RAF Grangemouth - a short history.

Now totally obliterated by the BP oil refinery and other industrial developments, Grangemouth was opened on May 1 1939 as the Central Scotland Airport by Air Marshal Trenchard. Events passed it by, however, post-war use being restricted to a Gliding School up to 1946 and use by the Tiger Moths of 13 SFS between April 1 1948 and April 19 1949. It closed in June 1955.

The first quasi-military units at Grangemouth were 35 E&RFTS (Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School) which opened on May 1 1939 with Tiger Moths and Harts and 10 Civilian Air Navigation Schools with Ansons, which also formed in 1939. Both Schools were administered by Scottish Navigation but the E&RFTS closed in September 1939 and the CANS was absorbed into 1 AONS (Air Observer Navigation School) at Prestwick in December.

Grangemouth is associated chiefly with fighter training, but in the early days of the war, operational squadrons used it for the air defence of the Clydeside area. Daily in September 1939, 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) dispersed one flight here from Abbotsinch and on October 19 1939, 141 Squadron moved over from Turnhouse with Blenheims and Gladiators. The Squadron went back to Turnhouse on June 28 1940, and was relieved the same day by 263’s Hurricanes from Drem. The expected heavy raids on the district had still not materialised, so 263 moved back to Drem on September 2 1940.

No.614 Squadron was also here from June 8 1940, operating Lysanders on coastal patrols and for training with the Navy. The unit moved to Macmerry on March 3 1941 as 58 OTU (Operational Training Unit) began to expand.

No. 58 OTU formed here on December 2 1940 with Wing Commander J.R. Hallings-Pott DSO, posted in from 7 OTU at Hawarden as CFI (Chief Flying Instructor), bringing with him a wealth of experience in Spitfire training. The first four Spitfires were not delivered until December 31 and work on runway construction hindered flying. Two runways, a perimeter track and hard standings were completed by mid-1941. The shorter runway is now Inchyra Road. Also that year, 4 Delivery Flight was based here for the ferrying of fighter aircraft, eventually moving to Turnhouse on January 1942.

The opening of the satellite at Balado Bridge on March 20 1942 took much of the load off the parent station, in that the latter could now concentrate on the ground training of pupils and initial conversion onto the Spitfire. Advanced instruction in operational flying was now concentrated at Balado. In addition, from September 1942, the large number of Polish trainees passing through necessitated the formation of a completely Polish section ‘A’ Squadron divided into ‘A’ and ‘B’ flights. From October, all Polish fighter pilot pupils were sent to 58 OTU and it became the only OTU in 81 Group where British and Polish
flying instructors worked alongside one another.

In an attempt to reduce the number of crashes caused by over-shooting the east/west runway was extended by about 300 yds in the summer of 1942, night flying was begun on September 30 1942 and around the same time the OTU joined the Saracen Scheme, fielding 558 Squadron in the event of an invasion of this country.

At the end of 1942, the OTU was able to summarize in its ORB as follows: ‘A year of achievement, a year of development and a year of change. In the course of the last 12 months, 400 fighter pilots have passed out from Grangemouth, men of many nations, men of varying skill and character, all imbued with a high fighting spirit, trained to the last degree, replacing the gaps in the old established squadrons, forming new squadrons, serving at home and overseas. Some have given their lives, some are prisoners of war, others have won renown with their skill and courage

By this time it was noted that Polish fighter pilots had now accounted for more than 500 enemy aircraft over Britain. Sergeant Turek, who was a graduate of 58 OTU, shot down three FW 190, no's 497,498 and 499. Three days later Flying Officer Langhhamer, an ex-Grangemouth instructor, dispatched No. 501, but sadly on the same day, Pilot Officer Kosmoski another former 58 OTU instructor, was reported missing.

Several pilots failed to return from training flights in Scotland, claimed probably by the sea, but there is a remote possibility that one at least awaits discovery with his Spitfire in some un trodden corner of the Highlands. On November 11 1941, for example, Spitfire L1083 from Grangemouth disappeared in cloud over the mountains and was never heard of again.

Flying into high ground was another ever-present danger, one of the worst incidents occurring on January 18 1943 (16th.) when a formation of three Spitfires crashed on the Ochil Hills. Two of the three pilots were killed instantly and the third lying injured in his cockpit was very fortunate to be found by a shepherd soon afterwards. Another pilot baled out safely over the hills on September 9 1943 but the wreckage of his Spitfire was never found.

Going back to the domestic details of running an OTU, we find a new system of flying beginning in January 1943. It took into consideration the number of pupils on a course, the number of aircraft available and the number of flying hours required per pupil. Maintenance was planned to meet these demands and permission was sought to carry out all-night inspections in the five blister hangars under floodlights, despite the black out. It was thus possible to increase the number of serviceable aircraft available for day flying. Brick ends were built on the Blisters the open ends being screened by heavy curtains.

In May 1943 the station workshops in the pre-war civil hangars at Grangemouth were busy fitting Spitfires with light bomb racks to take four 10 pound practice bombs under each wing. Another local modification was the clipping of the wings of the bomb-carrying Spitfires, the first being taken up for a test flight on August 14 1943. The same day the unit’s last Lysander was flown away; all target towing work now being done by Martinets. Spitfire V’s were being allotted to 58 OTU to replace the worn-out Is; and IIs some being veterans of the Battle or Britain.

The OTU was renamed 2 Tactical Exercise Unit on October 17 1943 under 2 Combat Training Wing. There was by now a temporary surplus of trained fighter pilots and the aim was to give as much experience of air warfare as possible whilst they were being held in reserve. No.2 TEU disbanded on June 25 1944 and the airfield was then used for storage by Maintenance Command.