Rattray Airfield began life as Crimond Airfield, but was quickly renamed to reflect its headland location. The airfield lies to the west of Rattray Head, adjacent to the southwest shore of the Loch of Strathbeg, northeast of the A90 and the village of Crimond.
To the south of the airfield, across the A90, lay two sizeable camps. Keyhead Camp was due south of the airfield, and aerial photography shows some 150 concrete hut bases on the site. Moss-side Camp lay to the east of Keyhead, across a minor road, and some 50 hut bases can be seen in the aerial imagery.
Work began on the airfield in March 1944, and the field was in use by May when 714 Squadron arrived from Fearn for Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance training, to be followed in July by 744 Squadron for Telegraphist Air Gunner training. Formal commissioning of the airfield took place on October 3, 1944, when it became HMS Merganser. Having originally been selected by the Admiralty, rather than the Air Ministry, the airfield was named after a bird, in this case, a species of duck.
Next to arrive was 717 Squadron, also for training in Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance. In early 1945, 817 and 818 Squadrons formed at Rattray, moving quickly to other postings. 753 Squadron arrived for Observer Training, and remained in operation until August 1946. Several Barracuda units were resident at the field, to meet the demand for Observer Training. Unfortunately, the Barracuda demanded skilled handling, resulting in a relatively high number of incidents, with four aircraft wrecked, and others damaged in strikes with other aircraft, antenna masts, and towers.
On September 1, 1946, the airfield was finally closed, and placed on care and maintenance.
The land was never officially handed back, and remains MoD property. A number of buildings which date from the original airfield can still be seen on the site, and there are further examples to be found nearby.
The majority of the site remains in use by the Royal Navy, occupied by Royal Naval Wireless Telegraphy Station Crimond, which dates from the mid 1970s, and is described as "A major Royal Naval Wireless Telegraphy Station". Antenna masts rise some 900 feet above the station and its related buildings, making it easy to locate, however it is an active MoD property, and access is restricted, with fencing and warning signs in place.
Scottish CND gave a detailed description some years ago:
Communications station opened in 1978 to provide naval communications for the North Atlantic and the North Sea Crimond is the location of a High Frequency transmitter allowing voice communication between Army units, RAF aircraft, Royal Navy warships and UK headquarters. The transmitter at Crimond is operated by 81 Signals Unit, based at RAF Kinloss, and the Defence Communication Services Agency (DCSA) in a network that currently also includes a similar transmitter at Milltown (due to close in 2006) and a receiver at Kinloss. The system enables voice communication up to 1,500 nautical miles from the UK coastline between military units.
© SCND 2004
The high frequency communications systems utilised by the armed forces is undergoing a fifteen year rationalisation and upgrade programme, being carried out by VT Merlin Communications at a cost of some £200 million, due to begin operating by 2008. Announced by the Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) in 2003, further details are given in the links below.
Local oil industry has been granted access to the outer perimeter of the site, where a large quantities of material are said to be stored.
A section toward the west of the site has been converted into a motor racing track, operated as Crimond Raceway, and is used to host various events at the weekend.
Moss-side camp still remains by the north side of a minor road. The internal roads and hut bases are still evident, with a number of the original buildings still standing.
Keyhead camp is reported to have been developed and built over, although aerial images still show much of the camp evident southwest of the developed area next to the A90, visible as concrete hut bases and internal roads. The area adjacent to the road is now occupied by the Strathbeg House Hotel.
- Crimond (Rattray) Airfield history
- Scottish CND description
- Defence Procurement Agency, Armed Forces get advanced strategic communications, March 26, 2003
- Station rationalisation and upgrade
- DHFCS (Defence High Frequency Communication Service)
- Crimond Raceway
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