How the wartime RAF created modern Scots flying
THE war was just weeks old. Britain – and its Royal Air Force – was braced for an aerial attack that never quite came. Then German bombers arrived over the Lothians.
The Battle of the Forth Bridge – the series of dogfights between Spitfires and Junkers and Heinkel over the railway crossing on October 16, 1939 – was the first time shots were fired in anger in Scotland’s skies. It ended with two bombers downed and 11 UK servicemen killed as ships of the Royal Navy were bombed in the Firth.
The Battle for Britain, the RAF’S “finest hour”, did not really begin until the next summer. The first Scottish civilian killed in the war lost his life in an air raid on Orkney the following March. But those early skirmishes over the Forth when the “Phoney War” was still being waged underline the last effect the RAF has had on Scotland. Why? Well, the Spitfire squadron scrambled was 602, the City of Glasgow, was originally based at RAF Abbotsinch then at RAF Turnhouse.
We have new names for those old stations: we call them Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. Ever wondered when you set off on holidays why our main hubs are where they are? Because they were bases.
The RAF has gradually withdrawn from Scotland, though it keeps Typhoon fast fighters at Lossiemouth on the Moray coast. Yet it has left an indelible footprint in the very shape of Scottish civil aviation.
Aberdeen Airport, though initially dreamt up as commercial airfield, was RAF Dyce. Inverness Airport was RAF Dalcross. And not just in our big cities. Visiting Tiree? Wick? Campbeltown? Orkney? Shetland? Lewis? Benbecula? If you fly, you will land at an old air force station. The RAF made an on-the-ground difference.