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RNAS Arbroath

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Ski slope and buildings, 2006
Ski slope and buildings
© Dominic Dawn Harry and
Jacob Paterson

RNAS Arbroath was first established in 1938 as a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) facility, also known as HMS Condor, two miles north west of Arbroath, east Angus. Since 1971, it has been known as RM Condor, the home of 45 (pronounced 'Four Five') Commando Royal Marines, accommodating some 900 military and civilian personnel.

A document published in 2009, by Defence Estates which manages estates on behalf of the MoD, show that the site covers 201 hectares and is freehold.[1]

History

The Condor Barracks date from about 1940, with HMS Condor being used as No 2 Observers School, a Deck Landing Training (DLT) School, and a Naval Air Signals School during World War II. From the first construction on the farmland to the landing of the first aircraft took only six months. In October 1940 the airfield suffered an attack by Luftwaffe Heinkel and Dornier bombers operating from Norway. That raid had seen attacks on other airfields and installations along the east coast of Scotland, including RAF Montrose. A few bombs were dropped and a small amount of damage, reputed to be about £6,000, was caused. Throughout the war period the airfield and it's facilities were used by visiting Naval Air Squadrons as a home base, usually whilst their home carriers were berthed in the Firth of Forth or the Clyde. The nearby airfield at East Haven HMS Peewit was used as an additional site for DLT.

The airfield remains operational, albeit in a limited sense, being used as a drop zone for parachute training, and as home to No 662 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (VGS), which operates Viking T.1Xs at weekends and holidays. Formerly established as Gliding Schools (GS), these facilities were re-designated as Volunteer Gliding Schools (VGS) in 1978. Following a decision by the Royal Air Force Board in 2005, the VGS were placed into the Elementary Flying Training Unit register, and were renamed Volunteer Gliding Squadrons, so retaining their VGS acronym.

The runways, tower, and hangars remain, and were upgraded in the early 2000s when RM Condor was reported to possess the Royal Navy's most energy-efficient building. The airfield is described as appearing as it did when the FAA left, with the original runway configuration and dummy landing deck still visible. The most noticeable additions to the site are the dry ski slope, an armoury building, and a water tower. Traffic at the airfield is normally rotary wing, and can come from any of the three services, however fixed wing traffic can be handled since the centre of the runway was resurfaced during the upgrade work. A Shorts Skyvan has operated from the airfield, as a parachuting platform, but generally parachute training is from a static line suspended from a balloon. The airfield is also used purely as a drop zone, for Hercules C-130 aircraft operating out of RAF Leuchars, with no aircraft landings ever being made.

Speculation that the Condor Barracks would be transferred to the Army as a replacement for Fort George, and become a permanent base for a battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland circulated in 2004. This suggestion never passed the planning stage, and confirmation that the Royal Marines would remain based at the Condor Barracks was issued in 2005.

Comacchio Group

Comacchio Group Royal Marines was based at RM Condor until March 2001, when it moved to HMNB Clyde and was renamed Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines.

Comacchio Company Royal Marines first formed on May 1, 1980, with some 300 personnel tasked with guarding nuclear weapons of the Royal Navy, and as a Maritime Counter Terrorism unit for offshore installations, including oil rigs and ships. Their name reflected a World War II battle fought by 43 Commando in 1945, at Lake Comacchio in Italy, and Comacchio Company took on the colours and tradition of 43 Commando, which had disbanded in 1968.

In November 1983, Comacchio Company RM became Comacchio Group RM as its complement grew to include over 400 Royal Marines.

In 1987, the Royal Marines Special Boat Service formed M Squadron to deal with Maritime Counter-Terrorism and shipboard operations, and relieved Comacchio Group of this task.

By 2004, the Group had grown to over 500 strong, comprising three rifle squadrons (O, R and S) plus an HQ squadron.

Apprentice training

HMS Condor, Arbroath, was the location for training AE (Air Engineering) apprentices after their initial year at HMS Fisgard, Torpoint, East Cornwall. Following their initial training at Fisgard, apprentices went to HMS Collingwood, Fareham, for electrical specialisations (CEA, REA, or WEA), to HMS Daedalus, Lee-on-Solent, for air electrical specialisations, or to HMS Caledonia, Rosyth, for Marine Engineering specialisations - turning and fitting, or sheet metalwork. Those who went to Arbroath were trained in work on airframes and aero engines.

References

1 Estate Baseline 2009, Defence Estates, MoD

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