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RAF Dundonald

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RAF Dundonald was World War II RAF airfield located to the north of Dundonald. The site lies to the west of B730 between Dundonald and Drybridge. The airfield began as a simple emergency landing ground with grass airstrips, also known as Bogside, and served as a reserve landing ground for No 12 Elementary Flying Training School based at nearby Prestwick, but was later to become the home of 516 Combined Operations Squadron.

The main runway at Dundonald was reconstructed in autumn 1943, and was used for exercises in advance of the Normandy landing on June 6, 1944. On September 2 1944 the station was placed on a care and maintenance. On August 1, 1945 the airfield was officially closed, but the site was retained by the Army. Now farmland, the runways can still be traced in the fields.

Background

In October, 1941, Winston Churchill initiated the formation of Combined Operations, tasked with offensive, rather then defensive, actions by the three services. In addition to the well known Combined Training Centre established at CTC Inveraray, best known for amphibious operations, the need for airborne operations was also recognised, leading to the creation of an Air Force Unit. This first materialised as 1441 Combined Operations Development Flight, which initially operated from within 17 Group, Abbotsinch, from January to October 1941, while RAF Dundonald was being prepared.

Operations

The land at Dundonald was mossy (and known locally as Bogside), and had to be stabilised before the runways were established. Using spoil from nearby Hillhouse Quarry, and birch trees felled locally, a stable base was laid, then covered by a Hessian mat and wire mesh topping, secured to the ground by metal spikes. Two runways were constructed: No 1 running approximately north south, 1,480 yards long and 50 yards wide; and No 2 running west east, 900 yards long, providing a shorter, secondary runway. A smaller grass airstrip was also established on the links at Dundonald Barassie golf club. Hard standing at the airfield was prepared using Pressed Steel Planking, and accommodation added for personnel and equipment, with nearby Bogside farm being used as an Administration Block. Accommodation for personnel from all three services was provided at Dundonald Camp, to the west, and officers billeted at nearby Dankeith House, to the south.

Training activities at Dundonald developed the various aspects of air co-operation involving fighter support and control, smoke laying, close support bombing, and front gun recognition of assault ships, landing craft and fleet ships.

The initial inventory was relatively poor, and consisted of old, well used aircraft: a DeHavilland Tiger Moth, and two each of Anson, Lysander, Mustang, and Hurricane Mk I. The condition of the aircraft was highlighted when one of the Hurricanes crash landed at Firnock, near Inverkip, after a camshaft in the aircraft's Merlin engine fractured. This led to a meeting where the flight was designated as a Development Unit, to "Become expert in all air aspects of Combined Operations by evolving the best techniques appropriate to their tasks". The result being that operational squadrons would be affiliated to the airfield for exercises held in the area. The inventory later grew to include Blenheims, a Miles Master, and a Proctor.

In February 1943, 105 Wing (formerly 71 Squadron) was established at Dankeith House, south of the field, and served as Wing Headquarters, responsible for all the air staff located at CTC bases on the west coast, including 1440 CO Development Flight. Combined Operation Headquarters, based in London, was in command of all the units, located at Inveraray, Toward, Troon, Skelmorlie, and Largs.

In April 1943, 1441 Flight was disbanded, and became 516 Combined Operations Squadron.[1] Its activities increased, and included laying attacks on Naval shipping, tactical reconnaissance, and air attack on troops practising amphibious beach landings with landing craft. Realism was a key feature of these exercises, within live ammunition being used in many cases, together with low flying. Inevitably, both air crews and ground troops suffered casualties and fatalities as a consequence. Most of the operations took place around Loch Fyne and the Firth of Clyde, in the area of Barassie and Largs. Exercises in more distant areas required 516 Squadron's aircraft to refuel in places such as RAF Connel and RAF Tiree, allowing them to operate in the Inner Hebrides, and Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Many other Squadrons and departments were attached to, or used the facilities at RAF Dundonald, with one of the more notable being the provision of aircraft to facilitate the calibration of radar, and related electronic equipment, for three Fighter Direction Tenders in the River Clyde, involving aircraft from 516 Combined Operations Squadron, 29 Squadron RAF, and 409 Squadron RCAF, which all flew from Dundonald.

Activity increased in the build-up to Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces during World War II), but the need for training then diminished, and in August 1944, a signal was received moving 516 Squadron from 26 Group Bomber Command to 44 Group Transport Command, with administration from Prestwick. This was followed by a notice to disband in December 1944, and 516 Squadron ceased to exist on December 31. The personnel were dispersed amongst other units, with the airfield being placed on care and maintenance for emergencies, or future use. It saw a brief spell of activity when used by the Royal Navy in March 1945, to test a target glider, but closed on August 1, 1945, finally returning to farmland when the Army relinquished control in 1952.

Evidence the runways can still be seen in a number of places, together with remains of the airfield drainage, and the concrete foundation of one of the windsocks. The Multimap Aerial view linked below probably provides the clearest view, while our own Google offering shows the runway positions, as shown on a map of the airfield.

Hangar, 2006
Hangar
© Ian Rainey

An aircraft hangar, which appears to be a Mainhill Hanger, survives on the site and been used as a factory building. It lies on the west side of the Olympic Business Park site, which was previously owned by the Monsanto Textiles Company. The origin of the hangar is unknown. The only aerial photograph seen of the RAF airfield just east of the spot where the hangar is located, however it does show another hanger, no longer extant and of a different design, located a few metres east of the present structure, and only a few yards from the road. Given that the present hangar lies on, or within a few feet of the visible line of the north south runway, it seems unlikely that it dates to the period of the RAF airfield's operation, and is a later addition, dating from a time when the field was no longer in frequent use. Plans of the RAF airfield have also been seen, but were not sufficiently detailed to confirm this, although it was clear that there was no large structure adjacent to the runway where we see the hangar today. Only dispersal areas, and a group of building at the location indicated by the photograph previously referred to.

References

1 516 Squadron history

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-

 

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Aerial views


Map

Estimated runway positions are shown in yellow.

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