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Unit History: RN Air Station St Eval

RN Air Station St Eval
RAF St Eval was a strategic airbase for the RAF Coastal Command in the Second World War (situated in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom). St Eval’s primary role was to provided vital anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the South West coast of England. Aircraft from the base were also used for photographic reconnaissance missions, meteorological flights, convoy patrols, air-sea rescue missions and protection of the airbase from the Luftwaffe.
In June 1940 St Eval became a Fighter Command sector headquarters for the Battle of Britain and Supermarine Spitfires were based there. These were joined by Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Blenheim Fighters and the station’s aircraft took an active part in the conflict with considerable success. After the Battle of Britain the station went on the offensive to the end of the war.
The fighter presence of the Spitfires was not a great success. The Luftwaffe’s change in tactics lead to increase in night raids which the Spitfires were not suited to. Therefore 238 Squadron were drafted in with Hurricanes. The base was unfortunately hit a number of times in the summer of 1940 and early 1941. This caused considerable damage and casualties. The Germans again made a number of raids in May 1942 causing damage to buildings and destruction of aircraft. St Eval was equipped with an amazing green box barrage rocket device which sent a steel wire curtain into the air to descend on parachutes. This was intended to enmesh enemy aircraft and cause them to crash but unfortunately the device was unsuccessful.
On 6 April 1941 a small force of Beauforts from 22 Squadron, operating as a detachment from St Eval, launched an attack on the German cruiser Gneisenau in Brest harbour. A Beaufort was able to launch a torpedo at point blank range but was immediately shot-down. The ship was severely damaged below the water line and obliged to turn to the dock. She was however later repaired.
To boost the anti-submarine forces and to gain experience in the role, the Americans began to use the airfield (as station 129) with B-24 Liberators of the 409th Squadron of the 93rd Bomb group appearing in October 1942. The following month they were replaced by the 1st anti-submarine squadron (Provisional), with a second such unit arriving a few months later. Both of these units moved to north Africa in March 1943 but, in July they were replaced by two squadrons of the 479th Anti-submarine Group. Again this was a short-lived arrangement and the group took its Liberators to Dunkeswell in August.
The importance of St Eval was such that it was given a FIDO installation in early 1944 for dispersal of fog around the runway so that aircraft could land safely. St Eval was destined to have a busy time during the allied invasion of Europe. It was home to three RAF Liberator squadrons (53, 224, 547). Many of these were equipped with the highly successful Leigh Light. In the April a fourth squadron arrived giving the base one of the most powerful anti-submarine forces in the RAF. This force flew thousands of hours of patrols each month and was rewarded with a number of sightings, many of which were converted into attacks and with at least three confirmed U-boat kills in June alone. The Allied capture of French ports meant that the U-boat threat was drastically reduced. This meant that the units based at St Eval would be better used elsewhere. By Autumn of 1944 the base was a shadow of its former self.
Much of the basic structure still exists but many of the buildings have gone. The base is currently a communication station. A new village has been built on the east side of the base providing married accommodation for the RAF. The base is now ex RAF housing. When this was revealed people had to queue for 24 - 78 hours in tents to buy their own houses

Active From: 1939 - 1959

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