RAF Leuchars Station History
Aviation at Leuchars dates back to 1911 with a balloon squadron of the Royal Engineers setting up a training camp in Tentsmuir Forest. They were soon joined in the skies by the 'string and sealing wax' aircraft of the embryo Royal Flying Corps; such aircraft favoured the sands of St Andrews, where not the least of the attractions was the availability of fuel from local garages.
Like so many RAF stations, the airfield itself owes its existence to the hot stimulus of war, and work began on levelling the existing site on Reres Farm in 1916. From the beginning, Leuchars was intended as a training unit, being termed a 'Temporary Mobilisation Station' taking aspiring aircrew from initial flying training through to fleet co-operation work. Building was still underway when the Armistice was signed in 1918. Most was made of Leuchars' maritime location when it was designated a Naval Fleet Training School, eventually to undertake the training of 'naval spotting' crews who acted as eyes for the Royal Navy's capital ships.
The unit was formally named 'Royal Air Force Leuchars' in March 1920, but nevertheless retained its strong naval links.
As the Navy embraced the value of aviation, the aircraft carrier was added to its inventory. Many of the flights 'dedicated' to Leuchars were detached to such vessels for months at a time, with light and dark blue uniforms apparently mixing happily together. At St Andrews, the citizens were not unaware of the potential use of aviation and attempts were made to use aircraft as a means of transport for golfing enthusiasts. More successful were the barn-storming displays of the flying circuses which were extremely popular in the city.
In 1935 Leuchars became home to Number 1 Flying Training School (No 1 FTS) and ranges for practice bombing were established in Tentsmuir Forest. As the war clouds gathered over Europe its maritime position ensured that Leuchars would come to enjoy a more warlike role. No 1 FTS moved to Netheravon and the Station came under the control of Coastal Command. With the arrival of 224 and 233 Squadrons in August 1938 the Station enjoyed an operational rather than training role for the first time.
On the second day of the war a Hudson of 224 Squadron attacked a Dornier 18 over the North Sea with inconclusive results but became the first British aircraft to engage the enemy in World War II. Leuchars was not to secure the romantic image of a Battle of Britain station but rather settled to the routine of hour upon hour of maritime patrol. The contribution such unglamorous work made to the war effort should not be underestimated, and such patrolling played a crucial part in Britain's ultimate victory. In February 1940, application and endurance secured their just reward when another 224 Squadron Hudson located the German prison ship the Altmark which allowed for its interception by HMS Cossack and the liberation of over 200 British prisoners.
Leuchars remained an active Station to the end of the War, concentrating on anti-submarine and anti-shipping strikes. With the contraction of the Air Force in peacetime, life at Leuchars returned to a more gentle pace, hosting a school for general reconnaissance and the St Andrews University Air Squadron complete with Tiger Moths. In May 1950 Leuchars entered the jet age as it passed from Coastal to Fighter Command and Meteors of 222 Squadron made the Station their new home. In time, the first generation of jet aircraft such as the Meteor and Vampire have given way to the Javelin, the Hunter, the Lightning, the Phantom and the Tornado.
In 1954 the fixed wing aircraft had been joined by a flight of Sycamore helicopters for Search and Rescue duties, a role subsequently undertaken by the Whirlwind and then the Wessex. From the beginning, the Flight proved a valuable adjunct to the civilian mountain and maritime rescue services, a role which continues to this day.
As the Cold War reached its frostiest depths in the 1960s the development of long range aircraft allowed the Soviets regular incursion into British air space. Initially this was countered by the use of Lightning and, from 1969, Phantom aircraft. Again Leuchars' position made it ideally suited as a base to ensure the integrity of British air space. For over 2 decades Leuchars' aircraft have policed the UK air defence region, demonstrating the ability to intercept unidentified aircraft and thereby providing an effective deterrent. The guardianship of British air space is vested in the Tornado Interceptors of 43 and 111 Squadrons.
The Tornado F3 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), 56(Reserve) Sqn, also operates from RAF Leuchars