defense of German Zeppelins (airships). In September North Coates Fitties flying field (as it was locally known) was handed over to 79 Wing, headquartered at Hornsea and part of 18 Operations Group. By this time 33 Sqn had handed over responsibilities to 404 Flight of 248 Sqn Royal Navy Air Service, operating DeHavilland DH6. Half a dozen of these aircraft were flown in from the landing ground at Killingholme. These were joined by three Sopwith Babies which were in use only as a training aid. With the birth of the Royal Air Force, 248 Sqdn became officially the first based RAF unit at North Coates Fitties aerodrome. Towards the end of the year more DH6 aircraft and a small number of Sopwith Tabloids were ferried over from Killingholme. With the cessation of hostilities only the original DH6s remained, which by then had been reduced to training duties, involving regular coastal and cross country flights. By March 1919 the remaining aircraft departed, and the decision was made to abandon the aerodrome. By the middle of the summer it had been handed back to the land owner, who fortunately did not plough it up.
No photos or maps of the airfield during World War I have been located
In the early 1920s the RAF began searching for suitable areas on the east coast to set up a series of bombing ranges. It was deemed impractical for the aircraft using the ranges to have to fly back to their respective airfields. Therefore it was decided to establish an aerodrome near to the range to facilitate these aircraft. The abandoned landing ground at North Coates Fitties which lay adjacent to the Donna Nook range became the obvious favourite. They were pleasantly surprised to find that the site was more or less intact, so the decision was taken to approach the landowner.
By 1926 a lease agreement had been reached that allowed the RAF the option to purchase at a later date. The option to acquire the lands was taken in 1927 and the resulting airfield was designated an Armament Practice Camp. The role of the camp was to support the visiting units in every way possible, ranging from catering and lodging to keeping scores at the range. In addition the staff of instructors ran courses in air gunnery and bomb aiming. Because there were no aircraft based at the airfield, air training had to be accomplished using squadron aircraft.
One of the first squadrons to make use of this facility was 39 Sqn flying the De Havilland DH9. On 18 July 1927 the airfield welcomed its first Royal visitor, HRH the Prince of Wales. He piloted himself in J8340, a 24 Sqdn (Royal Flight) Bristol F2b Brisfit and was accompanied by another Brisfit from the same squadron. Many squadrons took advantage of the facilities at North Coates Fitties and the aerodrome became quite a spectators' paradise. This was especially true for young boys, who would spend many hours watching aircraft like Fairey Foxes, Vickers Virginias, Bristol F2b's and Hawker Harts.
No photos or maps of the airfield during the 1920s have been located
On January 1st 1932 the aerodrome's name changed to No 2 Armament Training Camp. With the change came an expansion of the airfield, land to the north was acquired stretching right up to Tetney marshes. The first based aircraft arrived, Fairey Gordon's and Fairey 111fs, which were employed as target tugs and a De Havilland Moth which was used for communications work. On 1 October 1935 a station headquarters was formed at North Coates to control the range at Donna Nook, a new range at Theddlethorpe near Mablethorpe, and the airfields resident units. The RAF were reorganising and modernising the service's structure and as a result North Coates Fitties came under the jurisdiction of a new Training Command, formed on 1 May 1936. Around this time, two 50 foot wide concrete runways were constructed, each approximately 1000 foot long, one facing north and the other south east. However, due to their narrow path they were possibly never used as such, but instead served as taxiways.
On 1 January 1936 the Air Observers School was established. By 1936 the temporary (tented) accomodation was largely replaced with more permanent (wooden) accomodation blocks. Four hangars, based on an Admiralty design but unique to the airfield, were constructed and the final two were completed that year. A wooden ATC building, also unique to the airfield, was built also. In early 1936 the grass runway was extended to 1000 yards and a 1240 yard cross runway was constructed on a north south heading, at twice the normal width of 100 yards.
On 23 May 1936 the airfield played host to the public when it opened its gates for the first Empire Air Day where aircraft were displayed for the public to inspect. Confusingly, another Armament Training Camp was renamed No 2 Armament Training Camp. The station was therefore renamed Temporary Armament Training Camp, North Coates Fittes . Soon, it became No 2 Air Armament School. The following year, the Empire Air Day took place on 29 May attracting 6,900 people. On show were aircraft such as the Avro Cadet, Saro Cloud, Boulton & Paul Overstrand and the new Avro Anson displaying in addition to the schools' many and varied aircraft.
On 9 April 1938, 144 Sqn Bomber Command took up temporary residence. They had arrived with their Blenheim Mk1s from RAF Hemswell, which was not quite ready for use. The Blenheims had gone by the time the next and final Empire Air Day was staged on 28 May 1939.
No photos or maps of the airfield in the 1930s have been located
War was declared on 3 September 1939 and within days most of the units at North Coates were transferred to the west of England. On 10 September 2 Recruit Training Pool was formed on the airfield to give preliminary training to new recruits. By the end of November they were joined by No 1 Ground Defence Gunnery School, with aircraft transferred from The Air Observers School. The aircraft, Westland Wallaces and Hawker Harts, were to give gunnery training to new recruit gunners. At North Coates, its location directly facing mainland Europe ensured it would play a leading part in the fight against Germany. Truck loads of supplies, bedding and all the equipment to support a large intake of airmen started to arrive, and the range continued to be used by several locally based units. On 22 February 1940 it was announced that North Coates Fitties was to come under the jurisdiction of 16 Group Coastal Command.
The station adopted a unit badge and title ('Guide to Attack'), and two days later, on the 24th, the first squadron flew in. 248 Sqn operated the Bristol Blenheim 1V and arrived from Hendon, while 235 Sqn, another Blenheim unit, arrived on the 27th. The latter squadron operated a mixture of the Blenheim 1 and Blenheim 1Vf. All squadrons had been transferred from Fighter Command and had operated the early Blenheim Mk1 in the fighter role.
In 1942 North Coates was chosen as the base for the first Strike Wing and on 27 August 143 Sqn arrived with eight Blenheim 1V and one Beaufighter V1. 143 squadron was in the process of converting to the Beaufighter, but at the time only one machine was on squadron strength. Coastal Command needed to continue shipping reconnaissance, so as an interim measure it deployed a detachment of 608 Sqn to North Coates. Their thirteen Hudson's started to arrive between 15 and 18 September. 263 Sqn arrived on 18 September with fifteen Beaufighters, which were a mixture of 1c and V1 machines. In addition to the large influx of Beaufighters, the ground crews also had to handle individual visiting aircraft and in some instances squadron detachments. 812 Sqn (Fleet Air Arm) for instance, made a brief return visit on 16 October when five of their Fairey Swordfish flew in to pick up spare Torpedoes. The following day five Hampdens of 415 Sqn (RCAF) arrived on transit to St Eval.
In November contractors moved in to start extending and paving the east-west runway. On 16 November 254 Sqn flew in to become the third squadron that would make up the North Coates Strike Wing. Because of winter it wasn't until the early spring of 1943 that work on the runway and taxiways was completed.
In the summer of 1942 No 59 Squadron was flying anti-shipping patrols along the Dutch coast, mostly at dusk or on moonlit nights. During one such operation on 6 August this Hudson IIIA FH426, piloted by Squadron Leader Phil Evans, was hit by flak and struggled home to North Coates with a huge hole in its starboard wing.
(ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: COASTAL COMMAND, © IWM (CH 6721))
Mark XI aerial torpedoes being taken out on trolleys towards a Bristol Beaufort Mark I, L4516 'OA-W', of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Shortly after this photograph was taken, L4516 was destroyed when it stalled after a night take-off from North Coates and hit the ground near Marshfield, detonating the mine it was carrying. (ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945, © IWM (CH 1851))
RAF North Coates photographed from the north in March 1944 (AirfieldinfomationExchange).
After VE Day North Coates saw very little activity with only the Station Flights Oxfords taking senior officers to various locations around the UK. Personnel registered to the station on 1 August dropped to only 370 men and woman of all ranks. The final recorded flight before the airfield closed to air traffic on August 31st were two Spitfire Mk Vs.
The airfield was then transferred to Maintenance Command and within a few weeks it became a storage sub site for 25MU (Maintenance Unit), transferring to 61MU in October. In December 1946 the station was transferred over to Flying Training Command, and while the title suggests that flying was about to commence, this was not to be.
It was to be used as an Officer Cadet training establishment. On the 16th, 34 former German prisoners of war -waiting to be repatriated- were brought over from their camp at Donna Nook to prepare the barrack blocks for habitation. Staff began to arrive from North Luffenham and Bridgenorth to prepare for the opening of the facility and on 1 January 1947 1 Initial Training School was formed. The unusually hard winter closed the school the following month, however. When on 11 March 1947 the staff returned, they found that their 100 Officer Cadets had been sent to Southern Rhodesia to complete their training. The whole affair proved that the decision to locate the school at a remote location was wrong, so an alternative was sought and the school closed that summer. On October 15th the station reverted to Care and Maintenance.
It remained so until May 1948, when it came under the control of 24 Group Technical Training Command to become the home of The School of Explosives Inspection. The purpose of the school was to train Officers and airmen in bomb disposal. That summer 5131 Bomb Disposal Wing and School took up residence, tasked to undertake the disposal of bombs and ammunition that had been used on the ranges. Although there were no flying units based on the airfield, there were occasional visitors.
On 31 January 1953 the airfield became a victim of what is now described as the East Coast Floods. A combination of northerly gales and a higher than usual tide caused a tidal surge that swept down the North Sea, causing sea defences all along the North Sea coast to breach. Around 1900hrs most of the airfield was under a foot of water and it was rising fast: within an hour it was three feet deep. At 20.30 hours the Station Commander ordered the remainder of the personnel and their families to abandon the site.
Once again, the airfield was put on care and Maintenance in August 1953, albeit with a resident unit: elements of 54 Maintenance Unit were stationed at the airfield. Their task was to recover redundant and crashed aircraft to North Coates to reclaim spare parts and then the remainder of these aircraft would usually be scrapped on site. For the next two years 54 MU recovered many aircraft to North Coates including examples of the early jets, such as Vampires, Meteors and Canberra's.
In February 1955, the first bright yellow Bristol Sycamore (XE317) arrived for duty, destined to become a familiar sight in the area. The severe winter of 1955/56 brought Lincolnshire to a standstill and the RAF responded to calls for assistance from the emergency service by helicopter. By January demand had become so great that a second Sycamore was brought in to assist, XG514 was transferred down from 'A' Flight at RAF Ouston. On 25 April 1956 the airfield came off Care & Maintenance when the Government announced that North Coates was to become the RAF's first Surface to Air Guided Weapons base. The Bloodhound missile was to be the chosen weapon and forty eight of these were scheduled to be housed on the airfield.
On July 1st Command of the base was given to Group Captain Leathart DSO who set about organising the construction of the missile facility. Forty eight missile pads were to be built along with an ultra modern missile control room, fed by an underground service tunnel running from Hangar 3. Another tunnel stretched from the same Hangar right across the airfield to a blast proof radar station near to Sheepmarsh Lane under the runway. Hangar 3 also served as the Bloodhound Tactical Control Centre. To the casual onlooker it was just another old hangar in need of some care or even demolition, but inside it carried all the equipment necessary to carry out the Bloodhounds task. It was in fact a building within a building, and although the hangar doors were retained to give the impression it was nothing more than a disused hangar, they were in fact sealed. This was a very impressive act of deceit and worthy of any spy movie. The other hangars were similarly adapted to house massive generators, for missile storage, missile repair, a communications flight, etc. As the Bloodhound was an entirely new system, all the field trials both for the fixed and for the mobile systems, were carried out at North Coates. For the first time in many years conventional aircraft started to arrive; the Station Flight took delivery of Avro Anson C19 VL349 and VM322 in October 1957. A Bristol Beverly was used to demonstrate the systems portability during a series of demonstrations to the Swedish military. In 1967 the Bloodhound squadrons began to be deployed to RAFG to provide defense for NATO airfields like RAF Laarbruch. The final Bloodhound squadron had moved out in February 1971 and the airfield was once again put on Care and Maintenance.
Partial map dated late 1950s, showing the runway, some dispersals, the base camp as well as the beginnings of the Bloodhound SAM site (AirfieldInformationeXchange).
Five years later, contractors moved in to clean and restore the buildings that had been 'mothballed' in preparation for the airfields reopening. On 1 March, North Coates reopened as the home of 85 Sqn 'B' Flight, about to be equipped with the Bloodhound Mk 2. The Flight was awaiting the arrival of the Mk 2 missiles and the huge Type 87 radar units being withdrawn from Singapore and Cyprus. 24 Bloodhounds were destined to come to North Coates with their launchers, and each bank of eight missiles would have its own integrated blast proof radar station. RAF Binbrook became the parent station and took the missiles under their immediate control. As not all hangars were still being used, a clear up was ordered in 1982 resulting in some of the hangars being demolished. The result of this was the complete demolition of three of the rare double gabled hangars, as well as two of the remaining Bellman's. This left only No 8 Hangar (renumbered No 1), the revamped No 6 (became No 2) and the sole remaining doubled gable hangar retained its title as No 4.
In April 1987 the Bloodhound Missile System Maintenance School was transferred to the station from RAF Newton and courses commenced the same month. On 25 June 1988 the station housed an air display when local flying clubs and private owners flew in on invitation to provide a static display. The planned military display was confined to flypasts and displays by the Vulcan, Tornado and Lightning. The idea to have military aircraft on the static was dropped due to the overall condition of the runway's surface, in particular the fact the tarmac had been removed some years earlier. Meanwhile North Coates parent station, RAF Binbrook was closing down and so a role reversal took place when North Coates became the parent station overseeing the closure. During this period hundreds of Lightning over wing fuel tanks arrived for storage.
On 28 February 1990 the Ministry of Defence announced that the Bloodhound force at North Coates would be withdrawn from NATO and that the site would close by the end of the year.Final closure came on December 18th 1990 ending 65 years of continuous military ownership. North Coates had finally given up its title of Lincolnshire's oldest military airfield.
The wooden control tower in the 1970s, demolished in the big airfield building cleanup of ca. 1982 (NorwichPaul, on AirfieldInformationeXchange).
The site was handed over to the Defence Land Agency for disposal and in January 1992 the remaining 70 married quarters were sold by public tender. The roar of heavy powerful aero engines returned briefly in December 1992 when three Harvard wartime trainers and a Beech 18 arrived. They were owned by a Warbird operator who had been allowed winter storage.
The three hangars still existed in 2010. A private airfield was established at the former air station in 1995 and the pre-war historic Doubled Gable Hangar is still used for its original purposes, as the home of North Coates Flying Club. The concrete runway, the hard standings and the taxiways (apart from the one running the length of the hangar line) have been taken up. The Flying club laid a grass runway and taxiway alongside the line of the old runway on land that was used during the 1920s and 30s.
North Coates air field, looking west in 1994. The tarmac runway is still prominently visible and in use by the air club (Ossington_2008, on AirfieldInformationeXchange)
North Coates looking east in April 1995 (Ossington_2008, on AirfieldInformationeXchange).
Overview of North Coates in 2003, demonstrating that the northern taxi track by then had largely been removed (Google Earth)
North Coates in April 2008, when almost all remains of the former RAF airfield/missile site had been removed (Google Earth).
North Coates air field, looking west in 2012. Almost the same location as the 1994 photo, but the tarmac runway was removed and replaced with a grass runway. The entire north side of the field is returned to farmland. (Ossington_2008, on AirfieldInformationeXchange)