Unit History: 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.