Unit History: RN Air Station Mount Batten
A Royal Naval Air Station was commissioned here in February 1917 and two hangars were erected close to the breakwater upon which a railway track was laid to enable a steam crane to move about lifting seaplanes into the water. Both the airship base and RNAS Cattewater came under the control of a large RNAS establishment at Tregantle, in Cornwall, of which Major-General J de M Hutchison, a retired admiral, was in charge. There were also hangers for kite balloons at Wilcove, near Torpoint, Cornwall.
On April 1st 1918 the Royal Naval Air Service merged with the Royal Flying Corps to become the Royal Air Force and RAF Cattewater came into existence. The unit at Tregantle was closed and headquarters were transferred to Mount Wise Barracks, with Brigadier-General H D Briggs in command.
After the end of the First World War activities at the base quietened down. That was until May 16th 1919 when it suddenly became world famous when the first ever transatlantic air crossing landed here. Three aircraft actually left Newfoundland but two of them were forced to drop out because of fog en route. The remaining one, NC 4, having made stops at the Azores and Lisbon in Portugal, made it to Plymouth in just under 54 hours flying time, having covered some 4,320 miles. This event is commemorated by a plaque on the Barbican.
By April 1922 there was only one Squadron left, Number 238, and that was then disbanded. The base was turned over to a Care and Maintenance Unit.
On Thursday April 25th 1935 Mount Batten became the Fleet Air Arm’s floatplane base, under the command of Group-Captain I T Lloyd. The total strength at that time was 23 officers and 203 airmen.
That event was quickly followed, on Tuesday June 11th 1935, by the first ever meteorolgical course to be held at Mount Batten for the Fleet Air Arm.
Work commenced in October 1938 on constructing underground oil tanks at Radford Quarry for the use of the air station. Messrs Wimpey of London were the contractors. This was followed in January 1940 by the opening of a pipeline from Rurnchapel Wharf to the tanks.
When 204 Squadron left for North Africa in they were replaced on April 1st 1940 by Number 10 Royal Australian Air Force Squadron, who not only stayed for the remainder of the War but were set to become Mount Batten’s most famous occupants. A fascinating and detailed account of their wartime exploits hunting German U-boats has been told by Dennis Teague in his book "Strike First: They shall not pass unseen". By the time they left the base in October 1945, so Dennis Teague relates, they had flown 4,553,860 nautical miles, undertaken 3,177 operational flights, sunk 5 submarines, received 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC), one DFC with Bar, 9 Distinguished Flying Medals (DFM), 1 British Empire Medal (BEM) and had 36 ’mentioned in despatches’. Before they left England they were awarded a Crest by His Majesty King George VI with the motto ’Strike First’.
In the 1950s Mount Batten became a main base for the Air/Sea Rescue service and their launches became a familiar post-war sight moored in the Cattewater. At the same time it was the headquarters of the Southern Maritime Air Region, which controlled the work of the squadrons based at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall.
Number 19 Group Coastal Command RAF left Mount Batten in 1968, which was the beginning of the run-down of the Station.
The ceremony for the disbanding of the RAF Marine Branch was held at Mount Batten on January 8th 1986.
RAF Mount Batten closed on Sunday July 5th 1992.