RAF Pembrey

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RAF Pembrey
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
RAF Observation Post Bunker.jpg
Airfield defence coordination post
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Airport type Military
Operator Royal Air Force
Location Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Built 1939
In use 1939-1957
Elevation AMSL 16 ft / 5 m
Coordinates 51°42′27″N 004°18′54″W / 51.70750°N 4.31500°W / 51.70750; -4.31500Coordinates: 51°42′27″N 004°18′54″W / 51.70750°N 4.31500°W / 51.70750; -4.31500
Map
RAF Pembrey is located in Carmarthenshire
RAF Pembrey
RAF Pembrey
Location in Carmarthenshire, Wales
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
00/00 0 0 Asphalt
00/00 0 0 Asphalt
00/00 0 0 Asphalt

Royal Air Force Station Pembrey or RAF Pembrey was a Royal Air Force station located near the village of Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, 3 miles (4.8 km) north west of Burry Port and 10.3 miles (16.6 km) south of Carmarthen, Wales.

Station history[edit]

Origin[edit]

Construction of the airfield for RAF Flying Training Command started in 1937 and by September 1939, the RAF's No. 2 Air Armament School was the first unit to be stationed at the airfield. The airfield opened in March 1939 [1]

World War 2[edit]

During World War II, RAF Pembrey was the airfield for many of World War II's flying aces including Wing Commander Guy Gibson of Dambusters fame.

By May 1940, the three tarmac runways were completed and the airfield transferred initially to 11 Group RAF Fighter Command and then to the newly formed 10 Group RAF Fighter Command. Spitfires of 92 Squadron used Pembrey as their base from 18 June 1940, including Squadron Leader Stanford Tuck,[2] until 12 August.[3][4] During this period Pembrey gained honours as a Battle of Britain Airfield. Pembrey became a Sector Station within 10 Group, relinquishing this role in October 1941 to RAF Fairwood Common after it had returned to RAF Flying Training Command a few months earlier.

From January to March 1941, 256 Squadron operated from Pembrey.[5] In early 1941, Polish Air Force Squadron 316 was formed at Pembrey, inflicting losses on enemy aircraft, and moved on to RAF Colerne in June.[6]

Disused dome training facility and Spitfire, 2007

Between 1941 and 1945 Pembrey was host to the RAF's Air Gunnery School, involving Blenheim and Wellington bombers and Spitfire fighter aircraft,[7] and included experimental courses.[8] From 1943 to 1945 Wing Commander George Peter Macdonald was Commanding Officer, No. 1 Air Gunners School, and Station Commander of RAF Pembrey.[9] The airfield is the site of one of only five Dome Trainer Buildings (for training AA gunners) still existing in the UK.

In 1942 a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 landed there in error after a dog fight over the Bristol Channel. Oberleutnant Armin Faber, Adjutant of III fighter Gruppe of JG2 who, on 23 June 1942 had been engaged by Spitfires of 19 Squadron and the Czech Wing over south Devon, England. Being forced north beyond Exeter, Faber mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel. Being short on fuel, he landed at Pembrey believing it to be a Luftwaffe airfield in Brittany, France. The Pembrey Duty Pilot grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber's aircraft as it taxied in. Faber was taken to RAF Fairwood Common by Group Captain David Atcherley for interrogation. He became a POW in Canada and was repatriated to Germany in exchange for wounded allied POW's. It is thought that he then fought on the eastern front. Ironically, Faber was piloting the latest enemy fighter, the Focke-Wulf 190A-3, a type the RAF had only ever seen flying over France. The depths of Faber's despair at providing his enemy with an intact FW190 can be gauged by the fact that he subsequently attempted to commit suicide. As news broke of his landing in Pembrey, Fighter Command despatched pilots to photograph and return the aircraft to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The RAF finally had an FW 190 to compare with its V.S Spitfire IX and Hawker Typhoon Ia aircraft.[10]

It is believed that 25 official kills were accredited to aircraft flown out of Pembrey during the war years.[citation needed]

Post-war[edit]

At the end of the war RAF Pembrey became an air crew holding unit for those being demobilised.

In 1946 RAF Fighter Command once again took over as custodians of the airfield with aircraft staying to 1949. Work was then put in hand to lengthen Runway 04/22 to take jet aircraft. From 1949 to 1952 21 Wing RAF Regiment (comprising 15 and 63 Squadrons RAF Regiment) were based at Pembrey. With Runway 04/22 extended to nearly 6000 feet, 1 September 1952 the airfield became home to 233 Operational Conversion Unit which flew de Havilland Vampires and Hawker Hunters until its closure on 13 July 1957. In September 1953 a Vampire crashed at the airfield, killing the pilot, Squadron Leader Lionel Hubert Wakeford DFC.[11] Shortly before closure, in June 1957, a Hunter 1 (WT-563) crashed on approach to the airfield, killing Pilot Officer Frederick William Rupert V. Jacques when he ejected at low level; the aircraft crashed into Kidwelly railway station.[12][13] Both airmen were buried in St Illtyd Churchyard, Pembrey, along with 32 wartime RAF casualties, including seven from the Polish Air Force.[14]

Post 1958 part of former RAF Pembrey airfield was turned over to agriculture and part was used as a motor racing circuit leaving only a small length of unused runway and taxiways. Most of the hangars were dismantled in 1962, but an RAF security station remains to the present day.[7]

In 1968 a bomb exploded at the airfield, seriously injuring a warrant officer; in the "climate of sporadic bomb threats" the BBC interviewed people in Kidwelly about whether they believed The Prince of Wales should come to Wales.[15]

On Thursday 22 August 1997 Pembrey was officially opened as a civil airfield and named Pembrey Airport using a single runway (04/22) with a declared length of 805 metres.

Squadrons[edit]

Pembrey was host to many squadrons and aircraft types during its active history,[16] for example -

  • Nos 595/5, 92, 118. (Spitfires)
  • Nos 32, 79, 316 - formed at Pembrey. (Hurricanes)
  • Nos 238, 248. (Beaufighters)
  • Nos 256, 307. (Bolton Paul Defiants)
  • No. 233 OCU (Vampires, Tempest, Mosquito, Meteors and Hunters)

Current use[edit]

Airport buildings, 2010

Pembrey is still associated as a service facility with the RAF unit known as Pembrey Sands.[17] The airfield is now split into a number of facilities: the Welsh Motor Sports Centre occupies most of the area, part of the land has reverted to agriculture, part contains a hangar housing the Dyfed-Powis Police Air Support Unit helicopter whilst 805 metres of the north east portion of the former RAF Runway 04/22 was opened as Pembrey Airport in August 1997 (ICAO code is EGFP). The airfield is also home to the Llanelli Model Flying Club.[18]

RAF/RN/RM/British Army aircraft use Pembrey Airport (EGFP) to support the nearby range, known as RAF Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range. The range was built on land that was not part of RAF Station Pembrey and opened in 1966 (ICAO code for RAF Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range is EGOP).

Pembrey Airport remains a working airfield but the short runway retained for this purpose restricts its capacity to light aircraft. However, the runway is to be extended to 1,200m + and to become known as 'Pembrey West Wales International Airport'. Development has already started for the country's newest major airport.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Pembrey". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Llanelli Community Heritage". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "92 Squadron RAF - Pembrey". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ground Crew Life with 92 Squadron". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "Wartime Memories Project - 256 Squadron". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "1941 - 316 Squadron". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Kidwelly history - RAF Pembrey". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "National Archives - Experimental Gunnery Courses". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "RAF Officers, 1939-1945". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Weal, John (1996). Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Aces of the Western Front. Osprey Publishing. p. 24-25. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "216 Association History". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  12. ^ "Aviation Safety Network - Aircraft accident, 20-Jun-1957". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "National Archives - Air accident report". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "Pembrey RAF Burials". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "Kidwelly on the bomb attacks". BBC. 10 September 1968. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "A History of RAF Organisation". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "CRO Wales - The RAF in Wales". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  18. ^ "RAF Pembrey Flying Site". Retrieved 3 August 2014. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Smith, David, J. (1981). Action Stations. 3: Military airfields of Wales and the North West. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 0-85059-485-5.