RAFCC’s triumph over the U-boats and maritime units of the Luftwaffe could not have been achieved without a range of support facilities and services in Northern Ireland. The country, with part of Scotland, came within the geographical area of control of 15 Group, based in Liverpool, and 17 Group, the Command’s training organization for the whole of the UK.
Up to the end of 1940, Aldergrove was effectively the only airfield suitable for use by significant numbers of RAFCC aircraft although a small detachment of Ansons of 48 Squadron did make brief use of Sydenham. For part of the war, Aldergrove did not come under the control of 15 Group; nevertheless, except for the period July 1942 to April 1943 when it was only available to a limited extent because of major reconstruction works, it was one of five airfields used to a considerable extent by operational units of the Command. In addition, Aldergrove also housed 15 Group’s Meteorological units and was the home of 1 Armament Practice Camp which controlled the extensive range of target facilities on Lough Neagh.
In 1940, the airfield at Limavady – the first of more than 20 new airfields constructed in Northern Ireland during the war – was handed over to 15 Group.
Large numbers of Whitleys, Hudsons and Wellingtons of 502, 224 and 221 Squadrons, respectively, operating from Limavady accumulated about 25,600 flying hours on convoy patrols during its first year of service, a record achievement among airfields in 15 Group during the period.
In April 1942, however, it was handed over to 17 Group for training purposes and the operational squadrons withdrew to be replaced by 7 Operational Training Unit (OTU) equipped with Wellingtons and Ansons until January 1944 when it once again became a base for operational Wellington squadrons 612, 407, and 172 as well as Fleet Air Arm 850 Squadron operating Avengers within 15 Group.
From February 1941, Lough Erne provided a beautiful setting for flying boats used for operational and training purposes.
Uniquely, RAFCC’s use of Lough Erne took place in the context of a most secret agreement drawn up by representatives of the UK and Eire governments, permitting Allied aircraft the use of a direct access corridor over a strip of Eire territory between the lough and the Atlantic.
Many of the RAF’s best-known flying boat squadrons spent some time at Lough Erne – 119, 201, 202, 209, 228 and 240 as well as two Canadian squadrons – 422 and 423. For the most part, operational ‘boats were based at Castle Archdale, training ‘boats at Killadeas.
The main unit at Killadeas, from July 1942, was 131 OTU, the headquarters section being accommodated at the nearby airfield of St Angelo which from May 1944 until June 1945 also hosted the Coastal Command Flying Instructors School. Aircraft used by the School included Wellingtons, Beauforts, Mosquitos, Buckmasters and Sunderlands, the flying boats being provided by 131 OTU. Winter was a particularly hazardous time for flying boats at Lough Erne – in January 1945 the Lough was completely frozen over and many had hulls damaged by the squeezing effect.
by Ernie Cromie
PART TWO: Training & Airfields
(Left): RAF Aldergrove pictured on 31 August 1943, at the height of battle against the U-boats. At that date, two Coastal Command squadrons operating B-24 Liberators were based there, 17 examples of which can be identified in various parts of the airfield. The B-24, more than any other aircraft type was most effective in overcoming the U-boat threat.
(Above): RAF LImavady, pictured on 3 September 1943, with considerable numbers of 7 OTU's Wellingtons discernible, as is Binevenagh Mountain in the right background, a natural hazard for aircraft in the circuit!
Killadeas in January 1945. RAF personnel walk across the ice from a Sunderland aircraft