A SHORT HISTORY OF
ROYAL NAVAL AIR STATION BURSCOUGH
BY LAWRENCE CRITCHLEY
STATION MOTTO, A PEARL BENEATH THE CLOUD
Please click on images to get an enlarged view
To many people passing the site of a former wartime air station now in a derelict state would be considered an eyesore. Many former sites are now re developed as industrial estates of housing developments, their roles often forgotten due to the passage of time.
One such site is close to my home in Ormskirk West Lancashire is the former WW2 Naval Air Station H.M.S Ringtail (Royal Naval Air Station Burscough). My link with the site was that many years ago i learnt to ride a motorcycle on one of its former runways. I was never in the Navy or RAF, but my father being the the RAF and myself a being a member of 1026 squadron Air Cadets, i had a love of anything to do with aviation. Another big passion for me is local history and research. These two things were to make HMS Ringtail such an integral part of my life, today leading me to discover how much the former air station meant to so many people.
Oliver Harris a local man was employed by Thomas Guy Haulage in 1943
he was asked by his employer to build a fire made from straw and grass.
he was told to do this at the end of one of the runways.
the beacon was used as a smoke signal to guide the first aircraft into HMS Ringtail
as the stations air traffic control was not operational at that time.
Olly said ” once the plane had landed 2 officers got out and thanked him for doing a good job”
Oliver Harris died in 2011
In 1942 the Fleet Air Arm estimated that it was due to expand from 2,665 operational aircraft to 6,350 by late 1943. Most Fleet Air Arm training had been carried out RAF Schools. In the end the Air Ministry gave up a number of airfields to the Fleet Air Arm and others like Burscough where built for Navy use.
picture HMS Ringtail 1946
The Naval air station in Lancashire was built on 650 acres of land using using compulsory purchase on the 12th of December 1942. Six farmers had their land requisitioned and also a primary school was demolished. The aerodrome layout was the typical admiralty design consisting of four runways, a three – storey control tower, along with 32 main hill hangars and two callendar hangar. Accommodation consisted of nissan huts. three of the runways were a length of 900 meters and the forth aligned with the prevailing wind being 1,100 meters. The width of the runways was 27 meters compared with the standard RAF 46 meters. HMS Ringtail was designed to accommodate around 80 aircraft.
Picture Control Tower
The air station was used for fighter squadrons, but this grew to include night fighter, torpedo fighter, radar training and a fleet requirement unit. Around 40 squadrons were attached for short periods for working up, conversion or disembarking from aircraft carriers in the Mersey off Liverpool.
The first squadron to appear was 808 in October 1943, which consisted of Super marine Seafires. This squadron was joined a few days later by three further seafire squadrons, these being 807,866 and 897. All these units undertook tactical reconnaissance training and also other types of training. The air station also acquired a squadron of Air speed Oxfords of 758 squadron.
Fourteen American built Corsairs of 1836 squadron were attached from the 19th of January until March 8th 1944, when they embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. The remainder of the year saw a succession of British Built `Fairey` Barracudas of 810 and 822 squadrons, Swordfish of 835 squadron and Fairey Fireflies of 1771 and 1772 squadron also. Also at this time there were American Curtis Hellcats of 888 and 1840 squadrons, Wildcats of 1896 squadron and Gruman avengers of 846 squadron as well.
Probably the most impressive aircraft to arrive at Burscough in August 1944 fir further training was the `Curtis` Helldiver. It was operated by 1820 squadron which was formed in the USA during April of that same year. Several crew members were killed in accidents in this type of dive bomber, three Helldiver aircraft failed to pull out of vertical dives this led o this unit being disbanded on the 16th of December.
picture Curtis Helldiver 1820 sqdn at Burscough
One particular accident happened whilst out on a training exercise from Burscough. A Helldiver of 1820 squadron whilst on a dive bombing exercise on Morcambe bay range failed to pull out of a dive at 600 feet, the pilot Sub Lt Neville and his passenger Steward FT Turner were both killed and are buried in Burscough Parish Church.
Another tragic accident happened on the 12th of February 1946 at 09.35 hours Lt Thomas Wilson Wall of the Royal Canadian Fleet Air Arm 825 squadron took off from Burscough in Firefly number DK455 with two other aircraft to practice dummy deck landing landings. At 250 feet the aircraft were engulfed in cloud. Lieutenant wall flying solely on instruments circled the airfield to allow other aircraft to land. Whilst he was flying at 4000 feet his vertical horizon instrument seemed to fail, his aircraft was spinning and loosing height rapidly. He was unable to recover the aircraft in it as long as possible. Not realising he was over Bootle near Liverpool, which was somewhere he would not have flown over in bad weather, he pulled back the hood and abandoned the Firefly at 800 feet with nothing but grey cloud beneath him. He thought he had abandoned the aircraft in open ground ground between Liverpool and Southport. At Around 9.45am the aircraft crashed into the middle of St Johns Road Bootle, smashing windows and making an 8 feet crater and also fracturing the main gas main.Lieutenant Wall landed a few yards away uninjured.
As the aircraft crashed into the street a number of children were playing out in the street, one 5 year old girl sadly died of her injuries. A postman Mr John Hudson was blown from his bike and also received burns. Mr Hudson recalled in his statement ” I was delivering parcels in St Johns Road when I heard the faint sound of an aircraft overhead. I looked up but there was thick cloud so i could see nothing. About two seconds later there was a sudden roar and an explosion. I was blown on my face in the gutter. There was a terrible fire and i felt as if i had been soaked in petrol and a mass of flames”. The Coroner recorded a verdict of “death by misadventure” on the child that died.
For Much of January 1944, 823 squadrons Barracuda aircraft were present and prior to embarking for the Indian ocean arriving in 1944 from Inskip near Lytham St Annes 735 squadron stayed at HMS Ringtail until the squadron was disbanded at the end of April 1946, by that time the squadron consisted of Swordfish, Hellcats and Avro aAnsons.
The Barracuda was an aircraft with a dismal maintenance reputation and during a move from Crail in Scotland on September 7th 1944. a Barracuda from 812 squadron ditched in the Irish Sea only a few miles short of Ringtail. Blackpool lifeboat rescued the crew and recorded that a bottle of rum from the boats stores was subsequently consumed!
During 1945 there were so many aircraft from various squadrons at Burscough that the air station looked for the need to expand to be able to work up more squadrons for the Far East. Close by RAF Woodvale was becoming surplus as a fighter unit for the defence of North West England; this provided an ideal satellite station for Royal Naval Air Station Burscough The RAF Air station thus became known as HMS Ringtail 2 on April 1945, the Royal Navy stayed at Woodvale till January 1946 after that the airfield was handed back to the RAF.
picture 1771 Sqdn Fireflies about to depart Burscough
1790 squadron Fairey Firefly landing at Ringtail 1945
On May the 3rd. 1946 772 squadron was the last flying unit to leave the air station, the site was considered by the Royal Navy as a valuable site and kept it under inactive status for more than a decade as an aircraft engine-holding unit until 1957, during this time it was under he control of Royal Naval Air Station Stretton near Warrington. The Navy finally paid off Burscough in 1957; its grassed areas reverted to agriculture and other areas to industry. Today there is an industrial estate on some of the former air station land.The Naval Officers from Ringtail had an HMS Ringtail Trophy cast as a gesture of thanks for letting them play at Ormskirk Golf Club; the trophy is still played for there each year.
Picture HMS Ringtail Trophy Ormskirk Golf Club
Lordsgate Township Primary School
Like so many wartime wartime aerodromes HMS Ringtail fell into a state of decay after the Navy gave it up. One of the runways was used for crop spraying aircraft and also a parachute club used it also until a tragic accident happened and the club closed. Many of the hangars were taken down, some remained and formed part of the ever expanding industrial estate we see today. The control tower was finally demolished in 2004 after a campaign to have it listed as an historic building failed. Some roads on the industrial estate bear names that have a link with the former station examples being Ringtail Road and admiralty close. In other places groups of buildings have been built and their units names featuring aviation connections.
Aerial photo or Air Station 2011
It was around 2002 that I started a campaign to have a monument erected to honour those who had served at HMS Ringtail. I approached Burscough Parish Council who were very supportive of my idea and they funded the construction of the fine monument that stands today on a grass verge off the roundabout on the B5242, the location of the monument would have been within the boundary fence of the air station in 1943. Local companies and individuals donated funds towards the cost of the monument dedication ceremony in 2004.
Over 400 attended the ceremony in 2004 veterans coming from many miles away ; a brass band led the parade and standards> many dignitaries attended, the then commanding Officer if RAF Woodvale along with Lt Commander H.J.M Lawrence took the salute, the RAF provided a fly-past.
Monument dedication ceremony October 2004
Each year on the 11th of November at 10.50 am we hold an Armistice day ceremoyt at the monument and we also remember those who served at Royal Naval Air Station Burscough. I was made an honorary member of the Fleet Air Arm Association in 2012 for my work on HMS Ringtail . I now represent them at events and ceremonies, I am very proud of that role. Lordsgate Township Primary school in Burscough was demolished in 1941 to make was for the new air station, in later years the Royal Navy paid for the present school to be built. At the ceremony in November two children and the head teacher always lay a wreath, There is aviation art work set into the floor at their school in the town.
Annual Ceremony November the 11th
Close by is the Bull and Dog Inn that was a regular venue for Navy personnel, being so close to the station , inside the pub today is a beam with coins knocked into it by those who went there from 1943 to 1946.
What is very pleasing to me is the way the history and heritage of the Royal Naval Air Service in Burscough has really been embraced by local people since the monument was dedicated. Around the town there is aviation art work, and also tail plane artwork on the roundabout by the monument, there is even a Ringtail Bitter brewed in Burscough Town.
Ringtail Bitter brewed by the Burscough Brewing Company.On sale in the Hop Vine Burscough
In the near future a new retail park is to be built close to the monument and on land that would have been within the perimeter fence of the station. The retail park is to be named Ringtail Retail Park and has been designed to reflect its historic location. The main unit Booths Supermarket has been designed to resemble a WW2 aircraft hangar, other aspects of the development will reflect aviation heritage. Booths supermarket are hoping to have special features in store about HMS Ringtail. I think this commitment to the heritage of the air station by a developer is something special and unique.
Plans of Booths Supermarket
Artist impression of Booths store now under construction
Finally I would like to that everyone for their increasing interest in HMS Ringtail and its history and heritage, up and down the country there are so many air stations like this one in Burscough they all played a vital role during the war years. It is only in later years when you start looking into their history do you realise how much they are a part of history, they do indeed all have their own stories to tell.
If you have any stories, pictures etc relating to HMS Ringtail then please contact the Society who would love to hear them and put them on our website , with your permission of course. Please go to the contact us menu on the home page of this website. Thank You
RINGTAIL BITTER BREWED BY THE BURSCOUGH BREWING COMPANY
AND SOLD LOCALLY
Please scroll down to find out how to obtain copy photos of HMS Ringtail from the Society archive
HMS Ringtail Monument 2012
Please look at photo menus and other menus for more on Ringtail
The Society has a more detailed history of HMS Ringtail. If you would like a copy then either E mail LolCritchley@aol.com or click on the contact us menu on the homepage of this site. You will need to enclose a large letter 2 nd class envelope with a covering letter and your name and address.
There are many photographs relating to Royal Naval Air Station Burscough. The Society can provide copies of these as we have gained permission regarding copy writes. The photographs can be viewed under the HMS Ringtail menu – sub menu Photos. Details of how to purchase copies can be found on the photo pages.
We are a non profit making Society and any funds raised will help towards our running costs .
WE RE ALWAYS SEEKING MORE INFORMATION / PHOTOS / MEMORIES ABOUT HMS RINGTAIL
PLEASE GO TO THE CONTACT US SECTION ON THE HOME PAGE OF THIS WEBSITE IF YOU FEEL YOU CAN HELP US IN THIS QUEST
OR WRITE TO LAWRENCE CRITCHLEY
26 FAIRFIELD DRIVE – ORMSKIRK – LANCASHIRE – L39 1RL – ENGLAND
Honorary member Fleet air Arm Association
Fly Navy Heritage Trust supporter
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