HMS Merlin was a World War II Royal Naval Air Station based at Donibristle, near Dalgety Bay, Fife.
World War I
Donibristle was the site of an airfield since at least 1917, when it opened as a landing ground after the Earl of Moray gifted the land for use as a military airfield, and it was handed over to the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to become a naval air station in August of that year. An aerial photograph of the area, dated March 29, 1919, shows three large hangars to at the western end of the site, indicating that the site was servicing airships.
In 1918, the site was transferred to the RAF.
By 1921, the airfield was no longer required and was reduced to care and maintenance, but was re-opened in 1925 when it is was used as a shore base to disembark carrier aircraft.
World War II
In 1939, the start of World War II saw the facility transfer back to the Royal Navy, and RNAS Donibristle was commissioned as HMS Merlin. Originally operating with grass runways, the airfield was provided with two more robust tarmac runways, arranged in shallow X layout with an approximately east-west alignments, and was used by many front line and second line squadrons, communications squadrons, when it served as a Royal Naval Aircraft Repair Yard (RNARY).
At the end of the war the airfield became home to Office Flag Officer Carrier Training, and was renamed HMS Cochrane until it was finally paid off in 1959, and the land reclaimed for both housing and industrial development, when the area was converted into the Hillend and Donibristle industrial estates. While none of the large hangars survived these changes, some of the airfield buildings which lay within the industrial areas were reused to provide business premises and offices, and one of the huts serves as home to the local ATC squadron.
Located to the north of the airfield, in the woods between the A92 road and the railway line now to the north of the Hillend industrial estate, was an air raid shelter, being a rectangular brick built building with a flat concrete roof, and a blast wall to protect the entrance.
A Type 24 brick and concrete pillbox is reported on the east of the estate, and described as being half buried with only the top and two sides visible.
No longer present, a small radio beacon or mast, about 6 metres in height, was identified in later postwar RAF aerial photographs (dating from 2002), and lay within a fenced enclosure to the west of Temple Plantation, with a cable trench leading off to the northwest, towards the airfield.
It has been suggested that this report is incorrect and unrelated to the airfield, and that the mast reported was actually that of Colinswell, a local radio transmitter which had originally been located nearby, but was relocated a few miles to the east, near Burntisland, when an oil terminal was constructed immediately to the south of the 2 kW transmitter. However, it is extremely unlikely that the original Colinswell mast could have been the subject of this report of a 6 metres beacon or mast, since the Colinswell mast is, and presumably always was, a transmission mast in the order of 100 metres in height.
Donibristle Industrial Park was developed over the runway of the former air base, and evidence of the runway can still be found with this industrial estate, complete with evidence of the original markings, and near the local tennis courts, where the apron associated with aircraft repair and salvage operations carried out at the base was located. These can be identified both on the ground, and by comparing online aerial images with aerial surveys carried out in the postwar years, which also show numerous rows of aircraft stored on the dispersal areas around the airfield.
One of the most intriguing remains discovered within the red-brick building which served as the Officers' Mess is a dado mural around the upper part of one of the rooms. This building was once used by Bourns Electronics, which was reported to have closed this site down in April 1998, and also by Cemtron, which closed in 2008. The decoration is a well executed colour mural which shows the airfield personnel at work in their daily activities, but in the style of an Egyptian setting. For example, the secretaries recording the minutes of a meeting are shown carving the minutes into stones tablets using hammers and chisels, while dragons play the part of aircraft. Notably, those characters wearing headgear in the mural can be seen to be wearing Royal Navy issue.
On Saturday April 3, 2004, cadets of 859 (Dalgety Bay) Squadron attended the unveiling of a monument at the rail halt in Dalgety Bay to recognise all of the military and civilian personnel who served at the Donibristle Airfield and Aircraft Repair Yard from 1917 until 1959.
The plaque on the monument reads:
|Dalgety Bay and Hillend Community Council |
This sculpture has been erected in recognition of all military and
civilian personnel who served at nearby Donibristle Airfield
and Aircraft Repair Yard from 1917 until its final closure in 1959.
Designed by Colin McPhail, Council Chairman
from an idea given to the millennium sub-committee by Brian Wilson
Project made possible by a personal Royal Incorporation
of Architects in Scotland Millennium Award
given to the designer 2004
The monument was unveiled by Commander Tony Shaw with the help of two of the cadets from 859 Squadron. Also present at the event were Helen Eadie MSP, Councillor Stuart Randall, and Councillor Alistair Hyde.
The overall shape of the sculpture reflects the well known elliptical wingtip design of the Supermarine Spitfire.
Visible in the background of the photograph of the memorial is the railway signal which lies at the west end of Platform 2 of Dalgety Bay Station, Scottish East Coast Mainline Railway.
859 (Dalgety Bay) Squadron
Maintaining the area's aviation history, the local ATC (Air Training Cadets) Squadron is housed within one of the huts which survived on the site after the airfield was closed.
859 (Dalgety Bay) SquadronATC Hut
Hillend Industrial Estate
Phone: 01383 820695
Donibristle House, or rather the surviving service wings of the original house, was requisitioned for use as accommodation for the personnel serving at Donibristle, and served as the residence of the Superintendent of the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard until 1959.
The site was originally that of an early castle, located on the lawn to the north of the wings, which was destroyed by fire in 1592. Its successor, also destroyed by fire, was replaced by a house built for the Earl of Moray by architect Alexander McGill, ordered in 1719 "to take down part of old house & build the new". In 1858, this too was destroyed by fire to leave only the two front service wings either side of the entrance gate and its ironwork. An underground passage connects the two wings.
In the late 1990s, the main house was rebuilt in the form of a modern development, as an approximation of the original house, and containing modern flats and townhouses. The wings were also renovated part if the development, and linked with new build so that the impression of the old house can still be imagined.
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
- Royal Naval Air Stations of the Fleet Air Arm Archive 1939-1945 Contents Page
- RAF Donibristle details
- 859 (Dalgety Bay) Squadron
- RNAS Donibristle - a set on Flickr Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- RNAS Donibristle, 20+ mural images in Flickr Retrieved May 19, 2011.
(Admin's note: As usual, we have faithfully plotted the grid references quoted by RCAHMS, but as in other instances, examination of the aerial view suggests these have not been accurately surveyed, and the actual features can be seen near, but not beneath, the plotted markers.)
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