RAF Ballyhalbert former Military Airfield

During the Second World War, the famous 303 and 315 Squadrons of the Polish Air Force, were based at Ballyhalbert Airfield in Co. Down between 1943 and 1944

Officially opened by the RAF on the 28th June 1941, RAF Ballyhalbert featured three tarmac runways, two Bellman hangars and twelve Blister Hangars. In the next four years it would host two Polish Air Squadrons in addition to servicemen and women from the British Army and the Royal Navy, the RAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).

On the 17th September 1945, the Belfast Telegraph carried an article titled “Victory Blows from Ulster” written by John Hockin, a Squadron Intelligence Officer who had served in Northern Ireland at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic. Hockin noted that the runways constructed at Ballyhalbert were laid in record time, and describes how the airfield was chosen for a top-secret weight carrying experiment with a Stirling Bomber in 1942.

The Operations Room, three miles away from the airfield, was built underground and from here the Fighters were ordered on patrol over the Irish Sea as far South as off Dublin Bay. Hockin also notes how the RAF intended to keep Ballyhalbert operational as a regular station after the war, but as we will see history will prove otherwise.

Relocated from RAF Hutton Cranswick, the Polish No. 315 “City of Deblin” Squadron arrived at RAF Ballyhalbert on the 6th July 1943 to carry out operational training and escort convoy patrols in a fighter defence role. The Squadron was formed as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom in 1940, named after the City of Deblin where the Polish Air Force Academy was established in 1927.

On the 14th August 1943 the Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, General Kazimierz Sosnkowski visited No.315 squadron at RAF Ballyhalbert. During the visit Squadron Leader Tadeusz Sawicz, Flying Officer Stanislaw Blok, Squadron Leader Jerzy Poplawski and Flying Officer Eugeniusz Malczewski were presented with the Cross of the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest decoration for Military Valour and heroism.

On 9th November 1943 the No. 303 “Kosciuszko – City of Warsaw” Polish Fighter Squadron was moved to RAF Ballyhalbert. No. 303 was the most successful Fighter Command Unit in the Battle of Britain with 126 victories. On the 13th November 1943 No. 315 Squadron was relocated to RAF Heston Middlesex to form the 133 Polish Fighter Wing within the Second Tactical Air Force. After serving several months in the Ards peninsula, No. 303 Squadron was moved to RAF Horne in England.

On the 13th November 1945 the airfield was closed and placed into care and maintenance. By 1947, with no further use made of the site, it was abandoned. RAF Ballyhalbert was sold to developers in March 1960, and is currently in use by several caravan parks. Only the runway lighting and the control tower remain as the rest of the site is slowly being lost to housing development being built on the airfield site.

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