A temporary airstrip on a former polo field was first used in September 28th 1923 but operations ceased after only one month. In 1929 the Air Ministry acquired or rented part of the site and Royal Engineers from the Plymouth Garrison turned the polo field and two fields adjoining in to an aerodrome.
The polo ground, which bordered the Plymouth to Tavistock road, was nearly 700 yards long and 300 yards wide. The two smaller fields lay to the east, alongside the road from the George Hotel to Plym Bridge. About 300 yards of the high bank and hedge that divided the polo ground from the fields was demolished and replaced by a temporary wire fence that could be removed when the RAF wanted to use the site. The hedge between the two small fields was also removed. A number of trees at the north-western edge had to be removed and the telegraph wires that ran alongside the main road were re-laid underground to give clear access.
The site was only required for a couple of days each week during June, July and August for important air co-operation exercises to be carried out between the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army and was not intended to be a permanent RAF airfield. The work was completed on June 6th 1929.
The site was licensed as an aerodrome in 1930; it was also chosen to become a civic airport and Plymouth City Council bought the site at Roborough for £20,478. After further development the aerodrome was officially opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on July 15th 1931. The site had four small hangars, and during the 1930s was used by the Plymouth & District Aero Club, and Great Western Railway, Railway Air Services, Channel Air Ferries and the Great Western & Southern Air Lines and Jersey Airways. One of these was a unique in that its design had the control tower on top of the roof.
The first resident RAF unit arrived in June 1939 when No.15 Group Communications Flight formed here with single examples of the Miles Magister, Vega Gull and Envoy plus two Walrus amphibians. This was followed by No.46 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training Squadron formed here on August 1st equipped with Hart and Audax aircraft but moved to Portsmouth on September 2nd.
RN use of the airfield
The first use of Roborough by a Fleet Air Arm squadron was on July 26th 1937 when the Opsreys of 801 Fleet Fighter Squadron arrived from RAF Southampton for a fortnight of Army, Navy and Air Force joint exercises. They returned to RAF Southampton on August 9th. A year later on July 26th the Swordfish of 810 Torpedo, Spotter, Reconnaissance Squadron arrived from RAF Southampton for the year’s fortnight of Army, Navy and Air Force joint exercises, returning to RAF Southampton on August 9th.
The next arrival was 814 TSR (Torpedo, Spotter, and Reconnaissance) Squadron which disembarked their Swordfish from the Fleet Carrier HMS ARK ROYAL on August 28th 1939, three days before War was declared with Germany.
Commissioned as an RN Air Station
The aerodrome was requisitioned by the Admiralty shortly after the declaration of War with Germany and opened as RN Air Station Roborough. It was not given as ship’s name but its accounts were carried in HMS DRAKE, the Rn Barracks in Plymouth.
814 squadron embarked in Fleet Carrier HMS HERMES on September 1st disembarking again on the 20th. They finally departed on October 3rd, re-joining HERMES. They returned in the New Year, arriving back on the station from RNAS Worthy Down on January 1st 1940, only to re-embark in HMS HERMES on February 10th.
The station was quiet until May when the Swordfish of 819 TSR Squadron arrived here from RNAS Ford on May 27th. They embarked in the Fleet Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS on June 11th but a detachment of 6 aircraft returned to operate ashore on the 16th, re-joining the ship on the 20th. A second Swordfish TSR squadron from ILLUSTRIOUS, 815, arrived the station on June 12th, re-embarking on the 21st. They were the last Fleet Air Arm unit to operate from Roborough during the war.
From August 1940 RAF units only operated from the station: No. 247 squadron reformed here on August 1st 1940, equipped with Gloster Gladiator II biplanes they were tasked with the defence of the south west of England including the ports of Plymouth and Falmouth. They re-equipped with Hurricanes in February 1941; during this month No. 19 Group Comms Flight which arrived on the 5th operating various aircraft types. They were joined by No. 10 Group ASR (Air Sea Rescue) Flight flying Lysanders on April 1st. They were joined by Lysanders and Walrus aircraft from October 1941 when a detachment from 276 ASR squadron arrived. A detachment of Lysanders from No.16 tactical reconnaissance squadron used the station during 19041 and 1942.
Returned to RAF Control
By the spring of 1942 Roborough was no longer required for use by the RN and the station was transferred to the Air Ministry on May 1st 1942.
RN use of the airfield
Early in 1961 the Britannia Royal Naval College Air Experience Flight was formed at Roborough to provide flying for Dartmouth officer cadets and to grade those aspiring to become pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. Operated by Air Work Services Ltd. the Flight used initially used Tiger Moths until these were replaced by Chipmunks in 1966. In 1994 the flight re-equipped with five new Grob 115E Tutors and continued operating as the RN Grading Flight and later the Royal Naval Flying Training Flight. On December 6th 2001 the flight was elevated to squadron status, being commissioned as 727 Royal Naval Flying Training Squadron. In January 2007 the squadron moved to RNAS Yeovilton to continue operations ending the Fleet Air Arm’s long association with Roborough.
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