Saturday, 7 November 2015

RAF Mountbatten

RAF Mount Batten
In honour bound
Nudging gently out into the waters of the Plymouth Sound is a headland which was out of bounds to the public for 80 years. This small piece of rock played a vital role in world events and in the defence of the nation.
The area had been popular with walkers from Plymouth crossing by ferry, often in their thousands on a sunny bank holiday. In 1913 the MOD requisitioned the land and erected fences. The beaches became inaccessible and the previously wild scrubland was built over. In full sight of the Hoe across the Sound, the world on the peninsular became secretive and cut off.
Looking down from Jennycliff. The breakwater can be seen
 to the left and the hangars are visible on the right of the picture.
The air station was commissioned as flying boat base RNAS Cattewater before transitioning to RAF Cattewater. In the lull between the wars the base was renamed RAF Mount Batten. The outcrop of rock had been known as Mount Batten since its fortification by Sir William Batten in the 1600’s.
The land was covered with the hangars, workshops and all the supporting buildings needed for a busy airfield. A large slipway was constructed to get the planes in and out of the water for repairs. The flying boats themselves were moored out in the Cattewater bay at the mouth of the river Plym. Massive concrete blocks under water acted as anchors with wires holding the buoys in place. The area which was previously known for its shipbuilding now became known for its flying boats.
Mooring blocks now used as a sea wall
The outbreak of the Second World War saw a further increase in activity on the base. Seaplanes regularly took off and landed along the Sound, mooring in the Cattewater within spitting distance of the Barbican. The planes themselves when out of the water would be stored along the Mount Batten breakwater, their noses hanging over the sea waiting for the next mission. A rail network was created and the wooden huts were replaced with more permanent buildings. Public houses were converted into accommodation and offices for the personnel of the base.
The impact of bombing raids on Plymouth is well documented. The blitz ripped apart the city and the peninsular did not escape unscathed. During this time there were large detachments of Australian and Canadian troops stationed at Mount Battten.
Now redeveloped this is where the workshops stood
Sunderland flying boats, Short flying boats, Blackburn Iris III and search and rescue vessels amongst others have been based here over the years of service. There have also been units dedicated to survival training and a weather station. Aircraftsman Shaw, better known as Lawrence of Arabia served here and was instrumental in the development of the search and rescue unit after witnessing the fatal crash of a seaplane in the Sound.
South west coast path marker
Bits of the past are interwoven with the leisure development that now dominates the area. When you start looking it is possible to pick out half covered parking spaces, mooring buoys, concrete mooring blocks and the abandoned foundations of buildings. The main slipway is now used to launch pleasure craft and the hangars built to house the flying boats now house a variety of boat related businesses.
Mooring buoy for a Sunderland flying boat

The base finally closed in the 1990's and lay abandoned for a short while being reopened to the public and redeveloped. A large memorial now stands close to the area which was previously the parade ground, a symbolic propeller acknowledging the debt owed to all those who served here between 1913 and 1992.


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