The RAF Harrowbeer airfield was located about nine miles north of the city of Plymouth and six miles south of Tavistock in Devon half a mile to the west of Yelverton. The site is on Roborough Down within the boundary of Dartmoor National Park at grid reference SX513680.
Although near the village of Yelverton, the airfield was called ‘ Harrowbeer ’ to distinguish it from the similar-sounding RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.
All that remains today of the old Second World War Airfield is the ' Old Watch Office ' ( now Abigail's at Knightstone Tearooms ), Ravenscroft which was originally the billets for the airfield defence, then the
' Officer's Mess ' until February 1943 when it became the Headquarters for No.276 Air Sea Rescue Squadron until April 1944 and on the business park at Crapstone can be seen the ' Gas Decontamination Block ' ( now Trimal House ).
The Archivist ( Michael Hayes ) of the R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives firmly believes that prior to R.A.F. Harrowbeer there was an airfield on the site as early as the middle of 1939 with grass strips for take off and landing. Many buildings were knocked down at the end of 1938 and early 1939 which included Udal Tor ( a T.B. Sanatorium ) and the Moor House Hotel. Knightstone House ( as it was known then ) was requisitioned in 1937 along with several other buildings and also the area of Roborough Down adjacent to them. It would have been at this time that the Square Tower ( the Watch Office ) was added to Knightstone House which was used for administration work and as a Watch Office. Gloster Gladiator aircraft were operating from here on night exercises after war had been declared.
RAF Harrowbeer, officially opened on 15th August 1941, it became operational as a Fighter Station for the remainder of WWII under the control of 10 Group Fighter Command which was responsible for the defence of the South West of England. R.A.F. Harrowbeer was also Headquarters to the first Air Sea Rescue Squadron and reputed to be a staging point for the Secret Operations Executive ( SOE ).
The airfield was built with three tarmac runways, the foundations of these and many of the buildings being the rubble from Plymouth after the ' Blitz '. The rubble was transported by rail to Yelverton Railway Station and then by road to the airfield site.
The first aircraft to land at R.A.F. Harrowbeer was on the 31st August 1941 piloted by Wing Commander Walter. This was followed by a temporary attachment of No.500 Squadron Blenheim IV L aircraft on the 15th September 1941 until the 6th October 1941. It was on this day that No.302 ( Polish ) Squadron arrived with Spitfire VB and Hurricane aircraft and operational training commenced. They were joined on the 25th October by No.130 Squadron flying Spitfire II aircraft.
At the end of September, Wing Commander the Hon. E. F. Ward arrived and assumed command of the Station.
On the 21st October 1941 No.276 Air Sea Rescue Squadron was formed within ' Knightstone House ' which was also their Headquarters until February 1943 when they transferred across the road to Ravenscroft.
Over the next few months many high ranking Officers were to visit R.A.F. Harrowbeer including H. R. H. the Duke of Kent and H. R. H. the Duke of Gloucester.
R.A.F. Harrowbeer's immediate role was to escort shipping in the English Channel between Land's End, Cornwall and Weymouth, Dorset. Their primary objective was was to offer protection against the German U-boats and E-boats. This progressed and in early 1942 the Squadrons also undertook escorting bombers to France and back.
1942 saw the departure of No.302 ( Polish ) Squadron and the arrival of No.312 ( Czechoslovakia ) Squadron. October 10th 1942 saw the arrival of No.175 Squadron with their Hurricane / bomber aircraft which were to carry out low level shipping strikes.
No. 193 Squadron was formed at R.A.F. Harrowbeer on the 18th December 1942 and took delivery of four Hurricane and three Typhoon aircraft on 14th January 1943. After local familiarization flights they assisted Nos. 263 and 266 Squadrons with bombing attacks on railways and airfields in France..
The number of personnel on the airfield as at the 1st January 1943 was 2,028 this number crept up to almost 2.500 later on in the year.
From early 1944 R.A.F. Harrowbeer's Typhoon aircraft were converted to carry rocket projectiles which were used on concentrated attacks to shipping, radar and communication sites in France.
On the 31st August 1944 R.A.F. Harrowbeer was closed as an R.A.F. Station and taken over by the U.S.A.A.F. However on the 8th January 1945 the Airfield was back in the hands of the R.A.F. and re-opened as a Self-Accounting Unit where it continued until finally closing as an ' Operational Fighter Station ' on the 31st July 1945 when it was placed on ' Care and Maintenance '.
15th August 1981 saw the return of R.A.F. Harrowbeer's first Station Commander the Hon. E. F. Ward and other station personnel for the unveiling of a granite Memorial Stone at the Leg O'Mutton Corner, Yelverton as a tribute to all who served at R.A.F. Harrowbeer.
A second Memorial was unveiled outside Knightstone Tearooms on the 14th August 2011 to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of R.A.F. Harrowbeer.
More information can be obtained through the ' R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives ' housed within ' Abigail's at Knightstone Tearooms '.
Ask for :- Michael Hayes ( the Archivist ) who will be happy to talk to you and show you around.
Knightstone RAF Harrowbeer Archives
Knightstone, Crapstone Road, Yelverton, Devon, PL20 6BT GB
Archivist - Michael Hayes 01822 853679
All images copyright of :- PHL Archives, R.A.F. Harrowbeer Archives, Graham Buchan Innes or HIG
© 2020 RAF Harrowbeer Archive - All Rights Reserved.
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