The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

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Updated:  30 August 2011 

This At the outset of the Second World War Plymouth's civilian airport at Roborough was requisitioned by the Air Ministry and at first became a Royal Naval Air Station for communication flights.  But the only planes to put in an appearance were the odd Anson,  Swordfish or Walrus.  [1]

One Walrus was sent on an interesting mission in the early hours of June 18th 1940.  With Flight-Lieutenant Bell of the Royal Australian Air Force at the controls, it flew first to Mount Batten and then over the Channel to Brittany, where it was to pick up General de Gaulle and his family to bring them to England.  Unfortunately the plane crashed in thick mist and the crew were killed before the mission could be accomplished.  [1]

Then in July 1940 a team of RAF officers arrived to inspect the site and to organise the hasty construction of some Nissen huts on a former tennis court for the crewmen.  The George Hotel, being the most superior building in the locality was, of course, taken over for the officers' mess.  [1]

Gloster Gladiator II N2306 in service with 247 Squadron at RAF Roborough in 1940.
Gloster Gladiator II N2306 in service with 247 Squadron at RAF Roborough in 1940.
  Les Hunt

It was not until August 1st 1940 that the first Royal Air Force aircraft arrived, 14 Gloster Gladiators of the newly formed number 247 squadron, and it became an RAF station, under the overall control of RAF Mount Batten.  [1]

They were reputedly used on nightly defensive patrols but Dennis Teague claimed that at dusk each evening they all flew off in V formation for RAF St Eval, at Newquay, Cornwall, apparently leaving Plymouth undefended.  Mr Teague only recorded one action at Plymouth, in daylight, against a force of 48 Heinkel bombers, before Germany turned to night raids.  [1]

Number 247 squadron were joined at some point by number 16 squadron, flying Lysanders.  [1]

At the end of 1940 the Gladiators were replaced by black painted Hurricanes.  These caused some problems at first as the pilots, more used to the fixed undercarriages of the Gladiators, forgot that they had to lower the wheels of the Hurricanes before trying to land.  [1]

Number 276 squadron were the next to be based at Roborough, flying Lysanders, Spitfires and Defiants.  They left again when Harrowbeer Airfield was opened and were replaced by the Spitfires of number 1623 Army Anti-Aircraft Co-operation unit.  They remained until November 1943.  [1]

A large Boeing B17 "Flying Fortress" bomber crashed landed on the approach to Roborough on August 16th 1941 while trying to make it to Harrowbeer Airfield.  It had been carrying out a raid when German fighters had attacked it and set alight one of the engines.  It managed to get back across the Channel but as it was continually loosing height it failed to make it to the longer runways at Harrowbeer.  [1]

In 1944 number 691 squadron arrived at Roborough, operating Barracudas, Defiants, Hurricanes and Oxfords.  During the invasion of Europe in June 1944 several Albacore and Swordfish took up temporary residence and the Defiants were used for towing flares across the Channel for night-time illumination.  [1]

Even after the Second World War had ended Roborough continued to be used by military aircraft.  Number 19 Coastal Command used it as a communications centre, with Anson's and Auster's, Oxford's and Prentice's, and a training flight for Fleet Air Arm pilots, named the Britannia Flight, was formed in the 1950s.  They used Tiger Moths at first and later Chipmunks.  [2] 


[1]  Teague, Dennis C, "A Pictorial History of Roborough, Plymouth City Airport", Westway Publications, Plymstock, Plymouth, 1989.

[2]  Teague, Dennis, "Aviation in South West Britain, 1909-1979", Baron Jay Publishers, Plymouth, 1982, ISBN 0 904593 11 8.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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