RAF Thornaby

RAF Thornaby

RAF Thornaby was first commissioned as an airfield in the mid 1920s.

It came under the control of the RAF Coastal Command in 1939, being used mostly for reconnaissance work, anti shipping strikes, and attacks on enemy airfields etc.

It was from RAF Thornaby that a Lockheed Hudson aircraft of No. 220 Squadron located the German prison ship Altmark in Norwegian waters on 16 February 1940. This led to the subsequent liberation of 299 prisoners by HMS Cossack of the Royal Navy. Although the airfield was expanded in 1942 in order to facilitate heavy bombers, it never actually operated such aircraft and remained as a Training and Coastal Command base. The station was engaged in air-sea rescue work from 1943 using Vickers Warwick aircraft with Nos. 279, 280 and 281 Squadrons.

RAF Thornaby

As at many other stations, the Thornaby aircrew had developed their own means of dropping emergency supplies to their ditched colleagues, using a receptacle which was later to be widely known as the “Thornaby Bag”.  It was a pack that contained food and first aid equipment for the downed fliers.

Thornaby’s last action of the war came on 3 May 1945 when Beaufighters of No. 455 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked enemy shipping in Kiel Harbour leaving two mine-sweepers destroyed.

In 1954 No. 275 Search and Rescue Squadron based at Linton-on-Ouse relocated to Thornaby and played a major part in the development of air sea rescue as we know it today.

The base closed to flying in October of 1958 and was sold to Thornaby-on-Tees Borough Council for redevelopment in 1963. Most of it is has been re-developed with a mix of housing and light industrial units as the town of Thornaby expanded southwards in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Traces of the aerodrome can be picked out via aerial photographs and a number of surviving structures still exist. In 1997 a RAF memorial was erected at Thornaby to celebrate the achievements and work of the station and the people who served there.