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RAF Kirknewton

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Military helicopter over Kirknewton airfield, 2005
Military helicopter over Kirknewton
© Richard Webb
Warning sign, 2010
Warning sign
© M J Richardson

RAF Kirknewton, was a World War II airfield, established to the south east of the village of Kirknewton, West Lothian. The airfield has served a number of functions since then, and is now home to No 661 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (VGS), and utilised by a local flying club. OS mapping indicate that the airfield is disused, however signs remaining around the perimeter, and ongoing visits by aircraft such as that pictured, and the Army, suggest the description is not in keeping with current practice. According to records, the base is still recognised by the RAF, and the airfield continues to be maintained by Air Command. It is reportedly still owned by the MoD and RAF No 22 Group, with No 1 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School and No 661 VGS in control of the field and with plans to revamp the current runway as well as adding in additional buildings to replace the Portacabins that are currently being used. There are currently a fleet of 8 Grob Viking gliders as well as an ATC caravan, a fleet of 3 Land Rover SWB and 1 Land Rover LWB. They also have a glider launcher capable of launching 6 gliders simultaneously and a Lamborghini Tractor that is used to tow the glider launcher. Also at the airfield is a hanger that is used to store a number of private aircraft.

World War II

Beginning as a grass airfield in late 1940, Kirknewton was first home to No 289 Squadron in November 1941, an anti-aircraft co-operation unit which moved to Turnhouse in May 1942. The airfield then became the Refresher Flying Training School (RFTS), which prepared inactive pilots for posting to Operational Training Units (OTU), but the school was disbanded by October. After a care and maintenance period, it became a satellite for RAF Findo Gask (Flying Training) in March 1943, operating Lysanders and Mustangs of 309 (Polish) Squadron. Findo Gask became unserviceable, but Kirknewton was not to become the squadron's HQ, failing to receive necessary runway extensions after a visit by the Air Ministry Airfields Board in August 1943. Later accounts of hazardous crosswinds from the nearby quarry may explain why. In February 1944, 44 Group Maintenance Unit Command took over, and 243 Maintenance Unit (MU) used the airfield for the storage of bombs, until being disbanded in January 1956.

The control tower at Kirknewton has been demolished, date unknown.

An aircraft hangar, described as a Bellman type, is located in the north west corner of the airfield, and is visible on an RAF World War II vertical air photograph taken in September 1943. Not visible in the RAF vertical photography, and therefore postwar additions, are a small aircraft shed, about 45 metres south east of the hangar, and two further buildings to the east.

Married quarters were recorded on Ordnance Survey maps, lying to the north west of the airfield, and west of Kirknewton.

A military camp, comprising some 39 huts, lay to the south west of the airfield, occupying three fields, visible on RAF vertical air photographs taken in September, 1943.

The camp was later used to house German Prisoners of War (PoW), camp number 123, also known as Dalmahoy. Records describe it as a working camp, and locals have told of its use as a transit camp, holding German Officers en-route to the USA. A nearby graveyard was said to have held three German graves, then marked by white crosses, whose bodies were returned to Germany after the war ended.

Postwar

Air Cadet glider launch, 2010
Air Cadet glider launch
© M J Richardson

From the early 1950s onward, the airfield was no longer used for aviation, being used by the USAF for storage, and handed back to the British in 1967. The gliding school, was established/moved there the same year, having been without a permanent base since leaving RAF Turnhouse in 1964. The school is currently used by the Air Cadet Organisation. The hangar is still in use for light aircraft, originally by the Central Scotland Aero club, which maintained a crash tender and fuel truck on the site. The Kirknewton Flying Group (Limited as of 2007) also refurbished the runway, and installed a fuel delivery system. While some of the airfield's original hangars remain, most of the building have been demolished.

Handed back: 1967 or 1991?

Hansard reports showed that the airfield had officially remained "In Use" after the the apparent handing back in 1967, and had remained in the hands of the USAF until September 13, 1991, when it was returned to the MoD, being described then as a "Contingency Hospital".[1] [2] [3]

Additional postwar history: 1952 to 1966

Antenna array at Kirknewton, no reply to email request for permission
Early antenna array

Having ceased to be an active airfield (but still under USAF control), Kirknewton appears to have become one of the earliest Cold War projects when the CIA and USAF established a ground station there in May, 1952. During its first year of operation, the base was used to evaluate a number of antenna configurations, with the aim of determining the most effective configuration for intercepting Soviet communication and radar signals. By June, 1953, five (vertical?) antennae had been dismantled and replaced by an array of eleven Rhombic antennae, and by the end of 1953, USAF Security Service (USAFSS) 37th Radio Squadron Mobile employed 17 officers and 463 airmen, tasked with the interception of voice and Morse signals, including military and commercial naval traffic, with priority being given to signals involving Soviet radar and air operations. Over the following years, the project grew to include messages being transmitted by developing mediums as technology advanced, including fax, picture and other information being sent through the Soviet news channels. Similar progress was also being made in the upgraded capabilities of the radar signals being intercepted.

Manning levels fell to 300 over its fourteen years of operation, with the base finally closing in August, 1966. The former communications listening post had been manned by radio operators, linguists and analysts, all said to have Top Secret, and above, security clearances, with the base similarly classified. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh marked the closure of the base at a formal ceremony, held that year, in the Lord Provost's chambers.

Those who served at Kirknewton earned the right to be referred to as Silent Warriors, who have their own dedicated web site.

Organisation name

6952nd Security Group, formerly the 6952nd Radio Squadron Mobile, formerly the 37th Radio Squadron Mobile, United States Air Force Security Service (USAFSS).

Hot-Line connection

Kirknewton's position meant it was also responsible for maintaining security over part of the Hot-Line connecting Washington to Moscow, as the cable route passed through the area. RAF Kirknewton, nr Edinburgh (NSA/USAF/USN 6952nd ESC from 1952 – Supervised 'Hot-Line' link between Moscow and Washington. SIGINT closed September 1966, closed same day as NSA took over Menwith Hill).[4]

References

1 Reported as "In Use" December 5, 1988

2 "handed back to the MoD from the USAF, 26 September 26, 1991, having been designated a Contingency Hospital", November 3, 1993

3 US bases handed back to MOD since 1988: RAF Kirknewton: Contingency Hospital, April, 2003

4 Hot Line information

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-


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