RAF Andreas

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RAF Andreas
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Airport type Military
Owner Air Ministry
Operator Royal Air Force
Location Andreas, Isle of Man
Built 1940 (1940)
In use 1941-1946 (1946)
Elevation AMSL 112 ft / 34 m
Coordinates 54°22′15″N 004°25′25″W / 54.37083°N 4.42361°W / 54.37083; -4.42361Coordinates: 54°22′15″N 004°25′25″W / 54.37083°N 4.42361°W / 54.37083; -4.42361
Map
RAF Andreas is located in Isle of Man
RAF Andreas
RAF Andreas
Location in Isle of Man
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
06/24 3,280 1,000 Asphalt
11/29 3,280 1,000 Asphalt
17/35 3,280 1,000 Asphalt
Operational dates.[1]

Royal Air Force Station Andreas or more simply RAF Andreas is a former Royal Air Force station in the Isle of Man which was operational between 1941 and 1946. It was built in fields between Andreas and Bride. As was common practice, the station was named after the parish in which it was situated.[1]

History[edit]

Construction[edit]

When the Luftwaffe, in October 1940, began to attack British cities under the cover of darkness, the North West of England with its industrial centres and ports came within easy reach of German aircraft operating from occupied France. The first fighter squadron had arrived at nearby RAF Jurby in November 1940, and came under the control of the newly formed No. 9 Group RAF, Fighter Command. Group Control was positioned at RAF Barton Hall, near Preston, and its sectors covered Lancashire, Cheshire and Shropshire. Andreas was to be a separate sector with responsibility for the Irish Sea and its surrounds. The new wing of Ramsey Grammar School was commissioned as Control Centre for the sector and was hastily prepared before the arrival of the new fighters at Jurby. The Control Centre was linked to the three radar stations at Dalby, Scarlett and Bride.[2]

The siting of a fighter airfield in the location of Andreas had been chosen because of its central location with regard to Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow, as it was in an excellent position to provide protection to the vital shipping arriving at these ports. Finally, with the relevant compensation payments agreed, work on the construction of RAF Andreas began in earnest by the end of June 1940. A total of 500 acres (200 ha) of farmland was earmarked, 200 acres (81 ha) coming from both Ballaghaue Farm and Braust Farm, and a small portion of land was acquired which stretched into the adjacent parish of Bride.[3]

By the spring of 1941 the airfield, to be built to the full specification of an operational fighter station was beginning to take shape. The main NE/SW runway was 1,100 yards (1,000 m) long and 50 yards (46 m) wide and was obviously meant to take larger aircraft than fighters.[4] From the perimeter track there was access to the flight dispersals in which a total of 24 blast pens were built, half to provide protection for the fighters while larger ones were for twin-engined aircraft. Considerable thought had also gone into the airfield's defences, with the whole area being surrounded by 5-foot-high (1.5 m) roller concertina barbed wire, with gaps located at the main entrance and crash gates.[5]

During the summer of 1941 the first RAF personnel arrived at Andreas. This mainly consisted of a flight of Royal Air Force Police, whose first duties were the lonely twelve-hour vigils guarding the mounting stores of supplies kept in the completed hangars. Others arriving at that time included MT drivers and soldiers of the Wiltshire Regiment, under the command of Major G.K. Wait MC, who arrived to man the airfield's defences, along with the first of many WAAFs whose duties were to staff the administration offices and operations rooms. The station officially opened in August, 1941, the first Commanding Officer of RAF Andreas being Group Captain J. Marson.[6]

Operational Life[edit]

St Andrew's Church, Andreas, showing the reduced height of the tower.

By October 1941, RAF Andreas was ready to receive the first of No. 457 Squadron RAAF (457 Sqn)[7] Spitfires from RAF Jurby as a prelude to working up to operational efficiency.[8] This work-up would take six months, however the transfer of 457 Sqn's ground crew and administrative staff brought welcome relief to the congestion at Jurby.[9] It was also during this work-up period, that the Air Ministry insisted that the height of Andreas church tower be reduced, as it was a hazard, and in line with the southern end of the main runway.[10] The church tower was originally 120 feet (37 m) high, and the most striking feature of the Island's northern plain being visible throughout the parish.[11]

457 Squadron[edit]

RAF Andreas had become fully operational in March 1942, but by now 457 Sqn was ready to move south to join No. 11 Group RAF (11 Grp) at RAF Redhill and to take part in air strikes over northern France.

Thirteen men wearing military uniform standing close together in front of a single propeller monoplane.  A fourteenth man wearing military uniform is crouching and patting a dog to the left of the group.
Group photo of No. 457 Sqn pilots at RAF Station Redhill in 1942

452 Squadron[edit]

Following the departure of 457 Squadron, it was immediately replaced by No. 452 Squadron RAAF (452 Sqn),[1] which had been formed in April 1941, and whose most celebrated pilot was the maverick Irishman, Paddy Finucane.

In June 1944, 452 Sqn's tenure at Andreas came to and end when the squadron returned to Australia,[12] sailing on 21 June, arriving in Melbourne on 13 August and re-assembled at RAAF Station Richmond, as No. 452 Squadron RAAF, on 6 September.[12]

93 Squadron[edit]

RAF 93 Sqn.svg

The third fighter unit to occupy RAF Andreas was No. 93 Squadron RAF (93 Sqn)[7] which had an entirely different background, previously having been involved in the development of night fighter tactics using Havocs equipped with radar and Turbinlite searchlights.[13]

93 Sqn reformed at Andreas as an entirely new squadron equipped with Spitfire VB's as it worked up to operational efficiency.[1][14] Considerable time was spent over the air-to-ground firing range along the Ayres coastline at Smeale which had been constructed not long after the first fighters had arrived at RAF Jurby. When Andreas airfield was under construction, the coastline north of Smeale had been heavily mined as a precaution against an enemy landing. After four months, 93 Sqn was ready to move on to more direct action, and orders were received which would see the squadron re-locate to Algiers ready for the North African landings as part of Operation Torch.[15]

On moonlight nights the drone of bombers could be heard as they passed overhead on their way to Belfast. These were the nights when the fighters based at RAF Andreas and RAF Jurby were called into action. Airborne radar was still in its infancy, and there was little they could do except offer token resistance. Occasionally, and enemy aircraft would be sighted and in the ensuing chase bombs would be jettisoned as the Heinkel or Dornier made a rapid escape. The air raid sirens of the Island sounded a total of 43 alerts - 32 of them in 1942. Many were of a short duration, but on the nights of 20 and 21 December 1941, there were two alerts each lasting five hours when Liverpool and Manchester were being heavily attacked.[16][17]

The first enemy bomb to fall on the Isle of Man was on 18 September 1940, when high explosive bombs caused four large craters in the Dalby area - without damage or injury.[18] On the nights of 7, 15, and 16 April 1941, enemy bombers were again over the Island. On the first occasion the Island was illuminated with flares and incendiary bombs landed near Port Soderick. On the 15th a high explosive bomb landed close to Cronk Ruagh Sanatorium near Ramsey. Shrapnel landed on the entrance steps and windows were blown out. The following night more H.E. bombs fell at Scarlett narrowly missing the Radar Station.[18]

The following month considerable alarm was caused when bombs fell on the outskirts of Douglas.[19] It was the night of 8/9 May, when clear conditions prevailed and when Dublin was mistakenly bombed.[20]

After 93 Sqn had exchanged the sands of the Ayres for the sands of North Africa, the station grew quiet and much of it was reduced to care and maintenance. There was little to do for 9 Group now that the emergencies which had brought it into being had largely passed. Nevertheless, RAF Andreas remained officially part of 9 Group until August 1944, Wing Commander Raynor being responsible for the signing and despatch of the operational orders which signalled the disbanding of the Group, and many of the 900 airmen and 400 WAAFs were posted out whilst new plans were awaited for this very fine station.[citation needed]

One of the residents who did not leave was the detachment from 275 Squadron (275 Sqn) which was located at RAF Valley, Anglesey.[1] No. 275 Squadron was 9 Group's Air Sea Rescue Unit which covered the Irish Sea, and the detachment's Walrus amphibian Mk.I's were often to be seen flying around the Island.[21]

Supermarine Walrus

Another strange but permanent resident at Andreas, was a Vought-Sikorsky Chesapeake of the Fleet Air Arm. It belonged to 772 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm (772 Sqn),[7] and was employed to provide simulated conditions for the Royal Navy's No 1 Radar Training School ideally positioned on Douglas Head. The Chesapeake was replaced in October 1944, after crashing on Douglas Head, killing the pilot Sub Lieutenant R. S. Paton.[22]

During the spring of 1943, a new role was found for the excellent facilities at Andreas, and preparations began to set up No. 11 Air Gunnery School of Training Command.[1]

No. 11 Air Gunnery School[edit]

RAF Training Command crest

With the specialisation required in aircrew for the heavy bombers of Bomber Command, air gunners became a separate category. Each Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax required two or three gunners in its crew, so thousands would be required to meet the demands of the growing strategic offensive and to replace losses.[citation needed]

RAF Andreas was to play an important role in the training programme, and thus began the busiest period in the life of the station. The Station's new Commanding Officer was Group Captain Mackay, who would remain at Andreas for the rest of the war period, and the station completely changed in character from that of a fighter station to that of a training establishment.[23]

Whilst at Andreas, the volunteer pupils selected for air gunners underwent an intensive ten-week course, before passing on to the operational training units of RAF Bomber Command.[24] The course involved sighting; aircraft recognition; pyrotechnics; clay-pigeon and 25 yard range shoots; care and maintenance of .303 and .5 Browning machine guns and 20mm cannon; turret hydraulics, manipulation and operation, and the use of cine-camera guns. The training huts were equipped with the various types of turrets then in use, including Boulton Paul Types A and F, and Frazer Nash 121 which were installed in the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster respectively.[25]

The first aircraft to arrive were 15 Avro Anson gunnery trainers. For more advanced experience, training was conducted on a succession of Vickers Wellingtons which were being withdrawn from the front-line squadrons of Bomber Command, and target towing duties were the responsibility of Bristol Mercury engined Miles Martinets.[26]

Martinet in RAF service

Firing took place in allotted zones over the sea on both sides of the Point of Ayre, care being taken not to interfere with the Jurby bombing ranges.[6]

Despite the continual flying programme over the congested north of the Island, accidents involving Andreas aircraft proved to be very rare, and only one documented incident resulted in the loss of a life. During 1944, Andreas, because of the length of its main runway, became an emergency landing ground for the Atlantic ferry route and was occasionally used by American aircraft such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator.[6] The ending of the war in Europe in May 1945, saw no let up in the routine at Andreas with the prospect of a long campaign in the Pacific War.[27]

The detachment of Fleet Air Arm 772 Squadron, which had been responsible for operating the Chesapeakes, became 772B Squadron in May 1945 with the arrival of Boston 111s, Corsairs and de Havilland Mosquitoes. The purpose of the Bostons was to train gunners from the naval air station at Ronaldsway, and Fairey Barracudas were added to the scene as they brought in telegraphists to have air gunnery added to their training. However, this only lasted for a short period, as 772B was disbanded in September 1945 following the defeat of Japan.[1][27]

Post-war and closure[edit]

With the ending of the war, RAF Andreas entered the mundane routine of day-to-day life after the exertions of the previous five years. In July 1946, the Douglas High School Flight of 506 Squadron Air Training Corps, spent a week's camp at Andreas.[28]

Vickers Wellington (similar to those operated by No. 11 Air Gunnery School, RAF Andreas) This particular aircraft was part of No. 104 Squadron, and differs insofar as it was powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines

The squadron, together with 440, had been set up in the early years of the war to encourage the interest of schoolboys in the Royal Air Force, many going on to train as aircrew. The cadets enjoyed daily flights in some of the Wellingtons at the station, taking advantage of what was now considerably quieter airspace over the north of the Island, as well as south west Scotland and Cumberland. The one and only opportunity the general public had of visiting Royal Air Force Andreas, was on Battle of Britain Day, September, 1946. It had already been announced that the station would close and that the Gunnery School would transfer to nearby Jurby. The Commanding Officer Group Captain Mackay, and he and the rest of the station personnel made every effort to show what the work of the station involved.

The Blackburn Skua was operated by No. 275 Air Sea Rescue Squadron, which had a detachment based at RAF Andreas from October, 1941.

On show were the link trainer, parachute packing by the WAAFs and parachute dinghies and equipment used by the Andreas Rescue Station, which had so often been called upon in emergencies.

The following week, the transfer of stores to RAF Jurby was completed, and the gates of Royal Air Force Andreas were finally closed.

Current use[edit]

The Watch Office today.

As soon as the station was closed, steps were taken by the Isle of Man Government, through the Local Government Board, to acquire three of the communal sites – the WAAF quarters, the hospital and sick quarters and a site in the centre of Andreas village – for the conversion into family accommodation. These were badly needed to re-house families living in condemned properties in Ramsey and to relieve the general housing shortage on the Island as a consequence of the war. Every effort was made to convert the brick-built huts into acceptable two-and three-bedroom homes with electrically heated living rooms and kitchens. Each had a toilet installed, but bathrooms had to be shared. During 1947, a total of 81 families were accommodated as a temporary measure pending the construction of new housing estates. It was to be several years before such new housing was ready, and upon their completion, this temporary housing by now badly affected by damp, was demolished. One structure to survive, was the old gymnasium which still stands, and continues to provide the village of Andreas with a very useful Parish Hall.[1][29]

Meanwhile, negotiations between the Manx Government and the Air Ministry were proceeding as to the future of the airfield. Tynwald, the Isle of Man's Parliament, accepted an offer to purchase the whole of the airfield for the price originally paid in compensation to the land owners – a total of £23,750.[30] No charge was made for the buildings, the Air Ministry agreeing to this as a gesture of appreciation to the government and people of the Isle of Man for their co-operation during the early years of the war.[30]

The airfield's runways were soon put to good use by the newly formed Andreas Racing Association for motorcycle racing. The Association's emblem is that of the Three Legs of Man, set against the "A" layout of the airfield's runways.[31][32]

Some of the 23 military graves at Andreas Churchyard

The airfield was used on Saturday June 25, 1949, when unable to land at Ronaldsway Airport due to advection fog two Sivewirght Airways aircraft diverted to Andreas. The 28 passengers were in turn conveyed to Douglas by motor coach.[33]

After a short time in the ownership of the Manx Government, the airfield was put up for sale as a complete entity, and was purchased by a Mr Morrey for the sum of £33,000. The facility is still owned by the Morrey family, and many of its buildings still exist, being mostly used for storage. The local gliding club[34] still uses the airfield, together with a small number of privately owned light aircraft with the RAF station now known as Andreas Airfield.[34]

To this day, within easy view of the airfield, is the (still) stunted tower of the parish church of St. Andrew (in Manx Gaelic, Andrew translates to Andreas), a permanent legacy of Royal Air Force Station Andreas, and below which lie twenty-three military graves.[2][35]

Accidents[edit]

Spitfire P8380[edit]

On December 1, 1941, Spitfire MkII P8380, piloted by Flt Sgt Gifford was returning to Andreas after an operational sortie.[9][36] Crossing the end of the runway at the time was one of the builder's foremen driving a lorry. One of the Spitfire's wheels hit the cab of the lorry, causing severe injuries to its occupant, who was killed instantly.

Spitfire P7529[edit]

During operations on December 3, 1941, Spitfire P7529 piloted by Pilot Officer Edwards was involved in an incident whilst landing at Andreas. The aircraft's starboard wheel struck an obstacle whilst landing causing it to overturn. Whilst the pilot was uninjured the aircraft was badly damaged resulting in the pilot's log book being endorsed with red ink.[9]

Spitfire P7502[edit]

Flt Lt Edy

The third accident within the same week at the beginning of December 1941, was of Spitfire P7502, piloted by Flt Lt Allen Edy DFC, commander of B Flight.

Flt Lt Edy had departed Andreas at 15:25hrs, however 15 minutes later his aircraft crashed at Vondy's Farm, 3 miles from the airfield. Flt Lt Edy had managed to bale out, however he may well of been struck by part of the aircraft, causing him to become stunned thereby losing his life.[37]

  • The engine of P7502 was recovered circa 1984 and is now on display at the Manx Aviation and Military Museum.

Pilot Sergeant R. Goodhew[edit]

Sgt Pilot R. Goodhew

On 8 May 1942, two of No. 452 Squadron's Spitfires were in collision over Andreas resulting in the death of Sergeant Pilot Reginald Goodhew. Sgt Goodhew was involved in practicing camera quarter attacks with another Spitfire, piloted by Pilot Officer William Ford. The two aircraft collided head on and crashed at Farrant Ford Farm. Pilot Officer Ford managed to bale out and survived. Sergeant Pilot Goodhew is buried in Andreas.[38][39]

Whitley BD417[edit]

On 30 August 1942, the most memorable and tragic incident of the life of RAF Andreas occurred. It was the day the station lost its Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Edward Knowles.[35][40]

Saturday night had seen the usual revelry in the Moosejaw Bar of the Officer's Mess, attended by the Wing Commander. Aged 33, and an experienced bomber pilot, he was considered a great "character" and reputedly knew how to make a party go with a swing, his prowess at the piano being put to good use.[40]

The morning after, Wing Commander Knowles was back in the mess for what was described as a "convivial luncheon" with friends including Major Wait. Relaxing after luncheon, news was received that an Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley had landed on the airfield, an unusual event which immediately aroused the interest of the C.O., who took his friends out onto the airfield to inspect the Whitley, which had called in to refuel before continuing on to a Coastal Command station in Scotland.[35] The Whitley MkV, BD417 belonged to 296 Squadron.[35][40][41][42]

There was little else to do that summer's afternoon, and the Wing Commander decided to take the bomber up for a short flight.[35][40]

Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley.

Objections from the Whitley pilot were overruled and the duty pilot of the day, Flying Officer A. B. Paton, was prevailed upon to join the C.O. and his two friends. Four corporals from the nearby crash section found themselves joining the party and acting as ballast in the back of the aircraft. With engines started, the C.O. followed the perimeter track to the south end of the northeasterly facing runway.

The Whitley slowly gathered speed but the end of the runway was reached before it became airborne. It was then seen to be in trouble as it tried to gain height in order to clear the Bride Hills looming ahead. This it failed to do, and it crashed heavily into a field of West Kimmeragh, bursting into flames, and sending up a pall of smoke which could be seen for miles around.[35][40]

The rescue services went into immediate action but nothing could be done to save the four in the nose section of the aircraft; they all had been killed instantly.[35][40]

The rear section of the fuselage broke open and the four corporals were seen staggering around dazed with shock. They were taken by ambulance to the station hospital, but one was transferred to the Military Hospital which had been established at the Majestic Hotel in Onchan. Sadly though, Corporal Henderson never recovered from his severe head wounds.[35]

An Air Ministry inquiry was ordered. The five who perished in the disaster on that Sunday afternoon lie buried together in Andreas Churchyard.[43]

Gallery[edit]

RAF Andreas
Plaque commemorating the donation of the organ blower to St Andrew's Church, Andreas. 
The grave of Wing Commander Edward Vincent Knowles DFC. 
The grave of Major Geoffrey Wait MC. 
RAF Ensign in St Andrew's Church, Andreas. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "RAF Andreas". Control Towers. Retrieved 29 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 51.
  3. ^ http://www.culturevannin.im/video_story_411491.html
  4. ^ http://www.forgottenairfields.com/united-kingdom/man/andreas-s961.html
  5. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 52.
  6. ^ a b c Isle of Man Times. Friday September 14th, 1945.
  7. ^ a b c "Andreas". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 29 April 2012. 
  8. ^ Halley 1988, p. 478.
  9. ^ a b c http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D8405567
  10. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 55.
  11. ^ http://www.achurchnearyou.com/andreas-st-andrew/
  12. ^ a b https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U59437/
  13. ^ http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/93squadron.cfm
  14. ^ Halley 1988, p. 166.
  15. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 57.
  16. ^ http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/christmas-blitz.html
  17. ^ http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-blitz-around-britain
  18. ^ a b http://www.culturevannin.im/video_story_411547.html
  19. ^ https://vimeo.com/129460328
  20. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/why-the-nazis-bombed-dublin-1075966.html
  21. ^ Halley 1988, p. 342.
  22. ^ http://www.manxgliding.org/features/andreasairfield/
  23. ^ http://www.rafcommands.com/archive/09815.php
  24. ^ http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nbpennfi/penn8b1ADemandingTrainingRegime.htm
  25. ^ http://www.pilotfriend.com/photo_albums/timeline/ww2/Avro%20Lancaster.htm
  26. ^ http://www.aviastar.org/air/england/miles_m-25.php
  27. ^ a b https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/atomic
  28. ^ Isle of Man Examiner. Friday August 9th, 1946.
  29. ^ Mona's Herald Tuesday December 17th, 1946.
  30. ^ a b Isle of Man Examiner. Friday October 24th, 1947.
  31. ^ Oliver 2006, p. 01.
  32. ^ The Green Final Saturday April 19th, 1947.
  33. ^ Ramsey Courier Friday, 01.07.1949 Page: 4
  34. ^ a b "Gliding for All on the Isle of Man". Andreas Gliding Club. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h http://2ndww.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/isle-of-man-during-world-war-two.html
  36. ^ http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/50617-tragic-fatal-accident-between-spitfire-and-lorry-andreas-airbase/
  37. ^ http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=154189
  38. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 59.
  39. ^ http://spitfireassociation.com.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=354:goodhew-reginald-alan&Itemid=283
  40. ^ a b c d e f http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/39/a4166039.shtml
  41. ^ http://coptercrazy.brinkster.net/CVT-wings/waryears/AW38-Page2600.html
  42. ^ http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/296squadron.cfm
  43. ^ Kniveton 1985, p. 60.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Kniveton, G. Manx Aviation in War and Peace. Douglas, Isle of Man, The Manx Experience, 1985.
  • Oliver, Cpt W. Manx Festival of Aviation: Festival programme 2006. Douglas, Isle of Man, The Manx Experience, 2006.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1981-1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.

External links[edit]