On a wing and a prayer
(This article eventually led me to do a full website for the base's history)
First published: February 2012
Author: David Cook, Priories Historical Society
The story of RAF Worksop began in July 1942 when the MOD used construction company Wimpey & Carmichael to build a 'Class A' bomber airfield in the classic three runway layout with a control tower, two T2 aircraft hangars with 36 spectacle hardstands for heavy bombers and accommodation built north of the airfield for the RAF and WAAF personnel. The new base was intended as a satellite state for RAF Finningley The airfield opened on November 11th 1943 when 93 Groups; 18 Operational Training Unit arrived with Wellington bombers mainly for training Polish aircrew using the bombing range at Clayworth. The Poles were also trained on Tomahawks, Oxfords, Martinets and eventually Hurricanes. In January 1945 the OTU was disbanded in December 1944 after the Pilots moved to 10 OTU. After this only small units operated out of the airfield and just three years after opening the Bomber Command Instructors School also left and it was placed under Flying Training Command and effectively mothballed on a care & maintenance scheme.
The 1950’s were unsettled times and the Korean War meant that the base was fully reopened in August 1952 as a fast jet training school for 211 Advanced Flying School operating Gloster Meteor T.7’s and F.8’s to train pilots for the RCAFs 421 ‘ Red Indian’ squadron. RAF Gamston was also reopened as an outstation for the base. Initial ground training was carried out by Wing Commander Coward who had lost a leg in World War II. One of the functions of the base was providing pilots with asymmetrical flight training, where one of the Rolls-Royce Derwent turbines would be turned off on purpose and the pilot learnt how to fly and land the aircraft on one engine avoid effects such as the ‘phantom dive’ by not using airbrakes. This was a tricky task due to the positioning of the jets on the aircraft’s wings and leg strengthening exercises were a necessity to control the aircrafts rudder. In June 1956, 211 AFS merged with 4 Flight Training School and gained De Havilland Vampire’s before becoming an entirely Vampire squadron in early 1958. The Station commander became Group Captain L E Botting DFC. In May 1955 the RAF’s first jet squadron, 616 Squadron, arrived at Worksop with their Meteor F.8’s. By this time they were only in existence as an auxiliary unit, under squadron Leader W G Abel and were disbanded in March 1957.
During 1957 4 FTS boasted their own display team which went to various airshows. Two F.8’s (WF662/WK741) and two T.7’s (WF829/WL478) were used with a further backup T.7 (WN316). The display team were led by F/L Bennett. These aircraft met with several fates – the two F.8’s were used for fire training at Waddington and Topcliffe, WL478 crashed on 19th February 1959 during Asymmetric training and the other two were classed Cat 5C on 14th April 1961 and 11th July 1958. 4FTS has had two other display teams since this the ‘Yellow Jacks’ with five Folland Gnats during the 1960’s and presently the ‘Black Marrows’ using Hawk based at RAF Valley.
Being a training base meant unfortunately over the years many pilots were killed learning their craft. On 20th January 1944 a Wellington III (BK273) on night conversion training overshot the runway and sheared a blade from its starboard propeller as it tried to gain height. It crashed into the grounds of Worksop College killing all the crew. On 7th March 1944 another Wellington (HE818) on another night training flight crashed in Blyth close to the memorial that now sits on the village green. There was only one survivor from this flight.
The Gloster Meteor has an unfortunate reputation for killing pilots mainly due to the early marks high speed without the aid of an ejector seat and was nicknamed ‘the meatbox’ by pilots. On 19th May 1953 Pilot Officer T J Hood was killed after his F.8 (WK929) crashed just north of Ollerton. On 22nd December 1954 P/O D G Edwards was killed after his Meteor F.8 (WB108) hit a hillside near Treeton in South Yorkshire. In Millthorpe Derbyshire there is a memorial to P/O R Tritton who was killed when his F.8 (WE904) dived into the ground whilst dive training, the aircraft hit a tree before destroying a barn and crashing into a field. 21 year old P/O J A Cohen was killed on 26th May 1955 whilst on a night training flight in F.8 (WE916) and crashed into Silkstone Crescent, Sheffield after an engine caught fire, there was a memorial but this has been lost with time. Flight Lieutenant K Levitt T.7 (WL359) was one of the airfields display team aircraft and crashed into the ground after the aircraft became overstressed during low level display at the airfields Battle of Britain open day. The horn balance came off the elevator whilst pulling a loop sending the aircraft vertically into the ground on 21st April 1958. Vampires also took their toll with FB.5 (VZ860) crashing into a house in Harby on 9th January 1957 after presumed hypoxia of the pilot (caused by lack of oxygen at high altitude) and T.11 (XE866) crashed into Stanage Edge, Derbyshire during bad weather on 7th August 1957 killing both crew – P Redvers and D J Brett.
4 FTS eventually disbanded on 9th June 1958 and the airfield was formally closed in December 1960. Afterwards it was used to test lorry brakes and as a line up marker for pilots from Netherthorpe Airfield practicing stunts. It later became a bit of a racetrack for boy racers but by 2006 most of the airfield was pulled up and returned to agricultural ground. All was not lost though – the 500 tonnes of rubble produced in lifting the runway was reused as levelling material for the Southfield site at Newark Air Museum. The museum also has a Vampire T.11 (XD593) which was based at Worksop during the 1950’s. The RAF still has associations with Worksop via the 303 (Worksop) Squadron ATC air cadets. There a few remnants of the base left; some concrete aircraft hardstandings (for tying aircraft wings down in strong winds) and a taxiway left to the north of the airfield as well as a small section of runway near the road. There is also a legend of an Airspeed Oxford buried on the airbase too!