Site Records

Site Name: RAF Portreath - Reporting Post within the UK Surveillance and Control System (UK ASACS)

Tolticken Hill
OS Grid Ref: SW673455

Sub Brit site visit 2nd March 2007

[Source: Nick Catford]


RAF Portreath was opened as an RAF Fighter Command Sector Station and Overseas Air Dispatch Unit (OADU) on 7th March 1941 as part of 10 Group whose headquarters was at RAF Box at Corsham. Prior to this, the Sector Station had been at St. Eval. An unusual feature of the station was four tarmac runways, although only the main runway was suitable for anything other than a single seat fighter.  Twin blast pens and four blister hangars were spread out around the perimeter track and at a later date four T2 hangars were also built on the

technical site. 263 Squadron was the first to arrive at Portreath, providing defence for the Western Approaches with the Westland Whirlwind Mk 1 fighter; they were soon replaced by Spitfires as Portreath took an active role as a fighter station.

On May 11th 1941 a Fighter Sector Operations Centre was opened at Tehidy Barton Farm, two miles south west of the airfield; on the opening the station took added responsibility for the satellite airfields at St. Mary’s (Scilly Isles),  Perranporth and Predannack. In early May, Bristol Blenheim light bombers arrived at Portreath and their airfield was used as an advanced base for raids on France, although the main runway was only just long enough for a heavily loaded Blenheim.

Photo:Aerial view of RAF Portreath

Early in the war, RAF Kemble became host to a unit that prepared aircraft for service overseas, mainly the Middle and Far East. No. 1 Overseas Aircraft Preparation Unit (OAPU) was established at Kemble to carry out the task of modifying aircraft to operate in these regions.  After modification aircraft were flown to Portreath from whence they were despatched to their destination; Portreath’s geographical position making it an ideal departure point for North Africa.

In October 1941, a detachment of the Honeybourne based Ferry Training Unit was established at Portreath to organise ‘ferry flights’ for crews that had been trained for overseas flying duties. The influx of crews during this period stretched the available hutted accommodation to its limit and a colony of tents was established on the hillside to provide additional crew quarters. During October 1942 the airfield was selected to take part in ‘Operation Cackle’ which involved the supply of aircraft, aircrew and supplies for the USAAF 12th Airforce to take part in ‘Operation Torch’ which was the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa. 

Photo:The 1943 Sector Operations Centre at Tregea Hill
Photo from Subterranea Britannica Collection

During the first half of 1943 Portreath was almost entirely committed to ferry operations. In July 1943 a new Sector Operations Centre was opened at Tregea Hill overlooking Portreath, one mile south west of the airfield, however it was little concerned with operations at Portreath which now mainly consisted of coastal strike and anti-fighter operations over the Bay of Biscay. Portreath remained busy during the build up to D-Day when 248 Squadron equipped with Mosquito VI’s mounted five separate missions.

Photo:The Sector Operations Centre at RAF Middle Wallop which  was identical to the SOC
at Tregea Hill, Portreath
Photo from Air Defence Radar Museum, Neatishead

After D-Day, sorties over the Bay of Biscay were few and far between and following the last sortie on September 7th 1944 the coastal squadrons were transferred to Banff in Scotland and the station went quickly into decline just leaving the Air Sea Rescue Squadrons and 1 Overseas Air Despatch Unit.  The ASR squadrons left in February 1945. The last flying unit left Portreath in May 1945. The station was transferred to to 44 Group (Ferry Service) of Transport Command during that month and 200 aircraft were delivered overseas and a Transport Command Briefing School was established on the airfield but this was short lived. An overland route was now available to the Middle and Far East and with Portreath unable to handle transatlantic traffic, movements rapidly declined. The OADU was transferred to No. 2 OADU at RAF St. Mawgan in September 1945; the Briefing School left on 8th October and Air Traffic Control ceased on the following day.

In December 1945 the station was reduced to Care and Maintenance transferring to Technical Training Command in May 1946 for use by 7 (Polish) Resettlement Unit.  When this unit moved out the airfield was abandoned.

Click here to continue the history of RAF Portreath

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 6th October 2007
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