Largs Seaplane Base
Largs Seaplane Base was a World War II flying boat reception facility, located at north end of Largs, on the Clyde coast, in an area also known as the Largs Channel.
The base served as an overflow for the larger Greenock Seaplane Base to the north east, and was a civilian facility operated by Scottish Aviation Ltd, which was based at Prestwick. RAF personnel, usually based at Prestwick, would serve on attachment to the seaplane base.
The 1,000 seat Barrfields Pavilion lay across the road from the base, and was requisitioned to provide workshops and administration facilities, while the nearby putting greens were used for aircraft disposal. The pavilion remains, incorporated into the structure of the later Vikingar! visitor attraction. When the base was active, the road would be closed to all traffic, and canvas screens erected to prevent civilians observing the activity.
In addition to using the waters off the base slipway, flying boats were also moored on the opposite side of the Largs Channel, in a defined area to the south of two further slipays on the northeastern shore of the [Great Cumbrae]]. The more northerly slipway is now used by the Largs/Cumbrae ferry operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, while the other is used by pleasure craft.
The original base slipway is now part of the local Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) Inshore Lifeboat (ILB) station, first established in 1964, and operating from a small boathouse which probably survived the base. On July 3, 1998, HRH The Princess Royal opened a new boathouse on the site, which was consequently cleared of any surviving remains.
Seaplanes occasionally sank at their moorings, and there are a number of wrecks recorded in the area. Interestingly, one diving report notes a four engined airframe, which is notable since the Catalina was a twin engined aircraft. The four engine description suggests the wrecked aircraft is most likely a Coronado.
The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego manufactured both the twin engine PBY Catalina and the four engine PB2Y Coronado, both of which were used by the British for coastal operations. The designation PB stood for Patrol Boat, while the Y identified the manufacturer.
In 1945, Iceland Airways Ltd, now Icelandair, made its first international flight from Scotland to Denmark using a Catalina flying from Largs.
We are grateful to a former seaplane pilot who offered the following additional information, as recalled from operation of the Largs base.
Hughie Green, host of the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks was Commanding Officer of the the base. During World War II, Green served as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic with RAF Ferry Command.
New Catalinas arrived at Largs via the North Atlantic ferry route, where Scottish Aviation would convert them to British operation by fitting British bomb racks and radio equipment to the aircraft. Weaponry was also converted using .303 inch guns, typically a Vickers K at the front and Browning MGs in the waist positions. Some also received the 22 million candela Leigh Light to aid anti-submarine warfare by night, locating their targets by radar, then illuminating them for the final attack.
Ferry Command flew the new Catalinas from the Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego to Gander, Newfoundland, and Labrador, where they were refuelled in preparation for their 3,000 mile flight to the Scottish reception facility. One of the Catalina's strengths was its operating range, a maximum of some 3,450 miles and duration to match, meaning the trip could be done without further refuelling. On their final approach to Britain, the pilots were able activate darkened lighthouses in order to determine their true position, having been issued with special Admiralty codes. The country's lighthouses has been extinguished at the start of the war, in order to prevent enemy vessels using them for navigation in British waters.
When Russia entered the war, they were said to have been able to purchase Catalinas for the sum of $3: $1 for each engine, and $1 for the hull. Training of the Russian crews in the new aircraft was required, and this was carried out in Murmansk. Staff sailed across to the Russian city/port, notable for remaining ice free throughout the year thanks to warm Atlantic currents, despite its location north of the Arctic Circle.
- Former pilot who operated from Largs
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
Aircraft operating from the base were not permitted to take-off, land, taxi, or moor south of a No-fly line (shown in blue) drawn between Fairlie and the Great Cumbrae. The dotted line visible to the north is the present day Largs/Cumbrae ferry route.
The seaplanes had a defined mooring line (shown in yellow) just off the northeastern shoreline of Great Cumbrae.
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