We would like to put personal reminiscences of those who worked & lived around the Airfield here. If you have any memories you would like to share then please email us. Also, if you had a relative who was stationed at Harrowbeer and have diaries/logbooks etc of their time here, we would love to hear from you
Dont know if this is of interest but I have discovered that my grandfather was stationed at Harrowbeer from 11/2/1939 to 18/6/1845, he was Corporal William Henry Down a General Fitter from Exeter.
"I was posted there [to Harrowbeer] in December 1942 along with 3 other Canadian Fighter Pilots` having completed fighter pilot training at RAF Tealing near Dundee Scotland on Hurricanes, We were part of a collection of green pilots to form a brand new Squadron No 193. We flew beat up old Hurricanes until the first Typhoons arrived and my first flight was February 1943 and at the time the Typhoon was a sensational aircraft and had many problems.The main runway had a hump in the middle that could be disconcerting if you landed too fast. Getting into the airfield in some of the atrocious winter weather was a challenge. I remember the Dartmoor ponies still wandering around outside the officers mess"
"The Typhoon was almost
scrapped under pressure from Spitfire and Mustang advocates at the Air
Ministry because of the incredible problems with the aircraft, (resulting
in heavy pilot and aircraft losses) resulting from engine and structure
failures. Also, carbon monoxide [in the cockpit] killed pilots, including
one from our squadron at Harrowbeer. We also had a tail fall off and PO
Kilpatrick managed to bail out and his greatest fear was landing in a
nearby body of water, as he had been blinded by the slipstream and remained
so for some time. Later in France, he was shot down behind enemy lines
and not only returned, but with some Germans who surrendered to him (and
for which he was decorated). There are very few Typhoon Pilots alive now
from the small number who survived the war but I still meet with some
of them 3 times a year at a Typhoon/Tempest pilots reunion lunch. Incidentally,
one of our favourite haunts was the Moorland Links Hotel and also on one
occasion Lady Astor entertained the Squadron officers in Plymouth."
"As you are probabaly aware tens of thousands of bicycles were issued on stations; a very practical solution to the problem of getting around the many dispersed areas, pilots dispersal, messes, briefings, sleeping quarters and of course the pubs, being careful not to over indulge, as navigating in the pitch black out could be very tricky; I experienced one crash landing, having misjudged a turn at the bottom of a hill but fortunately hit a hedge instead of a brick wall.
My sleeping quarters were in
a Nissan hut somewhere in the north east [West?] of the field and quite
"One day we were on standdown in the afternoon, enjoing lunch and a few ales at the Moorland Links Hotel, when all pilots were ordered to report back immediately to the airfield. We were quickly briefed that quite a few badly shot up American B17s straggling back from a raid were down in the channel, some being shot up by the enemy and at first we thought we'd be scrambled to cover them but that didn't happen. However a lone Fort struggled in to land, and the crew had really been through hell, with dead and wounded, especially a waist gunner. The interior floor of the Fort was covered with spent .50s and blood. I think the big raid had been on Ludwigshafen or Schweinfurt; the American baptisms of fire before they got fighter escorts were incredible with heavy losses and the courage of their crews was exemplary."
"We were PO Pilots on 193 and shared liaison duty, serving on an RN Hunt Class destroyer for about a week out of Plymouth, (a memorable voyage). Most of the time was spent on the bridge, getting a real navy education. At the time, the Admiralty and RAF were in a row about who was responsible for too many incidents of our aircraft being shot down by the Navy and we had to report back our observations, along with those of many other fighter pilots.There were two reasons: abysmal a/c recognition by the RN and foolhardy pilots who were dumb enough to approach any ship on battle alert without warning!"
"I was posted to Harrowbeer in March 1943 to No 193 Typhoon Squadron as Deputy Flight Commander of 'A' Flight and also as Training Officer, as some pilots posted to the squadron had no experience of Typhoons
The Typhoon was bigger and heavier than either the Spitfire or the Hurricane and this initially caused problems.
The operations we carried out were attacks in France on various targets with cannons, rockets and bombs, the latter carried under the wings. We also did bomber escort duties and for many operations we flew from Lands End to Predannock
Harrowbeer was a friendly station and the C.O. in my time was Squadron Leader Petrie who not long before had been on a course with me in Colerne near Bath.
There were various places we could visit on our days off, such as Plymouth, Exeter and Yelverton. The latter place had a cafe we named the 'Spies Cafe' as it overlooked the airfield!
I visited the airfield in the 1960's and 70's after it was dismantled. I remember the parties and dances held there in wartime"
The above taken from notes made by Ray Hulbert.
More on 193 Squadron...
The following are extracts
from the WWII journal entries of Flight Lieutant Louis McBride (Adjutant/193
"No. 193 Squadron existed, I believe, during the last war, simply as a training squadron and no records exist now to show the type of aircraft with which it was equipped, nor any of the operations in which it took part. During the demobilization in 1919, the Squadron lapsed again into just a number, and to all intents and purposes it really formed at Harrowbeer [Airfield, near Yelverton, 10 miles north of Plymouth, on the far southwest coast of England] in September 1942, with Typhoon aircraft. [193 Squadron was formed and mostly remained at Harrowbeer until February 20, 1944.]
It was designated one of the "Brazilian" Squadrons in honor of our ally (if such she is), Brazil. The inauguration ceremonies before the Brazilian staff in October 1942 at Harrowbeer are still remembered in the squadron with a great deal of hilarity. The day in question was stormy with a high wind and pouring with rain. A grand parade was held, however, and a number of aircraft handed over with due formality to the squadron, whilst the Ambassador and various other personages of note made speeches suitable to the occasion. A recording unit operated the while, preserving the words of the night for transmission to posterity, and incidentally to Brazil radio.
A ceremonial fly past had been arranged, but due to the appalling weather, it was thought best not to attempt it and as a last resort, the brilliant idea of a solemn "taxi past" the saluting base was formulated. When put into effect, a formulation of nine aircraft came weaving up the field, strung out in a Vic [an inflexible V-shape that was the RAF's standard tactical fighter formation until it was outmoded in the spring of 1941], past the ranks of rain soaked ground-staff and the very important personages; the whole unimpressive show being totally marred by the fact that one of the wing men, in his frantic effort to keep his position, taxied straight into the recording van and wrote off completely the records of the historic occasion, together with the van, and most of his aircraft. The remaining eight returned without further loss."
Footnote to the above: The
archive film of the presentation is currently held in the ITN Archive
in London and also in the Imperial War Museum. We now have a copy of this!
The recording van destroyed apparently belonged to the BBC.
Sqdn Leader Derek Leyland Stevenson (DFC) of 175 Hurricane Squadron
"As we took off at first light, we got into the routine of starting our engines and warming them up prior to dawn breaking. I was sitting in my Hurricane on the Crapstone side of the airfield, when I suddenly heard a tapping on my cockpit. On sliding back the hood, I was amazed to see an elderly gentleman, wearing pyjamas and a raincoat and holding a brolly standing on my wing!. He demanded to know what all the noise was about and did we have to rev our engines so much as it woke him up! He had apparently climbed over the nearby fence and wouldn't be placated by the traditional "Don't you know there's a war on!"
Having been told this story, I have since discovered that this quote comes from "Five crashes Later" by Sqdn Leader Stevenson (as noted above). This is about to be reprinted as "Six Crashes Later" by The Erskine Press.
Excerpts from SIX CRASHES LATER
- The Story of Fighter Pilot by Derek Leyland Stevenson, DFC, by permission
of the publisher, The Erskine Press. The White House, Eccles, Norwich, Norfolk
NR16 2PB, from whom copies of the book, price £16.95, can be obtained.
The book is also available from the Knightstone Tea Rooms on Harrowbeer Airfield.
Richard White - Local Farmer
"My Father used to keep about a thousand pigs going on the waste food from Harrowbeer. I used to travel round with him in the truck collecting all the swill. It was terrible seeing all the good food going into the bins. After the pigs had been fed you would hear this din of metal rattling! When you looked into the troughs you could find knives, forks and spoons which had been thrown away with the food!
I recall seeing a Typhoon do a victory roll after flying up the valley. Only something went wrong and it crashed straight down into one of our fields"
Typhoon Readiness (unknown)
Pilots moved through three stages of readiness in preparation to scramble.
1st Stage: 15 minutes readiness for one hour.
2nd Stage: Dispersal readiness with parachute in the cockpit for one hour.
3rd Stage: Cockpit readiness.
Under conditions of cockpit readiness the pilots were strapped in the cockpit , the engine was kept warm and everything was switched on ready for immediate start up and take off. When the Tannoy loudspeaker system called for that section to scramble the pilots simply pressed the buttons to activate the Coffman starter and opened up the throttle, taking off across the grass and runways in the direction the aircraft was pointing. At the same time red Verey lights were fired from the dispersal hut and the control tower to warn other aircraft that a section was scrambling.
It was a matter of Squadron pride to be airborne within seconds and there were some dramatic take offs. One of the most interesting I saw was a pilot who had unknowingly selected "flaps down". His flaps were coming down as he raced across the 'drome and he finally took off with full flap. He worked out what had happened shortly afterwards, pulled the flaps up too quickly and almost squashed into the ground. The readiness programme was carried out between offensive operations later on by all pilots and when the Squadron was away on a mission by the pilots who were not on that particular mission.
Typhoon Rumours (Allan - a pilot with 486 Squadron based at Tangmere)
"Unfortunately most of the rumours we had heard about the Typhoon turned out to be true.
1. It was not easy to start even though we had help from the Napier engine representatives.
2. There had been a number of engine failures mostly caused by sleeve valve wear and these were to continue.
3. There were a lot of fumes in the cockpit and this had caused the death of several pilots. To counter this we had to have the oxygen on full strength from the time we started the engine until we shut down.
4. The cockpit was very hot with temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees. When we complained the RAF installed heaters. I used to fly with a football jersey under my battledress and when I landed could take the football jersey off and wring it out. This heat factor was corrected at a later date.
5. There was a lot of vibration in the cockpit and the rumour went round that anyone who flew a Typhoon for any length of time would be sterile. Happily this was only a rumour as a number of us have proved since the war.
6. Probably the most serious problem was the tails started to come off in flight and a number of pilots were lost this way. A friend of mine, Jimmy Jones who I used to play cricket with back in Auckland was flying a Typhoon with 56 Squadron when his tail came off and he was killed. At this point they grounded all the Typhoons for inspection and I was told when they inspected my aircraft SA-L that my tail was the next one to go. They then riveted metal patches all round the fuselage just forward of the tailplane and we had no further trouble. "