Unit History: RAF ST Eval

RAF St Eval was a strategic Royal Air Force station for the RAF Coastal Command.  It became a hive of activity in 1938 as Britain prepared for war. Many construction workers descended on St Eval to demolish the village and create RAF St Eval, leaving only the ancient Norman St Uvelus Church which was used as a war time navigational aid as well as an observation post.  The church became known as The Cathedral of Coastal command.  St Eval's primary role was to provide anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the south west coast.  Aircraft from the base were also used for photographic reconnaissance missions, meteorological flights, convoy patrols, air-sea rescue missions and protection of the airfield from the Luftwaffe.
After the war the airfield continued to be used for maritime patrols with Search and Rescue duties.  The airfield was also a site for diversions with a number of military and commercial aircraft using the site when weather was bad at the destination airfield.  By 6th march 1959 the station closed and the existing squadrons moved on to nearby RAF St Mawgan.
Much of the basic structure still exists, though many buildings have gone with a large new village built on the side of the base.  There are various memorials in the St Ulvelus church, including a Book of Remembrance, a memorial window and various memorials to crews who lost their life’s flying from St Eval.

RAF ST Eval during WW2


The construction of the airbase was part of the RAF expansion plan from the 1930’s to include anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols of the South-West Coast of Britain. The village of St Eval was completely demolished in order to build the station, with many bulldozers used to remove the Cornish dry stone walls. One household tried to hold out against the authorities and refused to leave his cottage for several days. Though work progressed well and St Eval opened on 2nd October 1939.

It was from the Battle of Britain that RAF St Eval became a Fighter Command sector headquarters with Supermarine Spitfires based there. These were joined also by the Bristol Blenheim and Hawker Hurricane with took an active part in this conflict. Though the presence of these Spitfires and fighters was not a great success, as the Luftwaffe’s changed tactics to an increase in night raids for which the Spitfire’s were not suited. Therefore 238 Squadron were drafted in with Hurricanes. The base was hit a number of times in the summer of 1940 to early 1941 with considerable damage and casualties. The airfield even had a special ‘Green Box Barrage’ rocket device which sent a wire steel curtain into the air. This was intended to enmesh enemy aircraft and cause them to crash, but the rocket device was unsuccessful.

Also be noted that on 6th April 1941 a force of Bristol Beauforts from Squadron No22 that was operating from St Eval and they launched an attack on the German Battleship Gneisenau in Brest harbour. The Beaufort launched a torpedo at point blank range, though it was immediately shot down. The pilot of the Bristol Beaufort was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Battle of the Atlantic was also fought from RAF St Eval, which began on the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and lasted till peace was won in 1945. No.61 Squadron was loaned twice to Coastal Command for Anti-submarine operations in the Bay of Biscay and far out in the Atlantic to hunt and destroy enemy U boats and protect the convoys bringing in vital munitions and supplies to Britain.

The RAF base was used to launch attacks against German Targets in France and give air support to the D-Day landing. RAF St Eval was one f the largest operational RAF stations during World War two, with many squadrons seeing service at various times during its history which follows below:

Squadrons. 22, 42, 48, 53, 58, 59, 61, 86, 140, 143, 161, 179, 203, 206, 210 217, 220, 224, 233, 234, 235, 236, 238, 240, 247, 248, 254, 263, 280, 282, 304, 407 RCAF, 415 RCAF, 489 RNZAF, 500, 502, 517, 541, 543, 547, 612, 796 Naval Air, 801 Naval Air, 816 Naval Air, 820 Naval Air, 827 Naval Air, 829 Naval Air, 833 Naval Air, 649 Naval Air, 2 Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit, 6GPF,Photo Reconnaissance Unit, 10 OUT, 95 GS, 19 CPCF, 409th Bombardment Squad. USAF, 1st Anti Submarine Squad. USAF, 2nd Anti Submarine Squad. USAF, 479th Anti Submarine Group USAF.

The Importance of St Eval was such that it was given a FIDO installation, in early 1944 for the dispersal of fog St Eval was destined to have a busy time during the Allied invasion of Europe; it was home to 3 Liberator squadrons (53, 224 and 547) in April another squadron was added, giving the base one of the most powerful anti submarine force in the world and flew thousands of patrols each month.

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