RAF Macmerry was a World War II airfield located about 9 miles east of Edinburgh. In the past, the airfield may have been referred to as Tranent, or Penston.
World War I
Part of the site is reported to have been used as a World War I landing ground. 77 Squadron RAF originally formed as a fighter squadron within the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at Edinburgh on October 1, 1916, as part of the home defence of Scotland against German airships, and for the training of pilots in night flying prior to service overseas. The Squadron moved to Turnhouse airfield on April 13, 1917, carrying out defensive patrols, then re-equipped in January 1918, with Avro 504K aircraft modified for night fighting. The 504K was a two-seat training aircraft which featured a universal mount able to accept different engines. Following the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF) on April 1, 1918, the squadron moved to Macmerry (Penston) airfield, where it was disbanded on June 13, 1919.
Between the wars
Edinburgh Flying Club began using Macmerry aerodrome in 1929.
Between 1936 and 1939, North Eastern Airways operated a number of scheduled flights from the airfield.
World War II
The airfield at Macmerry was taken over by the RAF in 1941, with a detachment of Hurricanes from 607 Squadron arriving there on January 16, en route to the join their squadron at Drem on March 2. On March 5, 1941, 614 Squadron (County of Glamorgan), operating mostly Westland Lysanders and Bristol Blenheims, moved from Grangemouth. 614 was an Army Co-operation squadron which carried out spotting for artillery units, together with general reconnaissance and light support bombing operations.
The site is also said to have hosted a factory operated by Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Limited, primarily involved in the repair of Lockheed Hudsons. From information received regarding a former employee of Cunliffe-Owen, it is known that the airfield was a centre for aircraft conversion, where American supplied aircraft were refitted with British equipment, such as armament and avionics. Later reported to have been taken over by SMT in 1944, carrying out repairs to Corsair and Hellcat naval fighter-bombers.
On April 21, 1945, RAF Macmerry was loaned to the Royal Navy as a satellite of Drem which was already in use by the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). The airfield was briefly known as HMS Nighthawk II, however it was never actually used by the FAA and was handed back to the RAF on March 15, 1946, and decommissioned.
Operation Fortitude North
In 1944, 2737, 2830, and 2949 Squadrons of the RAF Regiment arrived at the airfield, and the crews spent several months training in Arctic and mountain warfare, being issued with snow shoes and white camouflage smocks. This was all part of Operation Fortitude North, part of Operation Fortitudes, a deception plan intended to convince the German High Command that there was a full Army group in East Lothian making preparations for an invasion of occupied Norway. This plan was ultimately successful, causing German troops to remain stationed in Norway, rather than being redeployed to join forces intended to counter the Normandy landings.
Secret gas defence
Information released into the public domain is reported to describe secret operations involving 641 Squadron and RAF Macmerry.
The northern end of the airfield, now beneath the A1 dual-carriageway, is described as having been equipped with underground storage tanks containing supplies of mustard gas which the aircraft of 641 were to spray over the invasion beaches had the enemy attacked from that direction.
This account agrees with similar information revealed with regard to the activities of 614 Squadron when it was operating at RAF Grangemouth, where secret tests are reported to have been carried out there involving the spraying of mustard gas from Lysander aircraft.
The airfield was reopened by Edinburgh Flying Club on August 31, 1946, returning it to its prewar use before it was taken over by the RAF at the start of the war.
Flying at Macmerry came to an end when the airfield was finally closed in 1953.
Construction of the A1 dual-carriageway resulted in the demolition of most of the perimeter buildings, dispersal bays, the airfield fuel depot, and surface air raid shelters.
In actual fact the fuel tank and pump house still exist on the perimeter of the airfield but they are partially buried. Not easy to spot unless you know where to look.
Prior to construction of a new data centre for the Royal Bank of Scotland c. 2000, an archaeological survey was carried out over part of the area, which found the remains of a number of brick foundations related to the RAF airfield.
Two type 27 pillbox are reported, one still survives on land sandwiched between the old A1 trunk road (now the A199) to its south, and the new A1 dual-carriageway to its north, along with a small brick built perimeter building with broken glass topped walls about 15 metres to the west. The second pillbox has been lost.
Two dispersal bays lie on the same land and to the east of the pillbox, adjacent to and west of three roundabouts at Gladsmuir. These are double protected bays complete with air raid shelters having staggered entrances within the earth banking, the lower banking having been revetted with low brick walls, and tarmac laid to provide an area of hardstanding between the banks. Between the two bays are the remains of a crew rest building. This area would have marked the northeast extent of RAF Macmerry.
A group of brick built buildings built during 1942 made up RAF Site No 2 (Communal), an accommodation area which was part of a planned expansion programme for the airfield, survives east of the road at Penston. This included a standard pattern brick and concrete cinema, gymnasium, and chapel building with the changing rooms along one wall to the northeast, and the projection room to the southeast. Near the gymnasium is an brick and concrete squash court with the court markings still visible on the walls. The roof covering, probably corrugated asbestos, is gone, as is the southeast wall. A number of the surviving buildings are derelict and roofless, others are have been reused for agricultural purposes, including the cinema which contains farm machinery and straw bales. This area also included a WAAF accommodation camp to the west, which has been demolished. The expanded airfield became home to a number of training units, and was the base for 200 US Army Air Force ground staff.
Much of the accommodation camp lies within the Macmerry Industrial Estate.
Aerial photographs taken by the RAF in 1942 showed two Belman hangars with camouflaged roofs in the area to the south of Elvingston House. These were located about 1 kilometre from the northeast east end of the grass runway. The former hangar site is now occupied by a granary building.
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
- 46.00 MacMerry airfield
- 46.01 Pillbox
- 46.01a Small building with broken glass
- 46.02 Pillbox
- 46.03 Buildings
- 46.03a Small Guard House
- 46.04 Cinema; Chapel; Gymnasium
- 46.05 Building
- 46.06a Dispersal Bays; Building
- 46.06b Dispersal Bays; Building
- 46.06c Crew rest building
- Hangars near Elvingston House
- Survey centre for bank
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