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RAF Dumfries

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Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum, 2008
Dumfries & Galloway Aviation
© Colin Kinnear

RAF Dumfries was a World War II airfield located at Heathhall airfield in Dumfries and Galloway.

The airfield is home to the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum, and many of the surviving buildings and hangars have been occupied by businesses within Heathhall Industrial Estate. As a result, many of the original buildings have survived with only one hangar reported to have been destroyed by fire.

Aviation activity at Heathhall airfield id reported to date back to about 1914, with light aircraft operating from the field and taking advantage of the level and open ground the location offered.

World War II

Although the airfield has no history of involvement in World War I, the imminent onset of World War II lead to Heathhall being selected for use as early as 1938, and the airfield was selected to become the base for a maintenance unit (MU). June 17, 1940, saw 18 MU being activated on the field of RAF Dumfries, requiring the the removal of anti-landing obstructions which had previously been placed to deny the ground to enemy landings. The station was created as an Aircraft Storage Unit (ASU), used to store aircraft between the time they were produced, and could be completed prior to delivery to their respective squadrons. Increasing production rates meant that the existing method of flying the aircraft direct from the factory could no longer be used, and safe storage was required, preferably in relatively unknown and quiet areas. ASUs were complemented by Satellite Landing Grounds (SLG), secret storage airfields with no identifying features (not even windsocks were permitted) intended to keep aircraft stocks safely hidden from enemy discovery or attack.

Dumfries was chosen to host No 10 Bombing and Gunnery School from Warmwell, Dorset, where it was a relatively easy target for German bombers, and moved north reduce the risk of attack. From July 1940 the school trained bombers and gun aimers before they passed on to operational training units (OTU).

The increasing level of activity soon turned the original grass runways into mud, and the school had to be temporarily resited to the satellite landing ground (SLG) at Winterseugh near Annan, about 15 miles south of Dumfries, while concrete runways were installed at Dumfries.

Increasing aircraft production and growing activity at the airfield eventually used up the space available, and aircraft had to be dispersed to surrounding SLGs, including those at Low Eldrig near Stranraer, 80 miles west of Dumfries, Lennoxlove, near Haddington East Lothian, Wath Head in Cumbria, and briefly, Hornby Hall, Cumbria. Transport activity increased, and so many ferry flights required completion that No 11 Sub-Ferry Flight had to be based at Dumfries for nearly four months from April 1940.

In September 1940, the school was re-designated 10 Air Observer School (10AOS), increasing its scope to include the training of navigators.

Servicing was taken over by Scottish Aviation Ltd, based in Prestwick, a civilian contractor which carried out numerous tasks for the RAF, such as the conversion of American aircraft (Catalina) to British armament.

In April 1942, 10AOS was again re-designated, and became 10 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit.

Quoted from September 1942, the following figures show how active the airfield was: Flying hours: 2,016 by day; 629 by night; ammunition used: 82,700 rounds; bombs dropped: 4,595; fuel used: 83,853 gallons. Such activity was not without its dangers, and there were numerous accidents involving the trainees, and a number of these resulted in fatalities.

Although further north than the unit it hosted from Dorset, Dumfries was not immune, and was attacked by a German aircraft which shot the airfield beacon. The pilot was later killed when his aircraft crashed, and he was buried with full military honours in Troqueer Cemetery, Dumfries.

In August 1945, 10 (O)AFU became 10 Air Navigation School. The following month, the school was disbanded.

Postwar development

1945 saw the airfield being used for aircraft storage, with one of the runways being closed to create space, and aircraft returned there to be scrapped, probably the same aircraft that had earlier been despatched from the same airfield. Aerial photographs taken in 1946 are reported to show some 300 aircraft stored on the ground, with another 300 at satellite stations in the surrounding area.

From 1947 to 1957, RAF Dumfries served as a training station for those on national service to the RAF. It also served for general basic gunner training for the RAF Regiment. The airfield was home to No 1 Elementary Gliding School from 1950 until it moved to RAF Turnhouse on November 24, 1955, becoming No 661 Volunteer Gliding School (VGS). No 1 Elementary Gliding School is described as having originally formed at Strathaven in 1942, and moving to Dungavel in April 1944, and later to Dumfries. This school now resides at RAF Kirknewton.[1]

In 1957, the airfield was placed on care and maintenance, and 18MU closed.

The site was sold to a private company in 1960, and subsequently developed into an industrial estate in. Many of the hangars are still used for storage and a number of the war time building have survived and are in use by an assortment of businesses.

The control tower is now well known as the focus of the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum.


Building, 2006
© John Holmes
Buildings, 2008
© Colin Kinnear
Pillbox, probably 47.03, 2008
Pillbox, probably 47.03
© Darrin Antrobus

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