The RAF and FAA in North-East Scotland 1936-1999 by Stewart Green

The first time I took any notice of aircraft flying in the North-east of Scotland was around 1936-37.

An airfield had been built at Evanton in 1936 so the aircraft I had seen flying over our area were from RAF Leuchars to the new airfield at Evanton. These aircraft would often stay at RAF Evanton most of the summer taking part in exercises with the Royal Navy; Invergordon being a big naval base at that time.

The aircraft I would have seen at that time would have been, Handley Page Heyfords, Vickers Wildebeast, Fairy Gordon, Hawker Hind, Blackburn Ripon and the more modern Handley Page Hampden bomber. This article is to give a little insight into the activity of the RAF and FAA in the north-east of Scotland from 1937 up to the present time.

As the war clouds began to build up over Europe, the RAF and FAA began to expand for a war situation; so in the summer of 1938-39 two airfields were taking shape in this area, one at Kinloss and one at Lossiemouth (the first aircraft arriving in the spring of 1939). They both opened as flying training schools using single engined Hawker Hinds, Hawker Harts and an American aircraft the Harvard, and for twin-engined training they used the Airspeed Oxford.

By September 3rd 1939 when war was declared the RAF was expanding so fast it was difficult to find accommodation for all the personnel coming on the scene so new accommodation was being pressed into service; Nissen huts, wooden huts, private accommodation, tents and hotels were used and the Oakwood Tea Rooms were taken over by the RAF and used as a training centre for the wireless operators.

The expansion was incredible. RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossie were now overcrowded so more space was needed. Relief airfields were needed to handle the extra aircraft now using the original airfields so they had to build satellite air strips and emergency landing grounds. Satellites were built at Westermanbean, Bogs O’ Mayne just outside Elgin, one on the outskirts to the west of Forres and one to the east of Inverness, which is now the airport for Inverness. The original airport for Inverness which was at the Longman is now swallowed up by houses, factories and car firms.

RAF Milton was a satellite for RAF Lossie. It was originally made as a decoy airfield for RAF Lossie, but as time went on it became a satellite for Lossie; these airfields in the early days had grass runways, but as aircraft got bigger and heavier the runways had to be made of concrete. Believe it or not the runways at RAF Lossie were installed by American runway construction teams.

Most of the Fleet Air Arm airfields were around the Invergordon Naval base, but one FAA airfield was being built at Dallachy (Spey Bay) but when it was near completion the FAA said it was not suitable for them as they like airfields with four runways and Dallachy was not suitable for a fourth runway owing to high ground at the west side of the airfield, so it remained with the RAF to become a very busy airfield along with RAF Banff.

Banff and Dallachy were to become two of the busiest airfields in the north-east. They operated together as a very big Pilot Advance Flying Unit, using twin-engined Airspeed Oxford aircraft. Later on, RAF Fraserburgh joined this busy PAFU; they operated from May 1943 till September 1944 and turned out over 1,500 fully trained pilots. But now there was beginning to be a surplus of trained pilots so these large training schools departed for pastures new.

But flying continued as intense as ever in the area; a new group to be known as the Banff strike wing came on the scene, and this was a very big unit indeed, using RAF Banff, RAF Dallachy, RAF Peterhead and RAF Fraserburgh.

RAF Banff was using the famous De Havilland Mosquito; probably one of the best aircraft of the war. RAF Dallachy were flying the Beaufighter another very good Aircraft, RAF Peterhead were flying the Mustang fighter; the Mustang was an American plane of which the RAF had acquired quite a number of, it did not live up to its expectations until the RAF changed its engine from a Wright Cyclone and installed the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and then it became one of the top fighters of the war.

The leader of the Banff strike wing was Group Captain Max Aitken, a son of Lord Beaverbrook the owner of the Daily Express newspaper. Max Aitken was one of the very few pilots who flew on the first day of the war and flew on the last day of the war, when he led the Banff strike wing on a raid over the fiords of Norway. This was to be the last operational flight of the Banff strike wing and within two to three months the strike wing had disbanded forever.

The Mosquito was one of the really top aircraft to fly with the RAF but it very nearly didn’t get built as an aircraft. When De Havilland built one Mosquito and showed it to the Air Ministry and told them how much wood was used in its construction they didn’t want to know about it, but De Havilland went ahead and built a few at their own expense and showed the Air Ministry what a good aircraft it was. They relented and bought hundreds of them for the RAF and it proved to be one of the top aircraft of the war; it could be used as a fighter or used as a bomber, it was so versatile.

To the aircrews who flew it, it became known as the “wooden wonder” because of the amount of wood in its construction and its capabilities were limitless.

Another airfield the FAA had in this area was at Rattary (Crimond). It took so long in building it nearly missed taking part in the war and when it became operational it had the misfortune to be equipped with one of the most unattractive aircraft with a very poor safety record; the aircraft being the Blackburn Barracuda dive bomber, and within a year the airfield had closed down. Nearly all the airfields I have mentioned are closed down, with the exception of RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth. One incident which took place at RAF Lossie during the war was a raid by three Heinkel 111s; one of the Heinkels was shot down over the airfield and the three aircrew members lie buried in Bellie church-yard.

In 1946 RAF Lossie became RNAS Fulmer and became a very big air station and for aircraft enthusiast it became a very interesting airfield with a wide variety of aircraft to be seen around the airfield. It continued with the FAA up to September 1972 when it once more went back to the RAF and is still a very busy airfield.

When the Korean War started Dalcross was again reactivated as a flying school from May 1951 till 1953. Once again the skies around the north east was to see the old Airspeed Oxford trainers in action training new pilots at the AFTS; but in 1953 it went back to its peace time role as Inverness airport.

As you travel around the north east area of Scotland these days there is very little signs of all the activity which took place at the airfields which acted as satellites and emergency landing grounds to the main airfields. Here and there you will come across some ruined buildings, the remains of an old control tower or a runway partly overgrown with weeds and bushes or some building converted to a dwelling house. One sure sign there had been military activity is the remains of some red brick buildings. One thing which I have been happy to see over the last few years is the erection of plaques and memorials at the gates of these old satellite airfields giving some recognition of what took place there.