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Evanton Airfield

(Redirected from HMS Fieldfare)

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Remains, 2005
Remains
© Claire Pegrum

Evanton airfield lay about six miles west of Invergordon, and was located between the town of Evanton and the north coast of the Cromarty Firth, on land close to the sea.

The airfield was created to serve the needs of the Royal Navy which needed a shore base for aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) when at Invergordon. An airfield had been established at Delny, but this could not be expanded to handle large aircraft, and a new grass airfield was constructed near Evanton. Completed in 1922, this was originally known as Novar airfield, as it lay on the Novar Estate.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Novar serviced FAA aircraft when the Home Fleet put in to the base at Invergordon during April and October. At that time, servicing was carried out by RAF personnel based at RAF Leuchars, usually over weekends so the aircraft could return to the Fleet on Monday mornings.

One feature of the 1930s was the public Air Days held by the RAF. These would usually be held on Empire Day (May 24, after Queen Victoria's birthday in 1819), Empire Day of 1939 was to be the last prewar event, with 78 RAF stations open to the public. Evanton was the most northerly base to take part then, and was notable for attracting some 9,000 spectators and mile long queue of cars.

World War II

With the arrival of World War II, Evanton airfield became HMS Fieldfare between 1937 and 1947.[1]

The airfield initially expanded to become a repair base, and a school for flight, bombing and armament training by September 1939, with bomb storage being added by 1940, together with additional buildings for accommodation, transport, servicing, repair and storage. The east-west runway is 1,248 yards long and the northeast-southwest is 1,002 yards long. The airfield was placed on care and maintenance August 26, 1944, and later saw some civil use after December 1947.

Evanton Babe

The largest aircraft to use Evanton was a USAAF B17, 42-31919, piloted by Robert C Schimmel. Navigator Charles J Mueller reported that upon their arrival in England, their scheduled airfield at Prestwick, had difficult weather conditions for landing, so they diverted to make their anding at an RAF airfield at Evanton Bay. The short runway was not designed for bombers, and both tires blew out due to the accelerated stop. While replacing the tyres, the RAF ground crew painted a lady on the nose of the aircraft and called her "Evanton Babe".[2] On March 6, 1944, while being piloted by Schimel, the B17 was damaged by fighters near Emmen, Germany. Reports note that the crew bailed out, and the pilot returned alone.[3]

Postwar

The airfield was converted for use as an industrial estate during the 1970s with steel scrap, fencemaking, textile and North Sea oil-related industries moving on to the site. The oil boom of the 1970s caused radical expansion of the town.

Two pillboxes are reported on the east side of the runways, one with a pitched roof. The runways have survived, with the west end of the east-west strip being partly built over by an oil pipeline construction frame which extends to the east to run on to a causeway running out into the Cromarty Firth. Most of the land between the runways has reverted to farmland.

Towards the end of 2013, the remains of a Picket-Hamilton pillbox was discovered on the shore near Evanton. This type of pillbox was notable for being able to be raised and lowered into the ground, hiding it from the normal operation of the airfield, but able to be raised and used to defend the field against attack from enemy paratroopers. However, only 335 of the so-called 'disappearing pillboxes' were installed. They suffered disadvantages of small size - making it difficult to incorporate significant weapons - and potential death for those using them, as there was no way out or defence once their ammunition was expired, making it easy for the enemy to neutralise them permanently.[4]

Photographs

Remains, 2006
Remains
© Donald Bain
Remains, 2006
Remains
© Donald Bain
Remains, 2006
Remains
© Donald Bain


References

1 FAA Archive

2 Evanton Babe named

3 Evanton Babe damaged

4 Rare war-time 'disappearing pillbox' found at Evanton Retrieved 19/12/2013.

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