The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

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Updated:  30 August 2011 

As from April 1st 1918 the Royal Naval Air service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to form the Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Service Cattewater was re-commissioned as Royal Air Force Cattewater.  [1]

The base was put under the control of Number 19 Group South West, which later became Number 10 Coastal Defence Force.  Two extra flights were added.  [1]

Then in August 1918 all the flights were formed into two squadrons:

  • flights 347, 348 and 349 became 237 squadron, operating Short Brothers 184 and 240 types;
  • flights 420, 421, 422 and 423 became 238 squadron, flying Short Brothers 240, Sopwith Baby and Felixstowe F5 machines.  [1]

Once the Great War had ended the base became much quieter.  That was until May 16th 1919 when the first ever transatlantic air crossing landed there.  Three aircraft actually left Newfoundland but two of them were forced to drop out because of fog en route.  The remaining one, a Curtiss NC 4, having made stops at the Azores and Lisbon in Portugal, made it to Plymouth in just under 54 hours flying time, having covered some 4,320 miles.  This event is commemorated by a plaque on the Barbican.  [1]

237 squadron was disbanded in May 1919 and 238 squadron followed in April 1922.  The base was turned over to a Care and Maintenance Unit.  [1]

Clearly the Air Ministry saw a long-term need for an air base at Cattewater because it put through Parliament a bill that in 1925 became enacted as the Air Ministry (Cattewater Seaplane Station) Act.  [2]

This enabled the Air Ministry to purchase the land at Mount Batten upon which the buildings had been erected and to extend the base as well.  During September 1928 the slipway was extended under the water by Messrs Pearn Brothers Ltd, of Gilwell Street, Plymouth.  The slipway could then be used to launch the newest types of seaplanes.  [3]

In addition, Messrs Arthur Carkeek & Son Ltd, of Plymouth and Redruth, won the contract to recondition all the existing buildings, provide new accommodation for officers and staff, extend the sick quarters and erect new lecture rooms.  The work was expected to cost between 50,000 and 60,000.  [4]

When the base was re-commissioned on October 1st 1928 it was renamed Royal Air Force Mount Batten.


[1]  "Teague, Dennis, "Aviation in South West Britain 1909-1979", Baron Jay Ltd, Plymouth, 1982, ISBN 0-904593-11-8.

[2]  Local and Private Acts for 1925.

[3]  "The Air Station: Cattewater Extension Scheme Started", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 22nd 1928.

[4]  "Plymouth Air Base: 60,000 to be Spent on Cattewater Station", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 24th 1928.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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