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RAF Drem

(Redirected from HMS Nighthawk)

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Shelter/pillbox, 2008
© Dr Duncan Pepper

RAF Drem was a World War II airfield established to the southwest of North Berwick, on land between the villages of Drem to the south, Dirleton to the north, and Gullane to the northwest. The same area had served as a landing ground known during World War I, operated by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) until the Royal Air Force (RAF) formed in 1918, so saw service from 1916 to 1946.

World War I

The RFC was established at West Fenton Aerodrome c. 1916, when 77 Home Defence Squadron operated there until 1917, followed by No 2 Training Depot Station in April 1918. The Americans were temporarily based there, in the form of the 41st Aero Squadron from April to August 1918.

West Fenton was renamed as Gullane Aerodrome in November 1918, and with the end of the war, was deactivated and effectively abandoned by the RAF by 1919.

Between the wars

From 1933 to 1939, the airfield saw only occasional use by visiting squadrons, and is also reported to have partly reused for farming.

World War II

Bomb stores, 2006
Bomb stores
© Richard Webb

The airfield reopened as a training establishment in 1939, converting quickly to become an operational airfield and renamed again, becoming RAF Drem. The grass runway was upgraded and resurfaced to support the increase in use, and No 13 Flying Training School was established.

602 Squadron was based at Drem, when the airfield became an air defence fighter unit for the city of Edinburgh, covering the shipping area around the Firth of Forth.

RAF 13 Group provided lodger facilities for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), and in 1942 Royal Navy personnel were posted to RAF Drem, In 1945, the airfield was handed over to the Admiralty, becoming HMS Nighthawk. On March 15, 1946, the field was returned to the RAF and decommissioned shortly afterwards.


A number of original buildings are reported to have survived in the area of the former airfield. Although there are no runways, a number of the dispersal bays can still be found around the site, some said to be in good condition


A small museum, the RAF Drem Museum, is housed in the mess accommodation of the former RAF airfield.

Drem Lighting System

In 1940 an airfield lighting system for night landings was developed at Drem, and was so successful it came to be known as the Drem Lighting System, and became the basis for all subsequent RAF airfield lighting.

The system comprised a series of low-intensity lamps aligned with the curving approach of a landing Spitfire. During night landings, this operation had been found to be complicated by the flare from the engine exhaust, which interfered with the pilot's night vision and made a difficult task yet more difficult, and increased the risk of a bad landing.

Experimental night fighter unit

An experimental night fighter unit, No 1692 (Radio Development) Flight was formed at Drem between July 5, 1943, and December 10, 1943.

The unit worked on trials of airborne radar and electronic jamming equipment, including Serrate and Moonshine.


Serrate was an Allied radar detection and homing device, fitted to Allied night fighters and used to track German night fighters equipped with the Lichtenstein airborne radar system.

RAF night fighters developed a specific technique for use when escorting bombers over Germany. They would fly slowly off the main bomber stream, simulating a heavy bomber, until the rearward facing Serrate detector picked up the radar emissions from an approaching German night fighter. The radar operator would pass directions to the pilot until the fighter was 6,000 feet behind the wing, when it would execute a swift turn to come onto the tail of the German night fighter, with the aim of picking up the enemy aircraft on its forward radar, intercepting, and downing it. The technique became so successful, the Luftwaffe was eventually forced to ground its aircraft rather than use them and lose them in attemts to bring down the Allied bombers en route.


Type 660 Moonshine equipment was a combination receiver/transmitter which could produce false radar signal representing craft disposed at intervals, in other words, line astern. Moonshine picked up signals from installations such as the Freya coastal radar station. When deployed in formation by aircraft flying over the coast, this gives the impression of many more aircraft being in the air than were actually present. In operation, this was used to deceive enemy fighters to take off and intercept the non-existent attackers. By timing the deception correctly, and arriving as the enemy fighters were forced to land and refuel, the real bombers could fly through enemy airspace relatively unmolested.

SCR-584 GL radar training

SCR-584 with gun battey, © http://www.vectorsite.net/ttwiz_05.html#m4

The American centimetric gun-laying radar, SCR-584, was used to to provide computer control of guns firing shells fitted with proximity fuzes, miniaturised radar units which would detonate the shells when they were close enough to destroy their target with the resulting shrapnel, rather than requiring a direct hit, or blind detonation based on altitude.

SCR-584 was deployed with reportedly great success on the the south coast of England, in order to combat the threat posed by the V-1 Flying Bomb.

An SCR-584 Training Unit has been reported to have formed in January 1945, operating four Spitfire Mark V aircraft. The role of the unit is currently unclear, as little information appears to be available, however the aircraft could match the speed of the V-1, and may have been used to train SCR-584 crew.

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