Lincolnshire’s role in D-Day

Words by:
Phil Bonner
Featured in:
June 2024

Phil Bonner from Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire reflects on the contributions of county based squadrons during the historic Normandy landings.

This month (June) will be the 80th Anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies mounted the largest armada in history to begin the liberation of Europe. Whilst the media focus will be on the beaches of Normandy, what is not so commonly known is the role played by those Royal Air Force units based in Lincolnshire.

Still known affectionately known as ‘Bomber County’, up until April 1944 the bomber squadrons had been striking deep into Germany as part of Air Chief Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris’s strategy of destroying German industry.

However, in the build up to D-Day, Harris was ordered to focus on the transport infrastructure and military installations in France. Targets such as railway marshalling yards and ammunition depots became principal targets for the Lincolnshire based squadrons over the period of April and May.

Yet this phase of tactical bombing, though effective, came with a costly price to the Bomber Command aircrew, particularly those based in the county. For example, on the night of 3rd and 4th May, a raid was mounted against the German barracks at Mailly-le-Camp.

The raid proved very successful in terms of results but enemy night fighters arrived in time to cause havoc. Forty-two Lancasters from the county were shot down with over 250 aircrew losing their lives. One unit, 460 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force based at Binbrook, lost five aircraft. All are commemorated at the International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln.

Bombing campaigns
By this stage of the war, Bomber Command had introduced an additional level of administration within the respective groups. Known as the Base system, an Air Commodore would command three RAF Stations.

Air Commodore Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman was the Base Commander at Number 13 Base at Elsham Wolds in the north of the county, responsible also for Kirmington and North Killingholme.

On the night of 6th and 7th May, he took the opportunity to fly with 576 Squadron against the ammunition dump at Aubigne in France. The aircraft was shot down and he was one of two crew members who survived and initially evaded capture. This incident was particularly concerning back in the United Kingdom.

Until recently Ivelaw-Chapman had been closely involved in the planning for D-Day and had detailed knowledge of the invasion. The local French resistance had notified London of his whereabouts and Churchill wanted to mount a rescue, but apparently said that if necessary he should be killed rather than fall into enemy hands!

Fortunately, he was able to stay on the run until after D-Day and although eventually captured, the Germans remained unaware of his background.

So effective was this bombing campaign that by the time the invading forces set sail, all the major rail and road bridges between Rouen and Paris had been destroyed. Normandy had become isolated and all possible German reinforcement routes had been destroyed; a major factor in preventing a counter-offensive to the Allies.

However, it was not just Lincolnshire based Bomber Command squadrons that played a role in D-Day.

RAF North Coates was home to a Beaufighter Strike Wing of Coastal Command, comprising 236 and 254 Squadrons. Equipped with rockets and torpedoes, they flew anti-shipping patrols on D-Day protecting the Naval armada from any German submarines or E-boats. None were detected and all aircraft returned safely to North Coates.

Fighter Command units from Lincolnshire were also involved. The RAF Station at Digby had become a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter station and in March of 1944 three new RCAF fighter squadrons were formed there. They were 441, 442 and 443 Squadrons and formed No. 144 (RCAF) Wing under the command of the RAF fighter pilot ‘Johnnie’ Johnson. Having worked up at Digby, the Wing deployed to the south coast.

On D-Day every available aircraft in the Wing flew four sorties throughout the course of the day, flying across the Channel to provide “top cover” over the beaches.

The American Army Air Force formed the 9th Air Force for the purpose of supporting the invasion. Within this Air Force there was the 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command under Major General Paul Williams.

The Command was responsible for all the squadrons that would deliver the American paratroopers on D-Day. General Williams established his beadquarters in Grantham and several airfields in the south of the county were taken over by the Americans.

Drop zones
The advance party of the 101st Airborne Division, the ‘Screaming Eagles’ made famous in the TV series Band of Brothers, took off from North Witham at 21.54 on 5th June.

This advance party had the task of marking the dropping zone for the main body which would follow later.

The first Americans to land in Normandy landed on the drop zone shortly after midnight on the morning of 6th June. They successfully secured the drop zone and waited for the main body to arrive later.

Today the airfield is owned by the Forestry Commission and is known as Twyford Wood. A favourite place for dog walkers, hidden among the trees one can still walk down the old runway not realising that from here the first Americans to land in France on D-Day began their journey.

The Dakotas that the paratroopers flew in were tail wheel aircraft and on the ground it was very difficult for them to climb aboard with all their equipment.

Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre has an example of a Dakota in D-Day markings along with a display of the IX Troop Carrier airfields in Lincolnshire. Further details at

Meanwhile, South Kesteven District Council is developing an Airborne Forces Visitor Trail across South Kesteven, which will tell the story not just of D-Day but also Arnhem.

Come the night of 5th and 6th June, over 1,000 bombers mounted raids against Normandy, primarily against the coastal batteries that posed a threat to the beaches on which the Americans would be landing. It was a crew from 550 Squadron operating from North Killingholme in the north of the county who are credited with dropping the first ordnance of the offensive, on the gun battery at Crisbecq, which posed a threat to Utah beach.

Flying Officer Kenyon Bowen-Bravery and his crew dropped their ordnance at 23.34 on 5th June, thus going down in D-Day history. Some years later the French government awarded the crew a collective Croix de Guerre, which is on display in St Denys’ parish church in North Killingholme.

Deception mission
Yet not all of Lincolnshire’s Bomber Command squadrons dropped bombs on D-Day. 617 Squadron based at Woodhall Spa carried out a unique deception mission to give the enemy the impression that the armada was heading to a different part of the French coast.

Known as Operation Taxable, it involved the Squadron flying accurately in a square maintaining a tight formation and dispensing ‘chaff’ which would show up on German coastal radars and gave the impression of an advancing fleet.

At the end of each leg, the aircraft turn was such that the ‘chaff’ cloud advanced towards France at the rate of a ship.

It was an incredibly secret mission and at one stage Leonard Cheshire, the Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, was briefed on the lawn at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa out of earshot of anyone else.

Squadron members were initially disappointed that they would not be involved in the bombing campaign, but the operation is best summed up by the New Zealander Les Munro: “I considered this operation to be, in one sense, one of the most important that 617 Squadron undertook because of the exacting requirements to which we had to fly and navigate.”

Transnational memorial
About two years ago we were approached by a representative from Liberation Route Europe (LRE) which is a transnational memorial, a trail connecting WWII remembrance sites and stories across Europe, following the story as Europe was liberated. Recognising that the trail begins in England, Lincolnshire and Hampshire had been recognised as two regions to be focused upon. We hope we get a mention, though obviously the focus is on Hampshire.

For more information visit the website:

I hope you have found this narrative of Lincolnshire’s involvement in D-Day of interest. Lincolnshire aircrew, supported by their hard working groundcrew, from across Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command all played their part in the success of D-Day.

Two days after D-Day, the Squadrons of 144 (RCAF) Wing began operating from a field near Sainte-Croix-sur-Mer, the first Allied air force units to operate from French soil since 1940 – thus completing a journey that began in Lincolnshire.

Phil Bonner works as a volunteer alongside Dave Harrigan and Brian Riley supporting the work of Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire, a loose knit association of centres across Lincolnshire with the collective aim of promoting the county’s diverse and extensive aviation heritage. Originally supported through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is now administered by volunteers.

For more information email:

Photographs: US Army official/British Army official via the Airborne Assault Museum/Phil Bonner/Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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