RAF St Eval

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RAF St Eval
USAAF Station 129

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
RAF St Eval aerial photograph WWII IWM HU 92963.jpg
RAF St Eval airfield on 18 July 1942
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Airport type Military
Owner Air Ministry
Operator Royal Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Location St Eval, Cornwall
Built 1938 (1938)
In use 1939-1959 (1959)
Elevation AMSL 322 ft / 98 m
Coordinates 50°28′41″N 004°59′58″W / 50.47806°N 4.99944°W / 50.47806; -4.99944Coordinates: 50°28′41″N 004°59′58″W / 50.47806°N 4.99944°W / 50.47806; -4.99944
Map
RAF St Eval is located in Cornwall
RAF St Eval
RAF St Eval
Location in Cornwall
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
00/00 0 0 Concrete/Tarmac
00/00 0 0 Concrete/Tarmac
00/00 0 0 Concrete/Tarmac

Royal Air Force Station St Eval or RAF St Eval was a strategic Royal Air Force station for the RAF Coastal Command during the Second World War (situated in Cornwall, England, UK). St Eval's primary role was to provided anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the south west coast. Aircraft from the airfield were also used for photographic reconnaissance missions, meteorological flights, convoy patrols, air-sea rescue missions and protection of the air field from the Luftwaffe.

History[edit]

The construction of the station[edit]

The RAF's 1930s expansion plan included a requirement for a station 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 airfield and work started in 1938. Five widely dispersed cottages, two houses and portions of two farms were acquired by compulsory purchase; the village of St Eval was completely demolished in order to build the airfield. Levelling of the site by G Wallace Ltd involved the removal by bulldozers 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 (which still stands today). The work progressed well and RAF Station St Eval opened on 2 October 1939.

Battle of Britain[edit]

In June 1940 St Eval became a Fighter Command sector headquarters during the Battle of Britain and Supermarine Spitfires were posted there. These were joined by Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Blenheim fighters. The station's aircraft took an active part in the conflict.

Meteorological flights[edit]

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

Attacks on St Eval[edit]

The presence of the Spitfires was not a great success as the Luftwaffe's change in tactics led to an increase in night raids for which the Spitfires were not suited. Therefore 238 Squadron were posted in with Hurricanes. The airfield was unfortunately hit a number of times in the summer of 1940 and early 1941. This caused considerable damage and casualties with the Germans carrying out further raids in May 1942, causing damage to buildings and the destruction of aircraft. St Eval was equipped with a 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 the device was unsuccessful.

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

Attack on the German battleship Gneisenau[edit]

On 6 April 1941 a small force of Beauforts from 22 Squadron, operating on detachment from St Eval, launched an attack on the German battleship Gneisenau in Brest harbour. A Beaufort was able to launch a torpedo at point blank range but was shot down. However, the ship was severely damaged below the water line, so was obliged to return to the dock for repair. The pilot of the Beaufort, Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell RAF, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

No 61 Squadron[edit]

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 station 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 in RAF Bomber Command 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[edit]

To boost the anti-submarine forces and to gain experience in the role, the Americans began to use the airfield (as station 129) with Consolidated 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 anti-submarine defences 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 anti-submarine patrols and convoy coverage to secure 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 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.

This was once again 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[edit]

In August 1943 a Whitley and 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[edit]

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 April, a fourth squadron arrived, giving the station 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, 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 posted to St Eval could be better used elsewhere and by the autumn of 1944 the airfield was a shadow of its former self.

RAF St Eval memorial

Post World War II[edit]

The station continued to be used for maritime patrols and search and rescue duties. It 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[edit]

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

Memorials[edit]

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.

A memorial tablet to the two crews of Shackletons WG531 and WL743 (squadron codes A-H and A-F respectively) of No.42 Squadron that probably collided whilst on an exercise off Fastnet Rock on 11 January 1955, is displayed in St Columba's church, St Columb Major.

Units stationed at RAF St Eval[edit]

1939 - 1945[edit]

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 Consolidated 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 Boeing 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 the 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
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
407 Squadron RCAF 1 October 1942 – 10 November 1942 Lockheed Hudson
407 Squadron RCAF 3 November 1943 – 2 December 1943 Vickers Wellington
415 Squadron RCAF 11 April 1942 - late 1942 Handley Page Hampden
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 Grumman 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

1945 - 1959[edit]

Unit Aircraft From To To Duties
42 Squadron Avro Shackleton MR 1A/MR 2 28 June 1952 8 October 1958 RAF St Mawgan [1] Maritime reconnaissance
179 Squadron Vickers Wellington XIV
Vickers Warwick V
Avro Lancaster ASR 3
1 November 1944 30 September 1946 Disbanded [2]
203 Squadron Avro Lancaster GR 3 16 January 1947 15 August 1952 RAF Topcliffe [3]
206 Squadron Avro Shackleton MR 1A/MR 2 27 September 1952 14 January 1958 RAF St Mawgan [4] Reconnaissance and rescue patrols over the western approaches
210 Squadron Avro Lancaster ASR 3 1 June 1946 10 September 1952 RAF Ballykelly [5] Maritime patrols and air-sea rescue
220 Squadron Avro Shackleton MR 1/MR 2 14 November 1951 4 December 1956 RAF St Mawgan [6]
228 Squadron B-24 Liberator VIII 1 June 1946 30 September 1946 Disbanded [7] Passenger and freight services to Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, the Azores and Morocco. It also had reconnaissance, air-sea rescue and meteorological tasks
228 Squadron Avro Shackleton MR 2 1 July 1954
14 January 1958
29 November 1956
6 March 1959
RAF St Mawgan
Disbanded
[7] Maritime reconnaissance
240 Squadron Avro Shackleton MR 1 27 May 1952 5 June 1952 RAF Ballykelly [8] Maritime reconnaissance
95 Gliding Squadron[9] Avro Cadet June 1945 31 January 1950 Unknown
19 Group Communications Flight[9] Various 29 July 1948 27 August 1951 Unknown
Target Towing Flight de Havilland Mosquito September 1953 September 1955 Unknown
626 Gliding Squadron[9] Avro Cadet 1 June 1958 16 March 1963 Unknown

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 39.
  2. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 65.
  3. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 68.
  4. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 69.
  5. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 70.
  6. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 72.
  7. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 74.
  8. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 84.
  9. ^ a b c "St. Eval". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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
  • Jefford MBE, Wg Cdr C G (1988). RAF Squadrons. A comprehensive record of the movement and equipment of all RAF squadrons and their antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife. ISBN 1-85310-053-6. 

External links[edit]