RAF Greenock began as a pre-war licensed seaplane base, and was officially established on October 10, 1940, when it became a Flying Boat Maintenance Base. The Greenock base worked together with the Largs Seaplane Base to the south, and concentrated on the fitting of British armaments and equipment to aircraft such as the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation twin engine PBY Catalina, manufactured in the company's San Diego plant, and flown to Britain via the north Atlantic route. Further details are given on the Largs seaplane base page.
Records indicate that the Greenock maintenance base was formed when the outbreak of World War II made its original home in Calshot unsafe, being an easy target for Luftwaffe bombers attacking the south coast of England.
RAF aerial photography, and sketch maps of the time, show that RAF Greenock was concentrated on Battery Park, on the eastern shore of Gourock Bay. The base has been described as occupying the whole area of the park, with at least two large hangars, and a number of smaller, wooden buildings or huts. The RAF station occupied the south eastern corner of the site, next to the bay. The northern end of the site is known as Fort Matilda , and was occupied by the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory, and two barrage balloon mooring stations.
Although the pre-existing seaplane base meant there were service facilities to allow the work to be carried out, there appears to have been little accommodation available for station personnel, who were temporarily accommodated in the local ex-servicemen's club, and the Greenock Social Club, which inconvenienced the local population for a time. It was September 1942 before an accommodation camp was completed in nearby Darroch Park, now known as Gourock Park, and the personnel were finally accommodated in huts.
Operations at the base ended in July 1945, when it was reduced to care and maintenance in August 1945, and saw some civil use for commercial flying boats, which used the facility into the 1950s.
After being abandoned by the RAF after the end of World War II, the rows of huts which had formed the camp were taken over by Gourock Town Council, and used to house homeless families. The site was unpopular and considered squalid, becoming known locally as "China Town". The camp was finally abandoned in the early 1950s, when council houses were built in Midton, and by the mid 1950s, the area of the camp had been cleared, levelled, and grassed, ready to host the inaugural celebrations of Gourock's first Highland Games in 1956, and continues to host the town's annual Highland Games.
The concrete slipway that served the base can still be seen today, visible on current aerial imagery of the area, and lies only a few yards north of the present day helipad, used by the Helicopter Emergency Services (HEMS) when attending at the local hospital. There are no other significant remains of the base itself, Battery Park has been developed over the years, and now has a football pitch and pavilion. The area formerly used as a mooring station area has been taken over by a sewage treatment plant.
Some of the squadrons and organisations which operated from RAF Greenock have been identified:
- No 2 FBSU Flying Boat Servicing Unit. Formed September 25, 1942. Disbanded 1945.
- No 97 MU Maintenance Unit. Marine Craft Repair Unit. Arrived August 15, 1945. Disbanded October 1, 1945.
- No 213 MU Maintenance Unit. Marine Craft Servicing/Repair Unit. Serviced the flying boat tenders. Arrived October 1, 1945. Disbanded November 30, 1947.
- Scottish Aviation Ltd. Civilian repair organisation.
- One RAF Seaplane Tender identified was RAF No 377, which appears to have remained there for some time, engaged in personnel transport. The main marine storage unit was transferred to Dumbarton, and became No 62 MU.
This short history of this facility was passed to us by a former seaplane pilot who served in the Clyde seaplane bases.
Lord Beaverbrook was then in charge of warplane construction, and learned of the existence of a redundant shipyard in Greenock, formerly Cairn's Yard, it has lain abandoned since 1937 when the owner had gone into voluntary liquidation. He considered this would be useful for seaplane operation, either for construction or repair, and quickly ordered a group of engineers to occupy the premises. Once he had become aware of the factory, he knew he had to move without delay, as he was aware of plans to expand the existing Royal Naval Torpedo Factory in Greenock. The engineers were concerned about the lack of paperwork but he told them just to do it.
The area was protected by a number of barrage balloon stations to the east, which were also a notified hazard for the flying boats operating there.
There are no significant remains of this part of the operation today, with much of the land having being infilled and reclaimed for modern development along the shore. The ends of the three slipways can still be seen, extending a short way from the reclaimed area, and into the sea, clearly visible on both the period, and modern, aerial views. A pillbox sits on the end of the pier at the eastern end of the container terminal.
Scottish Aviation and Caird's Yard
Scottish Aviation Ltd was tasked with carrying out much of the modification work to the newly arrived seaplanes, and this was carried out in the facilities of a former Greenock shipyard (Caird Shipyard), approximately two miles east of the RAF base in Battery Park.
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
- Seaplane Tender vessel ST 1510
- norwichpaul RAF Greenock Battery Park
- General view showing Nelson Street and Inverkip Street oblique aerial photograph taken facing west. Retrieved April 01, 2013.
The enclosed areas show the designated landing areas used by the flying boats.
- RAF Greenock secondary slipways
- RAF Greenock slipway
- Greenock, Flying Boat Maintenance Base
- Darroch/Gourock Park Accommodation Camp
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