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RAF St Eval
RAF St Eval airfield taken on 11 March 1975
Command: Coastal Command
Function: Operational, Parent
Runways: 261 deg 1,980 x 50yd

201 deg 1,970 x 50yd

320 deg 1,600 x 50yd

Runway surface: Part Concrete/Tarmac
Hangars: Blister (69 ft) x 5

Type C x 4

Blister (45 ft) x 2

T.2 x 2

Bellman x 1

Dispersals: 48 x Spectacle
Personnel: Officers - 18

Other Ranks - 1,284

Coordinates: SW 873 685
RAF St Eval memorial.

RAF St Eval was a strategic airbase for the RAF Coastal Command in the Second World War (situated in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom). St Eval's primary role was to provided vital anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the South West coast of England. Aircraft from the base were also used for photographic reconnaissance missions, meteorological flights, convoy patrols, air-sea rescue missions and protection of the airbase from the Luftwaffe.

Contents

History

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The construction of the airbase

The RAF's 1930s expansion plan included a requirement for an airbase to provide anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the South-west coast of England. The site at St Eval was chosen as a Coastal Command base and work got underway in 1938. Five widely dispersed cottages, two houses and portions of two farms were acquired by compulsory purchase and with the village of St Eval completely demolished in order to build the air station. Levelling of the site by G.Wallace Ltd involved the removal by bulldozer of many Cornish dry stone walls and three ancient tumuli. One householder tried to hold out against the authorities and refused to leave his cottage for several days. Only the church survived from the village (which still stands today). The work progressed well and St Eval opened on 2 October 1939.

Battle of Britain

In June 1940 St Eval became a Fighter Command sector headquarters for the Battle of Britain and Supermarine Spitfires were based there. These were joined by Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Blenheim Fighters and the station's aircraft took an active part in the conflict with considerable success. After the Battle of Britain the station went on the offensive to the end of the war.

Meteorological flights

The formation in December 1940 of No 404 (later 1404) Meteorological Flight was significant. The squadron was tasked with providing basic weather data on which the Command meteorologists could base their forecasts. This meteorological role was highly important and it was a role which St Eval performed throughout the war.

Attacks on St Eval

The fighter presence of the Spitfires was not a great success. The Luftwaffe's change in tactics led to increase in night raids which the Spitfires were not suited to. Therefore 238 Squadron were drafted in with Hurricanes. The base was unfortunately hit a number of times in the summer of 1940 and early 1941. This caused considerable damage and casualties. The Germans again made a number of raids in May 1942 causing damage to buildings and destruction of aircraft. St Eval was equipped with an amazing green box barrage rocket device which sent a steel wire curtain into the air to descend on parachutes. This was intended to enmesh enemy aircraft and cause them to crash but unfortunately the device was unsuccessful.

Date Incident
12 July 1940 During the afternoon a single Ju 88 dropped eight bombs causing minor damage. It was chased off by two Spitfires.
21 August 1940 Three Ju 88s bombed bombed St Eval causing damage to two hangars and destroying three Blenheims. Hurricanes managed to shoot down two of the Ju 88.
22 August 1940 14 high explosive bombs and 200 incendiaries were dropped without causing much damage.
23 August 1940 There was a direct hit on a pyrotechnics store causing a large explosion.
26 August 1940 St Eval was bombed at 2130 hours and 2158 hours.
30 September 1940 At about 2300 hours 5 high explosives were dropped, two landing on the aerodrome and three outside. No damage was reported.
3 October 1940 St Eval was attacked between the hours of 0655 and 0710. Two Spitfires and one Avro Anson were completely destroyed and two hangars were also hit.
14 October 1940 At 2111 hours, 6 high explosive bombs and 20 incendiary bombs were dropped on the Station.

Attack on the German battle cruiser Gneisenau

On 6 April 1941 a small force of Beauforts from 22 Squadron, operating as a detachment from St Eval, launched an attack on the German cruiser Gneisenau in Brest harbour. A Beaufort was able to launch a torpedo at point blank range but was immediately shot-down. The ship was severely damaged below the water line and obliged to turn to the dock. She was however later repaired.

No 61 Squadron

In the summer of 1942 No. 61 squadron was twice loaned to Coastal Command for anti-submarine operations in the Bay of Biscay. It was detached from its base in Rutland to St Eval and on the very first occasion that it operated from there - on 17 July 1942 - a crew became the first RAF Bomber Command crew to bring back irrefutable evidence that they had destroyed a U-boat at sea - a photograph showing the U-boat crew in the water swimming away from their sinking vessel.

American use of the airfield

To boost the anti-submarine forces and to gain experience in the role, the Americans began to use the airfield (as station 129) with B-24 Liberator bombers of the 409th Bombardment Squadron (93d Bombardment Group) being deployed from RAF Alconbury in Huntingdonshire in October 1942.

The following month they were replaced by the 1st Antisubmarine Squadron being deployed from Langley Field, Virginia with the 2d Antisubmarine Squadron arriving in January 1943 forming the 1st Antisubmarine Group (Provisional) with specialized long-range Liberator bombers equipped with RADAR and other submarine detection equipment. From St. Eval, the squadrons flew killer hunts against German U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay. Both of these squadrons were reassigned to Port Lyautey in French Morocco in March 1943 to shore up scanty Allied antisubmarine defenses in the Atlantic approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar. German U-boats had very recently sunk four ships in an Allied convoy about a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal. Also, over the long term, the Allies wanted to increase air antisubmarine patrols and convoy coverage to protect their preparations for the impending Tunisian offensive and the subsequent invasion of Sicily.

The Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command formed the 479th Antisubmarine Group at St. Eval in July with four squadrons of long-range Liberators to continue the antisubmarine campaign. The 479th's most effective antisubmarine patrols were conducted from 18 July to 2 August 1943, the period in which the group made nearly all of its attacks on the U-boats. After that time the Germans avoided surfacing during daylight and adopted a policy of evasion, but the group continued its patrols, often engaging Luftwaffe fighter interceptor aircraft in combat.

Again this was a short-lived arrangement and the group took its Liberators to RAF Dunkeswell on 6 August, ending the American use of the station.

Accident at St Eval

In August 1943 a Whitley and B-24 Liberator collided on the runway, causing a massive explosion and the loss of both the aircraft and crews. The collision was in part, due to the poor runway layout, with a blind spot that hid one aircraft from the other.

1944 - The end of the war

The importance of St Eval was such that it was given a FIDO installation in early 1944 for dispersal of fog around the runway so that aircraft could land safely. St Eval was destined to have a busy time during the allied invasion of Europe. It was home to three RAF Liberator squadrons (53, 224, 547). Many of these were equipped with the highly successful Leigh Light. In the April a fourth squadron arrived giving the base one of the most powerful anti-submarine forces in the RAF. This force flew thousands of hours of patrols each month and was rewarded with a number of sightings, many of which were converted into attacks and with at least three confirmed U-boat kills in June alone. The Allied capture of French ports meant that the U-boat threat was drastically reduced. This meant that the units based at St Eval would be better used elsewhere. By Autumn of 1944 the base was a shadow of its former self.

Post World War II

The base continued to be used for maritime patrols and search and rescue duties. The airfield was also a site for diversions with a number of military and commercial aircraft making use of St Eval due to bad weather at their destination airfield. The Station closed on 6 March 1959, with the existing squadrons moving to nearby RAF St. Mawgan.

RAF St Eval today

Much of the basic structure still exists but many of the buildings have gone. The base is currently a communication station. A new village has been built on the east side of the base providing married accommodation for the RAF. The base is now ex RAF housing. When this was revealed people had to queue for 24 – 78 hours in tents to buy their own houses.

Memorials

There are various memorials in the St Ulvelus church, including a Book of Remembrance, a memorial window and a memorial to the crew of Shackleton VP254, who were killed in a crash off the Borneo coast on 9 December 1958.

Squadrons stationed at RAF St Eval

Royal Air Force 1939 - 1945

Squadron Dates Stationed Planes Used Duties
22 Squadron det early 1941 - June 1941 Bristol Beaufort
22 Squadron 28 October 1941 - 1 February 1942 Bristol Beaufort
42 Squadron det 1941 Bristol Beaufort Anti-shipping and mine laying along the coasts of northern Europe
48 Squadron det 3 September - 17 July 1940 Bristol Beaufort
53 Squadron 20 March 1941 - 17 December 1941 Bristol Blenheim Anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the coast of France
53 Squadron 16 May 1942 - 3 July 1942 Lockheed Hudson Anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the coast of France
53 Squadron 3 January 1944 - 13 September 1944 B-24 Liberator
58 Squadron 8 April 1942 - 30 August 1942 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley General reconnaissance unit
58 Squadron 31 March 1943 - 29 June 1943 Handley Page Halifax General reconnaissance unit
59 Squadron det 1942 - 1943 B-24 Liberator
61 Squadron det 1942 Avro Lancaster Anti-submarine operations in the Bay of Biscay
86 Squadron 10 January 1942 - 5 March 1942 Bristol Beaufort
140 Squadron det 1942 various
143 Squadron 28 August 1943 - 16 September 1943 Bristol Beaufighter Provide fighter support for anti-submarine aircraft operating over the Bay of Biscay
161 Squadron det 1942 - ? various
179 Squadron 1 November 1944 - 30 September 1946 Vickers Wellington
Vickers Warwick
Anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay and the Western approaches
206 Squadron 30 May 1941 - 12 August 1941 Lockheed Hudson Patrol the south-west approaches
206 Squadron 12 April 1942 - 11 July 1944 B-17 Flying Fortress
217 Squadron 2 October 1939 - Mar 1942 Avro Anson
Bristol Beaufort
Attacks on enemy shipping and minelaying
220 Squadron det November 1940 - April 1941 Lockheed Hudson
221 Squadron det November 1940 - Sept 1941 Vickers Wellington Convoy escort patrols
224 Squadron 20 December 1941 - 19 February 1942 Lockheed Hudson Patrols off Brest and attack shipping off the coast of Brittany
224 Squadron 23 April 1943 - 11 September 1944 B-24 Liberator Anti-submarine operations over the Bay of Biscay and attacks on shipping over the French Coast
233 Squadron 16 August 1941 - July 1942 Lockheed Hudson Patrols over the Bay of Biscay
234 Squadron 18 June 1940 - 24 February 1941 Supermarine Spitfire Convoy patrols in the South West approaches and the English Channel with a secondary role of defending airfield and surrounding area.
235 Squadron det early 1943 Bristol Beaufighter
236 Squadron July 1940 - late 1941 Bristol Blenheim Fighter and reconnaissance
238 Squadron 14 August 1940 - 10 September 1940 Hawker Hurricane Defending the airfield
247 Squadron det summer 1940 - summer 1941 Gloster Gladiator
Hawker Hurricane
248 Squadron Summer 1941 Bristol Blenheim
254 Squadron det late 1940 Bristol Blenheim
263 Squadron 24 February 1941 - 18 March 1941 Westland Whirlwind (fixed wing)
280 Squadron det autumn 1944 - autumn 1945 Vickers Warwick
282 Squadron 19 September 1944 - 9 July 1945 various Air Sea Rescue (ASR)
304 Squadron 6 March 1945 - 9 July 1945 Vickers Wellington
No. 407 Squadron RCAF 1 October 1942 - 10 November 1942 Lockheed Hudson
No. 407 Squadron RCAF 3 November 1943 - 2 December 1943 Vickers Wellington
No. 415 Squadron RCAF 11 April 1942 - late 1942 Handley Page Hampden
No. 489 Squadron RNZAF det May 1942 - June 1942 Bristol Blenheim
500 Squadron 30 August 1942 - 5 November 1942 Lockheed Hudson
502 Squadron February 1942 - June 1943 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
Handley Page Halifax
517 Squadron 7 August 1943 - 25 November 1943 Handley Page Hampden
Lockheed Hudson
Meteorological flights over the Western Approaches
541 Squadron det 1943 Supermarine Spitfire Photographic reconnaissance missions
543 Squadron det late 1942 - 1943 Supermarine Spitfire Photographic reconnaissance missions over France
547 Squadron 14 January 1944 - 1 October 1944 B-24 Liberator Anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay
612 Squadron 1 November 1943 - 3 December 1943 Vickers Wellington Anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay
796 Naval Air Squadron det August-September 1948 Fairey Gannet
801 Naval Air Squadron 31 January 1941 - 6 February 1941 Blackburn Skua
807 Naval Air Squadron 20-23 August 1949 Hawker Sea Fury
812 Naval Air Squadron det November 1940 - December 1940 Fairey Swordfish
816 Naval Air Squadron det April 1941 - May 1941 Fairey Swordfish
820 Naval Air Squadron 11-18 November 1944 TBF Avenger
827 Naval Air Squadron 11 May 1941 - 4 June 1941 Fairey Albacore
829 Naval Air Squadron 7 October 1940 - 3 November 1940 Fairey Albacore
833 Naval Air Squadron 11 March 1943 - 15 April 1943 Fairey Swordfish
849 Naval Air Squadron 9-26 August 1944 TBF Avenger
2 AACU det
(Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit)
 ? - April 1940 various
6 CPF 15 January 1940 - 27 May 1940 De Havilland Tiger Moth
Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) 1 July 1940 - October 1942 various Recces of targets in Western France particularly naval bases
404/1404Flt
(Later becoming 517 Squadron)
24 December 1940 - 11 August 1943 Handley Page Hampden
Bristol Blenheim
Lockheed Hudson
Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle
Meteorological unit
8 AACU det
(Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit)
March 1941 - June 1941 various
10 OTU det 1942 - 23 July 1943 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Royal Air Force Post 1945

Squadron Dates Stationed Planes Used Duties
42 Squadron 28 June 1952 - 8 October 1958 Avro Shackleton Maritime reconnaissance
179 Squadron  ? - 30 September 1946 Wellington, Warwick
203 Squadron 16 January 1947 - 15 August 1952 Avro Lancaster
206 Squadron 27 September 1952 - 14 January 1958 Avro Shackleton Reconnaissance and rescue patrols over the western approaches
210 Squadron 1 June 1946 - 10 September 1952 Avro Lancaster Maritime patrols and air-sea rescue
220 Squadron 14 November 1951 - 4 December 1956 Avro Shackleton
228 Squadron 1 June 1946 - 30 September 1946 B-24 Liberator Passenger and freight services to Ireland, Gibraltar, the Azores and Morocco. It also had reconnaissance, air-sea rescue and meteorological tasks
228 Squadron 1 July 1954 - 29 November 1956
14 January 1958 - 6 March 1959
Avro Shackleton Maritime reconnaissance
240 Squadron 27 May 1952 - 5 June 1952 Avro Shackleton Maritime reconnaissance
95 GS June 1945 - 31 January 1950 Cadet
19 Gp CF 29 July 1948 - 27 August 1951 various
TTF September 1953 - September 1955 Mosquito
626 VGS 1 June 1958 - 16 March 1963 Cadet

See also

References

  • Airfield Focus - 7:St Eval by Chris Ashworth (ISBN 1-870384-19-9)
  • The Military airfields of Britain, South-Western England (ISBN 1-86126-810-6)
  • A Guide to Airfields of South Western England, Baron Jay Publishers
  • www.raf.mod.uk

External links

Coordinates: 50°28′39″N 4°59′57″W / 50.47763°N 4.99922°W / 50.47763; -4.99922


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