RAF Exeter

Exeter International Airport was the site of RAF Exeter during World War Two.

A German Heinkel 111 bomber which was returning from laying magnetic mines in the Bristol Channel became an early victim of Exeter's night fighters when it was shot down in the early hours of July 26th 1940, crashing at Smeatharpe near Honiton.

A German Heinkel 111 bomber which was returning from laying magnetic mines in the Bristol Channel became an early victim of Exeter's night fighters when it was shot down in the early hours of July 26th 1940, crashing at Smeatharpe near Honiton.

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Other operations from RAF Exeter

RAF Exeter supported many other important operations through out the war; one of the most significant being the role it played during the Normandy D-Day.

The American 440th Troop Carrier Group operated in joint occupation with the RAF during the summer of 1944, when they transported part of the US 101st Airborne Division to Normandy, as part of the Operation Neptune, D-Day invasion of France.

View of the 9th Airforce Memorial

The Troop Carrier Command Memorial at Picauville in Normandy

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RAF Exeter Memorial

The South West Airfields Heritage Trust are currently raising funds to build a memorial to all of those servicemen and women, of all nations who served at RAF Exeter during WW2.

The location of the planned memorial is on the main entrance to Exeter International Airport.

You can find out more about this exciting project, and how you can help at the RAF Exeter Memorial website.

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'Battle of Britain' Newsreel Footage

 

With Exeter being one of the targets for the Baedeker Blitz , as Hitler tried to destroy the morale of the British people, RAF Exeter Airport was a very active operational fighter base.

At the front line of air defence in the south west of England, RAF Exeter played a major role during the Battle of Britain.

Pre-War

Exeter Airport was first opened during 1937, and ran regular air services to the Channel Islands and other destinations in the South of England.

There was also a Flying Club formed, and within two years it had a membership of almost 300. Of these, 57 pilots who learnt to fly at Exeter served as pilots during WW2.

RAF Exeter during WW2

With the outbreak of War in September 1939, the Air Ministry requisitioned the airfield. It was enlarged to almost three times its original size, with new runways; the longest of which was just over 6,100 feet.

The first operational unit to arrive on site was a department of R.A.E Farnborough, known as '02', equipped with Fairey Battles, the Fairey P.4/34, Harrow, Virginia and Wellesley.

One of their tasks was deliberately flying into cables hung from barrage balloons to test wire cutting devices.

June 1940 saw the formation of the gunnery Research Unit at Exeter from 'A' Flight Armament Testing Squadron who were employed in experimental flying using a variety of aircraft including Spitfires, Defiants, a Henley, Hurricane and a Gloster F.9/37. These aircraft tested various types of guns and turrets.

During this time the RAF personnel were housed either under canvas or billeted in the grounds of Farringdon House.

RAF Exeter was officially formed on 6th July 1940 soon after 87 and 213 Fighter Squadrons had moved in.

Although the role of the two squadrons was initially to escort the Royal and Merchant Navy, it was not long before they were playing a major role in the 'Battle of Britain'.

Exeter's first 'kill'

A Hurricane from 87 Squadron brought down an Me110 that had been escorting a force of enemy Stuka dive-bombers over Portland on July 11th. This was the first kill from Exeter; one of three that day.

Although the Hawker Hurricane was considered unsuitable for this type of operation, they also began to fly defensive patrols against night bombers.

Targets around the South West of England were heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe, and something had to be done to counter these raids.

One of 87 Squadron's Flights was regularly sent to Hullavington, to the east of Bristol' in order to extend the night defences, while the remainder of the squadron Squadron defended the south coast.

As the 'Battle of Britain' built up, the fighter operations were stretched to their limits at Exeter.

'Adler Tag' (Eagle Day)

A peak arrived on Sunday 11th August when fourteen Hurricanes from the two Squadrons were scrambled at 10.08 to help prevent another raid on Portland. With 70 bombers and 90 escorting fighters this was the largest raid so far mounted against any target in Britain.

During the skirmish 87 Sqn claimed two Ju88’s and a Me109 destroyed, but both 87 and 213 Sqns lost two Hurricanes each, and a total of three pilots.

The following day 213 Sqn was sent to intercept another raid on Portsmouth Dockyard, claiming two Ju88’s at the cost of two more of its aircraft and pilots.

On the third successive day of heavy air attacks, the fighter aircraft from Exeter were needed further east for the defence of Portsmouth, and claimed three more raiders; but at the cost of yet another two pilots. One from each squadron.

Sunday 25th August produced another hectic day, as Exeter squadrons joined others from Warmwell, Middle Wallop and Tangmere to counter another attack on Portland. 87 Sqn claimed four enemy planes but another three Hurricanes and pilots were lost, one from 87 Sqn and two from 213.

Despite the RAF playing such a prominent part in the defence of England, nowhere on the airport or even in Exeter City is there a worthwhile monument, apart from one small plaque situated within the airport complex for a Polish Squadron.