Glossary & Interesting Facts

  • RAF Skellingthorpe opened in November 1941, under the control of RAF Bomber Command (5 Group)

  • The airfield had three intersecting hard paved runways, with three hangars

  • The main runway was aligned east-west

  • There were 36 aircraft service areas known as 'frying pans' around the perimeter of the runway

  • The bomb stores were hidden in the woodland to the west of the airfield


Who was here?

  • 50 Squadron moved to RAF Skellingthorpe in November 1941. They flew Hampden aircraft, which were then replaced with the new Avro Manchester. The Manchester did not have powerful enough engines and was soon replaced by the Lancaster bomber

  • 455 Squadron also moved to RAF Skellingthorpe for a few months in 1941 - they were an Australian squadron.

  • In June 1942  50 Squadron started flying Lancaster Bombers.  They had to leave Skellingthorpe for a while to allow the runways to be concreted and extended

  • In October 1942  50 Squadron returned to RAF Skellingthorpe

  • In October 1943  50 Squadron was joined by 61 Squadron who also flew Lancaster bombers

  • Both squadrons remained at RAF Skellingthorpe until the end of the war when they were moved to RAF Sturgate

  • During the war, the tally of bombers lost or failed to return from Skellingthorpe reached 208: 15 Hampdens, six Manchesters, and 187 Lancasters



RAF - The United Kingdom’s aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.


WAAF - 295 WAAF were attached to RAF Skellingthorpe.  They had a variety of duties, working in the control tower, plotting courses, recording messages and decoding morse code.  Out on the base, they would help the ground crew get the planes ready for a mission including arming bombs.  RAF and WAAF domestic staff looked after the aircrew, as cooks, kitchen hands, stewards, drivers and officer supervisors.  They had separate accommodation to the RAF but still on the base.


“Scramble” - the order given to get to your aircraft


Bomber Command - RAF Bomber Command controlled the bomber forces from 1936 to 1968


IBCC - This stands for the International Bomber Command Centre, a heritage learning site in Lincolnshire dedicated to the RAF and their  Second World War


Veteran - the term used to describe an armed services survivor from conflict(s) 


AVRO Lancaster - a British four-engined Second World War Heavy bomber developed in the late 1930s and is mostly known for its role in the Dambuster mission.


AVRO Manchester - a two engine medium bomber which was retired in 1942 due to troublesome service


Hampden - The Handley Page HP.52 Hampden was a British twin-engine medium bomber of the Royal Air Force


Black Swan - Is the code name for RAF Skellingthorpe Airbase


Squadron - is the collective term for multiple military units 


Pilot - The pilot was the leader of the crew and operated the controls to fly the Lancaster. He was responsible for the lives of the other crew members and was always the last to leave if the crew had to abandon the plane.


Flight Engineer - The Flight engineer was a technician who knew how the plane worked. He worked closely with the pilot to fly the plane, especially at take-off and landing. He also worked with the ground crew to help them keep the plane in good working order. 


Navigator - The navigator had to be very good at Maths as he had to do lots of calculations to plot the plane's course.  Sometimes no landmarks were visible because they flew in the dark or because of clouds.  They had some instruments but they did not always work very well. 


Wireless Operator - Listened to and sent messages to base in morse code.  He was also an air gunner if the plane was being attacked. 


Bomb Aimer - The bomb aimer worked closely with the navigator and the pilot to make sure they attacked the correct target.  He would lie down in the nose of the aircraft and direct the pilot. He would release the bombs and then take a photograph as proof of the effectiveness of the mission.


Mid Upper Gunner and Rear Gunner - The gunners had to remain in their turrets for the whole of the flight and look out for enemy aircraft.  They could talk to the pilot on the internal radio system and tell him where enemy planes were so that he could take evasive action


Ground Crew - The ground crew was essential to the squadron.  It was their job to maintain the aircraft and get them ready for the mission.  They would move the aircraft from the hangars to the service areas known as ‘frying pans ‘dotted around the perimeter of the runway. They filled the aircraft with fuel, armed the bombs and loaded them into the bomb bay and checked all the instruments and equipment ready for the aircrew.  They worked in all weather.  Their jobs could be dangerous there were several accidents with bombs that killed ground crew at RAF Skellingthorpe.


Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) - Both men and women worked for the civilian association which ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between factories, assembly plants, and maintenance plants and then on to the aerodromes where the planes were needed such as RAF Skellingthorpe.  So although they were not based at Skellingthorpe they may have stayed at the base waiting to ferry a plane or after delivering one.  There were 166 ATA women during the war, these were the only women who flew planes during the war.


The NAAFI - Navy, Army and Air Forces Institute – this organisation was set up to provide recreation and services to junior ranked servicemen.  It ran canteens, bars, and shops on military bases.  The officers had their own messes which catered to them.


Lancaster Bomber bombs -  The Lancaster has a 10-metre long bomb bay.  This meant it could carry a variety of bombs from small incendiary bombs up to heavy 8,000 lb bombs. As well as attacking land-based targets, the Lancaster bombers regularly flew missions to lay mines in the sea and in rivers with parachute mines which was given the code name 'gardening'.


The Lancaster crews painted a record of their missions on the side of the aircraft using symbols:

Yellow bomb – attacking enemy targets in the occupied territory

Red Bomb – attacking Berlin, the German capital city

Ice Cream cone – attacking enemy targets in Italy

Parachute  - a gardening mission

Key – (I think this was railways and infrastructure)

Swastika – the crew had shot down an enemy plane.


The Bouncing Bomb - was invented by the British engineer Barnes Wallis.  It was cylindrical and when dropped on water would ricochet 7 times before sinking and exploding underwater at its target.  These bombs were famously used in May 1943 to destroy dams in Germany causing widespread damage and flooding. Others were used to attack German warships.  The Squadron trained to use these bombs was the 617 Squadron based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.  They had to be very skilled as the bombs were only effective when dropped from 60 feet above the water.


Control Tower - The focal point for all communications across the squadron of aircraft. Provided mission, flight and technical advice to all crews.


Leslie Manser - was a British bomber pilot commissioned in 1941 and recipient of the Victoria Cross, which was awarded posthumously following an attack on the German city of Cologne. As his plane approached the target they came under heavy fire and rather than allow the plane to be captured he remained at the controls until the crew had successfully bailed out, sacrificing himself. There is a Lincoln City school named after him.


Nickelling - The RAF regularly flew missions to drop leaflets over the enemy countries especially Germany and Italy and over the countries Germany occupied.  This was known as 'nickelling' and the leaflets were called nickels. Mini newspapers were dropped over the occupied countries and were an important way of communicating with the local people under German rule. Propaganda leaflets which could be read very quickly and then disposed of,  where dropped over Germany and Italy. These leaflets presented an alternative view of events to that being presented by the Nazi regime and were intended to undermine the Nazi regime, by making people doubt the truth of what they were being told. Frank Stanney, an RAF Wireless Operator had kept this leaflet since the war.  He found it stuck in the bomb bay when they returned from a 'nickelling' mission.


Operation Manna - Other RAF Squadrons were involved in a special operation called Operation Manna.  In May 1945 3301 missions were flown to drop emergency food parcels over German-occupied Holland as the people were in danger of starvation. With the US Airforce's help, a total of 11,000 tons of food was dropped.  The food was tinned food, dried food, and chocolate.