St Davids Airfield was the last of eight built in Pembrokeshire and was operational during World War II. Unlike the other airfields, it remained in use after the war to support the Royal Navy. In the mid-1990s the Government decided it was surplus to requirements and in 1997 it was bought by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.
The fact that it is now the only one of the eight airfields in public ownership means that it is the only one where conservation and preservation is a priority management option. There is also a strong belief that the runways and remaining buildings should be preserved as a historic feature of the landscape.
From agriculture to airfield
Prior to becoming an airfield it was two farms. It is reported that the sand used to build the runways came from nearby Whitesands beach. The farmers had little option but to consent, otherwise they would have been ‘against the war effort’.
World War II activity
The airfield opened in the autumn of 1943 and had the classic three runway layout with control towers and hangars. It operated under Royal Air Force Coastal Command and was home to RAF squadrons who flew Fortress bombers, Halifaxes, and Liberators.
Pembrokeshire’s location at the far west of Wales meant it was ideal for stationing aircraft engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. The primary aim was to protect Britain’s maritime trade and fight off German U-boats. Trawlers operating out of Milford Haven were particularly vulnerable. St Davids Halifaxes played a significant part in preventing German U-boats and E-boats from attacking the D-Day landing armada. Sometimes planes flew as far as the Bay of Biscay. Other times, they did a short hop across to nearby Brawdy fully laden with bombs, then fuelled up and took off from there, where the runways were better aligned to prevailing weather conditions.
The majority of missions out from St Davids were uneventful, but there were intermittent bursts of battle against U-boats and surface vessels and of course the inevitable crashes. In February 1944, a Halifax was shot down just off the coast by German intruders. Seven Halifaxes went down on the dangerous approaches to the airfield between January 1944 and the following September. After the war ended a Liberator and its four-man crew crashed on the Whitesands road. The crash has been commemorated by the Pembrokeshire Aviation Group and is marked with a slate memorial.
Post war activity
Unlike other Pembrokeshire airfields, St Davids remained in use after the war. It was used to support the Royal Navy from 1951-1960 and later to support the tactical weapons unit at Brawdy from 1974-1992. In 1990-91 the US Navy wanted to install radar on the airfield, but the community vehemently opposed this. By the mid-1990s the government had decided that the airfield was surplus for requirements. With the help of a grant the National Park Authority was able to buy some of the land.
From bombers to butterflies
When the National Park Authority bought the land, it was checked for explosives and cleared of imploded buildings and asbestos. Once safe, hedge banks were created and improvements to habitat and access began. Areas of land were restored to heathland and hay meadow. It is now an area where wildlife thrives where people can enjoy walking, cycling and horse riding.
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