View Full Version : RAF Harrowbeer

15th Dec 2002, 00:48
Hi folks

I was just wandering if anyone had any information on this wartime RAF station. I grew up there after it became inactive and am curios to know a little about it. The village is now called Yelverton and the runways have long gone, but the blast pens and I believe some of the buildings still survive.

15th Dec 2002, 15:16
Looking at the aerial picture at www.multimap.com certainly shows the outline of the airfield.

Found this:- It was on part of Roborough Down close to Yelverton that in 1941 an airfield was constructed to be known as RAF Harrowbeer and controlled by 10 Group Fighter Command. Throughout its short history until it closed on 31 July 1945 it was the home to squadrons from Canada, Australia, Czechoslovakia, France (Free French) and Poland as well as Britain.
For a few months in 1944 the US Navy assumed control of the airfield for the use of aircraft bringing visitors to Headquarters Fleet Air Wing 7 at Plymouth. On 28 September 1944 Glenn Miller and his orchestra flew in to RAF Harrowbeer to perform at the US Naval Hospital Manadon and the naval base at Cattedown, both in Plymouth. Another notable flight occurred on 2 August 1945 when an aircraft carrying US President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Mr J Brynes was diverted into RAF Harrowbeer and the visitors then travelled by road to lunch with King George VI on board HMS Renown in Plymouth Sound. at http://www.drakesdartmoor.co.uk/histcont.htm

More available with a google:)

15th Dec 2002, 23:58
I think the runways were ripped up in the 1960s, but you can still see their former position from the air - spring is about the best time. There are about 10 or 12 blast pens still visable - some in pretty good condition. As far as buildings go, the former officer's mess is now a retirement home, and the former tower forms part of a cafe that contains some wartime history and a few photographs on the wall. The old airfield is a popular local picnic site in the summer months.

16th Dec 2002, 18:08
I'll second the comment about the former Officers Mess being a retirement home - my parents bought one of the flats in it a couple of years ago! From their front window it's possible to see some of the blast pens and across the airfield to Yelverton village.

There is a very interesting booklet produced locally (to Harrowbeer, not my current location sadly) which details the station's history. As an interesting piece of trivia, Harrowbeer is reputed to be the only RAF station ever to have been built using the rubble of the city it was built to defend. I don't have the book to hand at present, but will attempt to convince the olds to part with it long enough for me to identify the title and author.

As far as squadron's stationed there are concerned, I recall reading that RAF Harrowbeer played host to various Spitfire, Mustang and Typhoon squadrons during the run up to Operation Overlord.

You may also be interested to know that The Alpine Fighter Collection operated Spitfire VC AR614 until 1999, painted in the colour scheme she wore with 312 (Czech) Squadron while based at Harrowbeer.

16th Dec 2002, 23:58
Thanks all for taking the trouble to reply to my post. I have done a lot of trawling around the net for information, but what I was hoping for was some more personal information. Out of interest, does the Officer's mess have a name now? Possibly Ravenscroft?

ID90 - I can just about remember as a child the runways being torn up which would be about the sixties. The cafe you refer to - is that in Leg o'Mutton or Yelverton, or the ghastly Knightsbridge?

BeauMan - I would be most grateful for any information you have on documents about the airfield.

If I get enough gen, I will set up a net site

17th Dec 2002, 17:52

I've just spoken to my folks - they can't recall the old Officer's Mess having a name as such, but if this is any help it's location is on the western edge of the old airfield, just off the Crapstone Road.

The cafe which has been referred to is probably the Knightstone cafe, which is located in what is described in some quarters as the old Operations building, and in others as the old Watch Tower.

I did take a quite detailed look at the old blast pens a couple of years ago, and it seemed that the doorways to the interiors had been very crudely filled in - I'd love to have a go at shovelling my way in to one to see what the inside of a blast pen looks like, but my sense of obedience tells me not to. :D

Meanwhile the Knight's Stone itself is located close to the main Plymouth Road at the southern edge of the airfield. Having clambered up it a few times I can confirm it's quite a large old rock, and would imagine it may have been quite offputting to have that thing looming up at you on a wartime approach into Harrowbeer from the south! :eek:

17th Dec 2002, 22:00
I am a very sad person. I possess (and frequently read) a book called 'Devon and Cornwall Airfields in the Second World War' by Graham Smith (ISBN 1-85306-632-X, www.countrysidebooks.co.uk). It has an 11 page chapter on RAF Harrowbeer. Glenn Miller landed there to play some concerts in Plymouth and the airfield does have quite an interesting history.


18th Dec 2002, 07:28
Hello BeauMan

Hate to dissapoint, but while I was a youngster, someone opened several of the pens up, and I of course, had to explore. They are full of rubble and little else.

18th Dec 2002, 17:52
Hi Synthetic,
BeauMan is right in saying that the cafe I mention is located in the old ops room / watch tower. Also the former officer's mess which is now a retirement home was indeed called Ravenscroft in recent years - I asked my sister-in-law who worked there until a few years ago!
I must admit that I'm disappointed to hear there is nothing to be found inside the old blast pens. I often wanted to dig up parts of the airfield myself after being told by a local shopowner that 'a large amount of radio equipment had been buried on the airfield at the end of the war'!

19th Dec 2002, 10:41
Once again, thanks to all who have posted. I talked to my father and it seems that our house, about a mile south west of the airfield, down Axtown Lane had been an annexe of the Officer's mess.

Anyway, I am going to gather up my cold and take it to a bar in Southern Ireland for a few days, but please keep posting:)

Wishing all a wonderfull Christmas and a great new year


19th Dec 2002, 13:15
Harrowbeer was built for 10 Gp, Fighter Command, and opened on August 15th 1941. It was a satellite for Exeter, and was one of the first fighter airfields with 3 hard runways. Some of the squadrons based there included 302 (Polish - Spitfires), 312 (Czech - Spitfires), 175 (Hurricanes), 263 (Whirlwinds), 183, 193, 263 and 266 (Typhoons), 838 Sqn RN (Swordfish), 1, 126, 610 and 611 (Spitfires).

Towards the end of the war, Harrowbeer parented Bolt Head airfield and Exminster and Hope Cove GCI sites. The operations moved to ASR and 'anti-aircraft' roles, with the Walrus of 275 Sqn and the Oxfords, Defiants, Barracudas, Blenheims and Hurricanes of 691 Sqn. After flying operations ceased in August 1945 the airfield became a storage site for 229 MU, closing (temporarily, at least) in May 1946.

It was suggested as the civil airport for Plymouth, but Roborough - a bit closer to the town - won out. From December '47 to August '48, 19 Gp Comms Flt used the airfield, and the accommodation was used by RAF Sharpitor (about which I have no information!). Final closure was sometime in the '50s, after which the airfield was broken up and returned to heathland.

Sources include 'Action Stations 5' by Chris Ashworth, and 'RAF Squadrons' by Wg Cdr C G Jefford.