Unit History: RAF Mountbatten

RAF Mountbatten
During the WW1 a Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) base was established at Chelson Meadow, known as RNAS Laira.
Down river at the Cattewater a seaplane base had been established on September 2nd 1913 and several trial flights were made from it.   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.
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.  T
The first ever transatlantic air crossing was landed here.   This event is commemorated by a plaque on the Barbican.
In April 1922 the base was turned over to a Care and Maintenance Unit.  In 1923 the Cattewater Seaplane Station Bill became enacted and the base re-opened on October 1st 1928 as RAF Mount Batten.
A variety of seaplanes were stationed here over the years, starting with the Southampton II’s of 203 Squadron  shortly after the base opened.  They were followed in February 1929 by the Fairey IIID’s of newly formed 204 Squadron, which stayed at Mount Batten until 1940.  203 Squadron left for Iraq in April of that year and was replaced by the re-formed 209 Squadron flying the Blackburn Iris. The Squadron left Mount Batten on May 1st 1935.
In  1935 Mount Batten became the Fleet Air Arm’s floatplane base.
Work commenced in October 1938 on constructing underground oil tanks at Radford Quarry for the use of the air station.
The variety of planes and squadrons continued and the Base became so crowded that the Fleet Air Arm had to move back to Lee-on-Solent.  By the outbreak of the Second World War there was a squadron of the new Sunderland flying boats stationed at Mount Batten.  On Saturday September 9th 1939 a Sunderland launched the first attack on a German U-boat in the Channel and on Monday September 18th 1939 they helped to rescue the crew off the SS Kensington Court, which had been torpedoed 70 miles off the Isles of Scilly.  The Sunderland’s pilot, Flight-Lietutenant Barrett, was able to drop eight of his bombs on the spot where the U-boat had submerged before landing to pick up 14 of the crew from the stricken cargo vessel.  All the crew were saved and as a result Flight-Lieutenant Barrett was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) at the first wartime investitiure on Wednesday November 1st 1939.
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.
One notable flying boat flight landed at Mount Batten in the early hours of Saturday, January 17th 1942, with Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook on board.  Their 18-hour flight had covered 3,287 miles.  They left Plymouth for London by train at 11am.
Sunderlands continued to visit Mount Batten from Pembroke Dock right up until Wednesday January 30th 1957, when Air Vice Marshall G I L Saye, the air officer commanding No. 19 Coastal Command, embarked on a flight from Pembroke Dock to return to that base for the disbandment ceremony of 201 and 230 Squadrons, the last in Britain to fly Sunderlands.
205 Squadron provided the aircraft for the last operational flight of a Sunderland flying boat on May 15th 1959.
The formal end of flying from Mount Batten came on Saturday March 5th 1960, when a special ceremony was held at the base.
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.
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.

Memories of RAF Mountbatten

(Memories written by members of Forces Reunited)

RAF Mountbatten in 1964

Written by Ian Harding

As a member of the Guard of Honour, standing in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning to `unofficially` welcome the Royal Yaught Brittania as it entered Plymouth Sound - on behalf of our CO. After many hours of deliberating whether to call the whole thing off and let us all go home to dry out, he (the CO) decided to walk to the end of our pier which extended into the Sound to `sniff the sea weed` for an indication of improved weather conditions(an old mariners trick). He returned, shaking his head sadly, and reluctantly gave the order to stand us down. Our unit was also home to a meteorological centre which was obviously not up to his seafairing skills. I sometimes wonder if the world of IT could have benefitted from other examples of his local knowledge or could it be the world had somehow overlooked the wonderful gifts this man possessed. I remain baffled.

RAF Mountbatten, in 1982

Written by Robert (Robbie) Cozens

This was during one of my months as S A C i/c Duty Watch in the Pier Hut Marine Dock Office at good old R. A. F. Mount Batten with two other M. B. C.’s who were junior to me so good old Robbie was the fall guy if anything went wrong! I must have been in my final year in the RAF as I had requested to come off H.M.A.F.V. Sea Otter and not do Detachments, as I wanted to go to Plymouth Nautical College for Evening classes and begin the first part to becoming a Yachtmaster with luck! W.O. Bill Overall was happy for me to do this and I was put onto R S L 1659 which funnily enough had been my first boat some eleven years earlier at 1113 M C U Holyhead. The crew at Batten were Cpl Philip Stokes Coxn, Fitter Cpl Don Taylor, MBC SAC Allan (Jock) MacPhail. And me S A C Robbie Cozens. We had some interesting days on ‘ ‘ 59 often on the Dinghy Drills we would make Toasties over the Smiths stove from bread and what ever we could scrounge from the Mess, then sell them (or should I say request a donation towards the boats tea swindle) to the wet cold survivors who were unceremoniously picked up by a Chopper and dumped on the Well Deck. The usual routine on the Duty Watch for three of us was to go do a moorings check every couple of hours, shine the light around the boats from the topsides of the Cheverton work boat then go back and keep an eye open around the water etc and sweep with the big search light in front of the office. This certain night we saw that one of the senior officers a Squadron Leader was Duty Marine Officer, Mmmm this would be interesting! Knowing that at some time and it would be around midnight or later this D.M.O would make an appearance fully booted and spurred! Not ring up to see if all was well and his number if required like most of them did. This one would come down in full best blue! As I was the one in charge of the watch and having some study notes to do for my Y.M. course I volunteered to stay in the front office and the other two could have a kip in the back (this was allowed so long as one was on look out manning the phones etc.) Until the “bewitching” hour of the visit by the D.M.O.! It must have been gone midnight and I was sitting there making notes /homework/ reading etc when a figure slowly went past the window to the left and strolled up to the end of the pier but did nothing to show he was there. I watched him but knowing who it was I stayed where I was and kept an eye on him, he strolled back stood in front of the office and knocked on the window, calling me out to which I stood up and went out, before I could do the Good morning Sir he accused me of sleeping on duty! “ NO Sir”! “But your eyes were closed” “No Sir one was closed one was open I alternate to rest one at a time”. Showing him how I did it I closed one then the other so one was always open! This did not amuse him! His words then were that he wanted to have the craft in the dock moved round, as they were not tied separately, probably a Pinnace an R S L and a couple of Cheverton work boats, four in all; he wanted them separately tied up. This meant I had to get one of the other two to move the Chevertons from the other two while I stood at the top with the D.M.O. telling what was wanted. It was dead low water; this did not help as less water to move them around in and just plain awkward. I woke up Jock MacPhail to do the move; he did the job with me telling him from the top, his name was Allan so I used it instead of Jock several times loud and clear. All sorted and craft as the D.M.O. required Allan came up the ladders and asked if ok and was told yes, I doubt if a Thank you came from the D.M. O! As we moved back to the Pier Office I was called back, he was upset over something! He was not happy that I called my colleague by the name of Allan! “You called him Allan” he said to me that’s MY Name. “Yes Sir that’s his name also Allan MacPhail” But he is called Jock”. “Yes Sir but a Welshman is called Taffy, an Irishman is called Paddy and Scotsmen are called Jock, they are nick names for people from those countries”. He was not amused he was fuming to bursting point having realised I had wound him up and he could do nothing about it; I’d called the M B C by his name, strange it was same as the D.M.O’s or I’d have probably just called him Jock!! We on watch found it very very funny and we had a cuppa and a good laugh to his cost! I expect by now many of you will have worked out who it was? But if you never knew him the D M O was Squadron Leader. I believe he of “Sea Otter fame”!!

RAF Mountbatten, in 1979

Written by Robbie Cozens

I first met Skene Hanson on a Pinnace some 5 or 6 thousand miles from the U.K. We were on the well Known Island of Gan, part the Maldivian Chain of Islands in the Indian Ocean. This was my first Posting abroad. I’d been met in the early hours by another Character many of us came to know and Love over the years, one Ray (Pop) Reynolds, (The sun has got his Hat on was Ray’s song on Gan). This M B C of few words and those he spoke were of a quiet Scottish accent I found hard to understand for almost the first month. This was Skene Hanson, Senior Deck Hand on board Pinnace 1382. Once I’d been accepted by Skene and learnt the job of the Pinnace Crew we got along well, Our Cox’n was Sgt Ted Bedwell who left us to the Job in hand. A tale, which Skene Hanson was the Instigator! I well remember a funny incident; Skene was the Instigator when at Mount Batten. We had been over to the R.N. Fire fighting Damage Control Unit for the obligatory annual Get hot and mucky putting out fire aboard Ship Demo and practical exercise in the Big static unit they had. This was all enjoyed but after this it was lunchtime and the soaking in the then Static Damage Control Unit. We were given a demo as to how it should be done then we were let loose in it. Water started coming in so we did the wooden wedges bit the table top in the big bullet hole in the bulkhead, the leaks in the deckhead stopped water coming in through the decks and other things using jacks, the water kept coming in till we were told we’d almost sunk! The tank was about 4 feet deep by then. Nothing new there, just as well we were on land ( Sea Otter comes to mind)! We were then given the gen on our efforts! The Chief Petty Officer in charge pulled holes in everything we’d done, the things we’d hammered in and fixed up were pulled off and they did their best to make us look useless! Oh well we were on land! Following this it was time to get changed, go meet the RSL to take us back to the relative Sanity of Mount Batten! As we were leaving: the Chief in his Home Uniform must have made some comment about the Crabfats! Skene gave me a look and so he myself and a few others turned round took hold of him picked him up and Deposited him in the tank of cold water among all his props etc then we legged it with shouts of F*****G / B*****d Crabfats etc coming from the Unit. We had an Officer with us, one of the Skippers who himself wasn’t to happy with the Chiefs Comments. Give him his due he left us to it! I believe this was a Flt/Lt His comment when we caught them up was mainly that he guessed what we going to do but if he’d remained he’d have had to do his Officer bit and give us a slap on the wrists but as the Chief had not been very kindly towards us he walked away leaving us to get even! He saw nothing You may be interested to know that a few years later I was in the Cheesewring Inn in Minions on Bodmin Moor with friends a few months after leaving the RAF, The Guy behind the Bar kept looking at me as if he knew me from some place asking me if I was ex R.N.! I told him what I had done in the RAF then it dawned on Him. He was that same C.P.O. who had been our instructor that day. I believe he repeated the same type of comment being you’re one of those ******* so and so Crabfats who chucked me in the Tank. I told him Yes and you deserved it! Skene and I kept in touch over the years, visiting each other from time to time, more often Skene and his wife also an Ex Mount Batten / Mount Wise Lass came to my home. Skene was a real friend and he will be missed a great deal. R.I.P. Skene. Robbie Cozens

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