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Updated: 26 Sep 12

Bomber Command, arguably the most famous of the RAF's wartime commands, was brought into existence on 14 Jul 1936 after the Home Defence Force was reorganised in recognition of the many tasks which would fall to the RAF in time of war. The Command's structure evolved during the war as the number of aircraft, squadrons and airfields subordinated to it grew such that in 1942 an additional level of command, the Base, was added between Group and Station.

Typical composition of Bomber Command formations

Structure of Bomber Command

Command. The RAF split into Bomber, Fighter, Coastal and Training Commands. Below Bomber Command were Groups.

Group. In 1939 there were 6 groups in Bomber Command, 5 (No 2 Gp to No 6 Gp) the United Kingdom and a sixth (Advanced Air Striking Force - AASF) in France. HQ No 5 Gp was based at RAF Grantham for most of WWII. Groups were normally commanded by an Air Vice Marshall. In 1942 an additional level of command was added below the Group, the Base.

Base. The Base was added to simplify command, normally grouping 2 'satellite' airfields to a main airfield. The Base was commanded by an Air Commodore. Below the Base came the stations.

Bomber Command expansion to meet the wartime offensive needs in 1942-43 put a severe strain on organisation administration to the extent that the intermediate level of command between Group HQs and Station - the Base - was introduced in March 1943. A Base consisted of a Base Station with one or two sub-stations. Each Base was initially identified by the name of the Base Station and the role of the Base, eg Topcliffe Training Base, Leeming Operational Base. However, from September 1943 Bases were re-designated by a two-number identifier, the first number indicating the Group and the second the number of the Base within that Group, the first in each Group being the Group's training Base. These are listed below under the Groups.

The introduction of four-engined aircraft towards the end of 1940, provided an increase in aircraft servicing problems which the new heavy bombers demanded, including shortages of technical personnel and hangarage. The ban on the use of permanent hangars which had been evacuated during 1940 was relaxed in 1942. Group servicing units were envisaged to undertake all major aircraft servicing within the squadrons of a Group. However with no 'spare airfields to dedicacte to this activity the smaller units of Base Organisations were formed.

Station. Each station was a separate airbase from which flying squadrons could generate flying sorties. Stations were commanded by a Group Captain. Each station usually hosted 2 flying squadrons.

Squadron. Each squadron was commanded by a Wing Commander and normally comprised 2 or 3 Flights.

Flight. A Flight would normally be equipped with 8 aircraft and have a Squadron Leader as Officer in Charge.

Throughout the entire bombing offensive, the bomber organization was highly centralized and controlled by Bomber Command Headquarters. Groups were responsible for ensuring the crews were briefed according to Bomber Command instructions (routes to and from the targets, altitudes, numbers of aircraft and bomb load), while the stations provided the domestic support and the squadrons provided administration and aircraft maintenance only. However, this changed in March 1943, when Bomber Command reorganized into the Bomber Operational Base System; this system brought several small bases under one station commander and it centralized the administration and maintenance on this new large station. This reorganization reduced squadrons to the aircrew and basic servicing capabilities only (gas, oil, starts and parks).

Strategic Bombing Directives

Jul 1941 saw the Chiefs of Staff make one of their most important statements with respect to bombing operations, signaling their support for total war from the air and an all-out offensive by the only Service able to target the enemy's centres of gravity effectively at the time. "We must first destroy the foundations upon which the German war machine runs - the economy which feeds it, the morale which sustains it, the supplies which nourish it and the hopes of victory which inspire it. Only then shall we be able to return to the continent and occupy and control portions of his territory and impose our will on the enemy . . . . it is on bombing on a scale undreamed of in the last war, that we find the new weapon on which we must principally depend for the destruction of economic life and morale."

Following the extreme attrition of the Bomber Command force during 1941 this was superseded on 14 Feb 1942 by a new area bombing directive. "It has been decided that the primary objective of your operations should be focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular the industrial workers". The Chief of the Air Staff, Lord Portal supplemented with his own thoughts "I suppose it is clear that the Aiming Points are to be the built up areas and not the dockyards or aircraft factories."

Almost a year later on 14 Jan 1943 a new directive was received which pulled the weight of effort away from German targets. The continuing U-boat threat caused the U-boat bases on the western French coast to be given priority status. Lorient, St Nazaire, Brest and La Pallice, together with the U-boat construction yards in Germany were targeted. Italian cities were also to be targeted to help force Italy out of the war.

Bombing operations

Most bombing operations were carried out by night to afford a measure of force protection against ground-based air defences and German fighter aircraft. The small proportion of daylight attacks which were conducted initially used the Blenheim, later Boston, Ventura and Mosquito. Night bombing came into its own in early 1941. The initial target set focused on oil infrastructure and ops were flown by the Wellington, Whitley and Hampden. Targeting priorities soon changed and by Mar 1941 the ports and shipyards associated with capital ships and the U boat threat were the primary target. Other targets in support of the Battle of the Atlantic were the factories and airfields which supporting the Focke Wolfe Condor reconnaissance platform which patrolled the North Atlantic. Key bombing operations are listed on the Key Dates page.

A review of Bomber Command battles and operations can be found on the 550 Sqn website :: click here.

Air Officer Commanding in Chief Bomber Command

Sir Richard Peirse :: - 8 Jan 1942 (posted to India)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris :: 22 Feb 1942 -

Bomber Command Groups

No 1 Gp

HQ No 1 Gp was based in Lincolnshire for part of World War II. 1 Gp operated Lancaster, Halifax, Wellington, Battle, Hampden and Manchester.

No 11 Base
Formed: ?January 1943
transferred: to No 7 Group, 3 Nov 1944

* RAF Lindholme
RAF Blyton
RAF Faldingworth (to Feb 1944)
RAF Sandtoft
(from Feb 1944)
RAF Sturgate (from Sep 1944)

No 12 Base
January 1943

* RAF Binbrook
RAF Grimsby/Waltham
RAF Kelstern (from Sep 1943)

No 13 Base
: 1 Dec 1943

* RAF Elsham Wolds
RAF Kirmington
RAF North Killingholme (from Nov 1943)
RAF Ingham (from Mar 1944),
RAF Hemswell (from October 1944)
? RAF Sturgate

No 14 Base
24 Dec 1943

* RAF Ludford Magna
RAF Wickenby
RAF Faldingworth

No 15 Base
30 Oct 1944 (RAF Scampton transferred from 5 Group)

* RAF Scampton
RAF Fiskerton
RAF Hemswell (to Oct 1944)
RAF Dunholme Lodge (Oct 1944 – Nov 1944).


No 2 Gp

In May 1943, 2 Gp was disbanded and its day bombers were transferred to Fighter Command and subsequently joined 2nd Tactical Air Force. Two Mosquito sqns were transfered to 8 Gp. 2 Gp operated Blenheim, Boston, Mitchell, Mosquito and Ventura.


No 3 Gp

3 Gp operated Lancaster, Halifax, Wellington, Stirling, Hudson and Whitley.


No 4 Gp

4 Gp operated Lancaster, Halifax, Wellington, Battle and Whitley


No 5 Gp

HQ No 5 Gp was based in Lincolnshire throughout World War II. 5 Gp operated Lancaster, Hampden, Manchester and Mosquito.
No 51 Base
Formed: 15 Mar 1943
Transferred: to No 7 Group, 30 Nov 1944.

* RAF Swinderby
RAF Winthorpe
RAF Wigsley
RAF Syerston (to 30 Oct 1944)
RAF Barkston Heath

No 52 Base
Formed: Jan 1943

* RAF Scampton (to No 1 Group, 30 Oct 1944)
RAF Fiskerton
RAF Dunholme Lodge (Oct 1944 only)

No 53 Base
: Dec 1942

* RAF Waddington
RAF Skellingthorpe (opened Nov 1943)
RAF Bardney (opened Apr 1943)

No 54 Base
: Aug 1943

* RAF Coningsby
RAF Woodhall Spa
RAF Metheringham (from Oct 1943)

No 55 Base
: 15 Apr 1944

* RAF East Kirkby
RAF Spilsby (from Sep 1943)
RAF Strubby (from July 1944)

No 56 Base
: 30 Oct 1944
Disbanded: Oct 1945

* RAF Syerston
RAF Fulbeck
RAF Dunholme Lodge?
RAF Balderton

No 6 Gp RCAF

6 Gp was stood up on 1 Jan 1943

No 7 Group

No 71 Base
: 3 Nov 1944 by renaming No 11 Base

* RAF Lindholme
RAF Blyton
RAF Sandtoft
RAF Sturgate

No 72 Base
Nov 1944

* RAF Bottesford
RAF Langar
RAF Saltby

No 73 Base
: Nov 1944

RAF North Luffenham
RAF Woolfax Lodge

No 74 Base
: Dec 1944 by renaming No 41 Base

RAF Marston Moor
RAF Rufforth
RAF Riccall
RAF Acaster Malbis

No 75 Base
: 30 Nov 1944 by renaming No 51 Base

* RAF Swinderby
RAF Winthorpe
RAF Wigsley

No 76 Base
: 9 Nov 1944 by renaming No 61 Base
Disbanded: 1 Sep 1945

RAF Topcliffe
RAF Dalton
RAF Dishforth
RAF Wombleton
RAF Gamston

No 8 Gp (Path Finder Force)

The Path Finder Force (PFF) was upgraded to Group status on 8 Jan 1943 and became No 8 Gp Bomber Command.

No 100 Gp

100 Group was the radio counter-measures Group specialising in offensive Electronic Warfare (EW). It flew its first operational sorties on 30 Nov 1943.


RAF Waddington was to lose more bomber aircraft on operations than any other Bomber Command station. Of a total 345 losses, 103 were Hampden, 15 were Manchester and 227 Lancaster.

Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial - click for information
join the campaign!

Bomber Command heraldic crest

Composition of Bomber Command

Bomber operations and Key dates

AOC-in-C of Bomber Command

Bomber Command Groups


No 1 Group
No 5 Group
No 12 Group
No 18 Group

No 21 Group
No 100 Group

Overview of WWII Bomber Command ops on 550 Sqn

Bomber Command History by the Ridgewell Association

Aquila Lincolnshire Aviation History: Bomber Command

Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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